British sales of ebooks are waning, trade figures have revealed, suggesting readers were suffering from “screen fatigue”.

Britain’s publishing industry had a record-breaking year in 2016, with sales of books and journals recording their fastest year-on-year growth in a decade to reach £4.8bil (RM26.8bil) their highest ever level.

But sales of ebooks fell 3% to £538mil, continuing a trend already observed in 2015.

“There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week,” Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of The Publishers Association trade organisation, told The Guardian newspaper.

Consumer ebooks – comprising fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles – felt the greatest impact, dropping 17% year-on-year to £204mil.

In China, however, Amazon China reports that there is a continued interest in reading and that 78% of the readers are sharing reading experiences on social media, such as instant messaging app WeChat, micro blog Sina Weibo, review website Douban, and question-and-answer website Zhihu.

Reading books on electronic devices is a major factor that fuels the behaviour of sharing.

The report reveals 71% of those born in the 2000s choose to read books on e-readers like Kindle, whereas only 25% among those born in the 1950s do so.

 

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Britain’s publishing industry had a record-breaking year in 2016, with sales of books and journals recording their fastest year-on-year growth in a decade. Photo: AFP/Istock

Despite the drop in ebook sales in Britain, digital sales overall still rose by 6% due to sales of audiobooks (up 28%) and academic/professional digital books (up 6%).

Overall, digital sales made up 35% of total revenues.

Sales of physical books up

Meanwhile sales of physical books rose by 8% on the year to £3bil, their highest level since 2012 with consumer titles increasing by 9%.

A statement from The Publishers Association argued that “striking front covers” and the “resurgence” of bookshops in town centres were the reasons behind the jump in physical sales.

In any case, it said, “a book is already the ultimate portable device”. – Agencies