When eBooks really started to take off around three years ago, their success was accompanied by the typical doomy, gloomy apocalyptic hand-wringing about the future of the printed book. The thinking then was that every winner has to have a loser, and with a winner this big (British sales for consumer eBook fiction and non-fiction were up 366% in 2011!!) a big dive was predicted. It’s funny to think, just three years down the line, that people were sure the printed book was on the way out. Perhaps it was just a testament to the popularity and exciting potential of eBook technology, perhaps it was something closer to a silly panic. Either way, the numbers from last year seem to point to a happy, mutually beneficial coexistence, which is good news for all parties involved.
According to Britain’s Publisher’s Association, total book sales rose 4% last fiscal year, and while print still makes up the majority of sales, its small 1% sales slip was more than made up for by a 66% gain in the digital realm. As The Telegraph points out, that number is way down from the previous year’s 366% surge. “There is an inevitable slowdown going on,” said [Richard] Mollet [chief executive of the Publisher’s association]. “You expect that with any new technology but there is still very healthy growth.”
It seems like this type of evening out is to be expected. Not only that, it’s probably a healthy sign that eBooks are becoming less gimmicky and finding their way into normalized reading culture. As Gaby Wood points out, “Digital books are a complement to, not a replacement for, physical books. Some publishers now offer a hardback with an eBook as a package, since an eBook is easier to carry around but a hardback is what you want to own, and have on your shelf.” And sales data is starting to reflect this cooperative nature in comforting ways. When print publishers don’t have to worry about another source of lost funds (the fabled flight to eBooks!) and bibliophiles are growing more and more aware of the advantages both formats hold, we the readers (and we the customers!) win.