Traditional Triumph: Will Sales of Print Books Surpass eBook Sales in 2014?

Since the dawn of the Kindle and the consequent boom in ebook sales, it has appeared that the days of traditional print books are numbered. As technology evolves and the e-reader market expands to include more devices – perhaps most notably, the iPad – more and more consumers seem to be making the switch from print to digital. And until this year, industry statistics have supported this trend.

But now, the tides may be changing: last month, Publishers Weekly reported that “The industry is poised to post its first increase in print sales since 2008,” referring to BookScan data that revealed a 2% increase in sales so far in 2014. This BookScan report was immediately followed by two consecutive weeks with a 5% leap in sales from this time last year, and in the third quarter of 2014, print books actually managed to grab market share from ebooks.

While the differences in numbers are not astronomical – BookScan reports leaps of 2-5% – they are significant because they represent a broader change in direction (or, rather, a return to a previous path) of consumer trends. After nearly six years of steady growth in the ebook sector, it is surprising – and heartening, to traditional publishers – to see print sales grow.

At the same time, the print book is and will remain a static, fixed format. A printed, bound book is just that: a printed, bound book. And that will not change. The ebook, on the other hand, will grow alongside the technologies that serve it – and these technologies are becoming more advanced all the time. The next stage in digital innovation will expand upon sharing and customization capabilities within ebooks, integrating social media and books into a seamless, interactive experience. The novelty of such innovation has a proven track record in the publishing industry of boosting e-sales, and is sure to do so again. The question is: will digital ever be able to render print obsolete? If so, what will it take?

For the time being, Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book says it best: “For the foreseeable future, we will operate in a hybrid print and digital world.” Let’s see how long it lasts.

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