"Flattening" does not mean it's bad news. But it could meant that the market for e-books is closer to reaching maturity.
For the DBW Daily, the slowdown is temporary. Kids will make the difference as they grow up to be e-reading adults (read full article here) and this Christmas, lots of parents plan on buying ebooks and reading devices for their children:
In other words, it's just a glitch and growth will pick up again.
But other factors need to be taken into account, as noted by Publisher Weekly (see here), in particular:
1. There has been no blockbuster in 2013 like there had been in previous years (think of 50 Shades of Grey or the Hunger Game or Twilight trilogies);
2. Growth in the sales of digital devices is slowing down; while the tablet market has exploded, devices dedicated to reading have not. That could mean that fewer books are read per device, tablet owners are known to read fewer books - they picked a tablet precisely because they prefer their entertainment in the form of videos rather than books.
But what if ebooks had actually reached a balance vs. printed books?
That more radical explanation is the one espoused by most pundits in the industry. Even so, as reported by the New York Times, (see here), booksellers are "wary" about holiday sales. The news that ebook sales have slowed are not particularly thrilling if in fact, it's the whole market, both printed and digital that has flattened out.
No matter how the Christmas sales go, it would seem that ebooks have now become just another format, like paperbacks or audiobooks.
The sheen of novelty is gone. The publishing industry is entering into a more mature, balanced phase.
In short: good news!
If all this is true, then the game for self-published authors is going to be very different in the coming years. In a stabilized market, I would expect:
1. increased price wars; in fact, that's already happening with the price of traditionally published best-sellers being dropped these days, in time for the Christmas sales;
2. increased competition on book quality, in terms of both looks (editing, book cover design) and content (writing style or "voice", originality of plot, character development etc). Typos, poor formatting and unprofessional looking book covers will no longer be acceptable to readers who have grown savvier and more demanding.
For self-published authors, this means that they may have less space to grow. There will be a need to change strategy, to improve the quality of books on offer rather than merely increase the number of titles.
What is your strategy in this slowing market for digital books? I have taken a hard look at the books I've published so far and pulled down one early title ("Fear of the Past") and, after a thorough job of re-editing and adding new material, I've re-released it with a new cover and a new title: "Luna Rising". I'm satisfied that it is now a much better book. Likewise, I'm going through my other title, "A Hook in the Sky" and I plan to shortly re-release it (I've already changed the cover). More on that soon.
How about you?