The Uncertain Future of E-Books

e-booksWhen one searches the word “e-books” on Publishers Weekly, the results are not very encouraging. Even though we live in the so-called Digital Age, e-books are not exactly taking off. In fact, people are so overwhelmed by the multiple technological devices in their lives, they are eager to read an old-fashioned physical book rather than another screen.

When e-books and e-readers first came out–the Kindle was released in 2007 and the Nook in 2009–they were an exciting, new way to read. Technology was overtaking music and video, so books seemed like the natural next step in the progression. However, there is a big difference in books, music, and video. As the digital music and video industries thrive, a 2016 Nielson study reports e-book sales dropped 16% in 2016 from 2015.

After performing a 2016 study on e-books, Codex Group president Peter Hildick-Smith believes digital sales of books differ from music and video because of two factors. The first factor is that “electronic devices are optional for reading books,” meaning they are not the only form available. Regular books are still around, and their reading quality is much higher than e-books, which “have yet to [deliver] the quality long-form reading experience to supplant print.” Secondly, “digital fatigue” is spreading like an epidemic.

These days, people are attempting to cut as much screen time as possible. According to the Codex Group survey, book buyers spent five hours daily on screens. Approximately 25% of book buyers want to spend less time on digital devices, so these people turn to physical formats.

The Nielson study offers two more reasons why e-books sales are diminishing. The study found that many e-books are overpriced at about $8 per book. It is definitely hard to justify a nearly $10 purchase on a book that will never physically be held. The study also points out that people now use tablets and smart phones much more often than dedicated e-readers. Usage of multi-functioning devices affects reading because there is so much more to do on an iPad or iPhone than read; the devices feature games, videos, music, and general Internet access. Smart phones and tablets have more to offer consumers than plain old e-readers, but their many features distract from actual reading on the devices.

By April 2013, tablets overtook e-readers as the most popular devices to use for reading. The survey by BISG’s Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading found that 44% of e-book readers prefer reading on a tablet, while 42% prefer a dedicated e-reader. This is bad news for e-books, as the Codex survey notes that “[c]onsumers who use dedicated e-book readers have consistently been found to purchase more e-books than consumers who use other devices to read.” More tablets correlate to more gaming, social media, and video-watching–and less e-book purchasing. However, the decline in e-books does not mean people have stopped reading.

The Codex survey found that 59% of readers distancing themselves from e-books are doing so to return to print copies. People are still reading. In fact, millennials appear to be reading the most, with 18-24 year olds purchasing 83% of print books (Codex). These young people, whose lives revolve around technology, want to take a break from screens to enjoy the format that taught them to read. However, children provide a beacon of hope for the e-book industry.

While e-books are so unsuccessful that expensive hardbacks overtook their sales in 2016 (Nielsen), they still stand a chance. E-books’ problem could be that their audience is not yet old enough to realize their need for e-books. Children born beginning in the late 2000s have grown up swiping through their parents’ iPhones. Technology is second-nature to these children. Therefore, e-books have the potential to thrive when this audience grows old enough to purchase e-books and e-readers.

Some children are already obsessed with e-books. The children’s e-book subscription service, Epic, provides easy access to 14,000 titles through the web, iOS, Android devices, and Apple TV for only $4.99 per month. Since its January 2014 debut, over 40 million books have been read on the site–it is implied that the majority of these readers are children. If this generation has already read 40 million e-books in roughly three years, they will read more. E-books have a lot to offer children, more so than adults and young adults who grew up reading physical books.

Epic is used in more than 70% of U.S. elementary schools, so children are being exposed to e-books early on in life. After being surrounded by technology since birth, these children accept e-books as a natural way to read. Aside from being comfortable with screens, e-books also provide personal benefits to children. For example, in a classroom setting, children can easily feel embarrassed or judged by their choice of book; with e-books (and the safety of Epic), nobody else has to know what a child is reading. They are free to choose what they want to read, and they can read it from the privacy of their devices.

The future might not look bright for e-books, but their time to shine could be near. The next few years will be crucial in determining whether or not the format will prevail. For millenials and up, print books will never die. However, children who utilize services like Epic are already reaping the benefits of e-books. For them, there might be no turning back. For better or for worse, e-books have the potential to replace print copies; only time will tell.

