Throw away your Kindles: Paper books are making something of a comeback

“This screen is so easy to read.”
“This screen is so easy to read.”
Image: Reuters/Andres Stapff
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Could the e-book revolution be coming to a screeching halt? Paper books are making a comeback, albeit rather slowly.

Britain’s largest bookseller, Waterstones, announced it would stop selling Amazon’s Kindle e-readers—sales have been “pitiful,” said James Daunt, the managing director of the retailer—and will instead be filling their display space with physical books. Of the Kindle, Daunt said:

It feels very much like the life of one of those inexplicable bestsellers; one day piles and piles, selling like fury; the next you count your blessings with every sale because it brings you closer to getting it off your shelves forever to make way for something new.

The number of physical books sold in the US rose by 2.4% last year to 635 million, according to Nielsen BookScan (paywall) while in the UK, the sales decline was much smaller that in past years. Waterstones reported that sales of physical books rose by 5% last December from the same period last year, during the Christmas period when it does a quarter of its annual sales.

Douglas McCabe, an analyst for Enders, suggests the e-reader “may turn out to be one of the shortest-lived consumer technology categories.”

The revival in printed books is mostly down to the increasing popularity of children’s books. Children’s literature has been bucking the trend, with print sales up by 10% last year.  Sales of young adult fiction rose 12% in the US in 2014 from the previous year, the FT reported. Even YouTube star Zoe Sugg ironically took her book, Girl Online, to traditional publisher Penguin to produce a 352-page hardback.

None of which is to say the e-book is a goner. Claims that digital is dead ignore the growth in readers on tablets and the general trend of falling numbers of people reading paperbacks and hardback, especially in categories like adult fiction.