Home » Ebooks, Non-US » Tim Waterstone ‘predicts e-book decline’

Tim Waterstone ‘predicts e-book decline’

31 March 2014

From the BBC:

Tim Waterstone, the founder of the Waterstone’s book shop chain, has predicted that the “e-book revolution” will soon go into decline in the UK.

He told the Oxford Literary Festival printed books would remain popular for decades, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have,” he said.

“But every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK.”

For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Meanwhile, hardback book sales rose 11.5%.

. . . .

Mr Waterstone added: “The [physical] product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.

“The traditional, physical book is hanging on. I’m absolutely sure we will be here in 40 years’ time.”

And from The Telegraph:

The so-called e-book “revolution” will soon go into decline, the founder of Waterstones has said, insisting that the traditional physical book is here to stay.

Tim Waterstone, who founded the bookshop chain in 1982, argued that the printed word was far from dead and Britain’s innate love of literature had made books one of the most successful consumer products ever.

He added that he had heard and read “more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known”.

. . . .

He joked that insiders were generally “apocalyptic” about the the book industry’s prospects but said he refused to believe the traditional physical book was under threat.

. . . .

Speaking about the longevity of the printed word, Mr Waterstone said: “Print on paper has lasted for centuries. It’s one of the most wonderful, really successful consumer products of all time.

“The book has probably had the strongest compound growth rate since the Second World War than any other consumer product. The compound growth rate since 1945 is around 5.2 per cent. Compound, right the way through to 2013.

“The product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.”

Link to the rest at the BBC and The Telegraph and thanks to Joshua and many others for the tip.

Ebooks, Non-US

42 Comments to “Tim Waterstone ‘predicts e-book decline’”

  1. Darn! And my series is just catching on over there.
    I’m sure readers will enthusiastically embrace less choice and higher prices.

  2. “The book has probably had the strongest compound growth rate since the Second World War than any other consumer product. The compound growth rate since 1945 is around 5.2 per cent. Compound, right the way through to 2013.

    “The product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.”

    Tim, Tim…! It’s a book! It’s a book if you read it on paper, and it’s a book if you read it on a screen. It’s love of reading that led to the explosion of e-book sales in the first place. What is it Mr Waterstone thinks we do with e-books if not read them?

    And let’s not even go into “e-books are in decline.” The times when today’s quotes lined tomorrow’s birdcage are behind us. Tim Waterstone’s words will live on to embarrass him for years to come.

    • The times when today’s quotes lined tomorrow’s birdcage are behind us. Tim Waterstone’s words will live on to embarrass him for years to come.

      +1

      This is one of those quotes that I will think about all day, I’ll try to keep it in mind every time I post something 😉

    • I don’t think he has the slightest idea what compound growth rate means.

      • Except how to manipulate the stats to have it say what he wants. For example, he took the longest view possible to get the best result (post World War II, with the explosion of the consumer culture plus the rise in popularity of paperbacks). If he compared, say, the last ten years, he’d get a far different result.

      • For the heck of it, I calculated compond interest of 5.2% from 1946 to 2013. It comes out to a multiplier of 31.4 for that period (i.e. if you invested $10,000 in 1946 at that rate, you would have $314,101 in 2013).

        In the U.S. during that period, $10,000 would have grown to about $150,000 just due to inflation. So, his rate of increase is about double that, which would imply slightly more than a doubling of the book market, after taking inflation into account. That means either selling a bit over twice as many books, or selling as many books at a bit over twice the price, in inflation adjusted prices.

        It’s hard to say if that is likely, given the rise of other entertainment options during that time period. But, population growth and rising disposable income might make that less unlikely.

    • It’s a book! It’s a book if you read it on paper, and it’s a book if you read it on a screen. It’s love of reading that led to the explosion of e-book sales in the first place.

      This, all of this. Made my morning. 🙂

  3. YES!! You want to scream at him–an ebook IS a book!! Argh!

  4. Physical books will be around in 40 years the same way music CDs are yet ill around today, as a small niche market that has been supplanted by a better, higher profit, medium.

    The only thing about Mr. Waterstone’s remarks that would surprise me, at all, is if someone was actually surprised by them. He has a vested interest in the system staying just as it was, and he seems perfectly content to ignore the fact that the landscape has ALREADY changed.

  5. I like this game of making irrational predictions. I predict that someday passing a Waterstone will be as painful as passing a kidney stone, since both obstruct a healthy flow (one of commerce the other of… um …the yellow stuff)

  6. A book by any other means will still be read (with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare).

    Break free from the chains of the past and fly, Tim, fly!

  7. I’m assuming this is another case where the actual decline is only in sales of trad-pub e-books, as more and more authors self-publish and move outside of the purview of folks like Mr. Waterstone. If so, they’re really missing the entire point, much to the surprise of no one here.

    • That, and the figure is based on a decline in the dollar amount, not necessarily a decline in the total number of ebooks sold.

