When is that going to happen?

It's no secret that I think the notion that e-book sales are leveling off is simply an example of what happens when you draw conclusions from bad data--i.e., surveys that count only publishers and not indie writers. (And if paper-only deals with publishers become the norm for successful writers, this bifurcation within the industry will become even more pronounced.)

So it was interesting when Passive Voice posted a projection of e-book sales that purports to show that they will soon plateau.

The first problem that I saw was that the actual data points show slow uptake, followed by faster uptake--no actual data shows a leveling off, that's all the "projection" part of things. Now, when I was a reporter, I had a policy of ignoring projections, because they're usually just bullshit invented to dupe the credulous. But I don't know that much about statistics, so I thought that maybe these guys were at least using some kind of respectable methodology. But someone with more expertise said, No, the leveling off is just bullshit.

Nice to know the world hasn't changed that much after all.

Anyway, other folks also stepped in on the comments section to critique this projection, and I think those comments are well worth the read. Jim Self pointed out that e-books are not devices (and in fact can be read on devices people have bought for other reasons), so expecting e-book adoption to follow the adaptation curve of new devices is a little silly. Another commenter points out that, if current pricing tends continue, a bare-bones e-reader may soon cost less than a hardcover book.

The projection also assumes what the author calls "a relatively stable publishing industry" over the next three to five years, which is amusing because the industry is anything but stable now. The only thing publishing is relatively stable to is the drama surrounding the brick-and-mortar book retail chains, and of course if more of those go under, that's going to rebound onto the publishers in a big, bad way. Any crisis in the traditional publishing/bookselling end of the industry is going to make paper books less available to readers, which will presumably motivate more people to figure out how to read stuff on their tablets and phones.

The other assumption of stability that I take issue with is that the overall market for books is static. That is simply not true. The introduction of the paperback drastically expanded the overall book market, and I think e-books have similar potential because they are so easy to buy.

Will e-books eventually level off? I guess--paperback sales did, after all. But that took decades! We have no idea where the ceiling is on this, and to be honest I feel that a lot of the "e-books are plateauing!" stuff is coming from people who are terrified that the authors they now exploit will run off and go indie just like Aunt Edna did. And I hope they do!