Paper books are fighting back against e-books — at least according to the UK’s biggest book retailer, Waterstones, which claims that sales of Amazon’s Kindle have all but “disappeared,” while print sales are climbing.
According to the Financial Times, Waterstones says that sales of printed books grew by 5% in the last month of 2014. The bookstore has been selling Kindles since 2012, when it teamed up with Amazon to cater to a changing market.
The massive e-book market has clearly eaten into sales of traditional paper books over the years. In The US, for example, there’s been a 50% decrease in the number of independent bookstores over the past two decades, Forbes reports.
But Waterstones’ claim might indicate a wider trend as London bookstore Foyles also enjoyed strong sales of physical books at Christmas, according to The Telegraph.
So are e-book sales really slowing?
Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis thinks so. He told the FT: “The rapid growth of ebook sales has quite dramatically slowed and there is some evidence it has gone into reverse.
Slate also picked up on the trend in 2013 and pulled out some reasons for the decline of e-book sales that were first pinpointed in a blog by Nicholas Carr:
His suggestions include the possibility that we’ve run out of readers willing to make the jump from print to e-reading; that readers are no longer purchasing e-books simply for novelty’s sake; and that the e-book format may be proving conducive only to limited kinds of reading, such as travel reading.
The data seems to support the theory that e-books are becoming less popular. The Kindle has flatlined since in burst onto the scene in 2007. Forbes — which believes around 30 million Kindles are currently in use — reported that sales peaked at 13 million back in 2011, fell to 9.7 million in 2012, and have since plateaued. Barnes & Noble’s e-reader Nook has fared far worse, losing the company an estimated $US70 million a year.
In the US, in first eight months of 2013, e-book sales were worth $US800 million, down 5% year-on-year, the Association of American Publishers said.
Information company Nielsen says British consumers spent £2.2 billion on print in 2013, compared with just £300 million on e-books. Publishing Technology said in July 2013 that e-book sales were slowing significantly in both the UK and US.
At Waterstones, physical books sales have benefited from a multi-million dollar refurbishment plan at its 290 stores. A 2011 acquisition also led the chain to focus on turning its shops into “local bookstores.” The company expects to break even in 2015, and has plans to open around a dozen new stores, according to the FT.
The book retailer’s founder, Tim Waterstone, has spoken in the past about why he thinks physical books will live on. Speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival last year, he said that while e-books have developed a share in the market, printed works would remain popular for decades.
“But every indication — certainly from America — shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK”, Waterstone reportedly told the audience at the event.
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