Sales of electronic books continue to rocket as more people abandon traditional tomes. In the year to the end of February, US downloads grew 170% to reach $164m in value, according to the Association of American Publishers. In February this year the growth was even more dramatic, at 200% compared with the same month last year.
These are encouraging statistics for devotees of ebook reading and they demonstrate clearly that the trend away from so-called “dead-tree” books¹ is gathering pace, with far-reaching consequences for traditional publishing and distribution.
One tit-bit buried in the report illustrates the way in which out-of-print and non-stock books are enjoying a revival as people are drawn back to classics and back issues. Readers are buying “backlist” books from favourite authors when these older books are often not stocked by bookshops. If a reader enjoys an author, it’s now a simple matter to buy and download that author’s complete backlist.
Tom Allen, president of the AAP clings to one myth, though:
The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them. They have made e-Books permanent additions to their lifestyle while maintaining interest in print format books.
I’d take issue with the bit about concern for print-format books. This sounds a bit like wishful thinking. My experience is that once tried, ebook reading becomes the exclusive means of consumption. I have no hankering for print format books and have run down my home library to just a few volumes of sentimental value. My large collection of reference books has also gone to the charity shop, not just because of the new ebook norm, but because I can now find anything I need quicker on the internet.
¹ One aspect of the ebook versus real book discussion I fail to understand is why environmentalists appear to be all in favour of traditional paper books. This is anecdotal evidence, of course, but some of the strongest advocates of a low-carbon lifestyle seem to be the biggest cynics when it comes to ebooks. It’s strange, really, because there could hardly be a more blatant example of profligate wastage than cutting down trees to manufacture books which then require lots of transport to get them to the consumer. The same applies to newspapers. Surely The Guardian, among others, should be distributed solely by electronic means to satisfy readers’ enthusiasm for low-carbon feet.