Are e-readers filled with garbage?

man-smoking-jacket

Every now and then I like to look back through older posts on my blog. It’s a form of masochism built upon equal parts fascination with forgotten ideas and revulsion at missed typos and awkwardly phrased run on sentences that really don’t know when to end, that should have ended sooner, and aren’t something I do anymore. One snarky post caught my eye and I thought I should retread that ground.

The post was based upon an article in The Guardian, one of the last bastions of book snobbery that manages to not trip over its own superiority complex – sometimes. The article had decided that all of these new-fangled e-readers weren’t filled with the right kinds of books.

Kindle-owning bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.

Ahh, good, they’ve figured out what people actually enjoy reading. Do go on.

The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliche is left unturned, no adjective underplayed.

“So-called” genre fiction categories of horror and romance… This article was published by a so-called newspaper.

At this point, you can see why I originally wrote about this article. Like many of these worthiness arguments, the article is quick to deride any genre book, particularly e-books in this case, as not having “classic” potential. You know, classics like The Godfather (crime), Lord of the Rings (fantasy), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (science fiction), Frankenstein (horror), or Pride and Prejudice (romance). Why would anyone ever read dreck like genre fiction?

As I’ve said before, I could easily write a post-a-week pulling apart one of these articles. They are very common and rely on the same handful of bad arguments. In my original response to the article, I wrote that literary fiction – the preferred genre of the authors of these sorts of articles – and biography markets have been kept afloat by this sort of snobbery. People like to be seen reading high-brow stuff, and people like to give worthy books to friends and family. Not one person has ever bought a political memoir to read, they are always a Father’s Day gift. And as the article states, e-book readers don’t have to let people see what they are reading, so they don’t have to pretend any longer.

The reading public in private is lazy and smuttyE-readers hide the material. Erotica sells well. My own downmarket literary fetish is male-oriented historical fiction (histfic). Swords and sails stuff. I’m happier reading it on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.

Well, maybe people will pretend just a bit longer…

Since this was an article from 2012, the talk of e-books was as they were ascending in popularity. Growth in the e-book market has since slowed, with the market being 20% of the total sales for the major publishers, down from a high of 28% five years ago. Of course, in the fiction market e-books are more like 50% of sales for the Big 5 publishers. And those publishers are having trouble with new fiction titles, as they haven’t had any “big titles” selling well, instead relying on genre fiction backlists and the sudden interest in political books… Wait, what?

It puzzles me why the author of this article insisted that e-readers are filled with garbage, particularly since the arguments supporting the claim lack evidence. A large chunk of book sales from major publishers are e-books, so it can’t all be the dreck titles, can it? What proof do we have that e-readers only contain Twilight fan-fiction and Dan Brown* novels? The proof we are offered is that anything genre is garbage: checkmate person who reads books! So maybe these article writers at The Guardian are onto something, maybe e-readers like the Kindle are filled with garbage.

Guardian on Amazon

 

*Sorry Dan**, you and James Paterson are my go-to punching bags here. If I’ve offended you or James by suggesting your books aren’t high-quality writing, then I’m quite happy to edit out those comments from my blog for a small six or seven figure fee. Just post me one of the bags of money you use as a pillow, that should cover it.

**Language expert take on Dan Brown novels: “A renowned male expert at something dies a hideous death and straight away a renowned expert at something quite different gets a surprise call and has to take an unexpected plane flight and then face some 36 hours of astoundingly dangerous and exhausting adventures involving a good-looking (and of course expert) member of the opposite sex and when the two of them finally get access to a double bed she disrobes and tells him mischievously (almost minatorily) to prepare himself for strenuous sex. Where are we?” And another.

 

 

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E-Readers Are Cool

That’s right, E-readers were the gift of gifts this holidays. Now the Pew Institute have crunched the numbers to look at who was buying them and how this has changed over time. Report here.

