A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

E-book Trends Flattening, Paper Books Holding Their Own

by on March 4, 2016

Trends are showing a flattening of the e-book explosion. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales fell by 11 percent through third quarter 2015.[1] Five years ago, experts predicted e-book sales becoming 50 percent of book sale market.[2] They also predicted that the sales of e-books through online retailers would cause brick-and-mortar stores to decline.[3] While e-book sales did increase exponentially, we have a seen a flattening of this trend. Even the marketplace is beginning to demonstrate physical presence has its place. Online-only retailer Amazon has made the move to expand into the brick-and-mortar market.[4]

“People talked about the demise of physical books as if it was only a matter of time, but even 50 to 100 years from now, print will be a big chunk of our business,” said Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, which has nearly two hundred fifty imprints globally as quoted in a recent New York Times article. Print books account for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales in the United States.[5]

These facts show e-books are not a one-size-fits-all solution for readers. Research is beginning to reveal that even digital natives prefer print to electronic formats in some instances. Pew Research recently reported that young readers are more likely to have read a book in the last twelve months than other age groups.[6][7] Millennials also prefers print to digital formats for reading. Another recent study showed 92 percent of college students would rather do their reading using paper books.[8]

For public libraries, this will mean continuing to balance the services we deliver. Our selection practices need to include multiple formats and sometimes tailoring our selection to the best format for delivery. For example, time sensitive content like that found in an encyclopedia, lends itself better to electronic form because it is quicker to update and retain its relevancy. This is evidenced by publishers like Britannica moving to electronic-only publication. We need to listen to what our readers are telling us about their format preferences through these trends.


[1] “AAP StatShot: Publisher Net Revenue from Book Sales Declines 2.0% Through Third Quarter of 2015.” January 27, 2016.

[2] 2010. “Ebooks Coming of Age as Digital Sales Skyrocket.” Information Today 27, no. 7: 25. EBSCO MegaFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 2016).

[3] Marshall Breeding. 2011. “Ebook Lending:Asserting the Value of Libraries as the Future of Books Unfolds.” Computers In Libraries 31, no. 9: 24-27. EBSCO MegaFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 2016).

[4] Trefis Team. “Why Would Amazon Open Physical Stores?Forbes, February 11, 2016.

[5] Alexandra Alter. “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” New York Times, September 22, 2015.

[6] Kathryn Zickhaur and Lee Rainie. “Younger Americans and Public Libraries,” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech, September 10, 2014.

[7] Lee Rainie and Andrew Perrin. “Slightly Fewer Americans Are Reading Print Books, New Survey Finds,” Pew Research Center, October 19, 2015.

[8] Michael Schaub. “92% of College Students Prefer Print Books to E-books, Study Finds,” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2016.


Alan S. Inyoue. “What’s in Store for Ebooks? Looking at the Digital Future of Libraries in 2016 and beyond.American Libraries Magazine, January 4, 2016.

Rachel Nuwer. “Are Paper Books Really Disappearing?BBC, January 25, 2016.

Tags: , ,