Are E-Books & E-Readers Killing Printed Books

Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant

Did you see the announcement that Transcontinental, the largest printer in Canada and the fourth-largest in North America, is selling their book division? In case you missed it, Transcontinental announced they are selling their book printing assets to Marquis Book Printing. Is this a sign of problems in the book market? This announcement as well as others has reignited the conversation about E-Books vs. Printed Books.
Those who would argue e-books are killing printed books would point to Association of American Publishers data from 9/11 that major trade categories fell 22.9% in the first six months of 2011. Or to data that in 2011 that e-book versions of novels aimed at adults outsold hardcover’s for the first time. The study revealed that while the publishing industry had expanded overall, publishers’ mass-market paperback sales had fallen 14 percent since 2008. Net sales of e-books increased to 15 percent of the market in 2011 from 6 percent in 2010.
Years ago when you asked people if they preferred reading from their computers or reading from print, the overwhelming response was print. But the popularity of reading from screens is growing. In 2010, Gartner surveyed 1,569 consumers in six countries – the US, UK, China, Japan, Italy and India – about their subjective experiences of reading on screen versus reading printed paper text. They reported that the amount of time people spend reading on a digital screen was almost equal to the time spent reading text printed on paper. A majority of tablet and iPad users say they find screen reading either easier than reading printed text (52 percent) or about the same (42 percent).Amazon Kindle e-reader
Personally I don’t think it is that close anymore, because the resolution on screens and the technology in e-readers is improving and gaining greater acceptance. As an owner of both a Kindle and an iPad, I like reading from the iPad for an hour or less, but for long flights I prefer the Kindle screen. And let’s not forget that Apple has started shifting the resolution of both the iPad3 and Macbook Pro models to the “Retina display,” which has much higher density and is claimed to be easier to read.
However, there is data that says that book printing is alive and well. Bowker, a leader in compiling bibliographic information, released its annual report recently on U.S. print book publishing for 2011. Based on early numbers, they are projecting that traditional print book output grew six percent in 2011. At first glance that represents the most significant expansion in more than four years for America’s traditional publishing sector. But if you remove the self-publishing market from the calculations then the market data shows that books are relatively flat from 2010.
Another interesting aspect of reading preference is the importance of the purpose or the place where you read. A recent Pew Study found that people prefer printed books when sharing with other adults or reading to a child. The preference was fairly close when reading in bed or when they have a wide selection to choose from. And they prefer e-books when traveling or need to find a book quickly.
According to Reuters, while e-books increased in strength, bringing in more than $2 billion in 2011, the majority of publishers’ revenue still came from print books, with $11.1 billion in 2011. “We’re delighted to see it (the report) affirm that the industry has remained steady, and has even grown in some areas, in what continues to be a challenging economic time and through such significant transformation,” said Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, in an email cited in the Reuters article.
We will follow up with another blog on this, but we are interested in your feedback. First, we would like to hear from you. What would you like to hear about in this debate? And second, what is your opinion? Can you answer these?

  • When it comes to books, do you prefer paper or pixels?
  • Do you think e-books are killing printed books?
  • Which markets will survive and what new markets may appear?

Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in:

Related Posts


  1. Diego Pereda August 9, 2012 -

    NO question about it, I prefer PAPER!

    I do think this shift is irreversible. e-books are here to replace printed and those of us that like printed will have to pay more for them and use an on-demand machine like the Espresso Book Maker.

    As for new markets, I think the integration of the written word with an improved “experience” (augmented reality, web browsing, multi-users, etc) could be an emergence of this industry (like movies were for theater)

    (I am a Xerox employee)

  2. Kevin Keane August 9, 2012 -

    Hi Howie

    Impeccable, terrific research. Thank you!

    I remain an ink on paper devotee, but certainly see the growth in e-reader formats to be a next wave event. Some have urged the view that the wave is cresting. My sense, as a grandpa, is that the next gen kidlets are all screen all the time. Wish it were not so, but there you go.

    The central issue for me remains not what format may triumph, but what may happen to our data, our history, our sense of who we are and where we came from if all information is retained only in digital format.

    One of the real feathers in the global graphic arts industries chapeau has been our stewardship of recorded civilization. We have been the proud curators of the patrimony of print. The truth is, no one knows for sure how long digital data can be preserved or, even more frustratingly — accessed in the future.

