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The e-book in the German book market: Still turning pages, or are you already scrolling?

In the era of the smartphone and the netbook, it is perhaps only logical that books, too, should be consumed in electronic form – be they literary classics, crime novels, or technical books. But does this also mean that, sooner or later, the good old printed book will disappear from sight? How are e-books changing the book market? What do they have to offer the user, the author, and the publisher?

The practical advantages of electronic books are there for all to see: they are easy to take with you wherever you go. A handbag or coat pocket, even the smallest travel bag, has room for an e-book reader – and the device does not weigh much. You no longer need to choose a book for the beach before going on your holiday – you can have an entire library at your disposal. As reading devices are constantly evolving, we now have several models (Kindle Paperwhite from Amazon, for example) that allow us to highlight passages easily and add notes to the text, check terms on the internet, and even to see sections highlighted by other readers.

E-books: Competition for the printed book and the book trade?

As is always the case with any new technological achievement, e-books and e-book readers also have their critics. When the first digital books and reading devices appeared in the market, authors, publishers, and book lovers, above all, were highly sceptical. In October 2012, the German daily newspaper taz wrote, ‘Arguments against the e-book are often either a nostalgic defence of paper or are justified criticism of the limitations of the reading devices and of the plethora of formats.’ There was also widespread fear among booksellers of becoming completely redundant when readers start buying their books online and no longer depend on bookshops for advice and help in finding a book. Taz however concluded, ‘Like vinyl records, paper books will continue to be bought as long as we want to buy them.’

The new options that the e-book offers

An increasing number of people from the publishing industry now also believe that the digital alternative will never completely replace the printed book. However, the e-book also provides writers and readers with a completely new set of options. Thanks to the book-on-demand facility, there is now no need to print an unnecessarily large number of copies. E-books also enable the author and the reader to interact in completely different ways and allow one to look beyond the text and to link stories to videos, images, and sounds.

How do you read? Do you prefer paper books, or have you already swapped them for e-books? Tell us about it in the KULTUR – CULTURE group in the Alumniportal Community.

Even Heribert Tenschert, antiquarian and owner of 250,000 books spanning nine centuries, is by no means afraid of the e-book: ‘I see the e-book more as a complementary measure, one that fortifies what I have always loved. What I mean is the book as a complete work of art: literary, but also artistic. I mean the paper, the binding, the typeface, the illustration – in other words, all the things that are paid hardly any attention today. The e-book will help sharpen our perception of the book as a work of art.’

The role of the e-book in the book market

The fact that many people still hold on to the paper book is also borne out by statistics and studies of the market share accounted for by digital books. An example is the e-book study undertaken by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels), according to which, in 2011, e-books accounted for only 6 per cent of the total sales of German publishing houses. About half these publishers offer e-books. However, in contrast to previous years, the sale of e-books is definitely on the rise, with e-books expected to account for 17 per cent of total sales in 2015.

In an international comparison, not only German readers but also West European readers in general are more sceptical of the digital book than, for instance, readers in North America and Asia, as illustrated by the following figures:

Discussion in our Community

Readers who still look forward to turning the pages of a physical book and marking their favourite sections, who love dog-ears and book shelves, who value a beautifully designed book cover, and who still prefer to travel with excess luggage because they remain attached to the good old book, therefore have no cause for concern.

On the internet, you can find several tips for e-book readers that have been tried, tested and compared. Perhaps you have a recommendation to make? Then share it and other e-book tips with us and with other Germany-Alumni in the Alumniportal Community.

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Author: Kristina Wydra

April 2013

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