Ebook Trends: The Year of Living Digitally
After years of obscurity, the ebook has become a full-fledged disruption for publishers—supplanting print sales in North America and Europe, and threatening to do so throughout the developing world. Influenced by rapid changes in handheld, portable devices, as well as new pricing and supply chain models, ebooks represent both problem and opportunity for publishers. Rather than attempting absolute predictions, it may be more helpful to assess the current situation—and the many remaining obstacles to ebook adoption and profitability—all with an eye toward discovering ways for publishers and their partners, at least in theory, to thrive in this new environment.
There’s no need to detail the history of ebooks, except to point out a specific turning point: Amazon’s 2007 combining of E Ink devices with its enormous e-commerce potential. The Kindle phenomenon transformed ebooks from novelty status into a viable consumer trend, especially for narrative text reading. The big question today is whether the tablet trend marks a similar, fundamental transformation in ebook consumption, or just an incremental step in the process.
Trends in Ebook Adoption
A growing body of research confirms the rise of ebook reading and the displacement of print in the minds of consumers, especially in the U.S. In December 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 23% of Americans 16 and older had read an ebook in the past year—up from 16% the year before. Over the same time period, the share of those who read a print book declined from 72% to 67%. 
The impact of digital formats is especially noticeable in adult trade books, where ebook revenue grew from 13% of publishers’ total revenue in 2010 to 30% in 2011, according to BookStats.  This was mostly at the expense of mass market paperbacks, which fell from 33% to 24% during the same period. Other sectors, like juvenile trade books, are also showing increases in ebook use and corresponding declines in print. This is not happening at the same pace as it is for trade publishing, but is likely to do so as ereading device usage becomes more common.
John Parsons (firstname.lastname@example.org), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.