Between Print, Audiobooks and eBooks: Where’s the Publishing Tech Going?


The digital era has dramatically altered the business practices of virtually every industry. And without question, a massive shift has occurred in the publishing sector with the emergence of the options to either read books electronically or listen to them on headphones.

The evolving landscape brings up several important questions for the world of publishing: Is traditional print going the way of the dodo bird? Or will it continue to thrive? And which of the alternate mediums will rise above others in the future?

Although many people believe that print is dead, the statistics prove otherwise. In fact, a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 65% of Americans had read a print book in the last 12 months. This number is more than double the 28% share who had read an e-book in the same period, and more than four times the 14% who had listened to an audiobook.

Clearly, print is still on top when it comes to book reading in America. And while many expected e-books to take over the industry, thereby leaving paperbacks in the dust, e-book sales are declining. Whether it’s due to screen fatigue or the wearing off of the initial consumer excitement about e-readers, the drop is apparent, with e-book sales falling by 21.8% in the first quarter of 2016, according to a report from the Association of American Publishers. However, during the same period, digital audiobook sales experienced the most substantial growth, increasing by a remarkable 35.3%. And a recent report from U.S. book sales tracker BookScan reveals that print sales are continuing to increase, up 2.6% in the first half of 2017 in comparison to the first half of 2016.

Many experts now believe that audiobooks carry the greatest potential for growth in the future. As an example, New York-based Simon & Schuster published more than triple the number of audiobooks in 2017 compared to five years ago to meet the increasing consumer demand.

Major tech and retail players are also jumping on the audiobook trend. Walmart has announced plans to team up with Rakuten, Japan’s top e-commerce company, to begin offering audiobooks in the U.S. later this year, while both Apple and Google are said to be developing their own audiobook apps for future release.

While print continues to dominate, audiobook sales are rising dramatically and e-books are on the decline, thereby providing a reassuring expectation for publishers to prosper in the digital age.

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