Every time I read the trade press, there seems to be yet another story about the growth of e-books. Yesterday alone, the Bookseller published two stories that have huge implications for everyone in the book trade.
The first article covered the 'World e-Reading Congress' in London, where Ian Hudson, the deputy chairman of Random House, announced that their e-book sales had increased tenfold in the last year. Hudson predicted that e-book sales "could exceed 8% of trade publishers' sales in 2011, and could reach 15% next year".
This is interesting, because on the one hand it demonstrates how quickly e-books are growing, but on the other it is a timely reminder that they still account for less than 10% of book sales. If you just listened to Amazon, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was nearer 50%.
The other story that the Bookseller published yesterday is also potentially very significant. Literary über-agent Ed Victor has established a new e-book and print-on-demand imprint, which will initially concentrate on making out of print titles available in a digital format. This may not appear to be earth-shattering news, but it shows that the line between agent and publisher may become increasingly blurred in the future.
So where does that leave the traditional high street bookshop? On they face of it, they seem doomed. E-book sales are growing exponentially, particularly in the more 'disposable' genres like crime fiction (over a third of the latest Jo Nesbø novel's sales were digital).
But although digital publishing may appear to possess the inexorable gravitational pull of a black hole, there are other genres that are far more resistant. For example, this:
I read 'Mr Wonderful' recently after a month in the Kindleverse and fell in love with the paper book all over again.
These comic strips are all available online and I'm sure that they'd be quite easy to read on an iPad, but it would be a very poor substitute for this beautifully-produced hardback, with its thick, sturdy pages, brightly-coloured illustrations and wonderfully absurd dimensions (fully opened, it measures 21" by 6").
I'm not suggesting that bookshops will be saved by bunging a few graphic novels on the front table, but if they are going to survive they need to reduce their dependence on paperback bestsellers and concentrate on genres where the book itself becomes a desirable object. It is this approach that has enabled 'high end' booksellers like Daunt Books to survive, selling hardbacks to people who are looking for quality rather than saving money.
It will be interesting to see what the new owner of Waterstone's does with the chain. At the moment, HMV are locked in negotiations with the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut. HMV want £70,000,000 for Waterstone's - a sum they desperately need if they are to avoid going into administration in July - and gave Mamut a deadline of April 20th to close the deal.
But with each week, HMV's hand becomes weaker. Their share price is now around 10p and Waterstone's latest value is estimated to be nearer £35,000,000, so I suspect that Mr Mamut is quite rightly driving a hard bargain. Why should he pay over the odds for a 300-branch chain that includes a number a loss-making shops when he could hang on for a few weeks and pick off the most profitable shops?
I hope that both parties are able to reach an agreement before HMV Group collapses, for everyone's sake. Aside from the fact that several thousand jobs are at stake, the publishing industry needs a showcase for its titles and the large, range-holding specialist bookseller is still the best option.
I apologise if that was a very dull post. To make up for it, here is a chimpanzee on a skateboard: