Discovery channel

High street booksellers punch above their weight in the value of each book that they sell, with adult non-fiction being bought for around 20% more in bookshops, children’s books at around 25% more, and adult fiction at a whopping 50% more than books bought through online channels. They also account for nearly half of all books sold at full price and are of particular importance to the children’s market, with 41% of all purchases in this category going through high street booksellers, worth some £183m.

Bookshops take an above-average share of spending in many key genres including literary fiction, classic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, horror/ghost and graphic novels and fantasy/magic in the children’s category—the last is one of the most important overall, encompassing as it does Harry Potter and Twilight.

Bookshops are also a vital cog in the discovery process. They account for 45% of spending on books where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what book it is they want to buy. Bookshop customers are far more likely to purchase a book they have seen displayed physically than those featured an e-tailers’ website; they are also more likely to buy a book because they were able to look inside or read an extract.

Nearly a third of all consumer books purchased in 2012 were discovered as a result of browsing—and an additional 6% as a result of seeing the book in a shop window. Of those discovered by browsing, over half (56%) were seen in a physical bookshop as opposed to a website, a library, a catalogue or via social media. Adding in those 6% of books seen in a shop window, physical bookshops account for almost one in four of all book discovery.

Altogether, taking books purchased because of an advert, review or recommendation within a bookshop, those discovered via a bookshop window and those found while browsing in a bookshop, it is estimated that bricks-and-mortar booksellers are responsible for the discovery of some 21% of all consumer book purchases—worth around £450m in total.

The emergence of the e-book has had a predictable impact on channels to market; with physical bookshops slow to find a viable way to be involved in the supply chain, e-tailers have had it all their own way and now account for nearly 100% of all e-book purchasing. But there has been another, less well-publicised impact too; if you buy your digital books from Amazon, you are increasingly likely to purchase your print books there as well.

Jo Henry is director of Bowker Market Research