‘Hybrid’ readers juggle print copies and e-books

Are book publishers weathering digital disruption better than their peers in the music and television industries? In The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead [New York Times] Alexandra Alter reports that print and digital book sales may have reached equilibrium. Print versions may even be regaining market share.

TabletsMany consumers are now “hybrid readers,” Alter suggests, purchasing both print copies and digital versions. E-book sales (about 20 percent of the market) are sliding this year. Business is improving at independent bookstores like Boulder Book Store in Boulder, CO, and BookPeople, in Austin, TX, where sales are up nearly 11 percent this year. And major publishers like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins are investing in more efficient warehouses and distribution.

The clearest trend is the decline of dedicated e-book reading devices. These devices emerged about 2008 with Amazon’s Kindle, with Kobo and Barnes and Noble’s Nook arriving soon after. Sales of those devices peaked in 2011 and have fallen dramatically as consumers adopt multi-purpose devices like tablets and smartphones. According to a Nielsen survey, only 32 percent of readers use e-readers as their primary reading mode, down from 50 percent three years ago. Industry observer Mike Shatzkin sees the Nook in an “accelerating slide to oblivion.”

e-reader sales growth decline Shipments of e-book readers worldwide peaked in 2011.

Quirky independents survive, soulless megachains go under

Borders has gone the way of Tower Records, Hollywood Video, Virgin Megastore, and Blockbuster, but happily,

“the best locally-owned purveyors of physical media seem to be in better shape than the soulless megachains. San Francisco’s Amoeba Music, Le Video, and Green Apple Books, for instance, are sprawling, wonderfully quirky independents that are still very much with us.”

See Harry McCracken’s “Decline and Fall of Physical Media Retailing: A Timeline” in Technologizer (Feb 17, 2011)

See also New York Magazine’s list of independent bookstores in Manhattan.