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UK Book Sales Move Online, Even as Ebooks Stall

Book sales go online, but not as quickly as in the US

Book purchases are a retail category that moved online quickly in mature internet markets, and the UK is no exception. According to a study from Bowker, a publishing research company, nearly two out of five UK book purchases were made online from January through November 2012. That’s up from one out of four book purchases made via online channels during the same period in 2010.

Still, even as these numbers show sharp growth in online’s share of book sales, in-store book purchases in the UK are holding onto more market share than in the US. In 2010, one-quarter of US book sales happened online, according to Bowker. But by 2012, that share had risen to 44%—6 percentage points ahead of UK etailer book sales.

There is no question, though, that online will continue to take a greater share of UK book sales going forward. December 2012 data from SAS estimated that 52% of book sales in the country will happen through online channels in 2013.

Yet even as book sales continue to move online, ebooks are making notably slow gains, and likely slowing down the etailing book market overall. Bowker found that ebooks’ share of the UK market reached a high of 13% in July 2012, driven upward by ebook purchases of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But by November the share had fallen back down to 9%. By comparison, 28% of book purchases in the US in November 2012 were for ebooks, a further reflection that physical books still hold sway for UK consumers.

But as tablet and ereader sales rise in the UK, ebook purchases will rise alongside. eMarketer estimates the number of ereader users grew nearly 150% in 2012 and will reach 12.5 million UK consumers this year. Next year, however, the ereader market will begin to stall, adding only 2 million more users by 2016.

Meanwhile, tablets will continue to surge ahead. Last year, they were used by just over one out of five UK consumers, according to eMarketer. By 2016, they will reach nearly half of the UK population.

With these devices in the hands of so many consumers in the country, ebook sales will climb higher and drive an even greater share of total book purchases online.


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