The death knell of the book made from dead trees may have been premature, according to figures which keep being bandied around various media. For a long time the inexorable rise of the electronic book seemed to spell doom for the traditional tome: the demise of Borders was supposed to be a foretaste of worst to come, along with the closure of numerous bookshops both in the Old World as well as in the New. But is the situation changing? The Guardian recently reported that “Total spending on print and electronic books increased by 4% to £2.2bn in 2014, according to market data firm Nielsen,” with e-books now accounting for “around 30% of all books published, including almost 50% of adult fiction”. But, it continues, “the decline in print is levelling off as migration to ebooks declines. For some in the industry, it is a sign the dust is beginning to settle after the great digital shake-up.”
Yet more recently The New York Times confirmed that e-book sales “fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”
The digital book industry had declared any prophesied demise was all smoke and mirrors: while e-book sales growth flattened during 2013, “it’s almost certain to continue its upswing – sooner or later. Parents are turning their children into ebook readers at an increasing clip. More parents intend to buy their kids ebooks and e-reading devices this holiday season versus last year,” according to Digital Book World‘s own research. “So, while various short-term factors may mean that ebook sales growth in the U.S. is halted for now, it’s only a matter of time before those digital native kids grow up and become adult readers.”
But that was in 2013; two years later the continued upswing has apparently not happened. As a confirmed bibliophile I’m not one to crow: right now I’m using the technology that allows you to read electronic text on my blog, and of course I shall be reading a fair few of your electronic posts (on, granted, a laptop or mobile phone rather than a dedicated e-reader). It’s just that I haven’t developed the habit of reading books on a screen.
Don’t get me wrong: I do have a Kindle, a present from my son and daughter-in-law. I have persevered in trying to commit to books I’ve downloaded. But the experience isn’t the same. Much of it is down to the fact that I’m conditioned to seeing an interactive screen as something from which to hop around various digital platforms; I’ve developed a grasshopper mind where I’m worried that I may be missing something more current on a different app, that breaking news elsewhere needs my attention. Is it just me, or do others also worry that something more important is happening on an electronic page they’re not currently viewing?
So it is with the e-reader. And there’s more. I relish the physicality, the sensuality of the ‘real’ book. Us bibliophiles know the delights of feeling texture and weight, seeing varied typefaces and illustrations, smelling the presence of books, hearing the rustle of pages as they’re turned. With an e-book-only library my bookshelves would be redundant, the walls would look naked, visitors would not be able to browse through titles that caught their fancy, my memory of the author or title or category of a particular book wouldn’t be supplemented by a visual recall of where it resided in a physical space.
So, I’m not crowing too loudly about the slowdown on e-books* — there must always be a place for this technology for those who prize it — but I must and will shout to the rooftops at any claimed evidence that traditional books are in any way defunct. The book is dead? Long live the book!
- Ebooks or e-books? Which do you prefer? ‘Ebook’ on the analogy with email? Or ‘e-book’ because it somehow looks less wrong?