Study: Book Publishers' 'Optimism Waning' As Digital Transition Continues

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

Depressing new research by Forrester indicates that book publishers are becoming increasingly disheartened about the state of the industry: Only 28 percent of publishing executives think their company will be better off because of the transition to digital, down from 51 percent a year ago.

The survey was conducted among book publishing executives at publishers across the U.S. that represent 74 percent of U.S. publishing revenues. Forrester will present the full results of the study at Digital Book World in NYC on January 24, but the initial findings are as follows:

— 82 percent of respondents are optimistic about the digital transition, down from 89 percent a year ago.

— 61 percent of respondents believe readers will be better off as a result of the digital transition, down from 74 percent in 2010.

— 60 percent of respondents believe more people will read than before, down from 66 percent in 2010.

— 47 percent of respondents believe people will read a greater number of books than before, down from 66 percent in 2010 — a 19 percent decrease.

“People are generally optimistic still, but that optimism is waning,” said Forrester’s James McQuivey. “Publishers have started to do the hard work of making the digital transition and they’re finding that it is, indeed, hard work.”

These initial findings don’t speculate on the reasons why publishers are increasingly bummed out, but a few thoughts: 2011 was a tough year, marked by the death of Borders; Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) also expanded hard into publishing. And as the digital transition continues, we’re seeing some statistics that suggest increasing digital sales are compensating for the decline in print sales–but other stats suggesting they aren’t. Combined, those factors–plus McQuivey’s point that the digital transition is hard work–may be weighing on respondents’ minds. An 82-percent “general” optimism rate is still pretty good, but it’s surprising to see how pessimistic publishers are about the companies where they actually work, and how much more pessimistic they are than they were last year.

I can’t think of an obvious reason why respondents are less likely to believe that people will read more books as a result of the digital transition and look forward to getting some more info on that point. Update: Digital Book World covers a few reasons here.

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