Journals lead in UK publishing’s export drive

Journals lead in UK publishing’s export drive

The industry’s earnings hit a new high in 2016, according to the PA Publishing Yearbook 2016, which has put total income from invoiced sales—across consumer, education and academic/professional, both physical and digital books, and journals, and including home and export—at £4.8bn. It’s a rise of 7% on the 2015 value, the largest single percentage sales lift the annual industry total has seen since 2007.

The latest yearbook has also been able to demonstrate for the first time that the UK publishing industry as a whole is export-led. A new, detailed breakdown of journals revenue shows that 87% of journals income is from exports, and that its export contribution of £1,088m boosted overall UK publishing exports to £2.6bn last year, meaning exports accounted for more than half (54%) of total revenue.

While journals was the single most successful export category, other areas also showed growth in 2016: children’s had a resurgence after a quieter 2015, with invoiced sales for its exports rising nearly 34% to £116m; school book export sales were up by more than 11% to £144m; and non-fiction/reference export sales rose by more than 10% to £264m.

Europe remains the biggest export region for UK publishing, accounting for 35% of the market; yet the tendency for it to shrink slowly as a percentage of the total has continued. Last year, Europe accounted for 36%; five years ago it was 39%. By contrast, continuing a rising trend is the East and South Asia market, now at 18% of the export total, and South and Central America, now at 7%. North America, which dipped in 2015, returned to an 11% export market share last year.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association (PA), praised the industry’s “record-breaking” year, and said its strong export performance couldn’t be accounted for simply by a boost from a weakened pound. "Some of it is,” he conceded. “Clearly there has been a drop in the pound, and a benefit from foreign receipts converted back into sterling. But there has been consistent growth both at home and abroad, so to suggest it’s just simply down to publishers benefiting from the weakened pound I think would be thoroughly unfair. I would suggest it is to do with the quality of the product they are selling as well.”

On journals, he noted: “Considering there is often concern [over] where academic publishers are getting their money from, what our figures would indicate is they are making money from successfully exporting the quality of British academic research all around the world. And I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed that we have good British companies that are selling quality research all around the world.” Meanwhile school books exports, up 11%, mean that “you could argue, potentially, it is an insatiable desire for English schools products, fuelling an investment that goes on in China, Japan, South Korea, in both schools and after-schools education”.

Other highlights of 2016 revealed in the yearbook include a rise of 8% in the total sales figure for physical books (£2.97bn); a sharp rise in sales of digital audiobooks (up 28% to £16m); and a strong year for children’s and non-fiction/reference, up 16% (£365m) and 9% (£884m) respectively. However sales of digital books fell 3% to £538m, and within that consumer e-books showed a 17% fall to £204m. Meanwhile fiction books saw a 7% fall in the overall invoiced value, covering both physical and digital, to £525m.

For further analysis of the yearbook, see this week's issue of The Bookseller.