The invoiced value of UK publishers’ annual sales fell 2% in 2013 to £3.39bn, with sales of physical books falling by 5% and sales of digital products rising 19%, to £509m.
Consumer e-book sales rose 18% to £263m, with digital now accounting for 33% of fiction sales and 7% of the non-fiction/reference sector.
The Publishers Association‘s Statistics Yearbook 2013 shows how digital and a stagnant economy have combined to affect the publishing sector, with no repeat in 2013 of the success of E L James’ Fifty Shades titles in 2012. Home sales fell 6.3% to £1.6bn, with sales of physical fiction books down from £344m to £275m, and children’s books down 6% to £218m. In volume terms, the number of physical books sold has fallen from 464 million to 380 million in five years, with much of the decline offset by digital growth.
Exports also fell in 2013, down 4% to £1.27bn, principally because of a strong decline in fiction sales overseas.
For the first time, the PA has also analysed the UK journals market, which stands at an estimated £1.3bn, with £850m of that figure coming from digital services. The sector has grown 4% in the past two years of measurement. Education publishers also performed strongly in 2013: compared with last year book sales rose 2% to £296m, with digital sales rising 18% to £16m.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the PA, said 2013 was “an interesting equilibrium moment with the total growth up by the same figure as physical sales are declining; showing that digital sales are fully pulling their weight in the market”. He said that after 2012’s “Fifty Shades” effect, the 2013 numbers showed the “sector back on trend and enjoying steady growth”. Since 2009, UK publishers’ total sales, including exports, have risen by 6%, though during that period there has been a marked shift from print to digital, with physical sales declining by 6.3% and digital sales up by 306%. Digital has risen from 4% of publishers’ total business to 15% in that period.
In his review of the numbers Nick Fowler, director of strategy at Elsevier and president of the PA, said the “main headlines” showed that publishers “maintained a strong performance and that digital growth is an established fact for publishers”. He highlighted digital growth as “the single most encouraging factor about publishers’ performance, because it emphatically demonstrates—if it needed reiterating—that publishing has a strong future in the mixed-mode economy”. He added: “The question of whether publishing could survive in the online environment, which always sounded strange, now looks utterly redundant.”
The general trends, when digital is included, remain positive for publishers. Sales of physical fiction books have fallen from £561m in 2009 to £400m in 2013, with an even more pronounced drop in volume numbers. However, fiction e-book sales have risen by 5,000%, from £4m to £200m, meaning that at £599m, the total fiction market is at its highest point for five years, save for 2012’s Fifty Shades-inspired £680m figure.
In non-fiction and reference, physical sales have drifted down from £780m in 2009 to £763m in 2013, but with digital sales now up to £55m, the combined tally of non-fiction and reference book sales stands at £818m, representing growth of 5% over five years.
Ironically, given its most recent growth, the only sector not showing five-year positive growth is the children’s market, where physical sales have dropped from £333m to £298m, with digital yet to pick up the slack (“e” sales were £16m in 2013). In her review of the year, Marlene Johnson, m.d. of Hachette Children’s Books, said “the hoped-for increase in ‘e’ sales of books for younger children emanating from the trickle-down effect of devices has not materialised in any substantial way.” She said this raised the importance of physical retail. “If the future for children’s publishing is unlikely to be in the digital arena over the next few years, the reliance on bricks-and-mortar bookselling will continue to become ever more important.”
Next to fiction, the strongest performing digital sector was in academic and professional publishing, with digital sales now at £216m, more than double what they were in 2009. The growth more than compensated for the physical decline—sales have fallen from £900m to £866m in five years. Meanwhile, schools and ELT saw five-year growth in physical sales (up 7.5% and 15.4% respectively) and only marginal growth in digital sales, representing just 6% and 2% of their respective markets in 2013. Ron Ragsdale, director of knowledge management, ELT, Cambridge University Press, said the ELT sector was “undergoing a sector-wide transformation, not just from print to digital, but across all areas of the traditional publishing business”.
In the academic and professional sector, Subroto Mozumdar, director of strategy and business development, Global Higher Education, at Pearson, said publishers were benefiting from higher education institutions’ investment in hardware—such as tablets for students—but that publishers must compete with technology companies to deliver “learning content in a far more interactive and dynamic manner”.
Overall, the PA estimated that at consumer prices, the total UK book market was worth £3bn in 2013; and with journals included the sector was worth £4.7bn. Mollet said the UK’s creative sector was worth £71bn, meaning its publishing field was “7% of that”.