If there's one constant in the news industry it's that there's no end to bad coverage on any given topic, including ebooks. Sometimes the bad reporting is the result of journalists not taking the time to understand the data, while other times publications such as The Guardian have bashed ebooks so frequently and consistently that you can infer their editorial policy.
And then there are the pieces where the reporter invests time and energy in being massively wrong. These pieces will repeat myths like "screen fatigue", misreport industry data, cite unreliable sources, and quote people who have an axe to grind.
The Australian tabloid News.com.au just published one such piece. Frank Chung first interviews one of Amazon's competitors, Booktopia founder Tony Nash, but rather than rebut Nash's claims, Chang then digs up all the usual nonsense to support the claim that ebooks are dead.
Chang misreported AAP publisher revenue data as market sales, then went on to cite predictions from the notoriously unreliable Pricewater.house Cooper (the firm that, for 3 years running, claimed ebook sales would exceed print sales 4 years out).
E-books, however, make up a tiny fraction of Booktopia’s sales. “E-book (sales are) small for us, really only around 1 per cent,” Mr Nash said.
“E-books are declining around the world, including Amazon. Sales are really not going to be as big as everyone thought they would be.”
He attributes that partly to screen overload. “They say, ‘I have too much screen time, I want to shut down my phone, shut down my computer, I just want to sit down with a book’,” he said.
“It’s a very different entertainment experience and process. That’s part of it. The other thing is that a lot of e-books are self-published authors and just the quality of the book is not as good.”
Data from the American Association of Publishers show e-book sales between January and October last year were 3.1 per cent lower than the same period in 2017.
While e-book sales for the month of October edged higher, the long-term trend has been down. In October 2014 e-book sales were $US126.6 million, compared with $US87.1 million in October 2018, a 31 per cent decline.
The figures are similar in Australia, where PwC expects sales of e-books to fall 31 per cent from $204 million in 2017 to $140 million in 2022.
What really gets me about this kind of story isn't the bad reporting so much as that there is an actual story being obscured by all this nonsense.
Booktopia isn't selling ebooks, but they are selling a fair number of print books. Why did things turn out that way? What are the technical and other constraints that are limiting Booktopia's ebook sales? What innovations is Booktopia using to grow online print sales, and why don't they work for ebooks?
If Chang had answered those questions, he would have a piece worth reading. What he published, not so much.