Printed book sales slump £74m in 2012

Printed book sales slump £74m in 2012

The value of the printed book market slumped by almost £74m year on year in 2012 but, thanks to the huge success of E L James' record-breaking Fifty Shades trilogy, the decline in sales of printed books slowed in comparison to 2010-2011.

According to Nielsen BookScan Total Consumer Market data, which records approximately 90-95% of all consumer print book sales in the UK, £1.514bn was spent on physical books in 2012 - down 4.6% year on year. In volume terms, sales declined a shallower 3.4% (7m) year on year, to 202.2m, with average selling prices falling 10 pence, to £7.49.

Despite the slowdown, the value of the printed book market in 2012 was nonetheless a nine-year low. Spending was down 16% (£285m) on the trade at it peak in the pre-ebook days of 2007 - the year J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Bloomsbury) hit bookshop shelves in hardback. Volume sales last year were down 15% on 2007, or 35m units. 

Recent data from Nielsen/Kantar revealed that e-books accounted for approximately 12% of the consumer book market in volume terms between January and October last year, and around 7% in value terms, suggesting that the decline in printed book sales since 2007 is largely, but not solely, due to reader migration to digital formats.

Printed book sales in the second half of 2012 were significantly stronger than in the first half. According to BookScan data, the value of the printed book market in the 26 weeks to 30th June was down 8% (£51m) year on year, to £624m, while sales in the second half of the year totalled £889m - down just 2.5%, or £23m. July and December were the only two months of the year when print sales grew in comparison to 2011, thanks in part due to the record-breaking sales of James' Fifty Shades trilogy over the summer, and rebounding celebrity titles in the run-up to Christmas.

BookScan statistics reveal that the erotic works of E L James accounted for one in every 20 books bought in the UK last year. The three novels in her saucy Fifty Shades series sold a combined 10.6m copies in print editions in the UK last year, taking £47.3m through bookshop tills. E L James bests the previous annual sales record of an author - set by J K Rowling in 2007 with print sales of £42.6m.

The first of four in-depth features analysing the UK book market in 2012 begins in The Bookseller magazine, and online at, on 11th January 2013.