Printed book sales are up. No wait, they’re down.

posted in: Cutover, Writing | 0

The much reported pre-Christmas ‘fightback’ by printed books in the UK sales war against their ebook darker side appears to have lasted just a week. If, that is, there ever was a fightback in the first place.

Just a week after The Bookseller reported printed book sales soaring to a three year high, it followed with another headline that printed book sales slumped in 2012 by £74m (£ paid content).

The first story had barely finished propagating through the various UK news when the second story followed.

It might seem like they would have cancelled each other out, but stories about the demise of the printed book carry an emotion for the reader that can’t be easily calmed. Each story about printed and/or ebooks is a new opportunity for comments from readers about their attachment to the smell, feel, look of printed books, or their happy conversion to ebooks.

Before going on, it should be noted that there is a sameness to the wording of the media reports about the surge in printed book sales before Christmas. This seems to indicate that they came from the same original source, whatever that was. The reports in The Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Mirror , for instance, all quote the same book industry analyst.

The reports unleashed a flood of comments from readers of the “I’ll go to my grave reading printed books” and “I just love the smell” type.

Fair enough, except the same comments appeared days later when the same papers reported that annual sales of printed books are in decline (See report by the BBC). Which only goes to show that how we experience books is a very emotional issue.

The data showing a decline in printed book sales was in line with reports from before Christmas. The data from the week before Christmas was, then, an anomaly.

So, what went on at Christmas?

Sales of traditional gift type books – for instance, Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute Meals – was strong. Books like these don’t translate well, yet anyway, into an ebook format. And you can’t easily, yet anyway, give an ebook as a gift. (It really isn’t easy to wrap an ebook, or even send one as an e-gift.) Once these issues have been resolved, Christmas will begin to look very different. (see Adam Junipers post on this at futurebook)

The story about the surge in printed book sales was a nice one. But it always pays to wait a week before breaking out the champagne. On the up side, it’s always a great opportunity to add a comment about the feel, and the smell, and the typeface of a printed book.