E-book growth ‘reducing value’

The overall value of consumer book purchases has dropped 9% since 2008, according to the annual Books & Consumers survey conducted by Bowker Market Research UK.
Meanwhile, the growth in e-book sales put internet-only retailers ahead on the number of book purchases over the chains and independents last year, Bowker research director Steve Bohme told delegates at the Books & Consumers conference held in London today (29th March).

British consumers bought 344 million books in 2011, spending £2.1bn. The volume number represents a slight rise year on year, according to Bowker, with a 3% fall in the sale of physical books more than made up for by e-book purchases. However, despite an increase of nearly £50m in the total spend on e-books, overall value decreased; and combined with decreases in 2010 and 2009, the cash fall in the market since 2008 adds up to 9%.

E-books accounted for 5% of consumer book purchases by volume by the fourth quarter of 2011, putting the UK 12–15 months behind the US in terms of e-book market share. Adult fiction is the most affected segment, with Bowker putting the digital sales volume share in double figures by that fourth quarter. But that 5% market share by volume only adds up to a 3% share by value, with e-books overall costing the consumer a third less on average than physical paperbacks, and half as much as hardbacks.

According to Bowker, that low average e-book price is due not least to purchases from self-publishers and new media companies, which the research company puts at “perhaps a fifth” of total e-book purchases by volume in 2011 although just 4% by value.

The rise of e-books accelerated the shift in book purchases from bricks and mortar stores to internet-only retailers in 2011, Books & Consumers said. While high street bookshops remained slightly ahead of internet retailers in terms of overall market value, the total number of book purchases through internet-only retailers was higher in 2011.

However, the research found there was little indication that e-books had caused a net increase in the number of book buyers in 2011. Books & Consumers was  compiled using data from a nationally representative panel of 15,000 of the UK population aged 13–79 who are surveyed every two weeks on their book and e-book buying habits.