What Falling E-book Sales Tell Us About Technology in 2017

E-books are a symbol of the transition into the technological age, and when devices like the Kindle and Nook exploded onto the scene, it seemed books were going to disappear. For a while, it seemed certain that technology was going to oust physical text, but along the way, something changed.

According to Nielsen, e-book sales fell 16% in 2016 compared to the year previously. In young adult fiction alone, e-book sales dropped by more than 25%. That may seem insignificant for one year, but a trend is developing. The drastic decline in e-books sales has significant implications for technology and how consumers are approaching it.

E-books seemed like a tech goldmine, but entrepreneurs can learn so much from the rise and fall of electronic print. With an ever-changing platform, technology can be a difficult medium to work in. Examining how people’s interest in e-books changed, tech entrepreneurs can build products and devices with the revolving door in mind.

So, what does this imply? Here a few things that we can learn about technology from the drop in e-book sales.

There’s No Predicting

The most important thing to be taken from e-books falling in sales: there is no sure-fire method to predicting how successful a new technology will be, especially according to popularity. When e-books first rose to popularity, economists were quick to claim that print books would soon be extinct. But by 2010, people once again began praising print books and noting that they would outlive e-books. While the latter is not yet true, print books remain a constant in this technological age.

There are a few reasons e-books have become less popular: notably cost and digital exhaustion. E-book prices continue to rise, but the overall disdain for electronic reading is more justified due to the overwhelming presence technology now has in our lives. Not only do people prefer holding a physical book, but they see real books as a means of escape from technology. Consumers are looking to distance themselves from technology, so entrepreneurs need to always be creating explicitly useful tech. Keep it relevant!

In Tandem

A notion that is hard to grasp is that technologies like e-books can co-exist with ‘archaic’ methods like reading a physical book. With interest and sales in e-books dropping or falling to a plateau, it is becoming clear that having options is most popular. It is hard to find an e-book consumer who doesn’t also read print books. E-books are a matter of convenience, not preference.

And the decline isn’t generational either: even younger readers are showing more interest in print books over their electronic counterparts. In Nielsen’s survey of readers’ preferences, an increase in print book sales can be partially contributed to an increase in children’s book sales. To keep up with the sudden demand for classic means, entrepreneurs need to embrace consumer’s desire to maintain a connection with tangible things.

Age of Nostalgia?

Nostalgia may seem like a relic of the 1970s, but desire for times gone by is becoming the norm. With technology constantly changing and affecting everyday life, more and more people are interested in older technologies. Not only have print books increased in popularity, but other ‘retro’ things are returning: in 2017, vinyl sales have reached a 25-year high.

Finding a tangible connection to interests and pastimes is important, so physical products are overcoming electronics. If anything, the internet is allowing people to discover new ways to experience books and music, leading them to embrace print and vinyl. Rather than using the internet to rip or pirate physical content, more and more people are willing to invest in books, allowing print to return to fashion. Even e-book giant Amazon recently launched their own chain of bookstores, capitalizing on the return to popularity the physical book has seen.

If falling e-book sales tell us anything, it is that how consumers approach technology is not nearly as black and white as it first seemed. Creating relevant tech is more important. The honeymoon phase, or so it seems, has ended. People are no longer looking to replace everything in their lives with shiny devices and downloadable content.

“A good entrepreneur is able to keep up with the ever-fluctuating nature of inventing. Creating new apps or programs isn’t solely for the sake of making something—it’s for a greater benefit. You can never know for sure how your creation will be embraced, all you can do is attempt to make something worthwhile that will positively affect how people live their lives,” notes Steven Jaffe, attorney and co-founder of Farmer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman, P.L.

By no means will this decline in e-book sales equate to the end of electronic print, but it hails a new era for the physical book and the development of new technologies.