The United Kingdom’s publishing industry’s revenues hit £6 billion in 2018 off the back of its digital sales growth, according to new figures recently released by the Publishers Association. The bad news: A 5% drop in total physical sales accompanied the industry’s 3% digital sales growth. Here’s what the leading representative voice for UK publishers found in their new report.
Despite digital’s upward trend, total digital sales figures remain well below those of print sales, at £653 million compared to print book sales’ total of £2.9 billion. A list of key highlights from the full PA Publishing Yearbook 2018 also notes that the total consumer audiobook sales income is up 43% in 2018, reaching £69 million — that’s a steep growth rate worth noting, even if it’s not exactly unexpected.
“Audiobooks have grown phenomenally as ever-increasing numbers of people opt to enjoy books in a way that suits new technologies and keeps pace with our busy lives,” said Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, in a written statement. “UK publishing continues to satisfy the insatiable consumer appetite for books in all forms. Investment in digital is paying off, driving growth and meeting reader demand to access books at any time in the format of their choice.”
Global exports are “crucial” to the UK publishing industry, and they stayed steady at £3.5 billion — that’s a massive 59% of total sales income. Break down the export numbers a little further, and you’ll find some fluctuation, with some categories seeing increases: Nonfiction/reference physical and digital books are up 7% to £312 million while children’s physical and digital books went up 7% to £116 million.
Print fiction took its biggest dip in years, decreasing by 7% to £359 million in sales, and triggering some to ponder whether the golden age of TV has started to kill off the novel. Given that fiction ebooks in the UK saw an increase of 4% to reach £229 million, the drop in fiction readership probably isn’t as significant as it might otherwise seem. Still, UK readers do seem to be more interested in nonfiction than in fiction in recent years: Physical non-fiction sales have risen 24% since 2014. Print fiction in 2019 might certainly fare better than in did in 2018, however, particularly with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale follow-up dropping in September.
One sobering statistic: Total physical and digital book sales in the academic and professional fields are down a full 9% to hit £1.1 billion. Of this total, physical book sales are down even farther, dropping 13% to reach £823 million, while total digital book sales actually grew 7% to constitute £282m.