Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reading Into the So-Called Decline of eBooks

I was reading the 2015 technology predictions from global consulting firm Deloitte released today. Of Deloitte's various and sensible predictions, one stood out for seeming counter intuitive to prevailing trends:
A decade on from the launch of the eReader, print still dominates book sales even in markets with high digital device penetration – and print will likely generate the majority of books sales for the foreseeable future. Sales of eBooks have hit a plateau, or seen decelerating growth, in major markets including the US, UK and Canada. (source)
Particularly surprising in their report is that digital natives are not widely adopting eBooks, instead preferring print books, as Deloitte explains:
Nearly half of 16-34 year-olds agreed that 'eBooks will never take the place of real books for me'. Why do millennials show a preference for print books? One UK study found that 62 percent of 16-24s prefer buying print books over eBooks because they like to collect, ‘like the smell’ and ‘want full bookshelves’. (source)
In the Words of Digital Natives
I was working today at an eBusiness class with digital natives, so I couldn't resist posing this enigma to them. If there was any group that would be most apt to vouch for eBooks you'd think it would be students aged 19-25 in an Internet program. But it was not the case. None of the students appeared surprised by this prediction. One student put it quite simply "It's because eReaders suck!"

Although not a representative sample, none of the students spoke out in support of eBooks, yet they appeared to be quite familiar with eReaders. Various students identified problems with eReaders compared to print books, such as:
  • battery life is a pain and goes out too quickly
  • usability generally poor
  • doesn't facilitate taking notes in the margin
  • hate eBooks that have expiry dates
  • creates eye strain
  • want the ability to give books to friends or resell them
About the Author
This topic has been particularly timely for me as we just got our first eReader this Christmas and began reading our first eBook a couple weeks ago. We got a Kobo device and love it - and coincidentally it is made by a Canadian company. I've been very happy with it, but I thought that I'd let my wife and daughter share their thoughts.

They both loved how easy it is to get books from the library. My wife loved how small and light it is and that it stores multiple books at the same time, "so if you are going on a trip you can take a bunch of books with you very easily". My wife loved the ability of being able to increase the font size and have the book still be easily readable:
Being able to make the font really big is great for my bad eyes. Large-print books are too big, heavy, and hard to find and not all books are readily available in this format. I like that it lights up as I like to have a lot of light when I read. I have used it for over two hours and I didn't get a headache - it's the font size plus the lack of glare.
My young daughter quickly was able to use the various features of the eReader, such as increasing the brightness, search, bookmarks, etc. Here is what she has to say:
I love the eReader. It is easy to use and to read with it. I also like that they have other things that you can do on it like draw. I like how you can get free books from [Project] Gutenberg.
Both agreed, however, that despite these benefits they still preferred print books more. As my wife noted:
I'm of two minds with eBooks compared to print books. I like the tangible qualities of a book. I like seeing books on my shelf and go back to old books. I also like to make notes on my book in my own handwriting.
Counter Points
I was still curious, so I investigated the matter more. First of all, the stats indicating the decline in eBook sales is not quite certain. The Guardian reported a study today from Nielsen that eBooks in the U.K. are cannibalizing print books and are expected to grow:
We think consumer eBooks this year will be worth £350m, with most big publishers reporting eBook growth of double digits – and almost all of that will be in fiction.
Also, Deloitte's findings appear to be focused on eBook sales from book retailers - and likely do not include sales from self-published eBooks or indie publishers or readership of free eBooks and from public libraries. An article also published today in Information Today discusses this issue as well, but notes the high use of eResources from public libraries (my hometown of Toronto was one of two public libraries to have over 2 million such checkouts last year) indicates "e-reading is becoming a staple in libraries across North America".

The Last Word
As it turns out, such a prediction for eBooks is not new as Metro news wrote last April that the reported decline of the eBook has been greatly exaggerated.

The video from Ikea hilariously addresses these points and the return to old tech.

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