Are Your Readers Getting Digital Fatigue … and, Are You?

by | Jun 29, 2016

Back in 2012, I shared with my own author community that I suspected that “e” …or digital books would begin to decline in sales. In 2013, “e” sales were reporting a decline that has continued. I know, I know—many of you will report that your “e” sales are healthy or increasing. But, overall, the reading “e” world is not growing in leaps in bounds.

According to this article on Publishers Weekly:

“Preliminary figures from the Association of American Publishers found that sales of e-books for trade publishers fell 14% in 2015 compared to 2014 and accounted for 20% of overall trade book revenue, down from 23% in 2014.

Going beyond AAP’s member publisher sales performance, the Codex Group’s April 2016 survey of 4,992 book buyers found that e-book units purchased as a share of total books purchased fell from 35.9% in April 2015 to 32.4% in April 2016. The Codex survey includes e-books published by traditional publishers and self-publishers and sold across all channels and in all categories.”

Digital Devices survey

Print books still earn the title of having the strongest presence with eBooks a distant #2 and audiobook sales showing a double-digit growth again this past year—but still trailing eBooks at #3. Anything with a double digit, multi-year growth should get your attention. Yet, it’s a segment that you don’t want to ignore—especially with the Millennial and YA markets.

The Codex survey revealed that:

“book buyers stated they spent almost five hours of daily personal time on screens (computers, tablets, eReaders and smartphones). Of those, 25% of book buyers, including 37% of those 18–24 years old, want to spend less time on their digital devices.”

Of course book buyers have options as to what format they want their books—print, eBook or audiobook. What they revealed in the survey was that:

“they are reading fewer e-books than when they started reading that format, the highest percentage among all age groups.”

What’s the summing up?

“Overall, 14% of book buyers said they are now reading fewer e-books than when they started reading books in the format, and 59% percent of those who said they are reading fewer e-books cited a preference for print as the main reason for switching back to physical books.”

The primary reason: digital fatigue or eBook sales erosion.

Taking the study in, I had dinner with a group I gather with every few months, this past week. The twelve of us were varied, like most circles of friends. Some “e” lovers; some “p” devotees; some “a” cheerleaders; and some “I love them all.” Sharing the above info … opinions and reflections were tossed out. Interesting, all shared they were reading more print books—I like the feel and look of a book. A few said they loved the “e” format for travel and bedtime reading—I don’t disturb my spouse and I don’t have to carry an extra suitcase for books on the road. And a few said—I listen to audio when I’m working in my shop; it’s perfect for road trips.


Physical audio sales (meaning CDs) are down slightly—so where is the double digit (as in 20% plus for the last two years) coming from? It’s all in the download factor. All those earbuds you see walking around, quietly sitting in the owners ears and just “playing” in the background are listening to “something”… and that something is increasingly a book. The category hit record growth in both units (+27.0%) and revenue (+26.8%) over 2013. Audiobooks are soaring with the “downloaded” feature … even through the new model cars. Did you know this?

Two weeks ago, I finished the narration of my new book, How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos. In the recording studio, I asked my editor, Richard Rieman what trends he was experiencing. Richard wears multiple hats—audio editor, book narrator, voice over professional and now author of The Author’s Guide to AudioBook Creation.

“Think of it as the Audiobook Revolution. With audiobook sales up over 20% two years in a row and Audible listening up 38%, there is revolutionary growth in audiobooks.”

What does that mean for authors today? Simply this: sticking to one format for publishing your books are making a mistake. Authors who choose to exclusively publish with the “e” only format are missing sales—as they are with just the “p” choice. In fact, Rieman shared that,

“In some cases, such as The Martian, audiobook versions are registering three or four times the sales number of the original work. They are, in effect, replacing the text version as the primary version of the book.”

Really interesting … wouldn’t you say?

I’ve always said that authors are making huge mistakes when they think of themselves as one-book ponies. Books breed books—and by creating more and more, you develop followers—the Super Fans that will cheer and support who you are when they discover how terrific your books are. By offering books in only print or eBook or audiobook, you are a one-format pony. Don’t be. We authors need to deliver our books in multiple options, just as a restaurant does. Hamburger joints have “sides” and “variations” to attract those who don’t eat burgers.

