The ever-alert and bookish among you probably have seen this item already, but sales of e-books in England are down 17% over the last year.
That’s a notable decline, one worthy of several comments. First, the decline, though striking, is likely a one-time event. Consumer sales of any non-essential item (that is, any item not called “soap,” “toilet paper,” “toothpaste,” “razor blades,” or “laundry detergent,”) are subject to swings and cycles like the stock market. As I have remarked before, the markets go up and down, but they go up over time. The ease with which e-books may be purchased and the convenience of reading them are powerful factors in their business models, factors which should sustain them throughout difficult times like the past year.
That said, the relative low price of an e-book–more or less half of what we’d pay for the physical copy of the book–has contributed to what’s being called “screen fatigue.” It’s just too bloomin’ easy to buy an e-book. Speaking only for myself, I try to be selective in my purchases; I try to buy only good, interesting books. Even so, I have to rein myself in every month from clicking on a purchase I don’t really need to make. Despite that discipline, I have many more books on my Kindle than I can read in the near future. In a way, that’s good (potentially more posts than I ever thought possible for Books Here And There)*, but in a way that’s bad, because I could read myself blind, if I’m not careful. The analysts are calling the phenomenon “screen fatigue”; it’s more “card fatigue.” We tend to take for granted those things which are cheap and easily available, and yet there’s only so much we can spend on books of any kind.
There’s another factor, too, one that e-book developers are highly aware of: reading a physical book is an inherently-sensuous experience: the appearance of the typeface; the feel of the paper on our fingers; the rustle of the pages as we turn them; the heft of the book as we hold it; the attractiveness of the book’s cover. E-book manufacturers have tried to make reading those books as easy and as pleasant as possible, but they know that no matter how many e-books are available, they’ll never be able to match the experience of reading a physical book, especially a well-made physical book. The bibliophiles I know cherish both kinds and read both kinds. Each has its usefulness and its pleasures, and the more modern of the two isn’t going anywhere, despite last year’s decline.
[*Books Here And There began in the spring of 2014. After the initial post of May 22 of that year, I sat down and drew up a list of ten topics I wanted to write about. After that, I had no idea where the blog might get its material. It wasn’t like writing a baseball blog or a current events blog, both of which have an inherent structure to buttress the content. If you told me I would still be writing about books today, three years later, I would not have believed you.]