Book publisher Penguin Random House has blamed ebooks for 225 potential job losses at its warehouse in Rugby, Warwickshire.
The publisher pointed to figures from the Publishers Association, which show that UK digital book sales rose 11% last year, while print copies fell 5%.
“The revolution in reading habits, with ebooks becoming more popular, has put these 225 jobs at risk,” said Unite regional officer Peter Coulson. “It is a worrying time for employees and their families, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and is a real blow to the local economy.”
The Warwickshire distribution centre is bookmarked for closure by 2019, with redundancies beginning in May 2017. Penguin Random House said distribution from the site would be moved to one of its remaining warehouses at Frating, near Colchester.
“Proposing to part company with colleagues is never easy,” said the publisher’s chief executive, Tom Weldon.
Staff are to be offered redundancy packages that Penguin Random House claim will be significantly higher than the statutory minimum – and the company have also intimated they will provide support to staff in finding new jobs.
Unite is to meet company managers to discuss the business case for closing the site and to discern whether there is any chance for it to remain open.
Print sales of books continue to decline as ereaders such as the Kindle – provided by tax-dodging company, Amazon – and its rivals Kobo and Nook prove increasingly popular. Ebooks now make up 25% of the market, just eight years after the launch of the Kindle in 2007.
Earlier this year, NielsenBookScan released figures showing physical sales of adult fiction had declined by more than £150 million in just five years.
There have been some anomalies in this general trend. For instance, Waterstones boss James Daunt ended Kindle sales after saying ebook revenues “had disappeared to all intents and purposes”.
Professor Wu says: “The changing face of the literary marketplace will continue to strain tensions between Penguin Random House and Amazon over the price of ebooks; and will likely lead to many more passionate arguments between defenders of the printed page and advocates of digital technology.”
“One might point out that, as technology goes, printed books are actually pretty wonderful. You can spill water on them and they will still work. They have working lifespans of decades, perhaps centuries, rather than a couple of years. They provide a sense of permanence, which might be why capitalists hate them.”