Just in, a survey by Ricoh Americas Corporation conducted with the University of Colorado and entitled “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for US Book Manufacturers and Printers” has found that print is likely to enjoy a very long and loyal legacy tail. “Nearly 70 percent of consumers feel it is unlikely that they will give up on printed books by 2016,” states the survey. ” Consumers have an emotional and visceral/sensory attachment to printed books, potentially elevating them to a luxury item.”

As for the process that derived this conclusion, “we interviewed a triumvirate of stakeholders in the book industry: Publishers, book manufacturers and consumers located in the U.S.,” the survey text explains, outlining its methodology. “Double-blind telephone interviews were conducted with 4 publishers, 5 book manufacturers and 10 consumers—a sufficient number to validate our findings. In addition, 800 consumers responded to an email survey.”

Authors hoping for publishing houses to leap forward and grasp the opportunity to publish more for less than ever before are going to be disappointed. “Pressured to identify the next Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Gray, most of the larger publishers who control 80 percent of
the trade books industry are taking fewer chances on what they will publish in printed form lest they be stuck with lots of unsold inventory returns,” the survey states. “E-books represent an opportunity to eliminate the inventory risk, but e-books add additional publishing cost in preparation as few books are published exclusively in e-format.”

When regards the actual readership of ebooks, however, it appears that perception is reality – or rather, is creating the new reality. “When consumers were asked their opinion on the mix of printed versus e-books during 2012 and projected out to 2016, the responses were heavily weighted towards perceptions driven by news stories and headlines espousing the growth of e-books. Actual shipment data indicates e-books accounted for less than 20 percent of the mix in 2012. In many ways, perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” This is the kind of feedback loop that is going to be hard for traditional book production and bookselling to break, despite the 70 percent figure already mentioned.

This disparity between perceptual noise generated by media and the buzz factor around publishing innovation, and the actual reality of people’s current habits, would go a long way to explain some of the flip-flops in user behavior and uptake seen so far along the digital/print divide. Furthermore, “60 percent of eBooks downloaded are never read in the US,” and “college students prefer printed textbooks to eBooks as they help students to concentrate on the subject matter at hand.”

The study concludes that: “While printed books are irreversibly on a path of decline, it remains an extremely large market for print. Business model changes have shifted control over the value chain to authors and retailers, making demand unpredictable.”


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