A chance article in the New York Times caught my eye. Ebooks in the US, sales having increased 1,260% between 2008 and 2010, were expected to eclipse those of printed versions this year. Yet what’s happened? According to the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales in the US fell 10% in the five months to May.
Hooray, I shouted, being a fan of books: you can feel and smell them, rub your finger over their pages, admire the cover and place them on the bookshelf. Have all the predictions of a digital takeover been nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of Kindle and its fans?
On the other side of the Pond it appears that many bookshops are seeing something of a resurgence in sales of print books. And over here? Well Waterstones is starting to phase out ereaders in the face of a sharp decline in ebook sales.
Sales of print books in the UK rose almost 5% in the first nine months of 2015, a feat that hasn’t been achieved for the past eight years. So much good news, all in a week. Well, of course, it isn’t coincidental: it’s called good PR. We’ve just had what’s become known as ‘Super Thursday’, when 60 titles from some of Britain’s best-known authors are launched, as we’re starting to think about Christmas presents.
Anecdotal evidence of a turnaround has been piling up, though. A colleague who has been a huge champion of books on Kindle and iPad for the past year admits that in the last few months she’s returned to hard copy with a vengeance. She’s just been on a week’s holiday and didn’t use an ereader once, not even on the flights. She might, she says, keep one to hand when travelling, just in case she runs out of something to read, but stopped looking at her iPad at night when she realised it was disturbing her sleep.
A contact in the US has returned to books because she realised that they were just gathering dust on her shelves. It’s been, she says, like making renewed contact with old friends – who haven’t changed a bit since the last time she met them. All of which doesn’t help in our house when the sheer volume of books outstrips available space, and when a trip to the charity shop with cast-offs usually means returning home with even more. I know, no will power!
Yet it’s interesting that while ‘real’ books are faring better, our consumption of printed magazines and newspapers, with a few notable exceptions, is still on the slide. I can’t remember the last time I bought a mag, though I would sorely miss a newspaper whose pages I couldn’t physically turn at breakfast. A digital version of a Sunday paper? Heresy! The magazine sectors that are bucking the downward trend in terms of turnover are TV listings, children’s, puzzle and news and current affairs (yes, I can’t understand the last one, either). And more people are reading women’s lifestyle and fashion mags, and those focused on cooking (Bake Off effect?).
What does this say about us? Darned if I know. But I’ve promised myself a visit to Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street. Our daughter has just shown me a photo of the Edwardian interior (it was originally built for antiquarian booksellers Francis Edwards in 1910) and I think I want to move in. Book paradise.