Home Comics Digital Comics E-book sales slipping, paper still popular but beware the phone

E-book sales slipping, paper still popular but beware the phone

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As many have noted of late, e-book sales are slipping, and Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot has a report on how slowing e-book sales hit profits of two big publishers, S&S and HarperCollins:

Parent company News Corp blamed the weak sales performance on lower Divergent sales and lower e-book sales. Digital sales, which include both e-book and digital audio sales, accounted for 20% of revenue in the most recent quarter (about $82 million), down from 23% of sales ($93 million) in the comparable period a year ago. With digital audio sales generally performing well across the industry, the 11.8% decline in digital sales is most likely due to a drop in e-book sales. A bright spot at HC was the U.S. general-books segment, which benefitted from more than three million units sold of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

a conference call discussing the quarterly results, News chief executive Robert Thomson said the company is “watching closely” the softening e-book sales trend in the U.S.


The decline in e-book sales has been a big thing recently, while print book sales are holding their own. E-books seem to have become a convenient form of reading, while print books are “the real deal” to readers.

As was noted in a piece here at The Beat by Bruce Lidl the other day, the tablet revolution seems to have stagnated along with sales. (Which isn’t to say that digital comics sales don’t remain strong; they are, but their growth has slowed as well.)

But don’t start celebrating with a tablet bonfire just yet. Mobile phones, which as Bruce noted, are getting bigger and bigger, are becoming the preferred reading platform. I’m not sure how the situation has evolved in Japan, but I remember when the digital comics thing first started taking off it was reported that in Japan everyone read light novel son their phones, and owning a desktop or more more substantial computer was a definitely outlier.

I’d expect mobile to continue to be the preferred platform for most information; Google and FB certainly want you to go that way, and we tend to do what they say. I’m not sure how this will affect comics reading, but you are free to speculate in the comments.

Disclosure: I work with Jim Milliott at PW. Also, I just got a new tablet for my birthday and looks like I’ll be getting a new iPhone later this week, so expect more personal reports very soon!

6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve shifted to Kindle-reading for almost all prose fiction, and find it much more convenient. Couldn’t do it on the phone, though; the glowing screen is not as eyes-friendly as e-paper.

    What I miss about print books is the design, the aesthetic pleasure of a well-made book. But being able to have whatever I want to read easily to hand in a lightweight device is so useful it outweighs that. And not having to find more space to store new books ALL THE TIME (well, except for comics TPBs and GNs, which still flood in, and I like them as print) is wonderful.

    But both of my teenagers prefer print, at least so far. So the flood of books to store has been somewhat abated, but not stopped…

  2. I vastly prefer paper, and cannot imagine reading a prose book on an ereader or phone except in case of extreme emergency.
    I read news on my phone for convenience, and I read comics on my phone and/or tablet simply due to cost.
    I still prefer paper copies of comics, but can’t beat the cost of a Marvel Unlimited subscription to just read things I don’t necessarily want a permanent copy of.
    (Would also love to take advantage of Comixology sales, but they’re dead to me since they’re an Amazon company.)

  3. I wonder how much of this is related to two factors:

    1. Kindle has won the e-reader battle. I know B&N is releasing a new Nook, but I only know that because it was highlighted in an article about how much Kindle dominates the e-book market.

    2. Amazon lost the wat to hold eBook prices to 9.99 from major publishers, and pushed a ton of resources into cheaper authors and Kindle Unlimited. I imagine Amazon promotes authors of cheaper books as much as if not more than pricier books from major publishers.

  4. Maybe e-books have been around long enough now for piracy to start having an effect? The high prices (compared to cheap and used paper books) probably does not help.

  5. Kurt, I agree about book design, but with the following caveat: Beautifully designed books never made up more than about 5 or 10% of the books produced. With most titles, there’s no loss.

    (This is pretty much the way I feel about hand vs. computer lettering in comics. In the hands of a few craftsmen, hand lettering was a gorgeous thing. But in most cases, it was just the way things had to be done.)

    E-paper is easier on the eyes than a tablet screen, but nothing beats a phone when I’m on the subway. It’s so convenient, and it’s already in my pocket! (This is definitely an NYC-centric opinion.)

  6. I think the reality of the situation is that we have developed a new category of readers. People who consume digital do so out of convenience and thus it has become their preference. Digital, like paperback, also allows a more cost effective way to sample new content and create a new audience for authors/creators. Meanwhile, you have readers who will always prefer hard copy books over digital but may also read digital content while traveling.

    I have three “digital native” kids who use tablets or pcs for video, streaming content, gaming or information/research. For recreational reading, they tend to prefer a hard copy book.

    Basically, digital is a platform that publishers need to view of more as a marketing tool versus a primary revenue source.

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