images.jpegThat’s the title of a blog post by Evan Schnittman. His is responding to an article in the Bookseller which stated that growing ebook sales of romance and science fiction have led to a cannibalization of printed books in those genres.

While I see the logic behind this understanding – I posit a slightly more nuanced definition of what is happening: Ebooks aren’t cannibalizing print books — consumers with ebook reading devices are, as a rule, no longer buying print books. Subtle? Yes, but from a commercial publishing point of view this is a crucial difference between seeing a direct correlation between ebooks and print books and understanding what happens to a customer when they make the switch to reading devices. …

This is a critical understanding of ebook customers. They invest in a device and platform to read books and therefore become dependent on those channels of ebook distribution for their content. They don’t go into stores and are not very likely to shop in online environments that feature ebooks and print books. Ebookstores on ebook reading devices sell only ebooks. Print is not part of the experience. …

The most important lesson I can convey to book publishing professionals is that they must understand that those of us who have made the transition to ebooks, buy ebooks, not print books. Ebook reading device users don’t shop in bookstores and then decide what edition they want; ebook device readers buy what is available in ebookstores. Search an ebookstore for a title and if it doesn’t come up, it doesn’t exist – no matter how many versions are available in print.

I think there is a lot of truth in this. Since I have owned my first Kindle I have rarely, very rarely, bought a paper book, and I bet it is the same for most ereading people. If the ebook is not in an ebookstore I won’t buy the hard cover. I’ll wait for it to come out in e format and if it doesn’t I won’t buy it at all.


  1. I absolutely agree!

    There are books on my Amazon Wish List that have been there since I got my K1 and are still not available as e-books…and I still have no intention of purchasing them as paperbooks.

    I check every month or so to see if the e-book is available, if not, I click the “I’d like to read this book on my Kindle” button and move on.

    Lately, I’ve been checking my local library for audio editions of these no-digital-edition-available- titles and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to find quite a few of them as audiobooks.

    The library had hardcover editions of these same books, but I wasn’t tempted. I enjoy audiobooks while I’m driving or doing the many mindless tasks that take up so much of our daily lives, but when I sit down to relax with a book, it will be an e-book.

    Note to publishers: I am no longer a paperbook consumer and I am not alone. If you want my business, digitize!

  2. I agree with you as well. And I’m surprised by my own behavior; if anyone told me 18 months ago that I would never buy another print book I would have laughed. I’m sold on the convenience and portability of my Kindle library, though, so I keep a running list of print books I would like to buy… when they’re available for Kindle.

    I took a step further this week. I started weeding out my print books. What will I do with all those bookshelves now?

  3. Frankly, it is amazing to me that the writer felt the need to point out this rather logical line of consumer-related reasoning. He did so, however, with tact and grace that an old-school publisher should well appreciate. Some folks just can’t get it into their heads that the industry is changing , for better or worse, or both; instead of working with the tide of consumer spending and preference trends they swim against the tide and lash out at anything they view as ‘blameworthy’.

    The complaining ‘book seller’ obviously had not looked at 4shared or other pirating sites in the last few years; even before eBooks really took hold one could find all of Stephen King’s latest works scanned there.

  4. I think the situation is a bit subtler, but the thrust is right; the books I *really, really* want to read, I read regardless of format – sure i prefer them in e but I would read them scribbled on toilet paper so to speak; those say on the tune of 50-60 a year make maybe 1/4 of the books I finish; the rest though whcih are the majority of what I read numerically, are basically e-priority big time, so while I may read some print too, the e’s outnumber them 5:1 or more and they are much, much more likely to be read by me.

  5. I stopped reading paper about 10 years ago. Very frustrating when the book I want to read isn’t available in ebook format – or, worse, is available but not in Canada. Too bad, publishers have lost and continue to lose *many* sales opportunities because of their shortsightedness.

  6. In the niche romance that I read (ahem, the kind not carried in libraries), paperbacks range from $14-20 and ebooks from $4-7. I started reading ebooks on my PC just because of the high paperback prices. In my case one might say that ebooks cannibalized paper, but since I was gifted a Kindle I can honestly say I prefer ereading now and wouldn’t go back to paper even if paper prices came down (not going to happen) or ebook prices went up (if they think piracy is bad now…)

  7. Alain: It’s not necessarily the publishers that are keeping e-books out of Canada. Your country has enacted a number of laws to protect Canadian culture from being trampled by (let’s be candid) American culture. The Investment Canada Act is one of the major tools used to control what e-books can be sold in Canada, and by whom.

  8. Most e-book readers tend to come from print reading background if only because of their older average age (43 to 46). Migration from print to screen is logical once you are habituated to the reading device. But device dependent readers should also be prepared for higher prices once they venture beyond popular genres. I have paid $44 for an e-book (Yale University Press).

    Another factor is the possibility that this is not a fixed market to be shared by print and screen. Book printing continues to advance and grow and can expand its own new markets, especially in self-publishing services. Another factor is that purchase of e-books is easier and features fewer restraints than print purchase. That would be in publishers’ favor since they count book sales rather than books read. Print books tend to “grin you down” on the shelf until you read them.

  9. I miss browsing in physical book stores, but there is no going back. I am only reading ebooks now and if there is no ebook I don’t buy. I also won’t buy if there is a series with one or more missing ebooks.

    A significant percentage of my ebook library are titles I bought before in paperback. I don’t hesitate to buy an entire series, for example, if it is available as ebooks and I read the start of the series in paperback. I would buy more if more of the backlist of authors I follow was available.

  10. For avid readers who have ereaders, I’m probably not alone in switching to ebooks in part because my space for books is limited, and I’ve pretty much reached that limit. If the publishers want me to keep buying, anything they publish ought to have an ebook edition.

  11. I agree, and would add this: Publishers and authors actually make MORE from me since I got my Kindle. I was getting my books from used book stores and the library pre-Kindle. Publishers & authors weren’t making any money from my books purchases. Now they are. If they think holding eBook releases is getting me to buy paper books instead, they’re dead wrong.

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