The Cheat Sheet

The revenge of the papyrus and other trends

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 11, 2018


What happened to good old paper?

It’s making a comeback. Or so it seems.


In publishing, in the form of physical books. The numbers suggest their sales are growing.

Oh. What about our new-gen e-books?

Their prospects don’t look rosy as things stand now. The Publishing Association of the UK, an important market for books, show the sales of e-books have fallen 17 per cent, while the sales of physical books are up 8 per cent. Granted the numbers don’t include self-published books which form a decent chunk of the e-publishing market. Experts say the trend is more or less the same across the globe. Not many people are buying e-books now. And all the signs suggest that the hype around e-books is sort of settling down.

But why? I like my Kindle. Besides, carrying and reading e-books is very convenient.

In a way, the writing’s been pretty much on the wall for e-books. Just a couple of months ago Nielsen released the 2016 figures on book sales: the numbers suggested physical sales were up in the UK and the US, two major book markets. The Nielsen survey found that UK e-book sales had declined 4 per cent in 2016, the second consecutive year digital has shrunk. The five biggest general publishers in the UK — Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — said their e-book sales collectively fell 2.4 per cent in 2015.

And there were other early signs as well from other parts of the world. If you remember, services such as Oyster, which many dubbed the Netflix for books, shut shop in 2015. Kindle Unlimited is also struggling to attract more users. Yes, e-reading devices are convenient, but many point out that even a decade after Kindle was introduced by Amazon, not much has changed in its form or user-friendliness. Plus, many suffer from ‘screen fatigue’ using e-readers.

That’s true.

But at the same time, partially thanks to competition from e-books, physical books have seen a massive transformation in their production, distribution and pricing departments. Thanks to advancements in printing technology, physical books are now more beautiful than they ever have been. They have added more colours, developed layers and folds, and even gone 3D, making them popular among young and emerging readers who in the past were the first to take to e-reading. Publishers across the globe, especially those of children’s books such as Scholastic, now produce books that look better, read better and interact better with children.

That’s cool. I have noticed that physical books have become more affordable of late.

Yes, that’s also a factor. Today, the price difference between a new book’s physical and electronic editions is not significant. So in markets such as India, where consumers always look for some value addition, physical books, if affordable, become the primary choice of consumers.

Makes sense. But is this going to be the end of the road for e-books?

Unlikely. Digital reading is witnessing saturation across advanced markets where all those who could afford to buy a smartphone have one already. Publishers want to stay positive and say the current trend is about e-books finding their “natural level”. It’s a season of correction. With literacy levels and access to technology improving in the developing world, e-books will eventually find more takers thanks to their affordability and availability. Either way, this is only going to help the publishing industry, which has found a new rhythm.

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Published on May 03, 2017

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