It Ain’t Necessarily So: Predicting the end of print, and e-ink, and B&N, has become the new national pastime.

The returns are in on sales for Amazon and Barnes & Noble from the holiday sales period. Remember that “surge” that I mentioned in my last blog? Like the song says “it ain’t necessarily so.”

On the one hand, Amazon had its biggest holiday season ever, with the Kindle Fire being its number one product—specifically the “#1 best-selling, most gifted and most wished for product.”

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble sales were down almost across the board—in stores, on-line and sales of Nook. Revenues were down 12.6% from the previous year. The good news is that sales of digital content were up 13.1%, “indicating that at least those who own Nooks are using them to buy content.” While B&N would not specifically break out Nook sales they did say that after Black Friday sales “fell short of expectations for the balance of holiday.”

There are two issues (at least) that, to me, jump out for discussion here.

One is what this says about the ongoing viability of B&N. The headline on is pretty blunt “Amazon is Gutting Barnes & Noble.” While stating that Nook revenues declined by more than 12%, the writer (a Nook owner) also has my favorite line about the Nook—“As a Nook owner, I’m now starting to get that queasy Betamax feeling.” But the point is really that B&N’s Nook is now a well thought of product, selling at a lower price than Kindle but unable to make advances in the marketplace. Pearson recently announced an investment of $89.5 million in the Nook that will somewhat help combat Amazon’s incredibly deep pockets. But I’m not sure this is enough.

Let’s face it, the world is divided into Amazon and the anti-Amazon. The second category includes not only independent bookstores, but also B&N. Whatever else you may think of B&N, they have physical stores in places where none would exist. And many of these would not be replaced by an independent if they went away. I find myself rooting for B&N, but I have my concerns.

The second issue is whether this year’s sales speak to a leveling off in the sales of devices meant only for reading (as opposed to tablets). A recent Wall Street Journal article cites not one, but two, market research studies suggesting this to be the case. One researcher states that shipment of e-readers was down 28% in 2012. Another comes up with different statistics, but supports the same trend.

A couple of points from the WSJ article that I think are key.

  1. E-readers bought a couple of years ago still work just fine for people who only want an e-reader.
  2. Technology marches on. When e-readers first came out they were the new technology, and they were the pinnacle of what was offered. Technology does not stand still. Now for a little more money, people can get an e-reader and whole lot more.

Bottom line? E-reading will continue to grow, but perhaps not at the explosive rate that it did at first.

At the same time, William Carr in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the end of ink on paper may be exaggerated. I love it when someone agrees with me. It happens so rarely! He cites the Pew Research Center study that showed the percentage of people who have read an e-book over the past year from 16% to 23%. But that 89% of book readers had read at least one printed book.

I think that a jump of more than 40% in those who have read ebooks is not to be sneezed at. What they read it on is going to continue to evolve. Five years from now, the tablet may be passé.

But the printed book will still be here.

And I kind of hope that B&N will be, as well.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, asked questions sometimes have answers you don’t want to hear. B&N has told the Wall Street Journal of a plan to close 1/3 of their retail stores over the next ten years.

Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.

In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.
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  • BooksandAuthor

    nice article — can I tweet it? I don’t see a Tweet button


  • Dana Smith

    Excellent summary of the trends in print vs. ebooks. I agree that the demise of B&N would hurt many communities that don’t have indie bookstores.

  • Patrick Grace

    As a small regional book publisher I too am rooting for printed & bound–and bricks&mortar stores, whether chains or indies. We are now doing ebooks along with printed books and will continue to do so. But an overwhelming majority of our readers want a printed book. I expect that will continue to be so.
    John Patrick Grace
    Publishers Place
    Huntington, West Virginia

  • Publerati

    When you look across the retail landscape of all goods sold, do you know of any other category that devotes so much square footage to the sale of one type of product? The answer I believe will be "no." Store-within-a-store concepts exploded in the 1990s and continue to this day. Supermarkets are in fact the best places to try and sell flowers and greeting cards and photo services and drugs because the average consumer is in a supermarket several times a week. So this is why B&N will not survive in the brick and mortar category. It should not be so difficult to see this when one looks across the past twenty years of retail trends. As for the Nook, it is the Palm Pilot of its day, as are most single-purpose pieces of technology. The tech people have learned this lesson well over the years whether it be cameras, GPS or contact managers. Book industry analysts should also pay close attention to Samsung as a non-traditional competitor. Thanks for the article. — Caleb from Publerati.

  • Robin Alexander

    Once again, a very thought provoking piece. Having lived in the Bay Area during the advent of computers and the Internet, I’ve had a love affair with technology going way back. That being said, nothing, absolutely nothing (in my opinion) will compare to the printed page. The look, and feel of a beautifully bound volume. The sense of discovery in a used book store when finding brilliant notes in the margins of a well loved, dog-eared novel. Call it the artist in me, but a 1st edition T.S. Eliot vs an electronic version is like comparing an original Van Gogh to a digital image on a screen. That doesn’t mean that a "Kindle" does not come in handy perhaps when traveling or in need of remote access to one’s library. Cheers Michael for walking that delicate line between the two point of views.

  • Chris Boyer

    Another good article. Thanks, Michael, from someone who often tends to agree with you! (Must be that Gemini thing we’ve got going.) As for me personally? Just this week I went online to two library sources that I borrow from and ordered two different book in both print and digital. In one case, the digital was available first so I read part of it before the one week ran out, and by that time my print reserve copy was in. Viola! No downtime in finishing the book, just switching from one format to another. Easy.

  • Eric Butler

    Very good. I always enjoy finding blog articles that are level-headed about the trend in e-reading. Yes, more people are reading e-books, but still nowhere near the levels of print books. Yes, e-book "sales" have eclipsed sales of print books, but only because those stats include free downloads, 99-cent downloads, etc., and do not count their print equivalents: non-bookstore clearance bins, estate sales, garage sales, Goodwill/Salvation Army sales, free-shelves, etc.

    Re: e-readers vs. tablets, I wouldn’t count out the significance of the e-ink readers’s non-LED display, offering less eye strain, using less electricity, emitting less heat, and less weight. Those are big benefits to me.

    Finally, re: BN vs. Amazon, an anecdote. I recently bought my first title from (I’m more accustomed to physical store purchases) and was delighted to find that not only matched Amazon in their price discount, but also offered free shipping and got it to me faster and in better packaging than orders I’ve gotten from Amazon. Looks like BN’s finally ready to fight. I wish them good luck!