The latest excuse for why ebook sales have gone down: digital fatigue

ETA 6/23/2016 9:37am: Hi, incoming visitors from The Digital Reader! Welcome!

According to a post I spotted on The Digital Reader this morning, the publishing industry’s new spin on why people aren’t buying as many ebooks anymore is “digital fatigue”. The Digital Reader’s post in turn points off to Publishers Weekly’s report, which describes a survey taken of nearly 5,000 readers as to why they aren’t buying as many ebooks anymore.

I’m dubious of the whole concept here, though. I see phrasing like “quality long-form reading experience”, and have to wonder exactly what that’s supposed to mean–if this is just code for “we keep thinking that the digital reading experience is supposed to be exactly like print”, or what. I’m also wondering exactly how they got their pool of respondents for the survey–because their results sound comprehensive, sure, but there’s no data in that article as to how they acquired their survey pool.

And while I note that the article does reference self-published titles (gasp! A publishing industry survey actually acknowledged that self-pubbed titles exist?!), I also note that nowhere in this article does it mention how the uptick in pricing lately has made ebook buying prohibitive for a lot of readers.

It’s certainly been a factor in my own ebook purchasing decisions the last several months. When I see a lot of new novels in SF/F coming out at digital price points of $12.99, $13.99, and $14.99, or novellas coming out at price points like $9.99, then yes, I’m going to buy fewer new ebooks. The publishing industry may not like that Amazon created a consumer expectation of $9.99 for novels, but the fact remains that they did–and I think it’s kind of silly to expect consumers to keep buying books at the same rate when the prices go up considerably. I’m still seeing a fundamental disconnect here between what the industry thinks it ought to charge for ebooks, and what readers are actually willing to pay for them.

I will at least acknowledge that I find fatigue with the devices plausible. I also find it plausible that people don’t really want to read ebooks on their smartphones–because while it’s convenient, it’s also a bit annoying to be only able to read a paragraph or two at a time on a small screen. This is why I generally do also carry a tablet around with me, for doing my reading. And I’ve gone to tablet reading (specifically, the newest Nook tablet I picked up) instead of a dedicated e-reader on the grounds that I want the tablet for other things during the day (occasional day job testing, game play), and it’s unnecessary weight in my backpack to also carry an ereader when I’ve got the tablet.

But a) I’m a techie, b) I live in a tech-heavy town, and c) I have a well-paying day job, so I’m probably an outlier in this. And my social media channels do slant towards fellow techies as well as people who continue to be power readers in the digital realm, like romance readers. (And I’m really, really curious as to whether that survey that PW is talking about included romance readers.)

In general, though: meh. It sure would be nice if the publishing industry eventually figured out that digital readers don’t want to pay high prices for ebooks, but I’m not betting on that happening any time soon.

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