September 20, 2016 Last Updated 12:53 pm

AAP reports continued fall in eBooks sales; are the major publishers hoping depressing digital will hurt Amazon?

If so, they are only hurting their own profits and likely making themselves irrelevant, digital publishing will continue on, with or without legacy publishers

The Association of American Publishers today posted a press release that reveals first quarter sales numbers for their member publishers. It is hard to know if this is actually new information because the actual release is dated August 20, not September 20.

It doesn’t matter, the news is always the same from the AAP: overall book sales can climb a percent of two, or decline a percent or two, but eBook sales continue to be weak.

books-dig-printIt has been said here and at other digital publishing websites, but it is important to repeat: the AAP numbers represents a portion of the industry, the portion made up by the major print publishers. It does not include Amazon, or any other digital newsstand.

So, first what was reported (either as new news or old news): revenues were down 3.0% percent in March, and were down 2.7 percent for the first quarter of the year. Paperback sales grew, however, though hardback book sales fell 8.5 percent. But it was in the area of new media – audiobooks and eBooks – where the declines were steep.

The reason for the fall in digital, of course, is the rise in pricing for digital being employed by the major publishers. The industry is trying, somewhat desperately, to drive up print. Why? The reason, I believe, is that this remains the segment they dominate. If books remain mostly in print, the threats from Amazon and others diminish – or so the hope goes.

But look at any time inside Amazon’s Kindle store and you see something that would worry me if I were employing this strategy. The top NYT bestseller is selling at $14.99, but one can buy the hardcover version of the same book through Amazon for $12.99. It comes from a major book publisher, one that is a member of the AAP.

Meanwhile, what is selling digitally? The top book is priced at $4.99 and does not come from one of the big publishers.

I’ve done this little test many times and always come up with same results. Legacy publishers are driving readers to print, where costs are higher, but where Amazon may be making next to nothing from the sale. The strategy, assuming it is a strategy, is obvious: starve the beast.

But good luck with that. Publishers – whether newspaper, magazine or book – always think they have more power over their distributors than they actually do. If they did, Apple might actually still be interested in digital publishing.

This weekend provided me an interesting test of the power of eBooks.

A friend asked another friend why they continued to read print books. They were actually surprised that the other person was still so dedicated to print.

The real for the continued print habit, the friend said was that they believed that reading via a digital device before going to sleep was detrimental to sleep – they had read something to that effect.

Other friend said they read throughout the day and relied on their eReader – in this case, an iPad. They just assumed that their friend, being pretty techie would have moved to a digital device for reading by now.

There was nothing here that surprised me, I know people firmly dedicated to print-only, just as I do those dedicated to digital-only. But it reinforced the idea that there is a digital market out there, dedicated eReaders who are not going back. Who serves them best will, I believe, determine who owns the future.

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