The State of Traditional Book Publishing



Change has always been a recurring theme in the publishing industry. This blog is not about the pros and cons of traditional publishing. It’s more to do with how publishers will approach the future of print based publishing. Where is it going? Will it survive as publishers venture into the future? There are many questions that need to be answered but in order to do that, it’s importantly to see where print book sales stand today.

Most people believe that eBooks have taken over the wider spectrum of publishing and will be the end of conventional book publishing. During the years of 2004-2014, from an overall high of $250 million in sales, they have declined by over 30% across all genres. But this is not actually the case. In 2016, there has been a revival in the sales of print books.  According to Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly, ‘Unit sales of print books rose 6% in the six-month period ended July 3, over the first six months of 2015, at outlets that report to Nielsen BookScan.’ He goes on to say that genres like Adult Nonfiction have increased by 12% whilst Juvenile Nonfiction and Fiction have increased by 9% and 3% respectively.

It’s quite a remarkable turn of events. There are always constant reports when the debate goes into traditional publishing vs. self publishing or print vs. digital that the electronic format will always win out. There is even an environmental argument that for every book that a publisher prints, a dozen trees die as a result. Anyone who is a digital advocate will always say print books are on the way out.  In reality, it’s not the case. What has changed is the distribution model. Technology has changed the game entirely. With tablets/kindles, you can get over 10,000 books on one platform. Sites like Scribd offer a ‘Netflix’ model by offering several eBooks for a nominal fee of $8.99 a month. There is another important fact that plays into the decline of print books and that is the slow erosion of book stores. Amazon got that ball rolling when it first went online in 1995. In a way, it was like SkyNet from Terminator, destroying everything in its path. Others followed suit and thus, the way people go about publishing a book has changed today.

Other possibilities that have created this perception about print books are author’s publishing rights in the digital age. When it comes to a profit margin, eBook authors are more likely to make 2-3 times more than traditionally published authors. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is taking advantage of self publishing by promoting it as an author friendly platform that cuts costs and results in more money for the author.

Despite all of this, traditional publishing isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps, the biggest plus point are the parents. Some prefer their children read a book than a digital device. It makes sense that Juvenile Nonfiction books rose by 9% as parents are starting to see the benefits of reading. In essence, it’s a bit of an art form that has been lost by the greater public. Educational coloring books are also a big part of this revival.

The greater point is that there is always a seat at the table for print books. While technology may evolve and people ingest their information in ‘bytes’, there will always be a traditional market.