Why the UK is Behind America for Ebook and E-reader Adoption

04/12/2011 21:38 GMT | Updated 03/02/2012 10:12 GMT

Amazon have just opened up the Kindle store for independent publishing in Spain and Italy, adding to the US, UK, German and French sites that are already in place. This means that independent authors and publishers can now reach more non-English speaking markets and those stores will soon be bristling with ebooks. The new Kindle Fire and Touch devices have been released in the US and Amazon have demonstrated that ebooks now outsell print in the US.

It's an exciting time in digital but as a Brit recently returned to these fair shores as well as an independent author, I have been pondering why the uptake of ebooks and e-readers is so behind America and even Australia. Here are my thoughts.

Slower release of technology.

America had the first generation Kindle in 2007 and Amazon only released it to the wider world in 2009. I was one of the first to buy one in Australia and immediately fell in love with the ease of buying and consuming books. But the uptake has been slower here as there are fewer devices across the various platforms. Even now the Kindle Fire isn't available in the UK this Christmas (although the basic Kindle is just £89). This slower tech release means inevitably we are about 18 months behind. 


For a start, there's VAT on ebooks and not on print books. Seriously, this is one of those crazy laws that really should be changed. If you agree, please join the petition here. Then there's the fact that print books are bundled in bookstores with 3 for 2 deals and reductions so the print copies end up being cheaper than digital. If print is cheaper, you need other reasons to buy. Pricing was my primary reason for buying a Kindle when I lived in Australia as new print books were around $35 (£12), over three times the price of books in the UK, so I had stopped buying new fiction. With the adoption of the Kindle and the Amazon store, I was back on my voracious reading schedule which was good for me, the publishers and the authors. This just doesn't apply to the UK market. 

It's a smaller country with more physical bookstores for new and second-hand books so people aren't desperate to find something to read.

I am always impressed by how easy it is to find a print book here. You can get books everywhere and our secondhand shops really are fantastic. In America and Australia, people may have to drive a long, long way to find a bookstore or they have to order online anyway. If you can get your ebook instantly with the Kindle why would you wait? This is demonstrated in the difference in Amazon's marketing between the US and UK. Here, it's all about space and weight as well as speed and choice whereas space just doesn't matter in those markets, it's all about availability and price there. 

Resistance to change is an English character trait.

Why move to digital when there's nothing wrong with print? Here are my reasons reading on the Kindle is better than print but plenty of people disagree. Compared to the US and Australia, it feels like our national character is less entrepreneurial, clinging to the past instead of embracing the future and resistance to digital is part of that. It might also be resonant of the snobbery that still exists in publishing which is breaking down in the US as big name authors go independent and Big Six publishers move faster into digital. That change is starting to happen here but most think we're still at least 18 months behind America.

What do you think? Is the UK and European ebook market behind the US, and why?