A few links to give an un-scientific snapshot of where ebooks currently stand in the book market.
Mashable.com(1) has an article up asking readers which they prefer more, ebooks or physical books. Being a tech leaning website I expected ebooks to score well with all the techno-phile readers. After all, people who avoid computers aren’t even going to participate in the survey, so ebooks have a significant edge. Surprisingly, whatever boost the gadget loving people gave the ebook, it was not enough. As of writing this article the survey stands with 23% saying ebooks are better 42% say physical books are better and 35% say both have their advantages. A survey that was not biased to tech users would have the ebook scoring even lower, so this says something about people’s prejudices, or the real life inferior experience of the ebook.
On that subject, Nielsen Norman Group discovered in a recent usability survey(2) that it takes longer to read books on a Kindle 2 and iPad then reading a physical book. Reading speeds declined by 6.2% on iPad and 10.7% on the Kindle 2. This adds up to a significant amount of time when we’re talking about the hours it takes to read a longer book, and is the clearest evidence that the screens on ebooks are still not up to the quality of physical books.
But then, Amazon has recently said that sales of ebooks has outpaced the sales of hardcover books.(3) While this says something, I’m not convinced it says as much as Amazon would like people to think. (It was clearly released as a PR gambit against the iPad.) Hardcover books hold a smaller portion of the publishing market than paperbacks, but I haven’t been able to get a clear figure on exactly what percentage of the market is hardcover. Also, it isn’t clear how much of Amazon’s sales were in hardcover before, compared to the rest of the book selling market. So, while yes, ebooks are selling more, Amazon’s information is very short on facts.
But, interestingly enough, the sales of physical books are doing well too. In the middle of June the Association of American Publishers released sales figures for books(4) in April. Hardcover sales increased 49.2% from the previous year softcover increased 19.4% from the previous year, and ebook sales increased 217.3% from the previous year. While ebook sales are clearly experiencing explosive growth, it does not appear to be killing off either hardcover or softcover books.