Total book sales across the industry fell by 11% in the first six months of 2020, despite a big increase for fiction and a surge in digital formats, figures released by the Publishers Association (PA) show.
According to the PA's Sales Monitor report for January to June, the total invoiced value of sales from UK publishers in all formats, including the UK and exports, was £1.5bn, down from £1.7bn in the same period last year. For the UK market alone, total sales were down 6% to £837m, while exports fell 17% to £653m.
There was also a 17% plunge in print sales to £1.1bn, outweighing a 13% rise in digital formats to £351m.
The overall slump was driven by steep falls in the educational and professional sector where estimated sales fell by a sixth to £638m and all categories saw a double-digit decline, particularly ELT which plummeted 31%.
However, consumer sales also slipped by 6% to £852m, with 16% and 7% drops for non-fiction and children's books respectively, outweighing a 13% rise in fiction sales.
The PA said the statistics, grossed-up from figures provided by distributors and large publishers, were the most accurate insight into book sales following a period which saw shops closed during the first retail lockdown from March to June, affecting the available consumer data.
In the home market, digital consumer books were up 26% to £125m, with 24% and 25% rises for fiction and non-fiction respectively alongside a 50% leap for children’s books. The PA said the industry would be on course for record digital sales this year if the pace continues.
In all, there was 47% rise in UK consumer sales of audiobooks — up to £39m — while the value of e-book sales rose 18% to £86m.
But there was more troubling news for print as UK sales slumped to £653m, with consumer sales falling 8% to £453m and academic down 17% to £195m. Non-fiction and reference were down 13% to £269m while children's print books in the UK market had a smaller decline, down 3% to £117m.
Hardback fiction was the only category to see a rise, increasing 25% by volume to 6.7 million units and 37% by value to £34.2m, while paperback fiction remained roughly level.
Once again, the overall decline in the home market was driven by the academic sector, with sales dropping 14% to £260m while consumer sales slipped just 2% to £578m.
Consumer exports were also down 13% to £275m, while academic titles fell by 20% to £378m. Here, consumer sales fell 22% for non-fiction and 15% in children's, while fiction climbed 7%. For academic books, there were again double-digit drops for school books (-28%), ELT (-30%) and STM (-11%).
The period saw decreases in book exports by value for all regions except for North America, where sales rose 8% to £115.1m.
Sales to the Middle East/North Africa and the Other Americas region fell by a third, while sales to Africa Sub-Sahara were down by a quarter. Exports to Europe, Australasia and East/South Asia were each down by 14% to 16%.
In a statement, Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, chose to highlight the success of fiction. He said: “These figures show us that UK readers have returned to fiction during lockdown, turning to novels for entertainment, escapism and comfort during the first six months of this year. Incredible books such as Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other have offered people support in these difficult times.
“In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases and this has largely been driven by a combination of wonderful new writers and a resurgence of interest in the classics. These figures really emphasise the enduring nature of books and reading – and that readers continue to embrace books in all their forms.
“While it is encouraging that books continued to reach readers during lockdown it has clearly been a difficult time for bookshops, which are vital to the health of our industry."