Are E-Books Finally Over? The Publishing Industry Unexpectedly Tilts Back to Print

In a world where we do everything online, consider this: Independent bookstores are on the rise, while e-books are on the decline. Does this mean that the verdict is finally in on e-books? Does this mean that people, or at least the market forces through which they manifest, have chosen the paperback over the Kindle edition?

It seems that may be the case. And there are a litany of reasons why.

Independent bookstores are the places where you drop in for the latest paperback, listen to a reading from a favorite author or find a unique gift for a unique friend. And they’re thriving. According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a non-profit trade organization for indie book shops, its membership grew for the ninth year in a row in 2018, with stores operating in more than 2,400 locations. Not only that, sales at independent bookstores are up approximately five percent over 2017.

Meanwhile, sales for e-books—the digital versions that we were told just a few years ago would change the publishing industry forever—are stagnant. E-book sales have slipped by 3.9 percent so far this year, according to data from the Association of American Publishers, while hardback and paperback book sales grew by 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales generated nearly $4 billion combined; comparatively, e-books only raked in $770.9 million.

Given the increased appetite for book stores and actual, physical books, it’s pretty clear that the Kindle didn’t have the same impact on the written word as the iPod had on music. Clearly, not all analog favorites can be as easily replaced by new digital formats.

However, it’s not all good for the brick-and-mortar bookstore. Barnes & Noble is closing locations and, as of this month, may even be preparing to put itself up for sale. You’d be hard-pressed to find a book store in a mall these days (at least one that isn’t a soon-to-be-closing Barnes & Noble).

Ironically, it was Barnes & Noble that pushed smaller chains like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton out of the game, when it provided a larger superstore experience that came with spots to read, coffee shops and space to meet up with friends among books and magazines. But it seems the chain may have over-expanded and fallen short of the e-commerce cycle. So as Barnes & Noble struggles to survive, the local, independent bookstore has stepped in to meet consumer needs.
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