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.

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