Reports that physical books are gaining ground at the expense of digital are just plain wrong
Has the ebook had its day? If you’ve skimmed a newspaper over the past month you could be forgiven for thinking just that. “The physical book market is making a comeback after years of decline,” announced the Times, citing a rise in Christmas trading at Foyles. “Sales of books are eclipsing digital alternatives,” said the Telegraph, with the journalist William Langley explaining how his teenage son had discarded his Kindle.
A Guardian leader said the apparent demise of ebooks was “one of the rare examples where a groundbreaking technology ends up being supplanted by its predecessor”. While James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, jumped on the bandwagon, triumphantly revealing that demand for Kindles “has disappeared to all intents and purposes” in his stores.
First, let’s probe Daunt’s widely reported statement. It refers only to Kindle sales in Waterstones – not the most obvious place to buy an e-reader. It also ignores the growth in tablet use. A pertinent fact to add here would be that Apple reports its iBooks platform is adding 1 million new users a week.
On to book sales. Despite the sterling work of Foyles’ and Waterstones’ PR departments, no one can argue with the most recent figures from Nielsen, the book data company. While the long-term decline in printed book sales has indeed slowed – note slowed, not reversed – the adult fiction market was still down 5.3% in 2014, with hardback sales falling by 11.6%. Sales of printed nonfiction fell by 4%.