The invoiced value of UK publishers’ annual sales remained absolutely flat year on year in 2014, with a top-line total of £4.3bn, precisely the same as 2013.
The figure combines publishers’ revenues from both physical and digital editions and from journals’ income, and is revealed in the Publishers Association’s PA Statistics Yearbook 2014.
Beneath that top line, physical book sales continued to decline in value, down 5% to £2.7bn in 2014, with an 11% rise in digital book sales (to £563m) failing to compensate. Total revenue for combined physical and digital book sales dropped 2% to a total of £3.3bn, continuing the pattern set in 2013, which also saw a 2% fall according to PA data.
The statistics show greater pressure on the market than in Nielsen BookScan’s recorded 2014 total, which put the UK print book market at just under £1.4bn, a fall of 1.3% on 2013’s total.
It also shows a lower rise overall in e-book sales than the 15.3% volume lift reported to The Bookseller by the top five publishers: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Pan Macmillan.
Physical fiction sales dropped 9%, according to the yearbook, with digital figures for that sector rising 6%, and therefore failing to compensate in revenue terms.
Commenting on the year, David Shelley, deputy c.e.o. at Little, Brown, noted “the reasons for the drop in value in 2014 cannot be attributed to a single publishing phenomenon in the preceding year”, since, with the arguable exception of Dan Brown’s Inferno (Corgi), 2013 had no global mega-seller. He observed: “A key and growing concern for all publishers of fiction is to ensure that it is still as easy for readers to discover new writers in an environment with many fewer bookshops, and an online environment that offers a bewildering amount of choice.”
Non-fiction and reference book sales also had a “challenging” year, noted Ebury m.d. Rebecca Smart, falling in value terms by 9%, which included an actual drop in e-book revenues (–2%) after four years of encouraging digital growth. However, this sector can claim that comparisons were skewed by 2013’s big seller, Sir Alex Ferguson.
As widely noted, children’s was exceptionally strong in 2014, with the yearbook reporting an 11% rise in sales of kids’ books (to £349m).
PA chief executive Richard Mollet said the overall picture was “steady as she goes”. He noted: “There is very little growth in the UK economy so or publishing to be on 0% [overall] is inkeeping with a still very fragile economy.”
Export is becoming more important to UK publishers, with its share of overall revenues edging up by one percentage point to 44% last year. But export sales—physical and digital—dropped 1% by value (to £1.4bn) in 2014. Within that, Europe —the biggest trading area for UK books, at 37% of total export sales by value—dropped 6%, although East and South Asia saw sales jump 4%. Pan Macmillan international director Jonathan Atkins noted, among other factors in Europe, “worrying recent signs of a contraction in shelf space for English-language books in chain retailers like Thalia and FNAC.” Mollet said UK publishers were “exposed” to the struggling Eurozone, “so when it’s down, we take a bigger hit”. He noted: “With Asia the next biggest [export market] at 16% . . . it’s a long way behind.”
Overall, the data demonstrates to publishers the importance of maintaining diversity in their businesses, Mollet said. “There are markets in growth and sectors within those markets that are in growth. Publishing is so international, it can take advantage of those opportunities. The overall point is that publishing is a very significant sector for the creative industries, holding steady at £4.3bn, toe-to-toe with music and computer games and TV/film.”
The Academic Picture
Strong digital growth for academic/professional books and a healthy rise in journals revenues are two of the most notable features of the statistics for education fields covered in the PA Statistics Yearbook 2014.
Academic and professional book sales declined by 1% to £1.074bn in 2014, continuing the pattern of the previous few years. Within that, the value of digital book sales rose 17% to £252m, with revenue almost doubling since 2010, when it stood at £134m. That growth has seen digital coming close to countering a 13% decrease for physical books over the same five-year period (falling from £947m to £822m).
Meanwhile, journals income rose by 3% to £1.016bn, with John Wiley publishing director David Nicholson noting that although this is only the second consecutive year in which these figures have been collated, the same set of contributors from the PA’s Serial Publishers Executive provided the data for 2013, making the data directly comparable. Subscription figures rose 2% to £837m, while income from article processing charges saw a 77% rise, although the total remains modest at just £24m.
School book revenues across print and digital rose 1% to £293m, driven by price increases for printed books (+9% in the home market and +24% in export).
PA chief executive Richard Mollet said one anomaly thrown up by the statistics was that while the children’s sector showed strong growth in digital—rising 36% year on year, though from a low base (from £16m to £22m, to 6% of the total)—digital provision to schools rose a shallower 20%, to £13m, 4.4% of the total.
“There is an acceptance among parents and children of digital books, but schools are behind,” Mollet noted. “Is there a misplaced concern about giving kids digital material? The problems are probably due to infrastructure, maybe teacher training. We have said to this government— and we will say it to the next government: ‘Let’s try to look at these hurdles and overcome them.’”
Meanwhile, in English Language Training (ELT), combined sales fell 4% to £272m, with UK sales revenue down by 5% and export print sales dropping 12% (from £77m to £68m).
Cengage ELT director Mike Thompson described the home fall as “something of a conundrum given the continuing popularity of the UK as a language study destination”, but he said that “the underlying demand for English as a passport to international education and a role in the global economy remains undiminished”, with “considerable value” in the sector.