Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

E-Books Versus Paper or Authors Gotta Write

E-Books Versus Paper or Authors Gotta Write

By Dennis D. McDonald

We’re seeing a lot about whether e-book sales have plateaued and whether there has been a resurgence of traditional printed book sales.

While such statistics are probably reliable, looking only at book consumption gives us an incomplete picture of e-books vs. printed books. We need to look at authorship as well.

People write books for many reasons and many reader types. One overarching reason for authorship, regardless of how books are sold and distributed, is that authors write to reach readers.

In 2008 as I was beginning serious use of the Kindle technology I wrote a blog post titled Why Books Will Survive. I listed three reasons why I thought books – regardless of format -- will survive:

  1. Authors will always need to create unified and organized pieces of intellectual property that encompasses one or many ideas.
  2. Creating work as long as the book forces others to think, plan, and organize work that often requires a full-length book to present.
  3. Serious readers will always need and value the thought that goes into creating such works.

Are these reasons still true in 2016? I think so. While it’s possible that different distribution channels can increase the likelihood that new audiences will be found, most authors will, I think, first consider what they want to write for their audience, then they will consider the channels to use to reach those audiences.  

To what extent will the the author care whether a book is read electronically or on paper? This will most likely differ by book type and by the mix of text and non-text or interactive contents. Also, paper books are sometimes priced much higher than the electronic book. The extent to which this price differential impacts total sales (both units and revenue) is hard to say. It is difficult to tell whether e-books are “poaching” on likely paper sales or adding new readers who wouldn’t have considered buying the paper version anyway.

One thing that has changed about authorship in recent decades is that it is now possible for the author to communicate directly with more readers to find out what interests them or to work with them collaboratively on creating new content.

I don’t think this really impacts the print-vs-e-book consumption question. Electronic media and networks will be employed during the authorship process regardless of how the book will be distributed. In my case, for example, receiving an email from an author of a series I liked and with whom I had exchanged emails did lead to my clicking over to Amazon immediately to order the Kindle version of a new release.

Another impact of electronic communication is that some authors are now less dependent on large publishers for physical production, marketing, and distribution; they can do some of this themselves or with small independent companies. Other authors will still rely on the editorial and marketing expertise of traditional publishers, one example being when complex textbooks and professional books require significant front end investments.

I find that choosing how to access books is not unlike the movies. Sometimes I like to go out to a real theater, sometimes I’ll want to sit in front of a large screen with surround sound, and sometimes I’ll be satisfied with watching a movie on my iPhone.

So it is with books. Sometimes I like to sit down in front of a fireplace with a book on my lap, sometimes I like to listen to a recorded book while driving in the car, and sometimes I’ll click on my phone to read if I wake up in the middle of the night. These are good choices to have.

Copyright © 2016 by Dennis D. McDonal

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