Coming out of the London Book Fair in 2017 was a series of smug articles about the decline of ebooks. Print Is Back, headlines trumpeted. The Resurrection of the Paperback. People Love Paper. The article that follows is full of numbers. Generally, also there’s a chart or even possibly a graph. It’s all very persuasive. See here for an example.
See what I mean. Numbers. Charts. Quotes from important people. I don’t know about you, but I was impressed.
Only it’s not truth. Or rather, it’s not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s a truth fragment. It’s not wrong; it’s just not completely right.
The truth is this: established publishing companies (the Big 5) are selling fewer ebooks. They’re selling instead more paperbacks and hardcovers. They give their numbers to the agencies that collect aggregate data, who then collate the data and push it out through symposia such as those at the London Book Fair.
The only problem is that the data supplied by the established publishing industry is not the only source of ebooks. In fact, the established publishing industry is only one player in the larger ebook publishing industry. And the larger ebook publishing industry is doing just fine, thank you very much.
Small indie presses that specialise in ebooks are thriving, adding on imprints and actively seeking new authors. They tend to hyperspecialize in crime or erotica. Self-publishing continues to grow and it continues to give writers careers. And digital eplatforms such as Wattpad and Royal Road Legends, also continue to grow and attract new readers and writers.
The numbers aren’t there to be quoted because they’re not submitted to one central database. So no pretty graphs, no colourful charts. But that doesn’t change the reality that they exist and are growing. So people are reading digitally, both on eplatforms and as ebooks.