 

Sources:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/72563-the-bad-news-about-e-books.html

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/70696-as-e-book-sales-decline-digital-fatigue-grows.html

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/devices/article/56727-tablets-overtake-dedicated-e-readers-as-most-popular-devices.html

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/70426-epic-success-in-kids-e-book-subscription.html

 

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Blog 2: No Starch Press

nostarchlogoUnless you are into Manga or technology how-to books, you have probably never heard of No Starch Press. However, in the twenty-two years since its founding, the independent, San Francisco-based publisher has found a devoted audience. It may be a small press, but to its readers, it’s a big deal.

No Starch Press prides itself for publishing “the finest in geek entertainment,” meaning books on hacking and security, Lego, programming, coding, and Manga, to name a few. These topics might seem obscure, but the press has actually published multiple bestsellers, including Steal This Computer Book and The Manga Guides. So, No Starch’s books might not be popular with a general audience, but geeks eat–and buy–them up.

A visit to No Starch’s website might as well be a visit to a nerd’s paradise. The site’s homepage features the press’ new and upcoming titles, all of which fall under the “geek entertainment” category. Packaged with each title is the Manga-ed-out cover of the book and a brief summary of the book’s content. No Starch knows its audience, depending on its books’ cover art and content to grab attention rather than presenting a flashy website design that would feel inauthentic. The site is simple but to-the-point and colorful, much like its artistic audience whose main reason for visiting the site is to learn more about their hobbies and hone their skills.

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Just a few of No Starch Press’ publications.

According to their online catalog, No Starch published twenty-two publications in 2016, which is impressive for a company with a staff of sixteen. In a personal touch, all sixteen employees are listed on the site’s staff page, complete with a short biography, “office pet peeve,” and Manga caricature of themselves. These editors, designers, sales managers, production managers, and publicists are geeks too, just like their audience.

While there are many geeks in the world, there is only a certain number of techie geeks, which is No Starch’s dominant market. Therefore, the press’ market is narrow, and it must find ways to effectively reach its audience. No Starch uses its audience’s interest in technology to its advantage. The company saves money by advertising itself on its verified Twitter and Facebook pages rather than purchasing advertisements. On its social media, No Starch posts quotes, images, and blurbs from its books. Within the same posts, the press provides direct links to purchase said books, making it easy for readers to locate and buy the books that interest them.

In typical nerd fashion, No Starch’s social media pages are not all about self-promotion– they also delve into nerd culture. The pages post technology information and events, answer technology questions, and share No Starch’s community outreach and assistance. The pages’ general tips and images, along with No Starch’s technology community presence, grow the press’ social media followers and, therefore, the number of people who know about and purchase works published by No Starch.

Along with social media, No Starch advertises through the attention it is given in interviews and recommendations. The press’ “news” is listed on the website’s homepage and includes features on No Starch publications in the Wall Street Journal, Family Circle Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and more. No Starch advertises by word-of-mouth–both its own mouth and the mouths of others.

Because it is so small–yet so successful–No Starch’s funding is a bit of a mystery. As mentioned earlier, the press definitely saves money by refraining from advertising, and I imagine they are thrifty in a number of other ways. Like most independent presses, No Starch’s staff appears to take care of all production and distribution. They might have a small staff, but their employees cover all areas of business, from design to sales to marketing to customer service. This way, they avoid the expenses of outsourcing.

The genius behind No Starch undoubtedly provided the funds to get the press started. William–or Bill–Pollack, described as the “Big Fish” of No Starch, started the company in 1994. Before No Starch, Pollack had experience in publishing and was even a co-founder of another computer book publisher, Apress. With his experience and prior success, Pollack probably started the press on his own. However, contracts with larger presses are what keep No Starch in business.

Effective August 1, Penguin Random House Publisher Services will sell and distribute globally No Starch Press. The much larger publishing house noticed No Starch as a market leader in its category, and PRH must have realized it could benefit from selling to an army of geeks. No Starch will also benefit from this sales and distribution agreement by reaching a wider audience.

