Ebook sales slump points to print revival and screen fatigue

Swapping Kindles for the printed page

Sales of ebooks have dropped dramatically in the UK over the past year, according to figures shared by the Publishers Association.

While book sales overall were up 7 percent, during 2016 compared to 2015, that was no thanks to ebook sales, which were down 3 percent overall. Physical book sales were up 8 percent.

However, if you look at what is considered "consumer ebooks" – the novels and autobiographies which make up the majority of consumer book purchases (as opposed to, say, educational text books) - they fell a huge 17 percent.

Screen switch off

This would suggest a form of "screen fatigue" is kicking in, as readers shift back to printed books as a form of escape from the monitors and smartphones they spend the majority of time on. A disconnected paper book may represent a welcome reprieve.

"There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week," Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association said. "[Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that."

This'll come as unpleasant news for Amazon, which is said to be planning yet another revision of its Kindle epaper ebook reader. The company is rumored to have a waterproof Kindle in the works – which would be a distinct advantage of its paper competition.

It's not the end of the line for digital readers entirely though – "digital sales" were up 6 percent overall, and professional books including periodicals and academic journals, were up 6 percent too. 

It seems then that we're still happy to sit in front of a screen to learn and work, but are increasingly valuing a "switched-off" leisure time.