from Zen Gardner:
Books. Remember them? The big lumps of wood pulp that used to clog up your shelves? Well, they’re back, and hotter than vinyl records.
Last week, the British Library announced that the rise of the digital age had, paradoxically, helped boost numbers visiting the British Library by 10 per cent. Meanwhile, James Daunt, the chief executive of Waterstones, Britain’s leading bookselling chain, revealed that sales of traditional books were rising strongly again, while demand for ebook readers had, “to all intents and purposes disappeared”.
This was something of a volte-face for Mr Daunt, who, just three years ago, declared: “Our customers want to read digitally,” while announcing a juicy deal with Amazon to sell the online giant’s Kindle ebook readers.
Reports from the book trade speak of a spectacular Christmas with record-breaking sales and packed shops, but ebooks appear to have missed the party.
Meanwhile, Waterstones’ rival, Foyles, says its sales were up by 8.1 per cent on last Christmas, despite fewer promotions, and with traditional books accounting for most of the advance. “The physical book is having a resurgence,” says Foyles boss, Sam Husain. “People still like to shop online, but there’s nothing like being in the bookshop.”
It wasn’t meant to be this way. When ebooks took off in the mid-Noughties, many foresaw the death of the printed variety that has dominated the market for 600 years, and great was the wailing and gnashing of teeth among traditionalists. A slim, six-ounce Kindle could store hundreds of books, and the device was packed with nifty features for tech-addicted customers. The book was clearly headed the same way as the quill. Or the typewriter. Or, for that matter, the vinyl record.
Happily, the ebook pioneers forgot something important. There are some things that technology can’t replace, and readers began to realise that a proper book possessed something akin to a soul. Not just older readers, either. My 16-year-old son begged for a Kindle a few years ago. When I asked him last week if he still used it, he looked up from the hand-bound, folio edition of The Count of Monte Cristo he had got for Christmas, and blinked. “Oh, that, not really.”
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