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Paperbacks still have legs

8 September 2014

John Lewis of the Bookseller has argued strongly that the paperback edition is still a major factor in book sales and what's more that its position doesn't seem to be changing in the face of ebook sales nearly as much as had originally been assumed, now that things are settling down. What's surprising about this is that the paperback edition is coming out 6-12 months after the hardback and ebook are available. Even more important in terms of sales, you would expect the ebook to completely cannibalise the paperback sales as it's invariably not only available sooner but also considerably cheaper.

Not only is the paperback still comprising a substantial element of sales in terms of income and numbers, but it is also providing an important element of continuity in that its publication gives another promotional boost to the book, just at the time when interest in it may well be tailing off.

Of course it's also in authors' interest to have good paperback sales as the prices are higher and the royalties/earnings greater than for ebooks.

The puzzling thing though is why paperback editions are still selling in volume, when many of the forecasts were that the paperback would be totally superseded by the ebook edition. It looks like the answer has to be that a substantial number of book-buyers are continuing to go for the paperback as well as reading ebooks, or perhaps in some cases instead of doing so. The reading public may well be more conservative than anyone had originally predicted.

And that is something that publishers and self-publishers will need to bear in mind, as it affects the shape of the book business. It also has a major bearing on how to navigate the changes going on at present and still make a reasonable income, which is, at the least, what everyone wants to do.