An announcement yesterday from Bloomsbury, the publisher best known for producing the Harry Potter series, made very interesting reading (if you will pardon the unintentional pun). In their interim statement, they announced that trading was in line with their expectations but that sales of electronic books globally were up an astonishing 70% year on year compared with a decline of 2% in print sales. Moreover, the Association of American Publishers reported that eBook sales in the US for the first quarter of 2012 have exceeded hardback sales, another milestone in the ongoing seismic shift in the book publishing industry.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is in a similar position. His business, founded on the distribution of books, has broadened its product offering and has launched various versions of the Kindle. The book “has had a 500 year run, but it’s time to change” he is reported as having said in 2009. The Kindle has a substantial market share of the digital download market, although has found itself under threat more recently from the continuing success of Apple. Clearly, the environment is evolving very fast and the struggle for market share will continue to intensify. I imagine, too, that the economics of the industry will need to change. Bloomsbury indicated that print sales had been resilient was encouraging, but it would be a brave person who would set up a chain of bookshops at the moment.
Which is, of course, all rather a shame. I have spent far too much of my life loitering in bookshops, discovering new authors and flicking through books. While my green half applauds the paper saving, there is something about physical books and newspapers that appeals to me. It is tactile in the way that a printed screen is not and never can be, from the cover of a book to the feeling of turning the last page. That said, digital editions create anonymity about what one is reading. Perhaps this explains the runaway success of “chick-lit” novel, 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels which occupy numbers one to four in the bestsellers list of Kindle downloads.