      For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year,

      For example, if a settlement between multiple major publishers and the Justice Department results in lower ebook prices, that will show up as a decline in the amount spent by readers.

  8. For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

    Ah, down 5% if you ignore all those indie sales?

    …the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.”

    So, love of reading will not propel the reading of ebooks?

    :: shakes head ::

    • I continue to be amazed by how people will cling to statistics that seem to tell the story that they want to see told and dismiss statistics that don’t tell the story that they want told (like, ahem, dismissing those researched by a certain H.H. and D.G.).

  9. You know, a lot of these guys make predictions. Yet the only predictions that I’ve seen actually come true are those of Joe Konrath. It took me a while, but I’m glad I listened to him.

  10. It’s so convenient to claim share/sales/revenue/etc. is stagnant or down when you only track books with ISBNs.

    • Excellent point.

      The price of ISBNs in small quantities in the U.S. is outrageous. Can anyone think of another product that sells for $125 in quantity one and $1.00 in quantity one thousand?

      That’s something that Congress could spend some time looking into, IMO.

      • True. My POD’s have ISBN’s, but my ebooks don’t.

        • Does anyone know how Bowker got this monopoly in the first place?

          Certainly it’s not the universal case — for instance, in Canada the government gives out ISBNs for free.

          $125 for automated processing of a web form seems a bit…excessive.

  11. “…he refused to believe the traditional physical book was under threat.”

    I would like to think the founder of Waterstone’s didn’t miss this piece from BPH pundit, The Guardian.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/21/independent-bookshops-campaign

    “While independent stores are facing the most serious problems, booksellers in general are suffering as the number of printed books sold dropped by 9.8% last year to 184m, according to analysts at Nielsen BookScan.”

    This from Feb 21 of last month.

    Funny. Kind of a different data picture than what he’s citing. And, of course, this data (along with any “indications” from America) only addresses BPH e-book sales and in no way accounts for indie pub growth.

    Oh well. He’s free to “refuse to believe” whatever he wants. Whatever helps him sleep at night, I guess.

  12. Mr Waterstone said: “Print on paper has lasted for centuries.

    And how many centuries have horses pulled wagons and carriages in Britain and the US before they were mostly replaced with motor-driven vehicles?

    JEH

    • To be fair, there are few advantages of horse-drawn wagons over trucks; trucks travel faster, carry more, make less mess, and require less maintenance. About the only benefit of horses is that they can find their own fuel in the countryside.

      Paper books have more advantages over e-books, most obviously that there’s no DRM, and you can read them when your batteries are flat.

      So I do expect them to remain significant longer than horse-drawn wagons. If you’re on a starship a thousand years from now and the power goes out and all your maintenance manuals are on an e-book reader you forgot to charge, you might wish you had a print copy :).

      • “If you’re on a starship a thousand years from now and the power goes out…”

        You’ll have no lights to read any print backup copies with. 😉

      • Beast-drawn wagons are still prevalent in lots of the world. Just not where we’re rich enough to afford motor-driven alternatives and have the roads and other infrastructure to support them.

        JEH

  13. For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

    So, how did he get the figures for Amazon KDP sales?

  14. This is exactly what record store executives said twenty years ago. I can’t believe the CEO of a store chain can’t parse the numbers.
    Consider this Mr Waterstone: Apple and Amazon reader devices get so much better every year that print books look archaic. Inventory and printing no longer hit the bottom line. It costs nothing to publish (badly probably) today. Apps like Vellum make ebooks look really good for almost nothing with no learning curve. People buy based on recommendations available via social mechanisms that didn’t exist when you started your store. Browsing is automated. And books cost one tenth of what they used to. And everything I just said has been reality for three years (excepting Vellum). Delusional.

    • Michael Matewauk

      Yes, just purchased a copy of Vellum and loving the ease of use–formatting’s actually fun for me now.

  15. The clay tablets lasted for centuries. Hand written books lasted for centuries. Where are they now? In museums. Maybe it will take a century before printed paper books will be seen only in museums, or in your grand parents’ attic.

  16. Photographic film lasted about 150 years, I believe. There’s probably still some for sale, somewhere. But most of us use digital now.

  17. Looks like the ebooks-are-declining dingbats plan to ride that sad, busted meme all. The. Way. Down…

  18. His audience might be his bankers.

  19. Mr Waterstone added: “The [physical] product is so strong, the interest in reading is so deeply rooted in the culture and human soul of this country that it is immovable.

    Mr. Waterstone, you might want to warn the captain of your ship about icebergs. Especially the ones labeled “Indie Publishing.”

    Just saying.

  20. Boo. Hiss. Snarl. I hate e-books.

    And everybody else should, too.

  21. El
    Oh
    El.

    Okay, Tim.

    In other news, smartphones will go into decline in the UK, too. Any second now.

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