Getting 10,000 listeners for a free podcast novel is a lot easier than selling 10,000 hardcover novels at $25 a pop. —Jeremy Robinson
My favorite people all read. A lot. The smartest people you’ll find are avid readers. The richest people in the world always have a book handy. People who don’t read regularly don’t just bother me, I find them quite frightening. Interestingly enough, I have found that those who have no hardcover books on their shelves seem to have the hardest heads, least likely to be open to information, creativity, or anything new.
For the past several years now, we’ve been told that hardcover book publishing is all but dead. Sales numbers supported that claim. E-readers were everywhere for a while, and it wasn’t all that unusual to see them on the bus, or the train, or at the local coffee shop, typically in the hands of someone young, hip looking, and wearing earbuds to avoid conversation or interruption. Going digital seemed like the environmentally friendly thing to do, too; more books could be published without killing thousands of trees. Going digital also meant one could carry multiple books with them without suffering the weight of an overcrowded bookbag. The whole premise sounded good, and to some degree still does.
What any avid reader will tell you, though, is that while digital publishing does have its advantages, there’s still nothing like the feel and pleasure of holding a real, hardcover book in your hands. We’ve always known that. We might give e-readers a try, and there are moments when they can be quite convenient, but we always come back to hardcover books because holding that physical tome of paper and ink is almost as much a part of the reading experience as is the story enclosed in the book’s pages.
Now, here’s the surprise: Hardcover books are coming back, both in terms of what is fashionable as well as hard sales numbers. The numbers are not huge, yet, according to Publisher’s Association; some $50 million or so out of a $7 billion-plus market. At the same time, though, digital publishing took a similarly-sized downturn. Put the two together and one has to optimistically consider this a trend.
Oh, and on top of that, the British bookseller Waterstones stopped selling e-readers, converted the shelf space to hardcover titles, and saw a five percent increase in sales! Considering the complete demise of Borders books, and how other booksellers have struggled, one has to wonder if perhaps those in charge of such operations might have given up a bit too quickly, tossing in the towel without putting up a sufficient battle.
What has pushed the trend back toward ink-on-paper books? Some point to an increased popularity in lifestyle titles such as Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Happiness and Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. The popularity of coloring books among young adults hasn’t hurt sales, either, though that hardly counts as a literary genre. Ultimately, what has brought us back to the hardcover is emotion and practicality. We love our books. We love how they feel in our hands. We love turning down pages. We love decorative bookmarks. We love that ability to make sure everyone sees the dust jacket so they know what we’re reading.
We’re also more keenly aware of the shortcomings of e-readers. The portability is great for the first couple of hours, but battery life is limited and no one likes to be tethered to a wall outlet while they read. Environment is a problem, too. Too much or too little sunlight and you can’t see the screen, and the quickest way to ruin an e-reader is to take it into the kitchen while you’re cooking. Drop your Kindle? Sorry, you’ll have to buy a new one. Set the reader too close to anything magnetized and you lose your entire library.
Books are back. We’re not really surprised, are we? While this does not necessarily mean brick-and-mortar bookstores will return in the fashion we once knew, we can be certain that hardcover books are not going to disappear anytime soon. Probably never. Real readers know this. We love our books.