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How to Misuse Stats and Cite Bogus Projections, and Make the Publishing Industry Love You

Another one of those "ebooks didn’t kill print" is being passed around again, and this one is far worse than the dreck we have been seeing about every five months for the past six years.

Strategy & Business presented an unconvincing argument to support the claim that "books are the only form of physical media whose sales are growing". They mis-labeled publisher revenue stats from the AAP as sales data, and S&B also cited projections from the notoriously unreliable PricewaterhouseCooper:

According to PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2018–2022, the consumer market for physical, printed books is holding its own in an increasingly digital world (see “Print Presses On”). Between 2018 and 2022, sales of physical video games, home video, and music are expected to decline each year, in some instances by double-digit percentages. By contrast, sales of physical books are expected to grow modestly, by about 1 percent annually, every year. By 2022, PwC expects consumers around the world will spend US$50.3 billion on books in physical or audio (i.e., non-electronic) form, compared with $47.8 billion in 2017.

The problem with PwC is that this is the same firm that predicted ebook sales would exceed print sales four years out. They made this prediction for three years in a row (2012, 2013, 2014). Needless to say, their prediction did not come to pass, but on the upside at least the multiple failed predictions made it clear that PwC cannot predict rain if they were standing in a downpour.

This piece is, well, shit, and I was planning to ignore it. And I would have, except it kept getting shared, and it was even the topic of a Beyond The Book podcast a week ago. All this activity surprised me, but I slowly came to realize that this article was so popular because it told people in the legacy industry what they wanted to hear – that print isn’t dead.

This article is as bad as that nonsense about replacing libraries with Amazon Books, and yet everyone just ate it up.

Peter McCarthy even told me that he tweeted this piece because he thought it was unusual that someone wrote print wasn’t dying. (Apparently the fact we see something like this every 5 months or so escaped his notice.)

His tweet was also a revelation in that it gives us a peek into what the legacy industry believes and how they see themselves.

Peter sees his publishing industry as consisting of only established publishers and print books, and doesn’t count ebooks or indie authors as part of the industry.

I had already got the impression from others in the legacy publishing industry, but it was still useful to see it confirmed that the old guard still refused to accept indies as part of the industry.

This attitude is not something that indies can change, nor should we bother; it merely has to be endured until people like Peter retire.


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Nirmala August 26, 2018 um 7:16 pm

I notice that they include audio in their category of "physical books". Have they not noticed that audiobooks are digital products now?

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2018 um 7:21 pm

I don’t think they did, and that just goes to show how bad they are at this.

That is an excellent catch; I missed it.

Xavier Basora August 27, 2018 um 4:13 am


Geez and I thought I was exaggerating about sciency studies decrying the negative effects of screens for reading but no in a hold my beer moment!

and one of the quotes among many:
My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.

Xavier Basora August 27, 2018 um 4:03 am


Of course indies aren’t REAL publishers/writers. We all know that REAL publishing is done at the overpriced downtown offices of NewyorkLondonTorontoWellingtonSydneyNewDelhi.

Good Lord man! Don’t you know that audiobooks and ebooks are a passing fad? We all know that people really miss the smell of new books and the tactile feel of 40$ hardcovers! And that scientists(tm) and educators(tm) have concluded in numerous sciency studies(tm) that screen reading is both unhealthy-makes you cross eyed- and cause young people to forget what they read even faster compared to textbooks(r). Paper is the future! Paper forever!

Richard Hershberger August 27, 2018 um 10:00 am

Yes, publishing industry discussions routinely ignore self-publishing. This is sloppy use of language, and I can see how it would be annoying to those involved in self-publishing. They should be more careful to clarify the scope of the discussion. But the question is how valid is this discussion, within its limited scope? When we talk about self-publishing, we are talking almost entirely about mass market commercial genre fiction. I think the traditional publishers have written that off. They have lost it and aren’t going to get it back. So that isn’t the discussion they are having. They are talking about what is happening with everything else.

Nate Hoffelder August 27, 2018 um 11:25 am

See, that just adds an extra element of denialism to Peter’s tweet. If we regard ebooks as something tradpub lost, then Peter’s industry arguably is dying, and Peter is spinning the current plateau as a positive.

Richard Hershberger August 27, 2018 um 12:04 pm

I didn’t write "ebooks." Traditional publishers sell lots of ebooks. I wrote about "self-publishing" and "mass market commercial genre fiction." Both sides of the discussion often talk as the other side doesn’t exist.

I see endless discussions from the self-publishing side that take "book" to mean "mass market commercial genre fiction." I see this all the time in pricing discussions, asking if five bucks is too high. In this world, the traditional publisher’s price point of $9.99 is patently absurd. But lots of ebooks are sold at that price point. They mostly are not mass market commercial genre fiction, but there is more out there than that.

So returning to Peter McCarthy’s tweet, he is doing the same thing, but from the other direction.

Disgusting Dude August 27, 2018 um 5:25 pm

Valid point.
But tradpub is declining in non-fiction, reference, and textbooks, too. They admit it on textbooks but the other two they don’t talk about.
Their stronghold for now is children’s fiction.

Mostly they are masking their steady decline with the ongoing transition away from mass market paperback to trade paperback and hardcover and increased prices across the board.

Nate Hoffelder August 27, 2018 um 5:43 pm

also, acquisitions

Mike Cane August 27, 2018 um 12:12 pm

"That’s not an iceberg! Stop spreading fake news!"

Len Epp August 27, 2018 um 6:14 pm

'Jim Milliot, editorial director at Publishers Weekly, points to the cyber-life symptom known as screen fatigue.
“People looking at screens all day at the office don’t want to come home and look at another screen”'

*cough* Netflix *cough*

Pretty amazing – even for this dismal genre of terrible industry reporting, that Strategy & Business article is remarkably bad. I mean, "cyber-life symptom"? Everything else aside, it’s just such clunky writing.

The widespread nature of this kind of self-indulgent, thoughtless nonsense wouldn’t matter if it weren’t for the fact that the buffoons who say these ludicrous things are simultaneously setting themselves up as the special guardians of Serious Culture.

Nate Hoffelder August 27, 2018 um 7:48 pm

I know!

This piece as bad as that "replace libraries with Amazon Books" and yet everyone just ate it up!

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