Presently, I have all my books in print; all current ones in “e” and a few in audio—my personal goal is to get all current ones into the audiobook format and then do an assessment of which “oldies” might enjoy a resurrected life.

Why? …

I avoid digital fatigue that only an eBook will produce; I’ve opened up to the huge market that is the listener market (and maybe the multi-tasker as well); and I deliver a variety of options. What about you … what options are your books in? Are they delivering what you expected? How about what your readers would like?

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Janice

    I know Philip Stevens and Chris. I met you on his site. This was a very interesting article. I am just starting to publish e-books. Clearly your article was disconcerting for me. I hear there is a cost to publishing in print around $80. American dollars. I’ll see how my e-book sales go; then maybe I will have a budget to do other things.
    Thank you for the information

    • Judith Briles

      Janice … there is ALWAYS a cost to publishing. Your time is a cost. If you are a DIYer and do the design of cover and layout … you still have a TIME cost in it. If you doing the uploading to CreateSpace and/or IngramSpark, there is a TIME cost and for IS, an small upload fee. Then it’s POD from then out … one book at a time. If people order it directly from the sites, you don’t have a cost … you earn back whatever the agreement says you will get per copy sold. So, yes you can do it for under $80 … for me, I’m not a DIYer in design and layout. It’s not in my skill wheel and my time is far more valuable to learn it. It’s the same for digital. I have someone that can do the conversion for less than $200–worth it to me. My time is better directed in other areas. If you have the time and the moxie to do the design, go for it. Judith

    • Phillip T. Stephens

      Judith is right. Print On Demand avoids the up front print cost. I began with e-books only but quickly converted to POD for the low out-of-pocket expense. I’ve noticed no difference in quality between today’s CreateSpace POD products and the books I used to print for 500 a time at $1000 offset for 4-color covers back when I published other authors as a small press poetry imprint in the eighties.

  2. MonaKarel

    The print on too many books has become increasingly smaller, particularly on the large fantasy series. I can play with print size on my e-reader depending on how I am feeling. I can also carry a plethora of books with me. It is also much easier to find a new author digitally since too many book stores stock only what they know they can sell easily.

    • Judith Briles

      I agree with you about some print books reducing font size–less pages-cost her book declines. To me, it’s nuts. Judith

  3. Phillip T. Stephens

    I read eBooks exclusively, and I believe that while it will take a while for them to catch on, they will one day become the dominant media. Reasons?
    You can carry them all on one device and access any book in your library at any time.
    The more I read eBooks the less I experience digital fatigue (and I am in my sixties). As younger readers push older readers like me out of the marketplace, digital fatigue will be less of an issue.
    More and more schools are replacing textbooks with eBooks. As students receive their learning materials by eText, their reading habits will change as well.
    I do publish in both print and eBook, but my sales are by far the largest in eBook. But I write fiction and that may acount for the difference.

    • Judith Briles

      Phillip–the numbers do support heavy preference for fiction in “e” format over nonfiction. I confess, I’ve downloaded e versions and then bought the print version because I wanted more within the book. Interesting, Bezos of Amazon has shared in publishing conferences that “e” purchases have led to “p” purchases. Tis why I like its Matchbook program … that I hope all authors participate in. Judith

  4. Diana Schneidman

    My format preference depends on the subject matter.

    I read a fair amount of books on marketing, the internet, book publishing and such. This info is out of date quickly. Assuming the ebook is cheaper than the print edition (and it should be!), I read it once and that’s it. I don’t want it to take space in my bookcase. I don’t cherish its bookyness.

    The advantage of print books is that I can get them from the library. I see my borrowing as votes for the library to continue spending on specific books and topics. I also request that the library purchase certain titles. I am thrilled when readers ask their libraries to buy my book rather than seeing this as a loss of revenue.


    Diana Schneidman, author, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less

    • Judith Briles

      I’m thrilled as well Diana when readers as libraries for books … since my home has “a library” in it, I love seeing the visual impact of books. We entertain a lot–it is amazing how so many end up in the library just to sit and chat, surrounded by shelves of books, memories, adventures.

      For me, not having books available to readers in multiple formats is a mistake–whether I personally use them or not. Judith



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