The Guilty Secretes of E-book Readers

There was an article in The Daily Telegraph last week which reported on the popularity of titles of e-books vs titles of physical books.

“A newly published list of’s biggest selling e-books of the year features psychological thrillers, misery memoirs, Mills and Boon and a book by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, whose first work was memorably described by a Telegraph reviewer as “the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years”.  Notably, 18 of the top 20 authors were women, including thriller writers Angela Marsons, Fiona Neill and Rachel Abbott.

“However a parallel list  of physical books compiled by Waterstones to cover the same period is significantly more highbrow, and features four times as many male authors.  They include Richard Flanagan, author of the Man-Booker Prize-winning The Narrows Road to the Deep North, and Anthony Doerr, with his All the Light We Cannot See.  There were also books by Colm Toibin, Ian McEwan and Victoria Hislop.  The print list is topped by Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which does not make the Amazon e-books list.

“There is some overlap.  Paula Hawkin’s runaway bestseller The Girl on the Train, and the latest risqué offering form E L James appear in the top three of both lists. But the disparity between the books we put on show and those we download suggests that e-book reads can be ‘guilty pleasures’.

“Benedict Page of The Bookseller said: ‘There are certain kinds of books that people like to own.  If they have a favourite heavyweight literary author who they have followed for many years, they are likely to want to possess the printed book because it’s beautiful and durable and represents a readerly commitment.'”

I think that Page’s analysis is probably correct in that we tend to regard e-books as disposable, and printed books something to be retained. The high proportion of female writers on the e-book list is interesting.  My theory would be that at least some of the female authors on the e-book list write primarily for women, and are more interested in achieving volume than literary recognition.  I’m also guessing that more women than men own e-book readers.  These two theories seem to converge on the supply and demand sides.

What’s your view?

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