Surprise: Hardback Book Sales Overtake E-books Despite iPad and iPhone

Bookle-icon.jpgJonathan Stolper, Senior VP for Nielsen Books, recently presented a reported on the “steadily declining unit sales of e-books.”

Publisher’s Weekly has the story. “Whatever the causes for the decrease in e-book sales, the decline has resulted in something that many publishing experts thought would never happen—unit sales of hardcovers overtook unit sales of e-books.” Yep, you read that right.

Recall that right after the iPad came out, there was a flurry of interest in e-books. [Back in 2012, I published a six-part series.] We all thought that books on paper might eventually disappear. Some libraries took to preserving their holdings in special vaults, and we all merrily started buying e-books, living the future.

However, the situation has changed. From the article above…

Nielsen found that e-book unit sales from reporting publishers were down 16% in 2016 from 2015. [Meanwhile] unit sales of hardcovers overtook unit sales of e-books. With hardcover units up 5% in 2016 over 2015, hardcover’s 188 million units sold topped that of e-books for the first time since Borders closed in 2012…

Why the Reversal?

The Publisher’s Weekly cites two major causes explained by Mr. Stolper. First, e-book prices have gone up. The return of agency pricing has raised book prices on average by US$3.00. Price is cited as the top criteria for e-book buyers, and that’s been enough, apparently, to give customers pause.


Barnes & Noble Nook.


Second is the increased use of smartphones and tablets compared to dedicated e-book readers like the Barnes & Noble Nook. Wait. Here’s the thing…

Consumers who use dedicated e-book readers have consistently been found to purchase more e-books than consumers who use other devices to read. In the first quarter of 2011, more than 70% of e-book buyers said they used dedicated e-book devices to read, a percentage that fell to 24% in the second quarter of 2016.

Essentially, despite the steadily declining sales of the iPad, the installed base continues to rise, albeit it at a lower rate. And the obsession for e-books purchased by dedicated e-book reader owners is not shared by tablet owners.

In essence, the popularity of tablets like the iPad failed to propel customers permanently into an e-book future. That’s just amazing and explains a lot about this sea change.


iPad as e-book reader. Not so big a deal as presumed.


Other Factors

I surmise from my readings that there may be other factors at play.

  1. The EPUB and other e-book formats, in general, didn’t evolve fast enough to duplicate the page management, embedded images, cover art and reading experience of a real book. As e-book prices rose, and the hassle of DRM was never resolved, customers chose, more and more, to get the real thing.
  2. Customers of e-books have slowly became aware of the fact that they don’t have the same First-sale doctrine rights as with paper books. When, thanks to age, they can no longer maintain their account, the e-books and rights to the e-books vanish. Paper books can be passed on to heirs.
  3. Even standard sized tablets (9.7 – 10 inches) have a hard time displaying advanced textbook material in a fashion that’s equally as useful as paper. And e-book textbooks haven’t saved students a lot of money. Plus, they can’t be resold after use.

The Future of e-books

The first thing I thought when I read this article was, oh no, now Apple is going to lose interest in iBooks. That’s not certain, but we’ve come to learn how Apple thinks. That’s why, years ago, my wife and I elected to focus primarily on Kindle books, our Kindle readers, and not Apple’s iBooks. The thinking was that Amazon will always be in the book business, but perhaps not Apple.

The second thing to consider is that, just like the phenomena described by Publisher’s Weekly, technological change and market forces could turn the tide, back to e-books. For yet new and equally unexpected reasons. One never knows.

Third, it’s good to have a strategy. My own has been to buy e-books when I need them right away for reference. Science fiction books, once read, need not be kept around. But when a book is full of solid reference material and diagrams/photos, such as astronomy, physics, or computer science, I often invest a little more in paper. Our family’s e-book library is structured such that if it were to go poof, it wouldn’t matter.

Finally, a lesson here is that enthusiasm for what seems like cool technological advances doesn’t guarantee future success. Murphy’s law continues to apply in all aspects of our tech life. This one is an amazing case in point.

Author: John Martellaro
Twitter: @jmartellaro


ePUB-Hub – Committed to Offering Innovative Technology-Enabled Solutions For Digital Publishing


Apurva Ashar, Executive Director, ePUB-Hub

Cygnet Infotech is committed to offering innovative technology-enabled solutions for digital publishing through its digital publishing division, ePUB-Hub.

ePUB-Hub a prominent 360-degree digital publishing Solution, has made its presence felt on a global scale a Digital Publishing Solution by Cygnet Infotech which was established in the year 2000. The company is based out of Ahmedabad, Gujarat with offices across countries such as USA, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Cygnet Infotech is committed to offering innovative technology-enabled solutions for digital publishing through its digital publishing division, ePUB-Hub.

