Fiction rules 2012 e-book sales

A new report on the e-book market in 2012 shows the continuing dominance of fiction, with fiction titles taking more than double the market share digitally than in print, with non-fiction and children’s titles only slowly beginning to make headway.

The report, published by Nielsen entitled “Understanding the E-book Consumer Today”, showed the number of fiction e-books sold in 2012 far outstripped sales of non-fiction and children’s titles, capturing 64.8% of the e-book market, down marginally from 67.1% in 2011. In terms of physical books, fiction took a 29.2% share of volume sales, much lower than the 42.4% share of the market for print sales of non-fiction and only slightly ahead of the 28.4% share for children’s books.

The data, drawn from the Kantar Worldpanel of British consumers, showed that e-books now account for 27% of the overall fiction book market, up from 12.1% in 2011. In non-fiction e-books took an 8.4% share, up from 3.2% in 2011. Children’s e-books took a 6.5% share, compared with the 2.2% share they took in 2011.

Both non-fiction and children’s e-books edged up slightly in market share terms against fiction, with non-fiction e-books volume market share rising from 22% to 23.2%, and children’s e-book share rising from 10.3% to 11.9%. This is represented in the overall growth numbers, with fiction e-book volume sales up 129.1%, non-fiction up by 143.9% and children’s titles up by 175.7%.

Overall, e-books became significantly more popular with consumers in 2012 than 2011, with their share of the total book market (print and digital) rising from 5.8% in 2011 to 14.3% in 2012 in volume sales terms. The overall book market declined by 7.3% (£156m) year on year in 2012 to just under £2bn. Within that, printed book sales fell by 11.3% (£236m) to £1.85bn but e-books sales increased 106.8% (£79m) to £154m.

In volume terms, the overall book market declined by 3.9% to 336 million, with sales of print hardbacks declining the most by 14.4% in 2012. Sales of paperback books, meanwhile, dropped by 12%. The number of e-books bought more than doubled, from an estimated 20.2 million units to 48 million units in 2012.

Notably, the average selling price of a print book increased by 1.4% to £6.41 in 2012 according to the report, but the a.s.p. of an e-book dropped “substantially” by 12.8% to £3.20. The a.s.p. of a hardback increased the most (3.6%), whereas the a.s.p. of a paperback increased by 0.3%.

Consumers bought the most e-books in the period following Christmas last year, after receiving e-reading devices as Christmas presents, and also in August during the summer holiday season. The market share for e-books in the four weeks to 22nd January rose to 14.7% in December, and increased to a peak of 19.1% in the four weeks to 2nd September 2012 from 17% in the previous month.

*Four-week periods ending 23/12/12

Sales of print books, by comparison, saw a steep rise in the run-up to Christmas, when the e-book market share fell back to slightly ahead of 8%.

Digital books seem to have gained more traction with women than men, as print purchases by women decreased by 13.1% year on year, while female e-book purchases increased by 144.4%. Men, on the other hand, bought 12% fewer physical titles in 2012 and 129.1% more e-books.

Women continued the trend of buying more digital fiction than men, taking a 54.7% share of the fiction e-book market in 2012, while men bought more digital non-fiction than women (57.5% of the market). In the UK, market penetration of e-books was highest among those aged 35–44 (18.1%) and lowest among those aged 13–20 (9.4%). In growth terms, the 25–34 age group experienced the biggest uplift between December 2011 and December 2012—increasing by 10% from 7.5% to 17.5%.