Why e-books did not succeed

At the beginning of this decade, hardly anything seemed to be able to stop the triumph of e-books. At the end of 2019 it is clear: the revolution largely failed to materialize – there are reasons for that.

For many a pessimistic book fan, a few years ago it still looked as if e-books would soon completely overwhelm printed books and newspapers. Amazon in particular had contributed to this with the introduction of its dedicated e-book reader Kindle and the development of a connected self-publisher market . Market observers are now blaming the technology-savvy young generation – and Apple – for the fact that e-books were largely denied the predicted triumphant advance .

E-books are especially popular with the elderly

In an interview with the US news portalVox explains to Andrew Albanese * , an author of the industry magazine Publishers Weekly, that Generation Z and millennials in particular have surprisingly little interest in e-books. Although they always stuck to their smartphones and loved social media, when it came to reading books, Albanese said they were more likely to go to a printed book. Instead of the younger generation, older people have turned out to be the main buyers of e-books, the so-called boomers. For them, an e-book reader, where you can enlarge the font and not have to rely on the bookstore, is more convenient.

In the US, the pioneer in e-books, sales have leveled off at 20 percent digital and 80 percent printed books, says Albanese. At the beginning of the decade, it was forecast the other way around. According to Albanese, there is at least a second important reason why e-books have not been as successful as initially thought: Apple.

Amazon’s low-price strategy in the sights of publishers

Albanese wrote the book “The Battle of $ 9.99”. In it, he explains how Apple, when it entered the e-book market, tried to destroy Amazon’s low-price strategy together with some of the largest US publishers. Specifically, in the run-up to the presentation of the iPad and the iBookstore in 2010, the group is said to have negotiated with the publishers so that they could determine the e-book prices themselves. That should cripple Amazon’s $ 9.99 strategy. And it worked. Overnight, Albanese said, e-book prices climbed from $ 9.99 to $ 14.99.

Apple and the publishers were eventually held accountable for forming a price cartel . The effects of this deal can still be felt today. Instead of being significantly cheaper, as expected in 2010, e-books are now sometimes more expensive than printed books. The competitive price of $ 9.99 for newly released bestsellers – as was the case initially – has ultimately not become the rule.

Germany: E-books with a low share of sales

However, pricing works differently in the US than in Germany, where fixed book prices set the standard. For comparison: According to Statista , the share of sales of e-books in the public market in Germany was only 5.7 percent. This is likely to be higher for specialist books. Meanwhile, the number of buyers has barely increased in the past five years, they only buy more e-books on average.