eBooks vs. Print: Which Will Win?

It seems that our world is becoming more and more electronically-based. Online shopping, Netflix binging, cryptocurrency, it seems that virtually anything can be done with electronics. Heck, we can even live-stream footage from hidden security cameras and yell at potential thieves. There is one particular form of technology which has proven to be a mixed-blessing for writers: eBooks.

Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and now Walmart-Kobo, eBooks and eReaders are everywhere. Why not? You can carry hundreds of books on one device and, so long as your battery is charged, you can access them anywhere. eBooks seem like a reader’s paradise.

Writers can also benefit from this technology. It’s easier now than ever to self-publish works. You can still self-publish print books, but it’s easier and more convenient to set up books online. That’s not to mention that it’s easier to make changes in case of typos or release a new edition based on feedback from reviews. (I’m sure Walt Whitman would have loved to have access to this technology while writing and rewriting Leaves of Grass.)

Image retrieved from Causes

But does that make eBooks superior to hard copies? Will the electronic phase out print? I wouldn’t go that far.

In fact, the Golden Age of eBooks may have reached a plateau, if not a decline. Let’s look at some statistics from the Association of American Publishers:

  • In 2016, eBook revenue declined by 32.6% for trade books in the genre of children’s and YA books; adult trade eBooks saw a decline of 13.9%.
  • That same year, paperback revenue for children’s and YA books was up 0.9% with hardback revenue increasing by 10.7%; hardback revenue was down for adult trade books by 3.7%, but paperback revenue increased by 5.3%.
  • The AAP itself noted, “Reading preferences continue to shift. Print books saw growth, and for the second consecutive year publisher revenues from eBook sales declined and downloaded audio books grew.”

These trends show a decline in the sale of eBooks and a growth for paperbacks (hardbacks aren’t fairing quite as well). The audiobook rise is also an interesting pattern to explore, but that’s for another time.

Near the beginning of the eBook and eReader craze, the industry seemed so certain that electronic copies would win out. So, what happened? What’s pulling readers back to the print side?

The answer’s quite simple, really: fatigue. The light from LED screens are killing people’s eyes. Doctors have been hounding us about this issue for ages, and people are finally realizing the consequences. They pick up print books in order to give their eyes a rest from phone, computer, and tablet screens. We should’ve seen it coming, considering how we now have our faces in one screen or another close to 24/7.

Of course, some people will argue that it’s just because readers like the feel of print books better. They love to feel the paper run through their fingers, the smell of a new book is intoxicating. That very well may be true for some readers. Others, however, especially in the general population, just need to give their eyes a rest. Frankly, I don’t blame them. (I read eBooks a lot but much prefer print books.)

What does this mean for writers? I think it makes the decision between e-publishing and print publishing a lot harder.

On the one hand, print books are clearly selling better. On the other hand, readers may not want to buy a physical copy of book by a new or little-known writer. Personally, I don’t want to clutter my bookshelves unless the writer has been proven to be worth while, which is why I buy eBooks from new writers more often than their print books.

So, while eBooks may not win in the end, I think that they’re still a new writer’s best bet. This is especially true if they’re self-publishing. Not only is it (relatively) easier to both publish and revise this way, readers may be more likely to buy an eBook by a writer they haven’t heard of. Print will (probably) never die, but eBooks are a great tool that debut writers need to take advantage of.

What do you think? Will eBooks win over the reading population? Or will print keep its title? Which do you prefer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

3 thoughts on “eBooks vs. Print: Which Will Win?”

  1. I think both are viable. Although LED light is hard on the eyes, so is reading small type in print books. Many older people buy eBooks because they can enlarge the type.

    1. That’s a very good point. I suppose, given the fluctuations in the sales of both formats, they will probably just exist side-by-side for the foreseeable future. What I think will be interesting is if the sale of audiobooks continues to increase.

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