Books or eBooks? Yes.

Traditionalists crow when they see the headlines: eBook sales plummeted by 10% in 2017! Real books are back! Is it true that ebooks are on the decline? After years of dire warnings about the death of print, is the pendulum swinging back?

The story behind the headlines is more complex. Data on ebook sales tends to omit non-traditional markets (indie publishers, for instance) that remain robust.[1] Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform alone represents a significant share of the ebook market, yet “Amazon doesn’t report its ebook sales to any of the major industry data sources.”[2] And the reasons for any actual decline are unclear: changes in ebook pricing models may be as much to blame as personal preference for print.[3]

Here at the library, interest in ebooks shows no sign of slowing down. In the first three months of 2018, ebook borrowing was up 25% over the same period in 2017. The eight devices that the WFPL keeps loaded with ebooks for adult readers were borrowed a total of 38 times. It’s not just Watertown, either: ebook borrowing in the Minuteman Library Network’s shared OverDrive collection for that first quarter of this year was up 24% over the previous year. In fact, overall usage of the network’s collection put Minuteman in OverDrive’s exclusive Million Checkout Club for the first time last year.


When we’re keeping score in the popularity contest between pixels and print, it’s easy to forget that in actuality, it’s not a zero-sum game. I’ve met plenty of readers who just want the titles they want, and will take them in whatever format is readily available. Others choose according to circumstances, perhaps opting for ebooks in order to hide titles they don’t want anyone else to see. (The classic example is a steamy romance novel, but what about the middle school kid who still likes Amelia Bedelia books, but worries about getting teased for reading them at school?)

Here at the library, interest in ebooks shows no sign of slowing down. In the first three months of 2018, ebook borrowing was up 25% over the same period in 2017.

Personally, I stick to print except when I travel. I live in fear of being caught without something to read during a trip, so I’ve taken to borrowing a bunch of ebooks—more than I could possibly finish—and leaving the heavy hardcovers at home.

What makes you choose print over ebooks, or vice versa? Do you think the two formats will battle it out eternally, or will one eventually prevail? Let us know in the comments!


[1] “Legacy data providers like PubTrack Digital and the AAP are effectively blind to vast sectors of the consumer ebook & audiobook market. And those non-traditional sectors are precisely where ebook sales have continued to grow, year after year.” – January 2018 Report: US online book sales, Q2-Q4 2017 by “Data Guy,” AuthorEarnings, January 22, 2018

[2] Amazon’s control over ebook sales data should upset everyone in publishing by Thu-Huong Ha, Quartz, May 13, 2018

[3] Are ebooks too expensive in 2018? by Michael Kozlowski, Good eReader, May 14, 2018

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