E-book sales are having a slightly bumpy year, The Bookseller (October 4th) reports. One of the main reasons, but not the only one it seems, is the running out of steam of the Fifty Shades racket which gave such a boost to the one-handed appliance last year. Nevertheless, in spite of a dip in May/June, the British e-book market as a whole is ahead of 2012 levels.
Based on current trends, the report says, e-books will account for 13.1% of all non-fiction sales in 2014 in volume terms, but just 6.5% in value terms due to the lower average selling price of e-books. And, though starting at a lower base than in the US and UK, e-books are gaining ground elsewhere too.
Meanwhile Jens Jessen, writing in Hamburg’s Die Zeit (October 10th), attributes the flight of sales from bookshops to Amazon to declining standards in the former. Chains like Thalia and Hugendubel, he says, are only interested in selling kitten calendars and books they can pile high on tables. You used to be able to get the classics there – Schiller, Flaubert, Dostoevsky – but not now. No wonder people go to Amazon, he writes. They at least, unlike the bookshop staff, will have heard of the book you want.
Personally, I’ve never been in a German chain bookstore that didn’t have pretty much all the classics in stock. It’s a German thing, don’t you know. I suspect Mr Jessen is just one of those grouchy guys, something that might perhaps be borne out by his age. None of this began today or yesterday, it seems. A story is told of a person (Mr J himself?) who went into a university bookshop in Munich in the 70s looking for a copy of Ernst Curtius’s Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages), one of the great works of modern German scholarship. And the book clerk entered the author name in her computer as “Kurzius”!
Can you bloody well believe it? Anyway, one of the great book stories and certainly well worth repeating after forty years.