Ebooks growth has been nosediving a bit of late; but, are the lackluster trends really something to be expected after such a rapid period of initial, and probably, unsustainable expansion.
Wave of ‘Bad’ E-Book News Dark Cloud or Blip?
A mini-wave of middling news has hit the e-book world in the past several weeks in contrast to the usual positive narrative about explosive growth and boundless opportunity. Is it a dark cloud on the horizon or just a blip on the radar?
Mixed metaphors aside, what’s really going on with e-books right now? Despite the “bad” news, experts and observers say that e-book publishers have little to worry about.
Profits are down at romance-book publisher and e-book vanguard Harlequin due to print declines that were not offset by digital gains. The Association of American Publishers announced weaker-than-expected adult trade e-book growth in February, the most recent month for which numbers are available. The rate of increase for Simon & Schuster’s digital sales continued to decline, according to the company’s first quarter results. And after a banner fourth quarter 2011, sales of Amazon’s Kindle Fire reportedly fell off a cliff in the first quarter of 2012 (which could be good or bad news for e-book publishers, depending on how you look at it).
“I’m not hearing alarm bells from publishers yet,” said James McQuivey, Ph.D. and principal analyst at Forrester who covers the book industry. “So I can’t say whether there is an overall softening or just unevenness in the data or just that each of these things is potentially explainable as due to circumstances specific to the players involved.”
While the above news isn’t exactly “bad,” it contrasts somewhat with the long-term narrative of e-book growth that has been steady since the Kindle came out in 2007.
“We’ve become addicted to the pace of change,” said Thad McIlroy, a Vancouver-based digital publishing consultant. “So if any market numbers emerge that suggest that the pace of change may be in some way slowing, we react with disappointment.”
Publishers of e-books should be reacting to such news with “quiet celebration,” said McIlroy.
“Every executive in publishing today already has a 70-page ‘to-do’ list,” said McIlroy, suggesting that a slow-down in the pace of change would give publishers a moment to catch up with it.
Regarding the reported slow down in Kindle Fire sales, industry observer Chris Rechsteiner doesn’t buy it.