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Ebooks still on a roll

26 January 2012

The New Year has started with a mass of news from the ebook front, where things are really moving very fast. In the States ebook sales surged after Christmas. In the UK the figures show that more than one million ereaders and more than half a million tablet devices were received as gifts over Christmas, with Amazon and Apple the leading suppliers of e-readers and tablets respectively. One in 40 adults received a Kindle for Christmas.

These results suggest that ereader ownership could as much as double over the next year in the US--6.4 percent of respondents are "very likely" to purchase, and another 9.9 percent are somewhat likely, with 15.8 percent of people saying they "already own" an reader, according to a recent study. But perhaps most striking is that 51.8 percent of those surveyed said they are "not at all likely" to buy an ereader in the year ahead, the first time that number has been above half.

But as Jack McKeown of Verso Digital, which carried out the study, has observed: 'While e-reader ownership rates have increased in a dramatic fashion since our first survey in December, 2009, so too has the level of resistance. The dynamic movement highlighted in this data suggests that over time, consumers have moved out of the 'not sure' category in one of two directions: a.) toward actual ownership, or a high probability of near-term ownership of a dedicated e-reader; or b.) into the ranks of resistors for whom the devices do not yet offer a compelling 'relative advantage' to overcome their conservatism re: printed books.'

So readers are polarising into those who have already bought ereaders, or are likely to do so soon, and those who have decided they never will. Subjective experience of what friends are doing and saying suggests that this may be right, and it means that predictions of rapid and sustained growth in ereader sales might not be as soundly based as they seem.

There's no doubt that ebook sales are putting further pressure on traditional bricks and mortar bookshops, which have suffered in recent years due to increasing sales of electronic and physical books over the internet. Research by the Daily Telegraph last autumn showed that the number of traditional bookshops on the UK's high streets has halved to 2,200 since 2005.