Nigel Newton, chief executive of the Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, said the surge in ebooks had fuelled a 'golden age of reading'. Photograph: Justin Sutcliffe
The ebook will overtake the paperback and hardback as Britons' preferred format for reading their favourite novels by 2018, according to a report. The UK consumer ebook market – which excludes professional and educational books – is forecast to almost triple from £380m to £1bn over the next four years.
Over the same period, accounting group PwC predicts that sales of printed editions will fall by more than a third to £912m as the UK population's reading habits become dominated by tablets, with 50% of the country expected to own an iPad, Kindle or a similar device by 2018.
Nigel Newton, the chief executive of the Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, said the surge in ebooks had fuelled a "golden age of reading" in the UK. "Ebooks have been a force for good for authors and publishers," he said. "We can now reach a worldwide market 24 hours a day, seven days a week – everywhere there is mobile telephony and credit card usage. It has hugely opened up the market for us beyond that which could be reached only by bookshops. We live in golden age of reading, where more recent works are consumed than at any time in history through digital delivery."
Bloomsbury's biggest e-seller last year was Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed – which was also its biggest seller in print. The rise of the Amazon-owned Kindle, Apple's iPad and WHSmith's Kobo has also benefited genre fiction, according to Bloomsbury, with mainstream literature still the preserve of the bookshelf and not the computer screen. Newton said that ebooks might represent a quarter of the sales of literary fiction. However, in genres such as westerns, sci-fi and romance, well over 50% of sales could be in ebook form.
"The pattern of consumption is that among ebook readers there is a desire to pre-order, or get it quickly, so ebook sales are particularly high in the first few weeks," he said.
PwC's latest global media and entertainment outlook also notes that in the consumer book market, the rise of e-editions will more than outweigh the decline in print sales. By 2018, the total UK consumer book market will be worth £1.9bn, up from £1.8m last year – despite the loss of more than £500m in print sales over the period.
"The study overall is saying the total consumer book market will be growing slightly," said PwC partner Phil Stokes. "The important thing is, people are reading books."
Nonetheless, the rise of Amazon and the Kindle is transforming the nation's publishing institutions, which are being forced to seek new sources of revenue. As bookshops close, authors are embarking on rock star-style tours; the newly formed mega-publisher Penguin Random House sold 10,000 tickets for a reading tour by Caitlin Moran. The publisher is also turning one of its most famous characters, Peter Rabbit, into a cartoon and is seeking tie-ins with toymakers and chocolatiers.
Some publishers are looking at diversifying into new forms of content, for example by combining books, films and games into a new narrative genre. A new iPad thriller called The Craftsman, launched last year, turns the reader into the main character in a gothic, cinematic chiller.