Skip to Content

Ebooks challenged by print books

11 May 2015

The trends on ebooks show a backwards shift. Whilst in 2012 there was a rapid shift towards ebooks, this has now reversed itself in favour of print books. To some extent this seems to be because ebooks are losing their novelty, but there's a real change in buying patterns, particularly amongst heavy readers. These trends were revealed recently by Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book in Bookbrunch.

Many book-buyers buy books both in print and ebook form. They prefer ebooks when they're cheaper, which is very often the case, especially when they're being self-published. They are also attracted by special features that ebooks may contain. Most significantly of all, ebooks seem a good choice when people are buying a book which seems a risky proposition, such as a novel by a new or unknown author.

Hardbacks are bought as gifts and continue to dominate this market because there is still no real way to buy an ebook for someone else. Print books are also preferred for favourite authors, presumably because people want to keep them after reading them and perhaps pass them on to someone else.

Surprisingly, about a third of UK buyers buy both versions, a fifth doing so at the same time, and a quarter buy print versions of books they first bought as an ebook.

It is remarkable that ebooks and the digitisation of books is not proceeding to grow rapidly as many had predicted. Many commentators thought initially that ebooks would kill off print within five years, but that prediction now looks wide of the mark.

For publishers it gives an opportunity to produce a book in a lower-priced version at a considerably lower cost than any print edition. For authors who are self-publishing it gives a chance to get their book out there to a worldwide audience through the web, although of course this presupposes that the book can be promoted widely to an ebook audience.