The presumed conflict between print books and ebooks has been going on since ebooks first came out. First the deal was “ebooks will never catch on.” Riiight. We know how that one worked out. Then the argument evolved to “paper books are passé, and won’t exist in the future.” That remains to be seen, though I know some rabid readers who insist on holding a real, printed book in their hands. I (Anne here) recently ran across an article entitled “The Impact of Ebooks on Print Book Sales: Cannibalization and Market Expansion” by Hui Li. Always up for a tale of cannibalism (looove Hanibal Lecter as played by Anthony Hopkins), not to mention book sale info, I checked it out.
Briefly, the author’s objective was to model book buying on Amazon.com, for books available in both paper and ebook formats, to determine if ebooks were being bought instead of paper books, or in addition to paper books. And while I’m a science geek, I was never much into modeling, which is what this paper is all about. For those of you who aren’t familiar with mathematical modeling (we’re not talking clay here), let me just show you one of the equations from the paper.
Oookay. I’ve actually dealt with stuff like this before, but didn’t really like it. My loss. Anyway, you don’t need to be able to do the math to understand the premise of the article, which is…
People read more with ebooks!
What the author demonstrated was that ebooks did cannibalize the paper book market to some degree. Two thirds of the ebooks bought were bought instead of a paper book. Bad news if you have your entire bet riding on paper books. However, and this is a big however, one third of the ebook sales were due to market expansion. In the author’s words, “Market expansion is defined as the sales purely created by ebooks: those books will not be bought anyway without ebook version.”
So, since the advent of the e-reader, people are buying, and presumably reading, more books. I think this is terrific! Though there is that tendency to stock up on more books than one can hope to read in a lifetime, Li points out that people may read faster due to the convenience and portability of an e-reader. Hence, they read more. And though this paper only considered Kindles (to keep things standardized), just think of all the options you now have for reading ebooks: numerous types of e-readers, most any computer, tablets, even your smart phone! It’s so easy to whip out a phone or e-reader and finish up a chapter while you’re waiting in line. I know I was thankful for mine last year when we were sitting at the DMV waiting for our number to come up for service. A special consideration for us is space; living on a boat, I could never hope to have at my fingertips physical copies of all the books I have on my e-reader.
Another perspective I considered; how many people do you think are reading on their tablet or phone who wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a book around. Yup, I bet you could name someone. But electronics don’t have the “too brainy for your own good” stigma to them that books do. Electronics are cool.
To my mind, anything that gets people reading is a good thing.