First summer of e-books lies ahead

First summer of e-books lies ahead

Publishers are preparing for the first big UK e-book summer with a mix of excitement and anxiety as they look forward to strong digital sales but wait to see the effect on print numbers.

Nielsen BookScan’s Top 5,000 figures for the week to 9th July show hardback fiction down 15% year on year and paperbacks down 10%. The drop comes after six-month figures showed a 7% decline for print novels in the first half of the year.

Miles Poynton, digital sales director for Faber, said: “It’s the first really major e-book summer and the potential sales and information it will provide is really exciting. It’s difficult to know what we should expect. Our digital sales are showing treble-digit growth on the same period for the year to date in 2010. The reasons for the dip in physical sales are quite complex and it’s not necessarily a see-saw from physical to e-books.”

But another sales director, who preferred to speak anonymously, confirmed he expected summer e-books to flourish at the expense of print. “The received wisdom is that it’s the mass market that will be affected—e-books and paperbacks,” he said. “But portability is an even bigger issue in the holiday period and it’s just as likely to hit the new hardbacks.”

Bloomsbury digital director Stephanie Duncan suggested there might be a later upswing for print books because of changing buying patterns. “We know post-Christmas is massive for digital, whereas it’s pre-Christmas for physical books,” she said. “The evidence in the US suggests there is a summer reading surge with people pre-filling their Kindles before going on holiday. But there are also suggestions that also leads to increased print sales because people are coming back and deciding to buy the print copy then, or because word of mouth from people who have read the e-books is spreading to people who prefer to read the physical books.”

Constable & Robinson sales manager Haydn Jones said the publisher was using the Kindle summer promotion, which is selling selected e-books for £2.99 until the end of August, as an opportunity to promote new authors for later print publication. C&R has two titles, James Craig’s London Calling and Emlyn Rees’ Hunted, available as £1 Kindle editions over the summer, with print editions following in the autumn. “If you get very good e-book sales, and get them high on the chart, it’s a way to launch new writers, get reviews and get people talking. That then transfers to print,” he said.