    Recently, I was functioning as an expert witness in a lawsuit for a well known International printing concern. When I went to law school, I delighted in the process of Shepardizing a case – researching thru the stacks and the long gray line of case law by virtue of a key number citation system. I asked the two young Intellectual Property lawyers who were litigating the case if they had ever ‘shepardized’. One said she had done so. Once. The other young dude looked at me like I had Viking horns. He had no clue.

    The permanence of print is still of primary value, unless we want our footsteps on the sands of time to be evanescent and truly Gone with the Wind. IMHO 🙂

    Thank you again, you are a treasure for our industry my friend!

  3. Andrew Gordon August 9, 2012 -

    Great post Howie! I sponsored a Gilbane study a few years ago on this topic and also chaired a PRIMIR study on the topic. This certainly is a time of transformation for the book publishing industry. Any stats on total books read including e-books and print? I think the broader question is the relevancy of long form books and the impact on total book sales. This would speak to the health of the book publishing market. Would love to here your thoughts on this question.

  4. Howie Fenton August 9, 2012 -

    Great feedback Diego, Kevin, and Andrew,

    Here is something else that I find interesting. Many people talk about how pixel vs paper preference is determined mostly on age or based on different generations. I disagree. Walk onto a commuter train or airplane and you will see Kindles and iPads everywhere used by people ranging from their teens to their seventies. And when I you interview kids on college campuses more then half talk about how they prefer their textbooks printed. There are many things determining preference and printed product market success … after yes after some more feedback I will post another blog that addresses some of the questions as well as where can we expect growth.


  5. John Conley August 9, 2012 -

    Great comments by everyone.

    I use all THREE platforms now for books; Paper, E Readers, and digital audio. I spend more today on my total book purchases then every before and I am consuming more because I am not limited to when I can hold a physical book. The physical book is still my favorite format.

    E books are not killing physical books. They are augment the platform that today’s broad base of end users want to meet their needs. More Book Units are being consumed and this is good for publsihing. New Publshing venues driven by the Self Publishing segment has openned up new Publishing models that expands new content and creates better opportuinties for everyone including traditional publishers. It is a new market.

    What will go away will probalbly be the mass market paperback. This will be a function of economics and distribution model. Its steep decline over the past 4 years can be well doccumented and i think this is where a good deal of the Ebook volume is coming from when you look at winners and losers. (best sellers are the other big winner in Ebooks.)

    Higher Education text books will be the other long term loser but this will take some more time. Publsihers are investing in the formats and delivery systems but I would classify this as still developmental. The hardward is good but the content is not right. Howie is abolutely correct when he states that Higher Education Students are still chooseing print over digital. The reason is simple. They are very price to value oriented and the digital still does not give them as much total value and utility as physical.


    I am a Xerox Employee

  6. Caroline Rowley August 10, 2012 -

    I am old school – I like real books. I love going to the library and browsing through endless shelves of books, spotting interesting looking covers and reading the backs of them. Sometimes you can judge a book by it’s cover. Can’t do that with a Kindle.

    Good comment by Kevin – what will happen in the future if all information is digitized? What will happen when the deluge comes and electricity is a thing of the past – your Kindle will be useless then 🙂 That is tongue in cheek but none of us really knows what the future holds.

    I know there are some schools that are switching to ebooks and I certainly see the benefits of this – not just the cost savings but also health benefits – my 12 year old daughter’s school bag weighs a ridiculous amount and she won’t use one with wheels cos it’s not cool!


    Also a Xerox employee

  7. Dierdre August 10, 2012 -

    Thanks for this blog. I use an ereader, ebooks and printed books. There is a place and time for all formats. Clearly there will be a decline in printed formats as the other formats become more accessible to the consumer and technology is enabling this to happen via mobile devices, tablets and readers. It is important for Xerox to postiion itself as a player in multichannel delivery to ensure that it continues to be a player in this rapidly changing market in how consumers and business perfer to access and consume communication. The ability to add social media and video to the electronic version will only enhance the readers ability to quickly comprehend the content.

