The Big Switch
It’s small, grey and fugly, and it’s everywhere.
It only took two years for the Kindle to take over. When it was introduced, customers started switching to e-reading almost at once. And now they’re now buying more ebooks than all the UK hardcovers and paperbacks combined. According to figures released by Amazon, since the start of 2012, for every 100 hardback and paperback book sold on its site, customers downloaded 114 ebooks. Amazon says the figures include sales of printed books which don’t have Kindle editions, but exclude free ebooks.
The company also says its figures show that British Kindle users are buying four times as many books as they were prior to owning a Kindle, a trend it describes as a renaissance of reading. There’s a darker side to this. Amazon refuses to release audited figures for its digital book sales, something it does for printed books. And another worry for publishers; three of the top 2012 titles were published by Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing.
People may be buying more books, but they’re also buying more rubbish. The percentage of bargain priced borderline-illiterate trash has jumped. But reading is a voracious, demanding habit, and the argument runs that many who start with entry-level books will develop more sophisticated tastes in time.
Then there are readers like myself, who buy Kindle versions and then repurchase physical copies if they like a book enough, to take their place in permanent home libraries.
But it seems Britain has embraced e-reading, and specifically the unlovely, clunky Kindle. In France it has barely scratched the reading market.
For publishers, the picture is a complex one; more readers, less sophistication, lower prices, and a monopolistic giant casting a shadow over the venerable houses. Intriguingly, hardback sales are up – especially books that offer the added value of being beautifully designed – the book is becoming a desirable gift again.
Like most fiction writers, I’m more concerned with creating the product rather than sorting out its delivery methods – but it’s something we’ll increasingly need to be aware of in future.