When eReaders came on the scene the consensus was that the days were numbered for physical book sales - the sheer ease of access through a Kindle coupled with much more affordable pricing made it hard to argue with this logic.
I for one always believed that streaming would never overcome the feeling of having the physical CD, but after a long resistance I am now a constant Spotify streamer. As in the way I viewed music in the past, I currently hold the same opinion on books. I much prefer reading in the printed form – especially when my working day is spent consumed by computer screens, who could choose to spend another hour or two reading from a screen when a book is the opposing option.
So are the Irish population ready to burn the books that fill up their shelves?
Even though Christmas 2014 is now a thing of the past, the importance books play at Christmas time must be discussed.
When asked what they would most prefer to receive as a gift, 48% of Irish consumers stated books to be their number one choice - that’s ten percentage points ahead of cash which came in second at 38%. It would seem that we not only want to receive books, but when asked what we intend to buy for family or friends, the number one gift was again books with 40% stating they were most likely to buy a book for a family member or friend. When buying for under 12’s, books come in at number two with 34% and again number 2 for teens with 23% stating they intend to buy books as their present.
From the Christmas stats alone, it would appear very difficult to argue against the fact that books still hold an important role in the lives of Irish consumers of all ages.
What has been the response on a global level?
These stats are even more impressive when we look at what other European countries hope to receive at Christmas. The majority of European countries hope to receive cash as their present - in fact the only other European country not placing cash number one is Luxembourg who also ranks books as their top priority.
Apart from the silly season, the overall response from the UK is that physical books are far from dead, with the sale of e-Books already in decline and the e-book revolution being borderline garbage. In fact, the founder of Waterstones book stores in the UK argued that the printed word was far from dead.
The e-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have, but every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline.
Tim Waterstone, founder of Waterstones book stores
But how has the eReader performed here in Ireland and should bookstores be concerned?
Sales of books here in Ireland dropped 14% in 2014, this drop is partly being placed on the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2013. Although in 2014 we had some hugely successful releases - Alex Ferguson, Philomena and the contemporary thriller Gone Girl (which was the number one book of the year) - nothing has compared to the success of Fifty Shades.
Whilst the drop in physical book sales is apparent, we are also seeing a rise in eReader ownership. According to the 2014 Google Barometer, 16% of the Irish population own an eReader with TGI 2014 showing an increase from 12.5% in 2013 to 15.1% in 2014.
Does owning an eReader make it sacrilege to set foot in a bookstore now?
It would seem that those making the switch to an eReader are not necessarily making a change rather opening up their lives to more options to consume books. 81% of those who own an eReader have visited a book shop in the last 3 months (TGI, Choices 2014).
40% of all adults in Ireland have bought at least 3 physical books in the past 12 months rising to 60% for those who own an eReader. While 55% of those who own an eReader have purchased at least 3 eBooks in the last 12 months. On an average year eReader owners purchase 4.62 eBooks and 2.58 physical books.
Can books and eBooks coexist?
Personally I am yet to marry physical books with an eReader, but only time will tell. It’s clear that there is a place for both and that’s how Irish readers are treating the book market. The Telegraph reported in the UK physical book sales rose 5% in December 2014 while Kindle sales collapsed.
This is no surprise to me. Take The Gutter Bookshop on Cows Lane in Temple Bar, a bookshop that when you set foot in you instantly feel the true power of the physical book. What the eReader can’t replace is the personable aspect that a unique bookstore can offer book lovers. Reviews written by the staff themselves who you know, from just being there have a clear love and passion for brilliant reading and great storytelling.
Michael Kehoe is a Research and Consumer Insights Strategist in Mindshare,
the media buying agency of the DDFH&B Group.
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