    I am a Xerox employee

  8. Jeffrey Yorio August 10, 2012 -

    Nice commentary by all. Perhaps the survey provides the answer. E-books by those traveling or looking to find a book quickly. This could also be related to having the time or desire to go to a bookstore or wait for it to be delivered.
    I prefer a book, pages I can feel, a chair to sit in and a drink. I’ve never had the chance to read an e-book. The tablet my familiy has is fully occupied by my wife and children.
    Yet, might we be missing an oportunity? What if Xerox was able to offer a compnay a service of converting a companies paper support documnetation to e-book format? The use of ‘cloud’ technology and putting a tablet device at work staions, would allow employees to acces any documents a compnay wants them to. For training, job procedures, MSDS, etc. It would avoid missing or damaged docunmentation. Updates would be simpler to roll out and it would be easier and cheaper, than having a computer station that was for employees.
    Thanks for the blog. Good reading all.

    (Xerox Employee)

  9. Ronald A. Ippolito August 13, 2012 -

    I am getting more used to ebooks every day. When travelling, my briefcase doesn’t get heavier or more full when I bring multiple titles. Next, searching on sections that I’ve previously highlighted is very easy with ebooks. Having an online thesaurus at my fingertips is also very convenient. The only downside – one tablet and two adults trying to use it.


    I am a Xerox employee

  10. Howie Fenton August 13, 2012 -

    Great feedback! Interesting is that while there is pressure in other formats and decline in some areas – there are also new applications and niches that are growing. That is what I am preparing for my next blog. Thanks.

  11. Diana I. Tarnate August 13, 2012 -

    Hi Howie, when travelling and I wanted to grab something to read on I got my phone and choose some of the saved ebook on my phone. This is hassle-free because there is no need for me to turn on those pages, just a few click and instant the pages are being scrolled. Also, I do not need to carry on those extra weight in my bag.

    However I would still prefer paper! :). In paper, I can mark that easily the pages or the part of the book that I do love most, the part that I really do love to share. Like in writing, I was born of the generation with the use of the pen and paper. Wherein nowadays, some people doesn’t even know how to write. Keyboard replaces it.

    Paper is still the best, it is one of the undying piece of literature.

    Yes, e-books are killing the printed books.

    I think both market will still survive. But the technology will be having an edge, because there are more and more people who are moving and working on a fast pace environment.

  12. Howie Fenton August 14, 2012 -

    Talking about interesting posts … take a look at this one entitled Is The Latest Publishing Craze: Print Books

  13. Sherri McMorrow August 14, 2012 -

    Howie, you know how much of a reader I am. You had to talk me into a Kindle because I was a book purist. Then I graduated to reading on my iPad.

    While I adore the convenience of e-book reading (traveling with a device instead of heavy books, the ease of instant buying, etc.), I still love walking into a bookstore and perusing the aisles, trying to find my next book to read. I have a huge collection of both physical books and e-books. My feeling is that books will always be around because the experience of holding a book and turning pages is so rewarding, but that e-books offer something that is invaluable.

    Books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon!

    I’m a lot more concerned about the statistics that show that people aren’t reading much anymore in either format. If e-books will bring people back to reading, that’s a distinct advantage, in my opinion.

  14. Mark Pomerantz August 15, 2012 -

    Hello Howie; nicely done on the article to set up the feedback and conversation. To me, this is not a zero-sum game. There is no doubt that the total volume of printed books, as we know them now, will be negatively impacted. But if one approaches this as a marketing issue instead of a technology issue, the need for new printed books will probably increase. We can look at the explosion of photo books as a result of a replacement technology (digital photography) as just one example. Quick, easy and inexpensive acces to e-books will create needs and niches for new opportunities for new printed books; classic versions, summary versions, HD versions w/ images, ad sponsored versions, combined volumes, etc. More time and available discretionary money will be ‘freed up’ by e-books.

    Are e-books and e-readers killing printed books? Depends what the definition of “dead” is.

  15. Kathy Sandler August 15, 2012 -

    Nice post, Howie. I don’t think print will ever completely die. It’s hard to see a loved one on life support, though…

  16. Michael Harrison January 31, 2013 -

    I’m on the fence on the e-readers or books question, I do own a kindle which is great for holidays, the fact that I can buy any book anytime of the day or night regardless of where I am in the world certainly appeals to me but most e books from Amazon cost more than a paper back as they are VAT-able here in the UK, another down side is that with the E reader, especially the Kindle, once I have read a book that’s it, there is no way to pass it on to a friend to read. A shame because reading a good book then passing it on for someone else to read is a big part of reading experience.

    Overall I agree that E readers will lower sales of physical books but there will always be a need for the hard copy.

Comments are closed.