Print vs Digital

The battle of print books versus digital e-books took a surprising twist as the sales of print books were the strongest in over three years over the Christmas period, signalling a fight back. Celebrity titles were especially popular helping the sales of physical books break through the £75 million barrier on the week ending December 22nd. The strongest weekly performance since Christmas 2009 and the first time book sales have overtaken e-book downloads however only for a week.

The most popular was Jamie Oliver’s ‘15-Minute Meals’ which sold 140,155 copies in the UK over this one week period. Miranda Hart’s ‘Is It Just Me?’ was second and Bradley Wiggins’ account of his journey through the Tour de France and the Olympics: ‘Bradley Wiggins My Time’ followed in third. The titles selling 64,691 and 59,524 respectively. Surprisingly, ‘The Guinness Books of World Records 2013‘ dropped two places to fourth from the previous week.

Authors and publishers have saluted the boost in sales and view them as proof that there is still room in the crowded market and, despite the growing popularity of digital e-readers such as the Kindle, there will always be a place for hard copies. Antony Beevor, of whom most notably wrote ‘The Second World War’ and ‘Stalingrad’, said, “This looks to be positive in many ways but the question is, what are the figures for sales of serious fiction? I would fear they are down quite considerably and that is probably true of serious books across the board.” Digital fiction sales have almost tripled during the first half of 2012 whilst children’s books and non-fiction digital titles endured substantive sales increases as well. In comparison to physical books, which fell away over this period, these figures supports Mr Beevor’s statement.

Nielsen BookScan’s General Retail Market panel of booksellers which consist of firms of W H Smith, Waterstones and general independent stores all reported sales grew by 52% week on week to £49.6 million. However, sales were still down 8.4% on the same week last year signifying that supermarkets fared better with celebrity books in the run-up to Christmas while shoppers took advantage of the longer final week to order. Overall despite their sales, printed books are still evidently only second best. Amazon also reported in autumn this year that it was now selling more Kindle e-books than printed books. In the first 10 months of 2012, printed book sales were down 3.5% year on year, in volume terms, and 5.5% down by value indicating a noticeable decline in the market. Retailers also reported that tablets were reportedly selling at a rate of one per second in the run-up to Christmas.

To conclude, we can deduce that printed books are steadily declining year by year in comparison to the rapid rise of e-books. Specifically fiction and children’s books, in general, are converting over to digital books as the popularity of e-book readers has grown. The public are following current fashion trends by following the digital path which has created this growth in e-books and it most likely will continue to grow. However, at the same time, the value of books cannot be and are not being overlooked which is the cause for their steady decline. Schools and businesses rely very heavily on hard copies and their transition to the digital world will be a much longer, slower process. The sluggish state of the economy is also likely to be a factor restricting this switch. Digital e-books are looking more and more like long-term alternatives to printed books. Are we in a makeshift era and if so how long will can books last before they become completely obsolete? Or is this just a phase, can e-books really take over the market? Evidence would suggest digital e-book will triumph over print books, in the long term.

Contributed by Jordan Naidu

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