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Has the E-book Peaked?

The American Conservative

First published on http://www.theamericanconservative.com/

Nicholas Carr notes a steep decline in the growth rate of e-book readership, which increased at only 5 percent in the first quarter of 2013. E-books are still an expanding market—again this is a slowdown in the rate of growth, not a decline in overall sales—but Carr wonders whether they might soon reach at a plateau. He writes:

E-books are still taking share from printed books, sales of which declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but the anemic growth of the electronic market calls into question the strength of the so-called “digital revolution” in the book business. E-books now represent a bit less than 25 percent of total book sales. That’s a healthy share, but it’s still a long way from dominance. The AAP findings are backed up by a remarkable new Nielsen report indicating that worldwide e-book sales actually declined slightly in the first quarter from year-earlier levels—something that would have seemed inconceivable a couple of years ago.

Carr has number of thoughts about what might be contributing to this slowdown, and he’s particularly curious whether the success of multitasking tablet devices relative to dedicated e-readers is a factor. There’s a lot more to do with an iPad than just read e-books, which can’t really be said about the older generation of Kindle….

I suspect another point Carr raises may be more significant:

The early adopters, who tend also to be the enthusiastic adopters, have already made their move to e-books. Further converts will be harder to come by, particularly given the fact that 59 percent of American book readers say they have “no interest” in e-books, according to the Bowker report.

There’s more to this than just early adopters. The book-reading public is presumably disproportionately older (but see below) and therefore less likely than younger Americans to adopt new technologies quickly. A segment of middle-aged and older readers are more technologically adventurous than most, and that segment may indeed have already made their transition to e-books, while their peers aren’t interested at all in books without pulp and glue. The bigger question is what becomes of younger Americans: are they going to read books at all, and if they do, will they be more inclined over time to read e-books rather than bound ones?


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