Hardback books are still thriving

A stack of antique books

TEXT OF STORY

JEREMY HOBSON: Well it's not that surprising that electronic book sales are up. Amazon reported record sales of its Kindle e-reader over the holidays. But here's what is surprising. Hardcover book sales are also up.

The BBC's Rebecca Singer reports.


Rebecca Singer: Joseph's Bookstore in northwest London is a bright, welcoming place.

Michael Joseph: This is the non-fiction side of the shop; you've got a lot of biography here, business books, general culture.

Owner Michael Joseph has run it as an independent store for more than 20 years. He's had to compete with the rise of online retailers, but his sales of hardbacks have remained steady.

Joseph: A hardback is a permanent object and you have an attachment, a relationship with it that you don't have with a paperback. It's a different experience.

There was a time when the higher price of hardbacks might have put some customers off. But the emergence of online retailers has increased competition, brought down the average cost of hardbacks and boosted overall sales.

Tom Fussell is the commercial director at publisher Harper Collins. He says hardback sales in the U.K. have increased by 45 percent over the past five years. And although he believes the appeal of hardbacks will endure, he sees them fulfilling a different role. For example, people may still buy hardback cookbooks, but they might not use them for cooking.

Tom Fussell: They may look at them on their coffee table because they look nice, and they'll buy digital chapters or recipes to actually cook with so they don't get stains on their cookbooks.

So if hardback books are still holding their own after all these years, is there anything they could teach their digital rivals?

Edmund King works at the British Library. He says decorative covers are the key, and e-readers haven't quite got that yet.

Edmund King: In many ways, we're looking at the first generation of e-book readers which seems primitive in terms of its eye-catching appeal.

And as our lives become more digitized, hardback books may become increasingly precious. Partly for their decorative value, and partly because they last much longer than the batteries on our e-readers.

In London, I'm the BBC's Rebecca Singer for Marketplace.

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