If anyone should know, it’s the founder of one of the UK’s biggest book chains, Tim Waterstone. Appearing at a panel event on the future of publishing at the Oxford Literary Festival, he claimed that the so called “e-book revolution” will soon go into decline, posing no threat to the traditional printed book, as some industry insiders had feared. Waterstones has branched out to sell e-readers and e-books as well as printed books (p-books?), and it seems that the electronic format is here to stay. But whether it will take over completely, eradicating print altogether, is another matter. The statistics certainly seem to speak for themselves: In 2013, British consumers spent £300 million on 80 million e-books compared with £2.2 billion on 323 million physical books. And Mr Waterstone seems to agree “I think you read and hear more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known,” he told the audience in Oxford. “The e-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have, but every indication shows the share is already in decline.”
I had similar thoughts about the demise of the physical book when e-readers started to become popular a couple of years ago. It actually put me off buying one for quite a while; to think that I could be contributing to the death of the printed book. But I finally succumbed and bought a Kindle, which I really like, but which hasn’t replaced the real books of my reading life. The Kindle is great for travelling, of course (I look back now and wonder how I ever managed to go anywhere without a suitcase full of books and no clothes, and recall with little fondness the days send reading pages as slowly as possible, knowing there was still several days of holiday left and not enough words to fill them). Looking back, it seems silly to think that I would ever stop reading/buying/borrowing printed books just because I had an e-reader. This year I have read twice as many real books as e-books. Similarly it seems daft to have ever believed that the “e-book revolution” would see the cessation of books being printed in some kind of paper burning frenzy. There is no doubt the publishing landscape has changed drastically with the advent of new technology, but as Waterstone points out, “Print on paper has lasted for centuries. It’s one of the most wonderful, really successful consumer products of all time. The book has probably had the strongest compound growth rate since the Second World War than any other consumer product. The compound growth rate since 1945 is around 5.2 per cent. Compound, right the way through to 2013.”
That isn’t going to be eradicated overnight.
What do you think? Will e-books one day take over? Are you an e-book convert, or is there no way you will ever read a non-physical book?