Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

Studying with printed booksIn Greek mythology, the phoenix is a resilient bird that is regenerated or reborn. According to the legend. the phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. For the last few years, there has been a lot of gloom and doom predictions about the future of books, but the latest data suggests that books, like the phoenix, may be rising from the ashes and reborn.

Some critics have said that book sales and book readership are dying. Others have said that the future of books is not printed books, but electronic books. The most recent evidence suggests that neither is true. Books are not dying and electronic versions of books are not displacing printed versions of books.

According to the Association of American publisher’s report on the 2012 sales, book sales are up 7.4%, which amounts to $451 million in additional revenue for total sales of $6.5 billion. Of course some of that is tied to the most recent blockbuster books such as Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games, but every year there are a few best-selling books.

In addition, conclusions on the impact of e-books is changing. While the percentage of e-books increased by 42% in 2012, resulting in $1.2 billion in sales, that actually represents a decline in growth. As a result, there is a growing consensus of opinion that digital book readership is slowing and could plateau somewhere around 20-25% of all book readership.

That’s not to say that there is a declining interest in electronic book reading devices such as e- readers, templates and even smart phones from Apple, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft. But part of the good news about these devices is that they are reducing the rate of returns of unsold inventory of print books. According to the analysts from Publishers Lunch, book returns were down $318 million last year.

The question about book sales, book readership, and the impact of electronic books is an ongoing debate. The controversy can be traced back to 1835. There is evidence to support both the critics and fans of books in general, printed books, as well as electronic versions of books.

What do you think? Are printed books in decline or stable?  Are electronic books stable or growing?

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Howie Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL as well as a paid contributor to this blog. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.