BWDisrupt team member Sujata Sangwan Interacts with Apurva Ashar, Executive Director, ePUB-Hub, and spoke to him

Idea Generation

We had an extensive experience of typesetting and designing books of rich Indian literature with specialization in Gujarati literature for renowned publishers and authors. Fortunately, we had archived and preserved all the soft copies of the books we’d typeset using computer in the past. So, when we got our hands on the first Kindle Touch in 2012, we saw an opportunity which had inspired us to create Gujarati eBooks that are as easily readable as the English language eBooks on Kindle. But gradually we discovered that there were Indic language-specific errors and lack of basic functionalities. For example, Gujarati keyboard wasn’t available; the fonts were not readable and had a lot of errors with the Dictionary lookups also posing as a challenge.

We worked hard to overcome these problems and successfully created standard ePUBs in Gujarati Unicode fonts from the data we had preserved with the consent of the associated publishers. Our eBooks used specially created Gujarati Unicode fonts that exactly matched the look and the layout of the printed books. Since no other platform was available to distribute the eBooks in Indic languages securely, we went on to create : an in-house platform bringing the Gujarati publishers and readers together.

Hence, in the first phase, we created standard eBooks, sold them from our web store and made them readable in third party reader apps, securing them with a robust Digital Rights Management solution powered by Adobe.

But, unfortunately, third party readers did not support Gujarati keyboard and integrated dictionary, which led us to build our very own reader app, specifically for Gujarati and Indian language eBooks.

And today, that leaves us with a treasure chest full of:

  1. Infrastructure and know-how to create from scratch or convert from existing computer data, what the world accepts as standard ePUBs. These are in standard Unicode fonts and are ready for use for the visually challenged community
  2. An e-store to market and distribute the contents
  3. An eBook reader app specifically designed for Indian language eBooks
  4. A secure digital rights management system to ensure the eBooks cannot be copied by illegal means and
  5. An enormous repository of eBooks of Gujarati and other Indian language literature

Description of the product

eShabda is a flagship implementation of ePUB-Hub – a Digital Publishing Solution by Cygnet Infotech which was established in the year 2000. Cygnet Infotech is committed to offering innovative technology-enabled solutions for digital publishing through its digital publishing division; ePUB-Hub. eShabda is an earnest effort to bring the benefits of digital publishing to Indian language publishers and authors. In a scenario where the global publishing industry is making profit out of e-publishing, authors and publishers of Gujarati and other regional languages do not have any way of reaching out to massive online.

Differentiation Factors

International, organized players like Amazon or Apple do not support Indian languages yet whereas smaller players don’t offer an exhaustive reader with intuitive features comparable to Kindle or Apple. But both these businesses, small and big, are dependent on others to generate content, to create eBooks in Indian languages. They are unable to utilize and convert already available data to standard eBooks and their content acquirement is either too slow or too expensive. eShabda already boasts of 1000 eBooks of hard-core Gujarati literature including patronage of many best-selling Gujarati authors and publishers. With a model like eShabda, ePUB-Hub offers end-to-end publishing solutions for Indian languages as well as English language starting from converting a conventional print book to the standard eBook format to distributing, marketing and securing it (using digital rights management system), they hold capabilities to cater to their clients in all the stages of a publishing cycle. is an open platform where all associated publishers can sell books, and from where any reader can purchase books. The platform also offers free books, blogs and current events to attract larger readership along with enabling the authors and publishers to market and sell other related merchandise like printed books, CDs etc.

eShabda creates eBooks in ePUB format, using the internationally accepted standard UNICODE fonts to ensure that readers can read Indian language books on most e-readers, mobile phones and tablets. They are the only Kindle comparable platform for readers and authors& publishers alike for Indian Regional Languages.

Funding Status

The complete development is undertaken in-house and eShabda is created as a product by Cygnet Infotech Pvt. Ltd.

Monetization Model

The associated publishers are being charged for eBook creation/conversion. White-label of the eCommerce Web Portal for books and eBooks are also created for some publishers. Cygnet Infotech gives the technical know-how and the domain knowledge and works as “enabler to publishers” giving them IT based solutions.

Future model and Expansion Plans

Millions of Indians love reading and interacting in their mother tongue but owing to factors like diverse geographical locations, unavailability of books in their region or facing difficulty reading small prints – many readers are kept away from reading. eShabda’s target audience are these deprived readers and the goal is to brand eShabda as the de facto standard for reading in Gujarati. Once that is achieved, their goal is to market eShabda the platform to other small and medium publishers to enable them replicate such a platform for their publications.

With the success of eShabda, ePUB-Hub is on its way to be established as a “technology enabler” to the print publishing industry. The e-reading experience needs to be enhanced in order to deliver state-of-the-art features to the reader.

They plan to achieve this by:

  1. Creating visually enhanced eBooks
  2. Creating audio books
  3. Embedding audio visual contents in eBooks.
  4. Creating “talking books” by the use of TTS (Text to Speech) technology

Purchase of Gujarati eBooks by individual buyers is also picking up speed and people are getting used to the idea of reading an eBook. Distribution of bulk content (a complete repository of available eBooks) is being negotiated with other e-distributors, libraries worldwide.

Market Size and Opportunities

India is one of the biggest marketplaces with very rich literary content. There is no need to create new markets or products. It is merely converting the format of an existing product and offering it to the existing market.

