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Death of the eBook reader? New stats reveal boom in printed book sales

A phenomenon described by one expert at “screen fatigue” could be to blame for declining ebook sales, as printed books see a significant jump in revenue.

The Publishers Association has released new figures that reveal a stark decrease in the amount of revenue generated by the sale of ebooks in 2016. According the organisation’s latest statistics, ebook sales have dropped for a second year running, falling 3% to a revenue to £538 million in the UK.

But the real concern is that this drop was largely led by the sale of consumer ebooks, for which revenue fell by a staggering 17% – to £204 million – compared to the previous year.

Speaking to the Guardian, Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the PA, said: “I wouldn’t say that the ebook dream is over but people are clearly making decisions on when they want to spend time on their screens.”

“There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week,” he continued. “Books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”


Unlike ebooks, consumer print books saw a significant increase last year, with sales rising by nearly 9% – that’s a revenue of £1.55 billion across the UK. That helped the total print market earn 8% more revenue, to a five-year high of £3 billion.

“We saw a very marginal increase in overall print sales in 2015, but last year people flocked back to print in droves,” Lotinga added.

It’s thought that printed books offer more flexibility than ebooks, and provide a respite from viewing screens all day. At least that’s what Richard Broughton, an analyst at Ampere, believes. Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “The ubiquity of larger screen smartphones and tablets appears to have impacted the demand for readers. However, for many consumers the screens on smartphones and tablets are not as conducive to reading, not as comfortable.”

Broughton continued: “For consumers travelling or on holiday, having an additional ereader device to look after is awkward. A physical copy of a book is a disposable low-cost entertainment tool. It doesn’t matter if you leave it in your hotel room, on a train, or by the swimming pool.”

The good news is that the industry is “flourishing” overall, according to Lotinga, who says that we’ll all benefit from the “continued success of the publishing industry”. However, he caveated that there is some pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure Brexit doesn’t damage the industry:

“Whatever the makeup of the new government, they must ensure that any post-Brexit trade settlement it reaches with the EU and other countries reinforces this continued success.”

Related: Amazon Kindle Voyage vs Kindle Paperwhite

Do you prefer using ereaders or regular old books? Let us know in the comments.

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