Commentators on the publishing industry in the UK have been writing off the prospects of print publishing for the best part of two decades.
And yet it perseveres, with longevity similar to the very books it sells. How quaint.
Since the Amazon Kindle launched in November 2007, experts have assumed that the rising sales of ‘ebooks’ would eventually wipe out books, and the physical book shops that have hawked them for generations.
And yet this hasn’t happened. In fact, ten years later, physical books still outsold their digital equivalents by 6:1. The figures amount to roughly £3bn of physical books versus £0.5bn ebooks. Not quite the electronic revolution many had predicted. (Source).
Investing book longevity
Let’s take a close look at the personal finance genre of books to understand the appeal of the humble book.
1. Personal finance books have found their niche
What we’ve seen over the last ten years, as publishing has become more and more accessible to authors (through self-publishing and other means), is a proliferation in finance titles.
The more books enter this crowded shelf-space, the more important it has become for a book to appeal to a specific need or investment type.
It’s no longer enough to publish a good book about saving money and investing. It needs to have an edge, a theme, or a strong brand that draws a customer to pick it up off the shelf.
This feels like a constraint, but it’s actually acted as an incentive for authors to write deeply about niche topics. This has led to a flourishing variety of books.
This can be seen through the number of well flesh-out categories, or ‘sub-genres’ of books you’ll find in a bookshop today:
- Investing in stocks & shares
- Getting out of debt
- Saving & budgeting
- Property investment
- Retirement planning
- Saving taxes
- Investing for young adults/teens
- Aspirational/ motivational books
- Portfolio theory / academic
- Financial independence
Need I go on?
2. Investing books don’t require much of an investment
It’s true. Unlike textbooks which feel like a real investment (typically being priced at £40 – £70), investing books allow you to hold onto more of your hard-earned cash. Which is quite neat really, isn’t it?
When published in mass paperback, personal finance books can be as cheap as £6.99, which places them alongside fiction and other inexpensive genres.
This means that cost simply isn’t a barrier to anyone who wants to learn how to invest or budget for the coming year. They don’t need to dig deep into their pocket (working against their savings goal) just to get clued up on how to save money in the first place.
3. Personal finances are being squeezed
Naturally, where there are sales, there must be great demand. And the demand for personal finance books comes from a natural source: people sense a gap in their financial education and want to do something to fix that.
There are three main types of personal finance book readers:
- Readers who are in financial distress and want to cure their monetary malady
- Readers who are flush with cash and want to pick up tips on what to do with it
- Young readers who are curious about the world
If you focus on each of these readers in turn, it will become apparent as to why books about money are still flying off the shelves.
Due to the recent pandemic, many people who were previously in a comfortable financial position have found themselves the victim of financial trauma. Small business owners have been cut-off from their revenue sources for months, and those workers put on furlough have had to tighten their belts by up to 40% to deal with the pay cuts they have sustained.
At the other end of the spectrum, workers in some occupations have never had it (financially better). In particular the city-based finance, design, legal, or IT professionals. Commute and lunch costs have disappeared, as have drinks with co-workers, some have even given up on car ownership altogether. This has allowed these workers to save more money each month than ever before.
Finally, in a nation with a demographic pyramid, more young people are coming up through education than ever before. With stock trading apps and financial news at their fingertips in a way that their parents could never have imagined as children; teenagers are much more financially aware and want to read and learn about how to make money through the financial markets.
The digits don’t like digital
Protecting the sales of physical investing books, there appears to be an ‘ebook fatigue’ setting in. Many consumers simply don’t want an e-reader, even although they’re aware of the advantages.
It’s difficult to weigh up the pros and cons of physical versus digital, but it’s easy to summarise the main phrase I hear from people who have steadfastly kept hold of their bookshelves and books. “I just like books”.
To consumers with this mindset, a pivot towards downloadable titles means the loss of a hobby and pastime. Even though it still holds the same ‘content’, an ebook just doesn’t seem to hold as much weight with the consumer as a paperback or hardback book would.
A false economy
Finally, there’s a reason why ebooks can often work out as more expensive than paperbacks, particularly when we consider premium finance books written for finance professionals.
You can’t ‘resell’ an ebook, which means that the list price is the straightforward cost of acquiring the book.
You can however resell a physical book via an online retailer or eCommerce platform once you’ve done reading it. Doing so can be quite convenient, and only requires a trip to the post office.
For technical guides which retail for £40 – £60, you can recover sometimes as much as 80% of the RRP by reselling in ‘almost new’ condition after you’ve read. This works out as a large effective discount which cost-savvy readers are all-too-aware of.
Therefore, while people may still debate whether books and libraries are still relevant, you can now hopefully see that there is a strong case for learning through the paper.