When the Kindle took the world by storm a couple of years ago, the cries of worry were loud enough for everyone to hear as some people feared that the printed word was going to die out to be replaced with digital books, or e-books. It is something all readers have an opinion about, be it on the book side, the e-book side or somewhere in the middle.
The popularity of e-books has taken precedence, especially with the e-book’s link to Amazon with their unique Kindle. With the heightened dominance of Amazon across the majority of industries, it is obvious that the e-book trade would, of course, become more popular for its convenience, price and wide selection of literature.
The final page
However, recently it seems like this established opinion of the book industry is taking an interesting turn. Recently, Tim Waterstone – founder of Britain’s biggest chain of bookshops, Waterstones – stated that e-books would be going into decline in the next couple of years, therefore, putting the popularity of e-books and physical books in level stead.
Certainly, it is clear this is happening already. As the Association of American Publishers found, e-book sales took a 5 per cent drop in the first eight months of 2013. In contrast, hardback sales – once a product that was only reluctantly bought if the anticipation for a book was too strong – have risen by 11.5 per cent.
So, why has this industry that was once flourishing, now taken a different turn so suddenly? Waterstone believes that the e-book industry has now found its maximum share of the market, which can now only go down.
Furthermore, the e-book, now, is not new. It’s not the shiny, brand new product and has already been fully integrated into our lives. With that, some of the rising appeal for its newness is lost.
Another aspect, which would probably impact the e-book market, are the various campaigns that aim to keep the printed book, and the bookshops which sell them, alive for future generations. Campaigns, such as Books Are My Bag which promotes the unique experience of bookshops, have perhaps made the public rethink their buying habits and choose their local high-street bookshop over Amazon.
On the other hand, it is perhaps optimistic to think that shoppers have had this enlightenment, a sudden realisation that e-books are impacting negatively upon the British high-street and the physical book itself.
Although it is clear that reading is not going to die out in the next few years, it can be argued that the love for reading – and with that, books and bookshops – has declined in recent years, particularly since the evolution of smartphones, TV’s, laptops and tablets that can keep us entertained for hours and hours.
More than the future of the medium
In fairness, this may be a topic which I am biased about, considering I’ve only recently left my job as a bookseller for Waterstones. However, being a bookseller certainly opens your eyes to the different points of view about the book industry.
Some people believe that literature published today is not as good as it was in the past and with the raising prices for a 200-odd page book, many people may not be prepared to dole out £8 or £9 for a book they not even enjoy. I have also seen the effect of our current digital age, with bookshops turning into showrooms for customers to browse, make a note of anything they are interested in, only to go and buy on Amazon at a cheaper price.
E-books are genius in many ways, and for modern society where everything seems to be digital, it was just what the book industry needed to revive dwindling sales and enthusiasm for books.
Bookshops are in decline, no-one can dispute that, and it is clear bookshops and the physical book need a little bit more love from the public. However, if Tim Waterstone and the statistics that have arisen in previous years are true, we could be faced with a new problem for the book industry if there are no-one reading books anymore.
The prospect of a nation where few individuals actually read is perhaps something more to fear than the impact of e-books.
What do you think is the future of books? Have your say in the comments section below.
Image: Chrisloader / Wikimedia Commons