Book sales have slumped on both sides of the Atlantic as the British and American markets experienced year-on-year declines in the first quarter of 2011.
Book sales in the UK were down 3.1% to £324m, with March the worst month, showing a dramatic 8.7% year-on-year drop (£8.98m) in sales, according to Nielsen BookScan. But value held up relatively well by comparison to volume sales, which dropped 5.5% to 44.5 million.
Among the leading publishers, Hachette has seen by far the greatest sales slump, with an 18% drop on 2010's figures to a first-quarter total of £42.8m. HarperCollins was down 3% to £23.4m and the Random House Group dipped by 1% to £40.3m.
Bucking the market was Penguin, up 18% to £39.2m, buoyed by the success of two of the year's three bestselling titles: Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, the standout book of the year, selling 336,741 so far in 2011, plus Marian Keyes' The Brightest Star in the Sky, the third bestselling with a total of 170,880 copies sold.
Simon & Schuster was up 11% to £5.9m in the first quarter; Bloomsbury up 5% to £6.7m; and Pan Macmillan up 3% on last year's sales to £11.5m, with the paperback of Emma Donoghue's Room the year's second bestselling title to date with a total of 243,211 copies.
The UK's first-quarter slide is dwarfed by figures from the US, where Q1 sales are down a full 9% in volume on last year, from 178 million in the first quarter of 2010 to just over 162 million this year.
Jonathan Nowell, president of Nielsen Book, pointed to a particularly marked drop in fiction sales on both sides of the Atlantic, with the UK down 9.8% on 2010 figures in the first quarter, and the US down a massive 19.3%. "We can surmise that e-book sales may be affecting fiction more than other genres, and are responsible for the steep downturns in the US and UK," he said.
Nowell said the US faced big challenges, with the loss of Borders stores and reduction in space for frontlist titles at Barnes & Noble severely affecting the discoverability of books on the American high street. Sluggish demand from consumers keen to save money, the lack of a publishing phenomenon to take the place of Larsson, Meyer or Brown, and time-poverty among consumers were also factors in print book sales' woes, he added.
Nowell continued: "Hopefully we will have an e-book panel ready to go by the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth this year."