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Ebook Sales Dip Amid a Rising UK Book Market

Ecommerce’s share of sales up incrementally

March 16, 2017 | Media

Books sales in the UK rose 6% last year, according to Nielsen data, buoyed by increased purchases of physical books. In the digital realm, ebook sales fell by 4%, but ecommerce expanded its share of the country’s overall book business.

According to Nielsen Book data, announced in time for the start of this week’s London Book Fair, 2016’s gain in overall book sales was helped by a 7% increase in sales of physical books.

Nonfiction and children’s print books were the fastest-growing categories—up 5% and 3%, respectively—but genres like cooking, crime, history, humor and self-help also expanded their sales. Conversely, sales of biographies, literary fiction and popular fiction declined for the second consecutive year.

Ebooks’ falling sales coincided with “a slowing in the growth of [ereader] device ownership and price rises on ebooks,” Nielsen said. Its data also showed that 2016 was the first year in which mobile phones and tablets overtook dedicated ereaders as the most commonly used devices for reading ebooks.

“Much has been said in recent years about ereading cannibalizing the sales of print books, so it is very interesting to see how this trend has reversed and how print is now very much back on the up,” said Jacks Thomas, director of The London Book Fair. “We live in a world where variety is everything and book buyers want to have the luxury of choice—to have access to titles in paperback, hardback, ebook or audiobook format—according to their lifestyle and preference.”

Electronic reading’s novelty appears to be slipping in the UK, according to other sources. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) - UK’s latest annual study of the types of products and services purchased digitally by consumers in Great Britain found the category of books (including ebooks), magazines and newspapers was one of the few to decline in 2016.

The percentage of consumers ages 16 and older polled by ONS in 2016 who said they had made a digital purchase of those products in the previous 12 months was 31%, down from a high of 34% in 2013.

According to Nielsen’s figures, digital sales of books were flat for the year, while book sales at physical stores rose 4%. However, ecommerce’s share of print book sales rose 1 percentage point to 32%.

—Cliff Annicelli

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