E-books That Nobody Reads Outselling Print Books Nobody Reads 3-to-1
Bookseller Barnes & Noble announced Monday that market share for digital books has increased 27 percent over the same period last year, outdistancing its sales of physical books for the same period. And sales of its Nook e-reader and other Nook-related products have enjoyed a sharp rise in sales. But marketing surveys show that no one is actually reading the books that the devices were created for, which is promising news for a struggling publishing industry.
“The devices are marvelous,” said B & N CEO William Lynch, “and what makes it even better is that no one is reading anything they’re buying, so there’s no lag time between the purchase of one book to the next.”
“It used to be you’d buy a book, take a month to read it, then keep it to read again or lend to a friend,” Lynch said. “Now, since no one’s actually reading anything anymore, the gap between purchases is measured in days. The device itself is the symbol; the book is more like the ink you buy for your printer.” Comments from consumers who refer to themselves as “readers” seem to bear this out.
“I download a bestseller about every 48 hours,” said Mandy Pickett, a career woman from Milwaukee who has downloaded over 300 e-books from iTunes. “It makes me feel less pretentious, not having so many unread books lying around my living room for people to draw conclusions from about me. Now I’ve got everything I can possibly ignore in my [Amazon] Kindle, which frees up my nightstand for snacks. I only buy books anymore when I’m redecorating—just like throw pillows.”
“Kindle, Nook, iPad—I don’t care really, said a Los Angeles reader who identified himself only as Smack . “I think the last real book I bought was the Gene Simmons autobiography, but I pimp my Nook and everybody gets the 420 that I’m up on everything that’s coming out.”
Houston realtor Dale Rice admitted, “Really, all I do is look over the reader reviews on the [Amazon.com] website and I kind of know all there is to know about the book,” he said. “I can talk about pretty much any book that’s out now and get away with it.” The trend has spread to university campuses as well. Students have latched onto the trend with a vigor usually reserved for beer bongs.
“Textbooks are hard to ignore in a backpack and they’re a bitch to lug around,” said Jeff Hentzel, an undergrad at NYU. “But you download them on your iPad and it’s like a whole new way to fake like you’re interested in class. The professor gets her cut, my back doesn’t hurt, and everybody’s happy. Usually in lecture hall I’m just doing Farmville and shit.”
Under the old business model, Barnes and Noble’s online store would sell a copy of, say, Water For Elephants in paperback discounted to $11.96 and eat the $3.00 shipping, just breaking even, with the hope that volume and other full-price books will make up for the bestseller loss leader.
“Now, in the same time frame, 50 people with good intentions buy it for their Kindle for $9.99, no shipping, and no real book to fuss with,” said business analyst Kyle Sneed. “Sara Gruen goes on NPR and tells the whole story so you can quote her at your reading group. Since no one’s going to read it anyway, it saves on labor and materials and in three months you’ve only got two other lonely copies clogging up shelf space in some remainders store,” Sneed said. “Talk about ‘green.’ That’s the beauty of this business model. It’s totally win-win.”
One current example is the Bristol Palin memoir, which has already entered the New York Times Bestseller List at #8, “Us magazine and TMZ already quoted the nasty stuff about Levi, Megan McCain and all the unworthy guys in her GED class who tried to date her,” Powell Books buyer Susan Martel says. “Nobody has to waste their time reading the whole book to find out about her stuck-up friends and how her mother picked names for her kids from an IKEA catalog.
“30,000 unread downloads later, everybody’s got that ‘I bought a book’ satisfaction,” said Martel. “B&N’s made $300,000 bucks in a day for no work at all, and Stork or Grendel or whatever her kid’s name is has a college fund in 24 hours. Phenomenal.”
And what about the deep “back catalog” titles by writers like Melville, Thoreau, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce? “James Joyce?” student Hentzel said blankly then, face brightening, “Oh yeah, the guy who sang that “You’re Beautiful” song. He wrote a book?”