UK book sales hit record highs in 2019, driven by an increase in audiobook and non-fiction titles, new figures released as publishers warn of the huge impact the coronavirus pandemic has had over the industry.
Book sales reached £ 6.3 billion in 2019, up 4% from 2018, when sales fell for the first time in five years, and 20% from 2015. According to the Latest Publishers Association (PA) figures, overall print sales were up 3% to £ 3.5bn in 2019 and digital sales were up 4% to £ 2.8bn , thanks to a 39% increase in audiobook downloads. Digital formats represented 44% of the market in 2019, up from 40% in 2015.
Strong sales of non-fiction and benchmarks, seen in bestsellers such as the Pinch of Nom cookbook, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, saw the sector grow 23.1% to reach £ 1 billion in 2019, compared to 2015.
“In an age where sources are often unreliable, people are increasingly turning to books for reliable information and voraciously read non-fiction works in all formats,” said the CEO of Hachette, David Shelley, at the association.
The growth of non-fiction contrasts with fiction. Despite the publication of highly anticipated novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, sales fell to £ 582million in 2019, down 5.6% from 2015.
“Before the coronavirus pandemic, the industry was booming with 2019 being the strongest year in publishing history. These strong numbers reflect people’s continued need and desire for books, ”said Stephen Lotinga, Managing Director of PA. “[The figures] tell a pre-Covid success story, but they don’t reflect the significant challenges publishers faced during this pandemic. Despite these challenges, we know that many people have continued to look to books for comfort, enlightenment, and entertainment. “
Publishers have anticipated revenue drops of up to 75% due to the Covid-19 crisis, with bookstores closed for more than two months, publication dates postponed, book orders canceled and tours of authors canceled. A success story was revealed on Tuesday, however, when Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury announced 28% growth in consumer sales in the four months ending June 2020. Previously, Bloomsbury had predicted that its print revenue could drop as much as 75% due to the coronavirus. , but print sales actually increased 9%.
While bookstore sales have rebounded sharply since stores reopened on June 15, the PA warns that “publishing will require additional government support to ensure a swift and full recovery.” Some small publishers have been forced to turn to crowdfunding to stay in business, with Jacaranda Books and Knights Of appealing for donations after warning they risk closing without immediate financial support.
The Palestinian Authority said emergency funding from the UK government to arts councils had helped a number of businesses, but said “small businesses have been particularly affected, especially as many of them they were unable to use government support programs “. More than half of the PA members were unable to put their staff on leave due to the small scale of their operations.
“The UK publishing industry was on track to be worth £ 10 billion by 2030 before the coronavirus, but that will only happen now if the government properly supports our recovery. This means ensuring that there is a fair market for books – especially support for bookstores, avoiding a no-deal Brexit and providing vital funding for schools and universities so they can buy the educational resources students need to learn from a distance, ”said Lotinga, highlighting the vast swathes of educational material that publishers had made available to parents and teachers free of charge during the pandemic.
While online sales had been “incredibly useful” and “a vital source of income for publishers” during the pandemic, Lotinga warned that “we cannot have a situation where the main beneficiary of the lockdown is one big giant. of technology ”. In April, Amazon customers reportedly spent nearly $ 11,000 (£ 8,500) per second on its products.
Lotinga highlighted the French Competition and Markets Authority’s digital markets working group, which seeks to unblock competition in digital platform markets. “We believe that the CMA needs to take a close look at how the book market works to ensure that our online market is functioning fairly,” he said.