For the moment, publishers say that e-book sales in Canada have plateaued. BookNet’s Noah Genner says that BookNet has “paused” its consumer panel survey research on e-reading because the growth in digital books seems to have paused. “The numbers we’re hearing for e-book unit sales is still around 17%, 18%, 20%, that kind of range,” he says, noting that the rates vary considerably depending on genre. “We know for the genre categories inside fiction, some of [the rates of e-reading] are quite high.”

Reports from various publishers support Genner’s view. Penguin Random House’s Brad Martin says that digital sales have not grown the way people in the Canadian industry were anticipating four or five years ago. “E-books plateaued last year and they’ve backed up this year,” Martin says. He estimates that Penguin Random House Canada’s e-book unit sales are about 15% of total sales, but that the numbers can vary greatly depending on the genre, with children’s books, nonfiction, and lifestyle books remaining predominantly in print. “We sold around 100,000 copies of a digital Gone Girl and around 100,000 copies of the Dan Brown, but [overall] it is still only 15% because we sell a lot of books that have 200 e-books sold.” He adds that many publishers “thought that when people bought their device, that was it, we’d lost them to print, and that’s not the case at all.”

In an interview with PW, author Margaret Atwood maintains, “There are neurological reasons why e-books did not take over everything. There’s an eye-brain thing that is related to why you can’t read in-depth as easily on any form of screen,” referring to some scientific studies. “In France [e-reading] is 3%. It’s not taking over the world there at all.”

“There’s something to be said for the fact that people still want to read physical books,” says Genner. “Roughly 80% of books are still being sold in a physical format, so we’re not anywhere near a tipping point. But I think there’s a couple of things that are always at play on the other side of that Atwood argument. One is that you never know quite what technology is going to do. There could be something two years from now that would completely throw things on their head. Even more important, there’s the business models. E-book prices are up fairly high right now both in Canada and the U.S., or at least they are not going down any more... so the price difference is not great enough to push people into buying e-books.”

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