Bookshop browsing vital for publishing, research finds

Bookshop browsing vital for publishing, research finds

The crucial role of physical bookshops to a healthy publishing industry was underlined this week by findings from both Bowker Market Research UK and research company Enders Analysis.

Jo Henry, BMR director, gauged the value bookshops bring to the industry through promoting discoverability at approximately £450m last year, as she revealed highlights of the Books & Consumers in 2012 survey at Bowker’s annual conference (20th March). Meanwhile, in a column in The Bookseller this week (see opinion) analyst Douglas McCabe revealed that Enders Analysis estimated that the majority of a bookshop’s sales disappeared when that shop ceased trading.

“The single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops,” said McCabe. “We estimate that when a bookshop closes, about a third of its sales transfer to another bookshop. This means as much as two-thirds of sales disappear. Some of this spend doubtless migrates online, but much of it vanishes from the book sector entirely.”

Both McCabe and Henry agreed on the crucial role of bookshop browsing. Discovery still does not work online, McCabe asserted. “Consumers do not browse the internet as is often suggested,” he said. Enders Analysis estimates that serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales, much of this down to bookshops. “There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant,” McCabe said. “Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level.”

Henry estimated that physical booksellers were responsible for the discovery of some 21% of all consumer book purchases in 2012, at around £450m in value, taking into account books discovered via a bookshop window or browsing in a bookshop, or by way of an advert, review or recommendation within a bookshop. A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops, Henry said. By contrast “relatively few” book purchases were discovered through social network sites, Books & Consumers found, with the notable exception of the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Physical bookshops were particularly important for the children’s book market and for male book-buyers, the Books & Consumers survey found. They also outsell supermarkets in genres including literary, classic and historical fiction, SFF, horror and graphic novels, and travel, history, business, biography and humour in adult non-fiction. The survey found bookshops were stronger than Amazon in genres including religion and MBS, business books, art, computing and fitness/diet books.

However, the research showed a higher number of books being bought from internet-only businesses than from bricks-and-mortar stores for the first time in 2012. Total “p and e” book spend through the chain, independent and bargain bookshop sector as a whole remained ahead of that through internet-only retailers, but the latter took 95% of the e-book share.

Meanwhile, consumers who bought e-books also bought more of their physical books through internet retailers, suggesting that when readers move to buying e-books they also switch from bookshops to e-tailers to buy their physical books.

Books & Consumers recorded a total of £125m in UK consumer spend on e-books in 2012, more than double that of 2011. The survey put British book sales at 269m (by volume) in 2012, at a value of £2.11bn.

Jo Henry: Discovery channel

Douglas McCabe: Why bookshops matter