Print v. Ebook: The Never-Ending Debate

by | January 28, 2015 | General | 4 comments

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

Print versus ebook? That’s the big question. According to Waterstones, ebook sales have plummeted while print book sales have soared. Then again, according to The Guardian, print book sales have declined as readers migrated to ebooks.

The Guardian described the dilemma in this fashion:

A review of 2014 from book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan shows that while the decline in sales of print books in the UK slowed last year, with value sales down 1.3% to £1.39bn, and volume sales down 1.9% to 180m, the performance for printed adult fiction was markedly worse. The adult fiction market was the worst-performing of all areas of the book business, down by 5.3% in 2014 to £321.3m, with volume sales down 7.8% to 50.7m. In 2009, printed adult fiction was worth £476.16m.

The decline is even greater when paperback fiction is removed from the picture: according to Nielsen, hardback adult fiction sales plummeted last year by 11.6% to £67.9m, with just three titles – by crime and thriller bestsellers Lee Child, CJ Sansom and Martina Cole – selling more than 100,000 copies.

“The ebook has quite demonstrably hit the commercial end of the fiction market,” said the Bookseller’s editor Philip Jones. “Almost any drop in adult fiction sales can mainly be put down to the migration to digital, which is obviously still continuing. We think consumer ebooks this year will be worth £350m, with most big publishers reporting ebook growth of double digits – and almost all of that will be in fiction.”

Which way is it? Are ebooks on their way out or are print books on the rise?

Articles like these have predicted the end of the ebook “trend” since digital formats became popular with the emergence of the Nook and especially the Kindle. That simply is not the case. Information Today reports that “The most recent AAP data, from December 2014, covers the first three quarters of 2014 and shows that revenue from 1,209 publishers was up 2.8%. “In terms of formats, ebooks were up, hardbacks were down, and paperbacks were up. Total ebook revenues increased by 5.6% over 2013 (to $1.2 billion from $1.13 billion),” The Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder notes.”

Deloitt’s 2015 Canadian Technology, Media, and Telecommunications predictions indicated that print book sales would climb four times higher than ebook sales. High end literary fiction such as Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” sell well in print. Children’s books also continue to do well in print.

Print books have their benefits as well:

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as holding a paperback or hard cover book in your hand if you’re a writer.

You can sign print books. Yes, you may sign ebooks with an ebook signature but it’s just not the same.

Having physical books for potential readers to handle and buy at conventions makes it easier to sell books than pushing ebooks on browsers in the same venues.

There is satisfaction in the feel of a print book. The tactile sensation of holding paper and the “new book smell” are very appealing.

Sadly, some do not consider ebooks “real” books. A physical print book may hold more psychological clout than a digital book.

It seems that people are not reading less. A contrasting report showed that readers are migrating from print books to ebooks. Ebooks are the wave of the future, and they have many benefits:

You can store hundreds of books on an ebook reader, which is great if you don’t have much room for numerous bookcases.

Readers of erotic fiction in particular are especially attracted to ebook readers because these ereaders give them privacy. They don’t have to worry about getting the raised eyebrow from onlookers who see a paperback with
scantily clad women and muscle-bound beefcakes on the covers. Ebook readers are lightweight and easy to use.

You can adjust the size of the font with an ebook reader. This especially benefits those with poor eyesight.

Some ebook readers light up, eliminating the need for a book light.

Ebook readers don’t crease or get coffee stains on the pages.

As before mentioned, erotic romances sell well in digital format. According to erotic writer Selena Kitt, sales of erotica alone have driven the rise of the ebook and ebook reader more than any other genre. Despite that fact, major retailers have cracked down on questionable titles including incest, pseudo incest, bestiality, and rape fantasy as well as the new trend monster porn (think Bigfoot or a T-Rex as the love interest, and you have this very strange subgenre.). Despite the pitfalls and fickle nature of some retailers, erotic fiction continues to be the top
seller of all the genres.

Despite many doomsday predictions, ebooks and ebook readers aren’t going away. Not by a long shot. Print books will always be popular, but ebooks are here to stay. It really doesn’t matter whether or not a person picks up a Kindle or a paperback. As long as they read, book retailers, publishers, and writers will be happy.

Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Cleis Press, Xcite Books, Scarlet Magazine, Circlet Press, and others. She also writes dark fiction and horror as E. A. Black. She lives in Massachusetts next to the ocean with her husband, son, and three cats. The beach calls to her and she listens.


  1. Reuben

    “It really doesn't matter whether or not a person picks up a Kindle or a paperback. As long as they read, book retailers, publishers, and writers will be happy.”

    Very good point, Elizabeth. It seems there is often a somewhat false either/or argument whenever this topic arises. But personally, I enjoy reading both paperbacks and e-books. I see e-books as simply adding to my reading list rather than just changing how I read per se.

    I suppose one big difference for writers is cheap and easy access to digital self-publishing, so that they needn’t spend 12 months begging a traditional publisher to glance at a manuscript and also needn’t come up with up-front printing costs.

    As far as I am concerned, as both a reader and a writer, e-books are a win/win scenario, just adding more to the picture. More to read; cheaper books available; easy to self-publish; greater direct access to readers.

    Not so much a 'Print v. Ebook' view as a 'Print + Ebook' approach.

  2. Jean Roberta

    Good post and good comment. Thank you for posting sales figures from the industry, Elizabeth. I think this discussion has definitely deepened my confusion. 🙂 At least print books don't seem to be dying off, and neither is reading (as Marshall McLuhan predicted in the 1960s).

  3. Lisabet Sarai

    I think you can look at the statistics in many different ways. Personally, I still read a lot of print books (though mostly ones I pick up used). I find them easier on my eyes.

    One huge advantage of ebooks for authors, though, is that they've freed us from the tyranny of length. Print requires a minimum word count. With ebooks, you can publish your work and be a success even if you prefer to write novellas – or even short stories.

  4. Elizabeth Black

    Thanks for the great comments. I also still read print books. I don't have a preference between ebook and print. I just want the book! I do agree about freeing authors from length. Novellas used to be a very hard sell, and now I see them everywhere.

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