Books, glorious books

Book sales have been flattish in the past 12 months, according to various figures reported in the FT. Physical books, that is. The rate of growth of sales of e-books seems to have declined, and e-readers too. Encouragingly, the article reports:

“A recent survey by Nielsen found teenagers prefer print books, with fewer of those aged 13 to 17 buying ebooks than their older peers. It suggested that parents’ preference, or teens’ lack of credit cards for online shopping, could be responsible. “But another explanation may be teens’ penchant for borrowing and sharing books rather than purchasing them, which is easier to do in print,” Nielsen said.”

A better bellwether could be Mark Zuckerberg declaring 2015 the year of the book, sending sales of his first choice, Moses Naim’s

, rocketing. His comment on his Facebook page says, as if he’s only just noticed: “Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today.” The book club page has nearly a quarter of a million likes. One hopes they all read most of the titles Zuckerberg chooses – it will be 26 altogether, “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.”

[amazon_image id=”B00IXQQ6GU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The End of Power[/amazon_image]

Gillian Tett says in her column this weekend that 5 million Americans belong to book clubs, and there are 50,000 book clubs in the UK. As I’ve banged on about before, I think publishing has adapted better to the challenge of new technologies than some of the other affected ‘content’ industries, by innovating far more in response to customer demand. There are issues about the supply side of the market. Some entry barriers are clearly lower because of digital technologies, but there is a question about the market power of Amazon and the big publishers (Joshua Gans is the go-to economist on this – here’s his most recent post); and the health (or lack of) of book stores; and also about long-term prospects for earning money as an author – although I’m not sure there was ever a golden age for writers.

Still, the demand side is more than encouraging. The demand for books, in whatever format, is a sign of the desire for understanding in our disordered times. There is a huge demand for understanding, evident in attendance at economics festivals and public lectures and debates, the vitality of online magazines and blogs, and even the appetite to read serious, non-fiction books. Richard Overy’s wonderful book about the 1930s,

, noted the same phenomenon then.

[amazon_image id=”0141003251″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation, 1919 – 1939[/amazon_image]

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