Does the news that Amazon now sells more e-books than paperbacks mark the beginning of the end for the book?
The same statistics do show that paperback sales are up too, but what industry analysts call the “moment of cross-over” may have arrived, meaning that digital is now becoming the dominant format for the reader.
Amazon is in an ideal position to exploit this position, as it also makes and sells the leading “e-reader” – the “Kindle” – although others including Sony’s sell well too. And the boom in sales of tablet computers may also lead to increases in the sales of electronic books.
The growth of online retailers like Amazon has already meant hard times for bookshops. Many smaller independent retailers have vanished from the High Street and even US giant Borders has gone to the wall in the UK.
“Our vision is that every book in every language should be available for you to download and start reading in 60 seconds,” said Christopher North, the UK managing director of Amazon.
No more waiting for the book to come in the post then. Just download and read immediately. Another example of instant gratification.
But what does this mean for authors?
Neill Denny, who edits the industry journal ‘The Bookseller’, believes it will become more difficult for new authors to get into the market.
“Breaking new authors is much harder digitally. Sure, you can build excitement with Facebook fan pages and the rest. But impulse buying of books can’t really happen in the same way,” he argued.
Others disagree, believing that increased sales in whatever format can only be good news. It is much cheaper to produce an e-book than it is to have one published in the traditional format. And it is also much easier to self-publish, cutting the publishing house out of the equation entirely.
This doesn’t just appeal to those trying to gain a foothold in the market. The likes of Philip Roth, Martin Amis and John Updike are all bypassing publishers to sell digital editions of books directly to readers, via Amazon.
While the number of e-book readers sold in the UK lags well behind their American counterparts, they are growing very swiftly, with huge leaps in sales reported over Christmas. And trends in the US are usually followed on this side of the pond.
So the paperback won’t be disappearing immediately, but the move towards electronic editions will continue it seems.