E-books rise in popularity, offer convenience for readers

E-books rise in popularity, offer convenience for readers

As the disruptive wave of COVID-19 continues to plunge various industries into turmoil across the nation, the publishing industry is equally affected, with a decline in sales and events. Book releases, publishing conferences and book fairs are among the events negatively impacted within the industry. According to Publishers Weekly, publishing company Skyhorse Publishing had to cut staff by 30% in late March. Book sales in general have decreased by more than 8% since the beginning of self-isolation in March, according to The New York Times.

As the print book industry continues to encounter issues with sale and promotion of new books, potentially facing a decline in popularity due to COVID-19, e-books are slowly on the rise. Popularized with the release of the Kindle in 2007, there is more convenience to purchasing reading material online, especially now with the majority of bookstores and libraries temporarily closed due to COVID-19. According to Forbes, e-reading service Libby generated about 247,000 downloads in the span of only one week in March, marking a 30% increase from the previous week. Similarly, more than 10.1 million books were borrowed from libraries around the globe via the service within a week. 

E-books were generally overshadowed by print books despite the convenience of reading on an electronic device. Ownership of a print book means having the experience of turning the pages that isn’t the same with digital books. Readers are able to focus, feeling the physical weight of the book in their hands.  With an e-book, it is simply the weight of the device one feels. With a press of a button or a swipe of a screen, the page turns. The pages don’t rustle, the screen remaining in a stagnant position throughout the reading experience. The lack of physical characteristics, such as the cover art, pages to turn, and weight of the book all create convincing reasons as to why e-books don’t hold the same value as physical books. 

As the country sits in self-isolation, however, e-books bring an advantage to readers. The easy accessibility and variety of choices presents a convenient option for people. There are so many selections to explore, easier to locate online as opposed to in a bookstore. With the input of several keywords, a book that caters to the liking of the reader is found. Searching for e-books is like an instant connection of two puzzle pieces. The print industry is already facing a steady decline in the market size. According to IBISWorld, the industry has declined an average of 1.4% every year from 2015 to 2020. As there is a lack of accessibility to physical books now, there is a surge in competition between print and online options. Although Amazon continues with the sale of print books, delivery can take several weeks as there is a high demand for essential supplies. Barnes and Nobles stores and local bookshops aren’t open to the public, and when they do reopen, avid readers may still be wary of browsing the store’s plentiful shelves.This presents an advantage to the e-book industry, as a solution to the impatience of having to wait for a physical book. Readers could now turn to the more convenient option of online reading material.

There is a potential issue of germ transmission with the arrival of physical packages to consider as well. The virus can live on cardboard for up to a day, which brings extra measures that people have to take. Allowing the package to sit for several days until opening it with protective glove wear might not be an appealing option to those that waited 3 weeks to receive a book. However, purchasing an e-book with the same content as the physical book takes several minutes. One click, and the reader has information available almost instantly with e-books. There are applications such as Project Gutenberg, offering over 60,000 free e-books to download. Authors have been profiting greatly from the new online reading trend. According to the newsletter BookBub, some authors have been generating up to an additional 30% increase in sales since the beginning of social distancing. 

Print book sales might be declining, but the general need for books still exists. Picking up a book creates an escape, and a space for coping with current events. E-books allow readers to re-create this space, with convenience and a greater selection of material to choose from.