Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why I'm Not Publishing Paper Books

Every now and then a reader asks me if my books are available in paper format.  With the exception of the copies of Wild Child that are still floating around and being sold secondhand on Amazon (read that interesting story here), the answer is an unfortunate "no."  I really hate the fact that some readers won't have a chance to experience some of my books (yet) because they at present do not own any type of e-reading device.  But when I carefully weigh the economic and other issues (which I weigh often), I just can't justify publishing my books on paper.

First:  sales of paper books are shrinking and sales of ebooks are growing.  That's a hard fact.  In June Amazon reported that sales of ebooks has exceeded sales of paper books, surpassing even their most optimistic forecasts.  At present, the market for paper books is similar to that of the market for typewriters in the early 1980s, when the PC market was exploding.  Yes, people are still using them, but the writing  (if you'll excuse the pun) is on the wall--they're going away, and going away fast.

There are still many die-hard paper book fans who resist this notion, don't accept it, don't want to believe it, and cling to all sorts of "logic" explaining why this isn't going to happen.  Trust me.  It is going to happen, and it's happening as we speak.

One reason the demise of paper books is inevitable because ebooks have so many advantages over them.  You can become overwhelmed just trying to make a list.  Off the top of my head:

- much easier and faster to buy and receive, and you can do it from virtually anywhere
- cheaper (in general)
- take up no physical space/you can carry your entire library everywhere you go
- can't be lost (your retailer always has a copy)
- have an adjustable type size so you don't ruin your eyesight
- etc.  (I'm sure you can name many more reasons--feel free to add them to the comments with this post)

When you've been in the ebook market a while, the objections you hear to the idea that paper books are going away start to follow a pattern, with many of the excuses rather unconvincing.  For example:  "I like to hold a book in my hands."  Well, if you buy a fold-over cover for your Kindle or other device, it feels very much like holding a book in your hands.  Interestingly, what I've noticed is that nearly all the people voice this objection do not yet own an e-reader or a tablet computer.  They seem to be basing their concern on reading books on a computer screen. It's not remotely the same.

Another objection, which makes me smile, is, "I love the smell of paper books."    The reason it makes me smile is that my wife used to say this all the time--she was the most die-hard paper book person you can imagine.  "I will NEVER use an e-reader," she would say.  "Never never NEVER!"

Ten minutes after I bought my Kindle, I downloaded a copy of one of her favorite books onto the gadget and handed it to her.

I never saw my Kindle again.  She's an avid reader, and within a week she was espousing the benefits of the device with the zeal of a TV evangelist.   It was almost scary.   That's what convinced me that even the most stubborn readers are going to become converts (I soon realized I would have to buy another Kindle, too)

But there are two broader reasons that I'm convinced that paper books are going away.

The first is that, as a university teacher, I can clearly what's happening in this area with textbooks.  University IT departments all over the world are scrambling to develop systems to deliver all textbooks electronically to students, who will all presumably own tablet computers (like the iPad) within a very short time, or will be required to own them.  Once that happens, you will have millions of students who are already well-accustomed to e-reading and will take all those advantages for granted.  Paper books will look as old fashioned and clunky as as cassette tapes look now.

But on an even broader level, environmental pressures are going to force the shift.  The world simply can't stand the amount of paper we're producing now, and--more importantly--the energy required and pollution produced from carting all of it around!  Wood and paper are one of the heaviest products to transport--we all know how much a box or suitcase full of books weighs.  This factor alone is enough to drive paper books "out of business."

So, that's a long way of explaining why I'm not publishing on paper.

There's simply no future in it.


  1. Hi,

    I think ebook is going to take over bu tit will proabbaly take schools adopting them to really kill off the paper book. A generation brought up wihtout paper books will probably be the ned of that.

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    Moody Writing

  2. I would tend to agree with you, but for one thing: tablet PCs. Only three years ago, smartphone penetration was less that 10%, and now it is approaching 50%. Tablets are in about the same position as Smartphones were then. Anyone with a tablet is going to quickly turn into an ebook reader, whether they bought it for that purpose or not.

  3. I just bought a kindle and the key reason, even though I have various other devices I could read stuff off of, is the e-ink. All day with a screen does murder to my eyes and tablets are just as bad. If they can make it so tablets can switch between the two, or generally improve screen technology to be more like the dedicated ereaders, then I think you'd be right. I have no idea how likely that is though.


    ps just had a look at my previous comment, I relaly need to sort my typing out, sorry about that.

  4. Yes, it seems that some sort of combination is needed on the screen issue, or just some new technology that does it all. Things are changing so fast it will be really interesting to see what comes out in the future!

  5. Just a note: - today indie publishing queen Amanda Hocking reported, offhandedly, that paper books make up only 1% of her total sales.

  6. Another factor is that you don't even NEED an e-reader. All you need is the e-reader app on your smart phone, iPad, or laptop!

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