I watch the news more than anything else (bit of a junkie, really) and when a story about books or publishing crops up, out comes the remote, up goes the volume. I love it when the literary world gets a bit of TV coverage, not just because I’m interested in it, but because I know it’s good for the industry.
However, according to a piece I just watched on the BBC News Channel (and other well-informed outlets such as The Bookseller) the UK publishing industry is already in a relatively good state. Yay! Sales of paperbacks and hardbacks are up so and so percent, helped largely by a huge increase in sales of books to young people. Apparently, the physical book market is RECOVERING after the trend of eBooks EATING AWAY at its market share has died down.
No! No! No! No! I hate this poisonous narrative of eBooks vs paperbacks, of eBooks being portrayed as evil and accused of trying to kill the physical book. It’s so completely not true. I ask you to consider: might it just possibly maybe potentially be the case that, with a surge of sales to young people boosting physical book revenue, eBooks are the heroes and not the defeated villains of this tale?
Let me explain. What do young people have? Devices. Kindles, smartphones, tablets; all of these things can download eBook files, often for a fraction of the price of the equivalent paperback. THEY. GET. YOUNG. PEOPLE. READING. And once young people have been bitten by the reading bug, they want to be bitten again (not a Twilight gag). If a young person takes a punt on and enjoys a cheap eBook they found online, they’ll want to talk about it. They’ll want to read everything else by the author, they’ll want to own a physical copy that they can treasure. They’ll go into a book shop to buy the book, either for themselves or maybe as a present for someone else. They see more books in said book shop. They might even buy some of those too. I know this because it happened to me. I’ve never spent more money on paperbacks than I have since I started downloading eBooks. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but I know plenty of other people it’s happened to as well.
Let me get one thing straight. I don’t hate physical books (I don’t hate the BBC either, I used to be a spotty, awkward intern there), I love physical books (and the BBC). But eBooks are not a disease threatening to wipe out the paperback. They are not an evil force intent on closing down all book shops. If anything, they might just have saved the industry.