Consumers apparently aren't as enamored with e-books as previously thought. Print book sales in the first quarter of 2015 grew by 3 percent compared to the first quarter of 2014, Publishers Weekly reported. Perhaps even more significant than this modest uptick in overall sales is that children's books saw increases almost across the board, indicating that even those who were born surrounded by limitless technology at their fingertips prefer reading in print, to some degree. The only juvenile categories which experienced decay were general fiction and history/sports/people/places.
A categorical breakdown of sales increases
According to Publishers Weekly, out of 16 adult nonfiction categories listed, 12 either saw no change from last year – history/law/political science and religion/bibles – or experienced growth, ranging from 2 percent – reference, travel, general nonfiction – to 32 percent – biography/autobiography/memoir. Adult fiction books didn't perform quite as well, but still saw more growth than decay: out of 13 categories, nine saw increased sales, buoyed by graphic novels at 18 percent.
In an ironic twist, one of the several sections in which printers saw a decline in sales was computer-related books; perhaps consumers are becoming less interested in learning about digital products.
For juvenile books, the source noted, the increases in sales over the past year were more widespread than their adult counterparts. In fact, all nine nonfiction categories grew, with the smallest margin coming in at 9 percent – history/sports/people/places. Holidays/festivals/religion saw the biggest increase, at 26 percent, and games/activities/hobbies also broke the 20 percent barrier. Juvenile nonfiction as a whole saw a 16 percent jump, by far the biggest increase for any of the four broad categories.
Meanwhile, only two out of nine juvenile fiction groups decreased in sales – history/sports/people/places was down 6 percent, while general juvenile fiction saw a 3 percent loss. However, holidays/festivals/religion grew 44 percent, while animals saw a notable 26 percent increase.
Know your niche: Publishers adapt to meet demand
Reuters acknowledged that in the past, bookstores were able to shape the selection they offered, since they were the primary buying source for consumers. But with the advent of the Internet, and especially retail sites like Amazon, buyers are able to expand their repertoires by reading peer reviews of books and engaging in discussions with like-minded readers from around the world. Because of this, it's imperative that publishers and booksellers understand and cater to customer demand.
As the Publishing Weekly statistics have shown, books are being used more for academic and learning purposes, rather than leisurely reading. The highest increases in sales over the past year were generally nonfiction, while fiction categories saw losses in more instances. Publishers would be wise to recognize this trend: While fiction reading as a whole may be declining, and some readers are making the jump to e-books, the market for nonfiction products remains strong – in fact, it actually appears to be growing. This reaffirms recent studies that have found current students prefer print textbooks over digital ones; it's widely recognized that physical books are more conducive to higher levels of learning and comprehension due to the distracting nature of the electronic world.
Reuters asserted that as publishers attempt to remain competitive with digital products, the use of data analysis will become more important. Knowing your target, understanding their wants and needs, and providing products in desirable formats are all keys to keeping up with electronic platforms. Fiction books do not appear to be growing in popularity the same way their nonfiction counterparts are, so perhaps it's time for the focus of publishing companies to shift in that direction.
With all this said, it's still important to note that overall, print books are selling at a higher rate than this time last year. And that's good news for the industry.