In May of last year, Amazon announced that it sold more e-books than printed books.  Specifically, it said that it was selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed versions.  Moreover, Amazon sold 8 million Kindles last year.  That amounted to 5% of its book sales.  Amazon is estimated to have a 58% share of the US e-book market.  (Barnes & Noble has 27%; Apple 9% and others 6%.)

Interestingly, in the UK, 92 our of every 100 books is a printed version.

But, clearly, the e-book is becoming very important indeed.

From an author’s perspective, one has to publish in e-book format as well as in the  printed version.  If only a printed version is available, one can lose out on sales.  When Fishing in Foreign Seas was first published in a hard back, printed version in 2009, I didn’t see the need for an e-book version.  E-books were available then, but not such a big chunk of the market.  So, earlier this month, I’ve changed my mind and the e-book version of Fishing in Foreign Seas is available.  Sin & Contrition (published last year) is available in electronic and printed versions, and I expect my future novels will be available in both versions.

The royalties for an author on an e-book are typically in the range of $1 -$2 per copy.  For a printed version royalties can be about 3 – 4 times as much.  When one looks at it that way, e-books are not so attractive for an author.  But international sales of e-book titles are considerably higher than printed titles: shipping is next to nothing for an e-book sold overseas.  I also wonder whether it isn’t easier to make the decision to buy an e-book than to buy a printed copy.  Generally, a printed book will cost about twice as much as an e-book, when shipping is  included.  So, I’m inclined to think that when a serious reader is shopping, s/he will buy 2-3 e-books instead of 1-2 printed books.  And if s/he decides s/he doesn’t like the e-book, s/he’ll just delete it.  (Instantaneous recycling!)

Some of the advantages of e-books are:

  • they take up a negligible amount of space
  • they are readable in low light or even total darkness
  • text-to-speech software will mean that the book can be read aloud
  • there is the possibility of translation, via software, into another language
  • printing of e-books does not consume paper and ink
  • additional software permits searching the text, and looking up definitions

Some of the advantages of printed books are:

  • they have the traditional, comforting feel of a real book
  • they are tangible and easy to give as a present
  • books with large pictures (such as childrens’ books) are more suitable in a printed version
  • because of data rights management it may not be legal to sell or lend an e-book to a third party
  • the content of a printed book may be taken more seriously, while there may be a temptation to skim an e-book or to use it for reference material

A few days ago, it was reported in the British press that Waterstones (the UK equivalent of Barnes & Noble) had signed an “e-book deal with ‘devil’ Amazon”!  The deal is that Waterstones will sell Amazon Kindles in their shops, and permit their customers to purchase e-books in their stores via WIFI.  This made news because, unlike Barnes & Noble, Waterstones had no ability to sell e-books.  2000 bookstores in the UK have closed in the past 6 years, but that trend has nothing to do with e-books.  It’s to do with the Internet being the perfect place to shop for books.

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