Bricks & Mortar Independent Bookshops: Alive and well !
As the summer holidays fade and we drift back to work and school, the last few chapters of a good book still percolate pleasantly through the mind. But did you take an e-reader to the beach, or a paperback?
Despite all the predictions to the contrary, sales of printed books held up in 2014 and look set to dominate total book sales in 2015.
Just two years ago, consultants at PwC were predicting that e-book sales would overtake printed book sales by volume in the UK this year. It seemed a reasonable guess at the time, as bookstores collapsed and e-reading devices featured high on Christmas wishlists.
Instead, the popularity of the Kindle and other e-readers has waned (remember the Nook?) and the growth of e-book sales slowed or plateaued last year. In Australia, Nielsen BookScan data shows that physical book sales edged up 2.2 per cent in 2014.
A study by rival consultants Deloitte released last week predicts that print will represent more than 80 per cent of all book sales by dollars and units worldwide this year. For the US, the world’s largest book market, the forecast is just under 80 per cent; 83 per cent for Canada, 86 per cent for the UK and 95 per cent for Germany.
“e-books have not substituted print books in the same way that sales of CDs, print newspapers and magazines have declined,” says Deloitte’s media lead partner Clare Harding. Deloitte says that print will generate the majority of book sales “for the foreseeable future”.
While in some print markets such as newspapers demand is driven by older readers who grew up with the format and inky fingers at the breakfast table, this is not the case for books.
Millennials, generally averse to physical media such as music on CD, movies on DVD and news in newspapers, actually appear to be quite fond of books. Last year, three-quarters of American millennials read a print book, compared with 37 per cent who read an e-book on any device (including a phone).
A UK survey suggests that some in the 16-24 age bracket like books as objects for their covers and collectability, plus reading a book on the train sends out information to others that having your eyes glued to an e-reader can’t.
In the US where the uptake of e-readers was higher than in Australia, digital book sales peaked in the low 30 per cent range a couple of years ago, and have since subsided to around 20 per cent. Barnes & Noble’s Christmas sales of digital content were down 25 per cent, and device sales down 68 per cent, but it expects full-year book sales to be flat.
After several soft years in Australia, print books appear to have turned a corner in 2014 and Christmas sales were also strong. “Many bookstores are reporting a significant increase in sales, it’s been a very positive Christmas,” says Australian Booksellers Association chief executive Joel Becker.
“The interesting thing in the sales trend is that children’s books are forming a more and more significant portion of the market, at around 32 per cent of total sales,” he says.
Over the critical four weeks to Dec 27, Nielsen figures show that Australian book sales gained 2.6 per cent by volume and 1.3 per cent by value, driven entirely by a surge in children’s books, which rose 7.6 per cent by volume and 12.7 per cent by value.
In fact, the two best-selling titles for the year were kids’ books: The 52-Storey Treehouseby Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton with 232,900 copies sold, closely followed by the latest in the Wimpy Kid series, The Long Haul, by Jeff Kinney, with 221,800 copies. Sales of digital versions of those books were tiny compared with print versions.
Kids and teens who read printed books may remain attached to them as they grow up. Studies on reading conclude that reading in print aids memory retention compared with reading on a Kindle or iPad, an important distinction for students.
Part of the heightened sense of doom in the local book industry a few years ago was caused by the collapse of private-equity owned Borders and Angus & Robertson chains, which had accounted for 20 per cent of a $1.6bn national market. While online bookstores filled some of that gap, they can’t replace impulse shopping or gift-buying at the local shopping centre.
As the publishing market settles after several years of upheaval, digital-only imprints have become popular for genre fiction such as sci-fi, crime and romance — and for self-published authors, some of whom charge as little as nothing for their work.
Just as the rise of the mass-market paperback in the 1940s expanded the reading market without killing off hardbacks, the rise of the e-book may have expanded the market, without signalling the end of the printed work.