Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Even diehards are turning to e-books

It’s fun to watch sales when a new book comes out. Even though the official release date is August 15th, The Return has been available since about the first of August. Exactly two thirds of the sales have been e-books. Fiction readers love e-books. Especially voracious readers. Printed books still hold the edge for nonfiction, but the trend is irreversible for fiction.

As this fourth novel in the Steve Dancy Tales matures in the marketplace, the numbers will skew even further in the direction of e-books. I know this from patterns of earlier books in the series. Why would this be? My guess is that ardent Steve Dancy fans buy early, including printed book enthusiasts. After the initial buying spurt, the general reading public must find and then buy the book. Discovery and sales are now weighted in the direction of e-books for several reasons.

First, e-book shoppers can shop anytime, anywhere. I’ve bought books in the security line at the airport, in the car waiting for my wife to complete an errand, in bed, traveling down the highway, and in that little room they stick while you wait for the doctor to finally appear. Online booksellers also have nifty ways to search for books by author, genre, or sales status. They suggest books based on your prior purchases. More important for discovery are digital samples. Without doubt, the best sales technique is word-of-mouth. Now, when someone hears about a book from a newspaper, TV show, radio program, or a friend, they can download a sample as a potential buy for later. This is huge. If the author is any good, the reader is hooked by the time they reach the buy button for the remainder of the book. Except for a few inept publishers, the e-book format is less expensive than the printed format. This makes the buy decision easier after discovery. It is also more convenient to return an e-book than it is to drive down to the local brick and motor store and argue with a clerk over whether the book looks too tattered for resale. All in all, e-books have the sales edge over the printed variety.

airline rules
All of the above, of course, is predicated on the popularity of e-readers. I’m on my fifth Kindle. When I flew with my first generation Kindle, no one paid me any mind, not even the flight attendant. Now every seat sports a device capable of displaying an e-book, and that includes those with private accommodations on the flight deck. 

Why are e-readers so popular? Try jamming a Ken Follett hardbound in your purse or briefcase. How about a half dozen books into your luggage for extended trip. When I toured Namibia, I preloaded my Kindle with African history books, travel guides, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, and more than a few shoot-em-up Westerns. All those digital ones and zeros didn't add an ounce to my travel weight.

Then there's readability. A good quality hardbound or trade paperback may be easier on the eye, but the same cannot be said for a mass-market paperback. With higher resolution and the option of adjusting the light on the screen with some devices, e-readers are much more comfortable to read for extended periods.

Shop from anywhere, lower cost books, portability, less eye strain … no wonder e-readers are gaining in popularity. The Guardian reports that even Rick Gekoski, a rare book dealer has succumbed to the lures of the Kindle.  And for good reason. The bottom line is that if a fiction writer does his job, the reader will be lost in the story. The medium doesn't matter. Only what happens next.

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