Wednesday, July 11, 2018


In a spate of articles, various publishing “experts” have questioned the growth of e-books. They suggest that traditional printed books were making a comeback at the expense of Amazon, which dominates the e-book landscape. They also claim that the increasing numbers of small, independent bookstores is a sure sign that the e-book revolution is slowing. They quote booksellers and readers who said they preferred the feel of printed books. (I don’t doubt that; I have several e-book readers, but still also enjoy reading the printed page.)

Their arguments are flawed, because the folks who wrote them only looked at the sales of the e-book versions of books also published in print. Those e-book sales may indeed be slipping, most likely because the so-called “legacy” publishers are keeping their prices relatively high. For example, take a novel selling at Barnes & Noble for $17.13 in hardcover and $14.99 as an e-book. For what amounts to a $2 difference, many people might indeed opt for the physical book.

But the great bulk of e-books are self-published. According to, a website that tracks all book sales, “indie authors and Amazon-imprint authors sell more e-books daily than all traditional publishers put together, a remarkable fact that most industry observers — ourselves included — still find hard to believe.” The website notes that publishing industry statistics from Nielsen, Bowker, and the like “all rely on counting ISBNs” ignoring the fact that “37% of all e-books sold on each day do not use ISBNs”. This is significant because “according to most industry accounts, 65% of all U.S. e-book sales happen through Amazon’s Kindle store”. contends that while e-book sales of popular authors may be lagging, sales of self-published authors are exploding, as more and more millennials eschew print for e-books. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a matter of economics. While there is plenty of self-published dreck, there also are some fine – or at least readable – self-published books. (Dreck, of course, isn’t limited to the self-publishing world; just check out any airport book kiosk.)

Dreckness aside, the typical self-published e-book sells for $2.99 on Amazon, earning a royalty of $2.05, which is comparable to what a “traditional” author might earn after agents, editors, publishers, and other middlemen take their cut of the pie. (And self-published authors who participate in Amazon’s KDP Select borrowing program earn additional funds for pages read.)

Now, this is not to say that most self-published authors are making a killing. Very few (myself included) do. The Hugh Howeys, John Lockes, Amanda Hockings and Joe Konraths in the Amazon million-seller universe are the exceptions.  

I love print books, particularly non-fiction. I find it hard to imagine enjoying illustrations, charts and graphics on anything but the printed page. The Battle of Gettysburg loses something on a Kindle or Nook.

I believe the literary world is big enough to permit both print and e-books to coexist. I also believe that critics do not give Amazon, in particular, and the e-book revolution, in general, enough credit for generating a new wave of reader enthusiasm.

Why do you think so many small bookstores are thriving?

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