Real Books Spark as E-book Sales Flatten

New hot-off-the-presses research has found some surprising things about the future of books. Ricoh Americas Corporation recently commissioned IT Strategies to conduct a study in conjunction with the University of Colorado. Among the key findings of the study: e-books’ mindshare is overshadowed by popular press headlines rather than factual data, and most consumers do not see themselves giving up printed books—primarily due to the benefits the physical form offers.

The study, entitled The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers found that, among other things:

• Despite their perceived popularity, 60 percent of e-books downloaded are never read in the US. “Since 2012, the growth of e-books has slowed significantly as e-book-only sales are declining, and tablet PC devices are increasingly becoming utilized for other forms of entertainment.

• College students prefer printed textbooks to e-books as they help students to concentrate on the subject matter at hand; electronic display devices such as tablet PCs tempt students to distraction.

• Current trends reveal that while fewer copies of books are being sold, more titles are being published.

• Digital printing of ultra-short runs have empowered book printers to supply books more tightly tied to actual demand.

• The top three reasons consumers choose a printed book are lack of eye strain when reading from a paper copy vs. an e-book, the look and feel of paper, and the ability to add it to a library or bookshelf.


Echoes of Twain

“More than 500 years after the invention of the printing press, book manufacturers and publishers are playing a pivotal role in the next renaissance in books that is happening now,” says George Promis, vice president of continuous forms, Production Solutions and Technology Alliances, Ricoh, in a statement. “To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, reports of the printed book’s death are greatly exaggerated. Print is alive, well, and sought after in today’s book market. At Ricoh, we’re focused on ensuring this stays true for years to come.”

One of the findings was that nearly 70 percent of consumers feel it is unlikely that they’ll give up on printed books by 2016. “Consumers have an emotional and visceral/sensory attachment to printed books,” researchers note, “potentially elevating them to a luxury item.”

“I think there might be some surprise to that,” suggests Mike Herold, worldwide manager, Inkjet Technologies for Ricoh. “What the study has illuminated is that there is an impression out there about what is going on in the books industry. I think what the study has dug into and discovered is that there is a different reality as to what hard copy books are being used today, and how they might be used going forward.”

“Despite the perceived growth of e-books, our research shows that there is a silver lining for the printed books and the digital production print industries,” says Marco Boer, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies. “As book orders become smaller in quantity and more frequent, and as an unprecedented number of titles are introduced each year, digital print is helping book manufacturers tackle potential challenges head-on through automation and more intelligent printing.” He adds, “Seventy percent of all books sold are still sold in paper format.”


A Boon for Print

Other findings from the study specifically relevant to publishers and book manufacturers include:

• Publishers are using digital printing in two ways. The first is as a test with one to two books placed per retailer, circumventing cumbersome distributor guidelines and storage fees before ordering larger offset or digitally printed quantities. The second is for predicted strong titles—digitally printed books are used for reorders as needed to supplement first-run offset printed books.

• Digital production inkjet printers have opened the door to a business model shift. Combined, the study estimates that just 50 production inkjet systems owned by 25 book manufacturers produced more than 10 percent of all printed book pages in the US in 2012.

• Offering titles electronically does not correspond to revenue generation or cost savings. Even the largest publishers derive revenues of no more than 20 to 30 percent from e-book sales.

“I think the critical aspect for printers to understand is where the trends are going to be for hard-copy books, and where things are going forward,” says Herold. “There are obviously some books that are going to continue to go more into electronic. I don’t want to call them throwaway books, but they are books with which you don’t have a sense of need to collect, to gift, to share, to show off. Those types of books that would have longer intrinsic value to the users are going to continue to be critical in a print format because, again, they can be shared, passed down.”

In other words, traditional printed books aren’t going anywhere.