By optimizing the format from physical entity to an electronic one, a lot of challenges like logistic, reaching out to far markets in rural India and the Indian readers residing in other countries can be addressed effortlessly.

Biggest learnings so far

eShabda has been in existence for more than 2 years now. With time, we have learnt and perfected the process of creation of eBooks in Indian languages. The most critical challenge and learning was realizing our vision of making our publishing process driven by “Inclusive Publishing” and making it real, whereby the process of creating a book and an eBook is handled in such a way that in a single effort the book is ready for the “print industry”, “eBook industry”, “web-based distribution” and most importantly, ready for the use of Visually challenged and the readers with print disabilities.

Additionally, visits and interactions as an exhibitor at The London Book Fair and The Frankfurt Book Fair has given us an insight into the existing trends in e-Publishing industry across the globe reaffirming that our idea is well accepted by our target audience.

Author: Sujata Sangwan
Twitter: @sangwan_sujata

A one-stop e-bookshop for writers and readers


Nilesh Shah (left) and Mahendra Sharma.

Since 2015, Matrubharti Technologies has helped over 2,000 writers publish 5,000 ebooks, which have been downloaded 850,000 times by 60,000 readers

As a student with an aptitude for language and literature, Mahendra Sharma was one among the thousands in India who studied computer engineering under peer pressure. But what sets Sharma apart is that he not only returned to his passion a few years later, but also put his computer engineering qualification to use.

“In school, I was passionate about language, literature, and culture. But I had to study computer engineering. In 2013, after I had spent nearly 14 years first in learning computer engineering and later in a job, I thought it was high time I did something about my original passion. With a bit of study and networking with writers, I identified a gap between technology and literature,” Sharma said.

With his friend, ex-employer and now partner Nilesh Shah, Sharma worked to build a model through which authors could publish their own work. In February 2015, Sharma and Shah launched Matrubharti Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which works as a dual platform: authors can use it to publish their work, and readers can access it through mobile apps.

Since 2015, the Ahmedabad-based company has helped more than 2,000 writers publish 5,000 ebooks. The ebooks have been downloaded 850,000 times by around 60,000 readers.

“We are adding new readers and writers to our platform every month,” Sharma said. The growth rate is more than 20% month-on-month in terms of user acquisition.

The company was a winner in the culture and tourism category at the mBillionth Awards 2016 organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

Matrubharti publishes in six languages and aspires to do so in 21. “Our monthly screen view count is 10 million and we have 60,000 verified readers registered with us. On a daily basis, we are serving over 200,000 ad impressions on our app for the readers. For authors there is a separate app where more than 2,400 writers login, upload their content for publishing and see their ebook download statistics on a day- to-day basis,” said Sharma.

It helped that Sharma and Shah, who has a master’s degree in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, had already co-founded a company called Nichetech (NicheTech Computer Solutions Pvt.Ltd) in 2010. “NicheTech is an IT outsourcing company providing website design and mobile app development. Initially it provided technical help to the team of programmers to develop Matrubharti,” Sharma said.

The promoters self-funded Matrubharti for the first 15 months, boot-strapped with advertisement revenue from current and past apps. In June, it got funding from Viridian Capital.

The journey has been quite challenging. Sharma and Shah began in 2013 with small language-focused mobile apps serving language keyboards and small content apps. “This was before the two Matrubharti apps were launched. Since we were passionate about languages, we created free apps for language writing keyboards, and they were released under the NicheTech account,” he said.

Before it was named Matrubharti, the platform had rolled out 60 apps in nine months, which reached 6 million readers across the world in 18 months. But Sharma and Shah soon realized the limitations of the model. “It was not scalable and was criticized by industry experts because the technology was dependent on Google tools and operations were dependent on manual actions,” Shah said.

“What came as an eye-opener was Nasscom 10K start-up forum where many of our mentors suggested we have something scalable with less manual interaction with the system,” recalled Shah. So they designed a self-publishing platform for writers and a content delivery app for readers which eventually became Matrubharti.

The Matrubharti team initially targeted readers above 50 years of age but soon realised that this demographic was not ready to shift to ebook reading.

“Then we started targeting the age group of 18-40 and growth was much faster than before, as this group was already reading electronic content, so adoption of ebooks was not new to them,” Sharma said.

Content selection was another challenge: classic best-selling literature found few takers among the younger readers. Also, initially Matrubharti published full-length novels that users found difficult to store in smaller devices with limited memory. So, the company began publishing episodic novels.

Other key challenges at the conceptual stage were how to make publishing of ebooks easy for authors, how to secure the ebooks (digital rights management) so that illegal copy or sharing does not happen, how to engage the readers on a day-to-day basis (as “reading is not as exciting as gaming”) and how to protect the interests of readers and writers, both in terms of innovation and authenticity.

“We will open the platform to editors, translators and cover page designers in the next quarters so that collaboration can happen in digital publishing and great literature is produced. We aim to connect with 3,000 new writers of some more languages to complete the total language presence of Matrubharti to 10 languages before the end of 2016,” Sharma said.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

Author: Abhiram Ghadyalpatil
Twitter: @abhiramgpatil