Britons shun ebooks due to 'screen fatigue'

Britain's publishing industry had a record-breaking year in 2016.
Britain's publishing industry had a record-breaking year in 2016.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - British sales of ebooks are waning, trade figures revealed on Thursday (April 27), 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 £4.8 billion (S$8.65 billion), their highest ever level.

But sales of ebooks fell three per cent to £538 million, 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," Mr Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of The Publishers Association trade organisation, told The Guardian newspaper.

Most impacted by the decline were consumer ebooks - comprising fiction, non-fiction and children's titles - which dropped 17 per cent year-on-year to £204 million.

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

Overall, digital sales made up 35 per cent of total revenues. Meanwhile sales of physical books rose by 8 per cent on the year to £3 billion, their highest level since 2012 with consumer titles increasing by 9 per cent.

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".