The e-book had its moment – print is here to stay, according to Wall Street Journal columnist

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Books in general, Morcan Books & Films
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon probably wouldn’t have happened if e-books didn’t exist…”

So says Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, in an article in the January 5 US edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Carr goes on to say:

…Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf.

E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don’t necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes…

…Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute…

…The initial e-book explosion is starting to look like an aberration. The technology’s early adopters, a small but enthusiastic bunch, made the move to e-books quickly and in a concentrated period. Further converts will be harder to come by. A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have “no interest” in buying one…

…e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.

These are, by design, the most disposable of books. We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we’ve turned the last page. We may even be a little embarrassed to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous digital versions all the more appealing…

For the full article go to:


For what it’s worth, I suspect we’ve only seen the tip of the e-book revolution iceberg and I believe Mr Carr and, indeed, the rest of us will be amazed by the monumental changes coming in the publishing industry and in the literary world.

Publishers who don’t adapt won’t survive.

All power to the lowly writer!




  1. I do agree with him, in part. Disposable fiction is well-suited to ebook formats. Especially when you won’t read them again. I think there is room in the market for more than one format and while ebooks may grow in popularity, there are still too many of us left who like the feel and weight of a book in our hand, not dependent on battery life. I would argue neither for nor against, because I see a use and place for both formats.

  2. lancemorcan says:

    Here’s an interesting response from one of my LinkedIn contacts. He says…

    “Sensationalist crap. Ebook *percentage* growth is slowing because any percentage growth must slow. Ebooks tripled in growth from 2008 to 2009, from 2009 to 2010, from 2010 to 2011… If they had done the same from 2011 to 2012, we’d be at 60% ebook sales overall right now, and would be at 100% with a few months from now.

    No market share of a product can triple forever. 😉

    Ebook growth as measured in dollars did not slow in 2012. It increased. In other words, in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, each year saw increased growth in sales of ebooks.

    Ebook growth has not slowed. It has increased.”

  3. Jack Durish says:

    The level of sophistry aimed at the phenomena of ebooks has been interesting and humorous. Individual readers protest that a book cannot be truly enjoyed unless it can be felt in the hand. Chapters cannot pass without the turning of pages. Plots wither without cracking a spine. Bibliophiles must retreat occasionally to the dustier regions of libraries to be revived by the scent of ink and moldering paper.

    Newspaper and magazine writers must be feeling a special degree of pain. Their media is being welcomed into the regions of the extinct by the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon. Fewer pages are being printed with their words. How sad they must feel. Like whipped dogs, they turn and snarl at the new media that is replacing them. They vilify writers who abandon their sanctuaries to join the legions who now populate the Internet and ereaders with their words.


  4. Gary Robson says:

    I think the statement that “e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction” is very telling. All of my books have been nonfiction or children’s picture books, and they have sold well in print and poorly as ebooks. The one I’m currently working on is historical fiction and it’s looking like the market will be largely ebook.

    I also find it interesting that the Wall Street Journal is still holding on to that hyphen in ebook long after the rest of the world has dropped it.

    • lancemorcan says:

      Good points Gary. I predict your ebook version of historical fiction will outsell the hard copy version (if there’s to be one) by at least 20-1. Certainly that’s been our experience. Good luck with it! Best, Lance

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