Why an increase in book sales is good for paper and eBooks alike.
In 2007, the Amazon Kindle came onto the market, alongside predictions that sales of paper books would be slashed. Booksellers and publishers appeared to be quaking in their boots. The future looked uncertain at best.
Against the odds and against most predictions, UK book sales over the last few years have actually increased. According to the Publishers’ Association, in 2017, the value of the UK publishing industry grew by 5% to reach 5.7bn pounds. Physical book sales are also up by 5% and are still responsible for most of the industry’s income at 3.1bn pounds. Electronic sales increased by only 3%. While still definitely behind physical book sales, this is a good sign for the eBook industry too. In 2016, eBook sales were actually down 3%. At the same time with physical book sales up 8% it looked like e-reading might be on the way out.
So what has been prompting this unexpected enthusiasm for reading the old fashioned way?
When e-books had just come in, I remember walking into my local bookshop to see a transformation. A huge area of the shop had been carved out. Paper had been demoted. Instead, rows of new shiny e-readers dominated. This was a sign that, in the face of new technology, booksellers were fearful of becoming irrelevant. So how come, a decade on, tradition seems to have prevailed?
What is the longstanding appeal of the paperback? Perhaps it is the feeling of paper in hand, the ability to flick back and forth easily? Or maybe it is simply being able to lose yourself in a world without technology, when it dominates our lives so much of the time? Whatever the reason, this must have implications for the future of both printed books and e-books. Is there a future for both?
The answer? … Yes. What we’ve seen over the last few years is that sales of both have increased. The predicted success of e-reading has not diminished the value or demand for paper books, and vice versa. Against the voices of those who see e-reading as a merely a fad, the evidence actually suggests that there is space for the two to co-exist. And why not? Why shouldn’t reading encompass more than one kind of technology: one for the stubborn techno-phobe, another for the gadget geek, one for the steadfast romantic, another for the weight-restricted traveller?
However, while the latest figures suggest a trend of both paper and electronic books doing well, it is not guaranteed to stay that way. As has been evident over the last few years figures vary year on year and predictions can often be wildly wrong.
But who knows… perhaps the industry is set to profit from the love of paper and people’s ties to tradition as well as demands for up to date technology, portability and convenience? Both paper and e books have their different advantages and disadvantages. On this basis, and with consumers’ continuing enthusiasm for reading, there is plenty of space for both in the future of publishing.