The researchers performed phone interviews with 2,986 people and asked them, “Are you cool enough to own the greatest gadget since Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?” With an error rate of 2.2%, the results were as follows:

  • E-readers and tablets were owned by 10% of people in December 2011.
    • This was 19% in January 2012.
  • The proportion of people owning at least one of these two increased from 18% to 29%.
  • Tablet owners are likely to be under 50 years old and have graduated college.
    • They are also likely to make enough money to buy lots of apps and books.
  • E-readers are more popular with women and the 30-49 age group.
    • E-readers are still pretty popular with anyone under 65.
  • College graduates and rich folks also love E-readers.
  • You should own an E-reader.

I have my E-reader, the new Kindle. I still love my pile of dead tree books, but I also love my Kindle.

My Kindle and a DTB

An Update – Publishing Figures

I posted a few days ago about how publishing houses had had a fairly good year. All the publishers who had embraced e-books had seen an increase in profits and were probably uncorking some champagne and planning a big Xmas party to celebrate. Jill in accounting was probably going to receive a bonus as well.

The sales figures were released a week or so ago for the third quarter of this year, or is that first quarter of the financial year, and why is that different from a normal year; just to be different or annoying? E-books appear to be continuing to replace the mass market paperback, which makes sense. Given the publisher’s bottom lines and these market indicators, we could see a speed up in the push for e-books by the major players in the industry. It might also be whining time for bookstores, well, more-so.

BOOKSELLING

Mass Market Paperback Sales Down 54%

By Jason Boog on December 1, 2011 3:47 PM

According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) net sales revenue report for September 2011, the adult mass paperback category declined 54 percent (to $31 million) in September compared to the same period last year.
At the same time, adult hardcover sales dropped 18 percent (to $148.3) while eBook sales doubled to $80.3 million. Above, we’ve embedded the AAP’s sales chart.
Here’s more: “With September also being the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, Higher Education showed a nearly 9% gain in net revenue vs September 2010. Additionally, there was significant growth in the category of Professional Books (in the Professional and Scholarly Publishing division) in September, increasing nearly 13% … The September report represents data provided by 80 US publishers and is produced by the Association of American Publishers.”

Books are dead. Just kidding.

The report of my death was an exaggeration – Mark Twain

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/30/death-books-exaggerated
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/22/are-books-dead-ewan-morrison

You know, there is nothing better than media speculators. Any possible change in an industry, government, or price of coffee and they suddenly start predicting the end of the world. Some changes, like any Apple product, are welcomed with open advertising arms, other changes, like e-books, are threatening jobs.

So how did the publishers fare this year? They lost major stores (Borders, REDGroup), had a decrease in stocking at big box stores, and had the market flooded with a slush pile. Turns out they did pretty well.

That’s right, e-books are more profitable and have generally replaced the paperback sales decline. Who’d have thought that people who enjoy reading wouldn’t suddenly stop reading? Did not see that one coming.

Book sales: told ya!

There is nothing better than to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women. The other thing that is quite nice is to be right.

In fairness a lot of people were right. Konrath has been saying for years that e-books will replace DTB (dead tree books). I posted a prediction here about what the market will look like by the end of the decade. I said that e-books would win. Guess what: they are starting their winning streak.

The figures are in for the publishing industry (source: Association of American Publishers). The year to date shows strong growth in e-book revenue, declines in anything you can’t download, and that there is a growing market for Christian fiction. Maybe I should write a Christian thriller, with Jesus as the central protagonist, a man who had been forsook, turned to alcohol (well it starts out as water), and investigates paranormal phenomena in the wake of his death. I smell best-seller!

Something that jumps right out at me with these figures is that numbers don’t jump. The other thing is that e-books have essentially replaced the other mediums (if you ignore kids books). E-books have grown from 7% to 18% in 12 months – I hate the 144% figure as it is misleading, I’ve always preferred quoting figures as a proportion of the total. The change in kids books then accounts for the decline in the industry of $100 million.

E-books are doing very well.

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