Latest UK book stats

Came across some interesting stats on UK book sales in the latest issue of The Author magazine from the Society of Authors, and thought I’d share a few of them with you:

  • Sales of physical books fell 5% in 2013, while sales of digital products rose 19%
  • Digital now accounts for 33% of fiction sales and 7% of non-fiction/reference (and 15% of publishers’ total business)
  • Paperback sales have fallen 23% since 2008
  • The average selling price of a paperback was £5.46 in 2013, compared with £5.83 in 2008
  • UK publishers’ total sales have risen 6% since 2009

It’s interesting to me that, despite all the doom and gloom around the publishing industry, overall sales are still rising (albeit very slowly). And although digital sales are rising quickly, they’re still only 15% of the total publishing industry. Old-fashioned print books may seem outdated to some, but they’re still 85% of sales.

What do you think? Do any of these numbers surprise you?

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There are 12 comments

  1. What surprises me is that paperback sales have fallen 23% since 2008. Are we really in the digital age then? Maybe. Or maybe not. Interesting statistics indeed. Thanks Andrew, for bringing this to my notice.

    1. Hi Geosi
      Yes, the fall in paperback sales is quite huge. It’s also interesting that the average price has fallen, in a time when the prices of most other goods have risen. Perhaps the impact of low-cost eBooks. In any case, I think you’re right, we are in the digital age, but paper books are holding on longer than some people expected.

  2. They don’t surprise me much, I’m glad book sales are still rising! I don’t know about other book buyers, but now the novelty of ebooks has worn off I find I much prefer paperback. I tend to buy digital only when I’m not sure if I’m going to like a book or not (because it’s cheaper) then if I love it I get the paperback version. With authors I know I enjoy (Richard Yates, Joan Didion) I just go straight for paperback now.

    1. Hi Alice
      I’m the same as you – I never read ebooks by choice. I end up reading them purely because I move around so much, but the reading experience on paper is just better in so many ways. You’re right, cheap ebooks are a great way to try out a book you’re not sure about, but it makes sense to skip straight to the paper copy for authors you love. I’m curious, do you ever buy hardbacks?

  3. I too am very surprised that digital sales only total 15%. I thought that it was much higher.

    Even the 33% for fiction books caught me by surprise. I was under the impression that it was around 50%. This may go to show how difficult it is to predict the future.

  4. I think the stats for e-books are often misleading because their cheapness means people buy more. I’d love to know how many cheap e-books go unread, though! Unlike CDs which improved the quality of the music you were listening to, e-readers don’t actually improve the reading experience – unless it’s particularly useful to be able to enlarge the font, or hold something in one hand only (I have a friend with MS who loves her ereader for that reason). Beyond that, they are just a gadget, and one whose batteries run out.

    1. Yes, that would be an interesting stat! I know I’ve got quite a few 99p ebooks languishing on my Kindle. I agree about the reading experience – I wrote about that a couple of years ago in my post The Kindle Report. If I had more of a fixed abode, I would be reading almost exclusively print books. It’s only the constant moving that makes ebooks worthwhile to me.

      I do wonder if things will change in the really long term, when you get a generation of readers who are used to juggling text with images and videos and clicking links and interactive graphics. Maybe definitions of a good “reading experience” will start to change. For me, though, things like “enhanced” eBooks are a downgrade rather than an improvement.

  5. I too am surprised at that drop in paperback sales. But ebooks are still a novelty. They’re still in their boom! Let’s see if the rates continue five years from now…

    Personally I’m torn. I love holding a paperback but reading paperbacks now I miss having the online dictionary 🙂

    1. Ah, you’re right, Fiona – the online dictionary is fabulous. Especially useful if you’re reading Will Self 🙂

      It reminds me of a video I once saw of a young child trying to swipe and tap on her dad’s magazine as she would on an iPad. Then she held it out to her dad and said, “It’s broken!”

  6. Interesting stats, Andrew! It is nice to know that total book sales have increased since 2009. Inspite of the popular contention that people are reading less and less today, this is encouraging news. I feel sad though that e-books comprise 33% of fiction books sold. I thought that might be less. I am in two minds about e-books – I think they occupy less space and they are easy to carry around 🙂 I remember some readers shifting totally to e-books – the popular reason other than the obvious one seems to be that we can change the size and type of font which makes the reading experience better. But being an old fashioned romantic, I love paper books more. I still don’t have an e-reader, but now my home is really overcrowded with books (books have overflown the shelves a long time back and they are now on the table and the floor and on most flat surfaces) that I feel it is time to either keep a tab on my buying (which is very hard) or get an e-reader and buy e-books. I feel that the second option is the lesser of the two evils 🙂

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