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Friday, 18 April 2014

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The bedtime story is safe - for the time being

There are many arguments about the value of an e-book versus the ‘real thing’, but none so convincing as Steve Matthews’.

“I can’t read Peter Rabbit to my granddaughter on an e-book,” he says simply.

The 63-year-old co-owner of Bookends stores in Carlisle and Keswick and secondhand bookshop Bookcase in Carlisle, was responding to the latest statistics comparing sales of e-books and printed books.

Official figures reveal that consumer e-book sales rose by 366 per cent in 2011, while the printed version saw an overall decline of just seven per cent.

This shows the majority of consumers still prefer the physical book, despite forecasters predicting that the electronic version would spell its demise.

Mr Matthews said: “The possibility of downloading books on the internet has been around for some time. They’ve been there, slowly encroaching for years.

“I think the e-book will end up taking 20 to 25 per cent of the book market, but it’s a constantly changing environment.”

He admitted sales had fluctuated but attributed that more to the economic climate than to the rise of the e-book.

“During an economic downturn our new bookshop sales go down a little,” he explained. “But, because people are tending to have holidays in Britain more our sales in our Keswick shop tend to go up.”

In fact, it is the internet rather than e-readers that have particularly affected bookshops.

Mr Matthews said sales of dictionaries and thesauruses are almost non-existent in his shops as everyone goes online, but blamed the ‘amazonification’ of the book market as the real problem.

“Amazon has such a hard-nosed business strategy in the way they are marketing the Kindle and books, both to the publishers and the general public,” he claimed.

“In terms of internet sales, it has an incredible percentage of them and it has reached a stage where no one can compete with them.”

The dramatic rise in e-book sales can be largely explained by the fact there is more choice now and more people are buying Kindles and e-readers.

However, the figures also show that those people buying e-books are also still buying printed books.

This is a contrast to other forms of media, such as the CD, which have been dramatically affected by the electronic ways of buying music.

Robert Hawthorn, 52, from Dumfries, has been assistant manager at Waterstones in Carlisle since it opened almost 15 years ago.

He believes it is because there is something very special about a printed book.

“A book is tangible,” he enthused. “You can drop it in the bath – you can’t do that with an e-book.

“There’s a strong loyal following of people who just like to have something in their hand, to open it up and smell it.”

He added: “An e-reader takes time to warm up; you can just open a book.”

Mr Hawthorn believes the market is growing though, to encompass the old and the new.

“A lot of our customers have both an e-reader and buy books; it’s not a ‘them and us’,” he insisted.

“It’s all about accessibility. I think it may well be people who have always had a reluctance to come into a bookshop and I think it’s that section of the population who find them a bit intimidating who will buy e-books.

“I believe e-readers also tend to be used more for fiction, when going on holiday, and therefore sales of academic or reference books have been unaffected.”

As more people try their hand at writing a book or a novel, there has been a marked increase in the number of different types of books published. Inspired authors are self-publishing or having their work published by smaller print houses.

Mr Matthews said it is this variety that is not always available in an e-book.

“If you look over 20 or 30 years we’ve got a constant increase in people being educated to a university degree standard and reading more.

“People’s interests are also getting more and more detailed. That is really noticeable and books cater for individual interests more than anything else around.”

And so, despite being in the centre of a continually advancing technological age, Mr Matthews believes there will always be a place for the printed book on the shelves – and in the hearts – of people of all ages.

He added: “There are so many occasions you wouldn’t dream of using a Kindle, and you can pore over the detail in a book.”

For now at least, the traditional bedtime story is safe.

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