With ebooks and e-readers becoming ever more popular, we look at the impact for bookshops on our high streets.
I’ve occassionally fallen asleep with a book. I’m aware that straightening the crumpled pages out each morning is an annoyance and truthfully it’s one I have to bear quite often. Worse, though, would be spending that same time pulling shards of screen glass from the sides of my torso…
I am not an ebook fan, but in recent years it seems that more and more of our reading population are. According to an article in The Economist ebooks account for 14% of book sales globally, with this figure hitting 30% in the US this year. The article goes on to note that Brian Murray, CEO and president of publisher HarperCollins, predicts that this figure will rise to 40% within three years. There’s no denying that ebooks are enjoying a serious rise in popularity, but what does that mean for the future of our bookshops?
Well, in theory, it could be bad news. Given the trouble that other entertainment retailers such as HMV and Zaavi faced in light of the growing popularity of digital music retailers such as iTunes, one would be forgiven for fearing the worst. With online retailers leading to real world store closures across our high streets, the increasing coverage offered by downloadable books and e-readers could be likely to do the same.
So for the idealist who loves peeling open the crisp pages of a new book like the doors to a new adventure, or the hopeless romantic hoping to find his soulmate reaching for the same paperback on a shelf, it would appear that despair may be the third act twist of this tale. But fear not, Ted Mosbys of the world, there are signs that our bookshops may just survive the ebook onslaught.
According to research into WHSmiths undertaken by an investment bank, book suppliers give book retailers profit margin support because physical books produce a higher profit for publishers than ebooks do. To put it simply, books are cheap to mass produce, especially when you compare it to their mark up at RRP. Suppliers can produce books very inexpensively for bookshops, who therefore in turn don’t lose much financially if the books don’t sell well.
This research indicates that bookshops might not be struggling financially as some might think and offers theoretical hope for them. For the less business-inclined readers (such as myself) there is also more straightforward encouragement in recent statistics: since 2009, there have been more independent bookshop openings than closures in the US.
Bookshops have a unique appeal. While some other entertainment retailers offer some ‘try before you buy’ opportunities to their customers, there is little to rival the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere of a bookshop. A customer I talked to at my local independent retailer, Wellfield Bookshop in Cardiff, noted that he had made a number of friends through his visits to the store, and was also encouraged to join up with a Cardiff book club when making a purchase in the shop.
Online retailers are naturally on the rise across all sectors due to their convenience and ease of access. Though this has had negative effects for many of our established high street staples, there are encouraging signs to show that bookshops may avoid a similar fate. Within our bookshops there is still a unique opportunity for a more rewarding retail experience. Looks like I can keep my hands on paper for at least a little while longer, anyway.
Image: Alexandre Duret Luz