While the deal with Penguin Random House is huge, No Starch has seen much success in its lifetime. In 2014, its sales jumped 41% over 2012 due to growth in its Lego and children’s programming lines, as well as its backlist of core tech titles. The press’ work has been in demand for years, and its audience is only going to grow through its new partnership.

The only problem with a growing audience is the temptation to appeal to everyone or, in other words, sell out. If No Starch starts publishing books everyone will want to read, it will definitely make more money. However, it will lose its original audience and all it stands for. As the press grows, its staff must remember to stay true to themselves and keep their “geek” audience in mind. Fortunately, Penguin Random House appears to appreciate No Starch for what it is and does not want it to change–probably because PRH wants to reach the geeks, and No Starch will help them do it. As long as No Starch remains a niche press, it will continue to expand and cater to geeks worldwide.

Blog 1: Design Analysis of Rolling Stone

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For the past six years, my uncle’s Christmas present to me has always been a subscription to Rolling Stone. I cannot complain, for the magazine is exceptionally written and intentionally designed. Rolling Stone is a magazine worth analyzing.

Rolling Stone’s audience consists of an eclectic group of people. When skimming the feedback section of the magazine, I have noted that people of all ages and from all different areas of the U.S. submit their opinions on the articles they have read. As readers of Rolling Stone, what these people have in common is that they are interested in culture, be it entertainment, politics, or environmental issues. They are well-informed and usually liberal minded, as most of the magazine’s content swings left.

Like most liberal people, Rolling Stone’s readers value art and creativity. So, it is only natural for each Rolling Stone cover to be thoughtfully designed. All of the magazine’s covers follow similar design templates, so I have chosen to analyze an October 2016 issue featuring a headlining article on Bruce Springsteen.

The design of the October 2016 cover appeals to its audience because it is artistic yet neat. Its white background and black and white text create a modern feel which attracts progressive, open-minded thinkers. The cover grabs attention because of its simplistic design. The thin magazine does not look overwhelming, so people feel comfortable reading it. In a magazine stand full of fat publications with tacky, busy covers, readers longing for refreshment and knowledge are drawn to this clean work of art.

Centered around a cut-out image of Springsteen, the cover’s layout is easy to read and understand. The eye is naturally drawn to Springsteen first, then his respective headline, which is typed in the largest font on the cover aside from the magazine’s title. While still readable, the title itself is in the background so as not to interfere with the arrangement of the image and text, which are packaged together. Underneath the headline and sub-headline, the various cover lines are wrapped around the image, leading the eye from top to bottom. The content presented on the cover is rather subdued; because the text communicates enticing information, it is not necessary for the typeface to scream for attention. The text is typed in Rolling Stone’s usual bold, serifed font, but the contrast in the size and shade of the headline, sub-headlines, and cover lines is unique to this issue. This design technique adds variety to the cover while maintaining a degree of consistency that is aesthetically appealing.

All of the information on the cover is deemed important by the magazine; it would not be on the cover if it were not important. However, the more relevant or popular cover lines are slightly larger and bolder than those that are more specific. Aside from the Springsteen article, the article considered most pertinent to readers is “The Age of Fear,” as it stands out from the other cover lines because of its placement inside a black box on the right side of the cover. Readers understand this article contains information they need to know.

On top of the white background, the glossy image of Springsteen pops off the cover, appearing life-like to readers and establishing a personable feeling. The image depicts Springsteen as a normal person, so it validates the correlating headline: “True Bruce.” Springsteen’s presence on the cover also benefits the rest of the magazine’s content. Since he is an American icon, Springsteen will, in the least, attract attention and, therefore, provide exposure to the other information on the cover.

Because the cover is neat and features a smiling rock star, the design evokes a positive, relaxed mood. However, because Rolling Stone tackles both entertaining and serious topics, there is a dark undertone to the cover in the form of the black box featuring “The Age of Fear.” This slight clashing of emotions is comparable to the inner anxiety the magazine’s readership feels over the nation’s political situation, one which often clashes with their personal beliefs.

Since this Rolling Stone cover is artful and and intentional while also managing to illustrate its readers’ current feelings, it is a design success. Despite its reminder of unpleasant realities, this cover offers an escape into popular culture led by a very inviting Bruce Springsteen.