In a bold statement to the Oxford literary festival last month, Tim Waterstone voiced his opinion that the e-book revolution is going into decline, and the physical book was not going to disappear into obscurity.
Figures from the US last year appeared to suggest that e-book sales were plateauing, a fact perhaps welcomed by James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, in defence of his decision to sell e-readers and e-books through his stores.
I think anyone who loves books will be glad to hear that the digital reading revolution will not hit the critical tipping point against traditional paper books, and the love of books in their physical form endures.
In 2013, British consumers spent £300 million on 80 million e-books compared with £2.2 billion on 323 million physical books.
But the technology is here, and it is here to stay. Is it time to stop pitting e-books against traditional books and accept there are pros and cons to both forms and a place for both for many book-lovers. Can the digital revolution be seen as a cleansing ‘ice age’ of the bookselling industry, as we emerge through the other side with a more harmonious balance between booksellers and consumers? Is now the time, for bookshops and publishers to rethink the paper vs digital debate, and perhaps question how best traditional bookselling and e-book selling might be combined for a brighter future for all?
In an post for the Guardian Books Blog, Nick Harkaway suggests “Rather than circling the wagons as other media industries did (to no good outcome, it has to be acknowledged) publishers need to learn the more recent lessons from film and music and consider, for example, providing digital copies as standard with hardback editions”
This would seem to me to be a very sensible approach. The paper vs digital debate would now (or imminently) seem to be redundant, and perhaps the question for booksellers should be ‘how can we sell paper books and e-books together?’