UK book sales rose 5% last year driving another nail in the coffin of those that once predicted the demise of the printed book in favour of the electronic version.
The Publishers’ Association year book collects data about invoiced sales across its membership. This records an increase to a record £5.7 billion in 2017, driven by increases by co-editions, overseas rights and licensing sales. Sales of books increased 4% to £3.7 billion by value, £3.2 billion of this coming from printed books, an increase of 5%. This means that sales of digital versions of books fell to £543 million, a drop of 2%.
The increase in book sales was not uniform. Hardback fiction grew 31% to £97 million with fiction overall growing 3% to £547 million. Non fiction sales also rose, up by 4% to £928 million. Academic publishers experienced growth of 6% in books and 5% in journals across both forms of media, with digital sales dropping by 4% and print books rising 9%.
The Publishers’ Association does not provide figures for unit sales, though given the increase in revenue from printed books, sales are also rising. The lift in revenue from hard cover fiction is attributed in part to the improved presentation of these titles. PA CEO Stephen Lotinga notes that this is caused by “Publishers investing money to make hardbacks a particularly impressive product”.
Printers have been investing too to improve service offered to publishers through book of one production. Bell & Bain has this year commissioned a Ricoh Pro VC60000, Printondemand Worldwide has invested in the similar Screen TruepressJet 520 HD, Ashford Colour Press in an HP T400 series, while TJ International and Clays have both acquired new owners this year.
Paul Hulley, managing director of the Italian owned business, is planning investment amounting to £5 million. He says: “In the mono market served from Bungay volumes have actually quite flat this year but we have seen like for like volume growth over the last three years, of around 2% per annum. That follows several consecutive years of decline.
“The colour book market has been more buoyant; which demonstrates the value of our new ownership, as we are now able to manufacture colour books for our existing mono customers through our sister factory in Italy. We have already started to do that.
The tail off of growth in the book download market started about three years ago and, despite a flat period for our Bungay factory so far this year, that has been good news for us. In the consumer’s mind there seems to be a difference between downloaded, or streamed, music; where the actual listening experience becomes the same whether the source is hard copy or soft copy, and downloaded books where the reading experience is different to that of a physical book.
“We have also noted home furnishing retailers reporting growth in shelving products as consumers once more want to enjoy displaying their books in the home. So the outlook is positive for the physical book.”
A lot of the success for UK publishers comes from overseas. Exports generate 60% of revenues and are rising, by 8% in 2017, a mark of how creative the UK is in this area as well as the demand for the cultural knowledge that the UK represents.
However, the UK experience is being shared by the US. At the Association of American Publishers issued its 2018 StatShot annual report last week. Its revenue continues to be largely static – $26.23 billion compared to $26.27 billion in 2016 and $27.80 billion in 2015. This represents 2.72 billion units in 2017.
In more detail, non fiction revenues increased 5%.4 % with a sales increase of more than 150 million more books. Its figures are built from a range of sources, not only reported revenue from member companies, so there is no direct comparison to the UK.
UK publishers have enjoyed growing revenues and growth in printed books as the appeal of the ebook wanes. Printers have been investing to support the buoyant market.