Print Continues to Rule the World of Higher Education

By Kate Leboff

Half of Americans own an e-reading device, up from the 30% that owned one in 2013; in 2012, President Obama wanted to get e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017; and Florida lawmakers have mandated that public schools convert textbooks to digital versions. Despite the surge of technology, e-books, and “digital natives,” in recent years, evidence published in 2015 shows that, at the very least, the vast majority of students at colleges and universities around the world still prefer print to digital.

A slew of news reports have announced that after extensive studies and surveys of college students are in favor of reading their assigned readings – textbooks, journals, novels etc. – for courses in print versus on screen.  One survey of 500 active college students, taken by Direct Textbook, a comprehensive textbook price comparison service, found that 72% of students prefer print textbooks to e-books.  A study at the University of Washington found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks, even when those books were offered free of charge. I can sympathize. When purchasing the textbooks for the first two courses of the GW Publishing Program, I decided to purchase  the print version of the title, The Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, despite it being offered online for free.

In January of this year, Naomi S. Baron published Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, in which she discusses “how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues… Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks.” – from the Oxford University Press.

In her book, Baron also completed a survey of more than 300 college students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia, finding a nearly university preference for the tangible textbook versus its digital version. A startling 92% of students said they concentrated and comprehended more when reading a hard copy versus on a cell phone, tablet, e-reader, or computer. However, it seems that the format and medium on which these college-age digital natives are reading for pleasure, “light reading,” does not matter as much. In children and adolescents, though, it seems that reading print versus digital books is on the rise as 65% of 6 to 17 year olds would prefer “real” books to e-books, an increase of almost 17% from 2012.

In 2014, 87% of textbook sales were print editions while only 9% of the market were comprised of e-book purchases. With the leftover 4% being made up of file sharing.

The biggest issues, as outlined by Baron in her book, are students getting distracted, finding themselves multitasking and taking breaks to surf the internet more often, and the eye strain, headaches, and physical discomfort that accompanies reading on screen for hours at a time. 90% found themselves multitasking when reading onscreen than those reading the hard copy versions.

Some other reasons that have been cited as to why students prefer print textbooks to e-books included: Print textbooks are easier to read, they like the physical effort of annotating what they are reading, some print textbooks are cheaper – buying used, e-books are difficult to navigate and bookmark, they do not require internet access, professors do not allow laptops or tablets in class, the availability of e-books can be limited, and students seem to often print out the pages of online and e-book readings anyways.

The students who like to read digitally versus having the tactile, physical experience referenced the fact that e-books are often cheaper, are lighter and searchable, are environmentally friendly, e-readers allow adjustable print size and brightness, text can be converted to audio, and these can often be used with apps.

In the end, it seems that, at least for now, print textbooks rule the world of higher education.

One student, Cooper Nordquist, a student studying political science at American University, commented that, “[he] couldn’t imagine reading Tocqueville, [the 900 plus-page, “Democracy in America”], or understanding him electronically. That would be just awful.”

Another commented that “You just get distracted. It’s like if I finish a paragraph, i’ll go on Tumblr, and then three hours later you’re still not done with reading.”



A Tiny Press Holding Its Own and Sticking to Its Guns

An article, originally appearing in New York magazine, was published on Slate magazine’s website by Boris Kachka, “How the Tiny Graywolf Press Became a Big Player in Book Publishing” just two weeks ago.

This story speaks a lot to having a defined, focused niche and mission and how remaining committed and consistent gives a publisher not only credibility but can lead to huge success, even for a tiny, “no name” publisher like Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press exemplifies the need for publishing houses to stop being so money-driven and prove a true investment in their authors and products.  They are creative, innovative, and unique.

Graywolf Press’ mission statement is as follows:

“Graywolf Press is a leading independent publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature. We champion outstanding writers at all stages of their careers to ensure that diverse voices can be heard in a crowded marketplace.

We believe books that nourish the individual spirit and enrich the broader culture must be supported by attentive editing, superior design, and creative promotion.”

Graywolf Press also includes a statement of “Financial Transparency,” which reiterates their mission but also goes on to say that “88% of all donations go toward our mission, but we are also dedicated to the sustainable growth of Graywolf Press.” The statement also includes the numbers and percentages of their expenses, revenues, and where all of their money goes.

Back to the story and article that is truly an inspiration and gives small presses and aspiring publishers hope.

