English-speaking Canadians are among the world's most avid consumers of electronic books, according to data compiled by the National Reading Campaign, which found that online purchases now account for 10 per cent of all books sold in English Canada. But the real surprise is that sales of physical books in English Canada are holding steady despite breakneck growth in e-book sales.
This year's survey, the second in an annual series – and the first to include data on e-books – documented a 4-per-cent increase in sales of physical books over a week in January, 2012, compared to the same week a year earlier. Borrowings of both types of books from 28 public libraries surveyed during the same week showed a 9-per-cent increase over last year.
"A lot of people in the industry thought the number of print book sales would be down, and down significantly," said National Reading Campaign spokesman Tom Best. "But that doesn't seem to have happened, which is quite remarkable."
English-speaking Canadians are still much less likely to go electronic than their cultural cousins in the United States, where one in five book sales is now made online, but slightly more enthusiastic than the British, according to the survey. On the contrary, the survey was unable to count e-book sales or borrowings in Quebec, where the market remains in its infancy.
Although the NRC's book count shows a momentary increase in physical-book sales, the longer-term trend is down, according to Noah Genner, president of BookNet Canada, an industry group that documents sales. Hardest hit have been sales of commercial and generic fiction – the same titles that are now selling fast at reduced prices in digital form.
The result is a rough balance, according to Genner. "What we're seeing is that the decline in print books seems to be offset by the increase in e-book sales," he said. "So there's a slight increase." The reading public in Canada is proportionately larger than it is in most countries and sales remain "very good and healthy," he added.
The heartening results of the 2012 book count are "a good indication that there are a healthy number of Canadians who read books every week," the NRC's Best said. "And that's a good sign for the country."