Lockdown drives 'explosive' online sales across formats, says BookStat's Abbassi

Lockdown drives 'explosive' online sales across formats, says BookStat's Abbassi

The past six months have seen “explosive” online sales with print books up by 45%, e-books by 30% and audio increasing 28%, according to figures from Bookstat c.e.o Paul Abbassi.

Speaking at FutureBook, Abbassi, whose firm tracks track daily title-level online sales for all e-books, audio and print, said the lockdowns had meant big sales increases. For print this had come at the expense of bookshops, while larger publishers had taken a bigger share of the audio market.

In print, there was a “giant spike” in the number of online sales from April, although these were largely lower-cost books, with the biggest lifts in titles costing £4 to £10.

Those categories included sports, hobbies and games, which saw a 63.5% boost, home & garden's 61.8% uplift and a 99.7% surge for children's science fiction and fantasy.

Elsewhere, literature and fiction rose 51.6%, with rises of 66.7% and 600.4% for baking and self-help respectively. In contrast, romance, religion and spirtuality, comics and graphic novels and non-fiction saw smaller bumps.

Following the April spike, online print sales remained elevated and, from May to October, averaged 45% higher year-on-year.

Abbassi observed: “That's very encouraging, except it also kind of implies that, because UK print sales have overall grown far more modestly, that means most of this increase is basically cannibalisation of bookstore sales, this is being offset by lost sales at bookstores.

“So the question that all of us in the industry are going to watch once the Covid lockdowns are behind us and we enter happier times and people are out hitting high street bookstores again, is how much of this volume moves back to bookstores.”

Turning to audio, Abbassi showed there wasn't a big bump in the early parts of lockdown but later in the summer sales really picked up. Average sales across the past six months were up 27.8% on the same period last year, he said.

He added the big five publishers' in-house audio imprints as a cohort slightly outperformed the market, growing their relative share of the market at the expense of smaller and medium-size players.

With e-books there was an initial April bump followed by a six-month period to October where sales were up on average around 29.6% year-on-year. However, October results showed things could be settling back down to more normal levels.

Abbassi added that the rising tide of e-book sales “appears to have lifted all boats”, regardless of publisher type. He said: “What this basically says is that, while all e-book categories rose and all publisher types rose, the mix didn't change, which to me is good news. Particularly during periods of accelerated growth or change market shares can shift rapidly and that can be hidden by the fact that everyone's seeing growth, just different amounts of growth.”