Publishers look to digital as physical sales slump £100m in 2011

Strong e-book sales over the festive period compensated for the decline in physical sales, publishers are reporting, as printed book sales fell by more than £100m in 2011.

The value of printed book sales through Nielsen BookScan's TCM in the 52 weeks to 31st December 2011 was down 6.3%, or £106m, year on year to £1.59bn, with volume sales down 7.2% to 209,300,000. It is the lowest amount spent on printed books since 2005, despite the average selling price of titles rising by 0.8%, or six pence, year on year (to £7.59).

However, publishers reported strong growth in terms of e-book sales in the final week of the year after a build-up of digital sales over the previous 51 weeks. YouGov reported that 1.33 million e-readers were bought over Christmas, 90% of them Kindle devices. Hachette reported sales of more than 100,000 e-books on Christmas Day in the UK, with HarperCollins reporting the same figure for its UK and international markets combined.  

Random House reported sales of 300,000 e-books over the festive period in the UK, and sales of apps up by 170% on Christmas Day, compared to an ordinary Sunday.  RH Group UK chief executive and chair Gail Rebuck said: "Clearly Christmas is getting later, and those [digital] sales are happening between Christmas Day and New Year's Day as people open their presents.

"However, paradoxically, in December, at least in our experience, we had very strong physical sales as well. The overall numbers [across the trade] show there is a physical decline, but my impression is that they were more than made up for by the digital figures.

"But that brings its own challenges, about what that split will be in the future, and [how it will impact] the cost of producing physical books."