A young poet named Eula Biss tried to get a publishing deal with one of the big name houses, but they were pushing her to change the “voice” in her writing. Biss refused to alter the “diffident, lyrical approach” of her writing, and not long after she won a publication prize with Graywolf Press and had the book of essays, Notes from No Man’s Land, published in 2009. Biss then went on to win numerous awards and wrote one of the top-10 books of 2014 for the Times Book Review and was offered many, many deals from the top publishing houses and even a six figure payout for On Immunity, but Biss declined the offers saying, “Why change a winning team?”

Courtesy of The Nation
Courtesy of The Nation

This success is nothing new for Graywolf Press, but Biss’ story drew the Press national attention and caught the eyes of publishers everywhere. The Press has managed in the last six years to have authors win four NBCC awards, a National Book Award, two Pulitzer Prizes, and a Nobel Prize. And those are a few of Graywolf Press’ published authors’ accomplishments.

Graywolf Press is “a scrappy little press that harnessed and to some extent generated a revolution in nonfiction, turning the previously unprepossessing genre of ‘lyric essay’ into a major cultural force.” Something other publishers (larger, more lucrative publishers) were unable to do, and who were unable to see the potential.

The Press will exceed $2 million in revenue this year, which no other independence press, excepting a 41-year old nonprofit, has been able to accomplish in so short amount of time.

Graywolf Press also knows how to use social media to their advantage with a limited marketing budget being a small press, having more than double the followers at 253K as FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and almost as many as Knopf, which is six times the size of Graywolf Press, at 271K.  The Press also have over 26K likes on Facebook and implements Pinterest

Graywolf Press not only has an impactful, actionable, niche-oriented, focused, and meaningful mission, but they also follow through on it. This is revealed by their huge success and their ability to become a force in the publishing industry despite being offbeat and a smaller name press. Graywolf Press is the prime model for a publishing organization that is committed, consistent, and credible. Read more about Graywolf Press here. You can also follow them on PinterestTwitter, and Facebook for more updates and news on what this mover and shaker in the industry is doing next.

E-book Sales Decline for Some “Big 5” Publishing Companies after New Amazon Contracts

Written by Kate Leboff

Articles by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, writer for The Wall Street Journal, on September 3, and Ashlee Keiler for the Consumerist, on September 4, report that the sales of e-books have sharply (and surprisingly) declined in 2015 after Amazon allowed three of the biggest publishing companies in the world to set their own prices for their digital books. So, prices were raised, and revenue has dropped. It seems that readers not only dislike paying more for e-books as they do for tangible, print editions but are even less likely to buy those marked at an even higher price than their print versions.

Lagardere SCA’s Hacette Book Group, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers, and CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster, three of the biggest and baddest publishers in the industry, have cut deals with Amazon recently. Winning the autonomy to set their own prices seemed to be beneficial for publishers and the industry, keeping that aspect of the publishing process out of Amazon’s hands, but instead it is hurting their sales and revenue.

“Publishers succeeded in preventing Amazon from lowballing prices, but ‘unfortunately, it may be that consumers aren’t happy with the higher prices,’ said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of publishing consulting firm Idea Logical Co.”

Photo sources: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Alfred A. Knopf; Hachette Book Group
Photo sources: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Alfred A. Knopf; Hachette Book Group

In contrast, Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales and revenue have gone up and continue to do so in 2015 for their books not published by the “Big 5.”

The “Big 5,” who choose to sell books on Amazon via the Kindle bookstore, sell their titles about $5.86 more, about 118% more than all other e-books listed, according to Codex Group LLC.

“’Since book buyers expect the price of a Kindle e-book to be well under $9, once you get to over $10 consumers start to say, ‘Let me think about that,’ said Codex CEO Peter Hildick-Smith.”

Hachette priced James Patterson’s new e-book release at $9.99 in 2014, but his latest at $14.99. WSJ’s Trachtenberg reported that the company has seen a 24% drop in their digital book sales for the first half of this year. And things aren’t looking promising for companies with these raised prices on their e-books in comparison of those, which are significantly cheaper, set by Amazon.

Many publishers are claiming that this drop in e-book sales is not due to the Amazon deal that allows for higher pricing but a decline in fewer “hot” titles.

One publishing executive told the WSJ that the industry is a  “title driven business. If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

It seems unclear and is too early to tell if this claim is true or that publishers do not want to admit that the deal cut with Amazon for the ability to set their own e-book prices was a flop rather than a success.

Will publishers need to change their game to halt major cuts in their sales and revenue or will e-book consumers eventually accept these higher prices in their desire to read and own those titles published by and sold on Amazon by Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and other big name companies?