Book sales grow during pandemic

Richard Stuart-Turner
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The invoiced value of UK printed consumer publishing increased by 4% in 2020, remaining resilient during the coronavirus pandemic.

The report highlighted mixed overall fortunes for print in 2020
The report highlighted mixed overall fortunes for print in 2020

A new report from the Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020: resilient in the face of Covid’, found that total consumer publishing sales income rose by 7% last year to £2.1bn. The UK consumer publishing market grew by 9% to £1.5bn while the export market was up by 4% to £675m.

While digital saw the biggest consumer publishing growth, up 24% to £418m, print also had a successful year, the 4% increase taking its value to £1.7bn.

Fiction income grew by 16% in 2020, to £688m, while non-fiction was up by 4% to £1bn. Audio downloads rose by 37% to £133m, and children’s publishing income grew by 2% to £396m.

Perminder Mann, CEO at Bonnier Books UK and chair of the Consumer Publishers Council, said: “2020 was a challenging and unpredictable year, with consumer publishers having a wide range of experiences. But the power of a good book became clearer than ever, as people embraced reading and listening for comfort and entertainment.

“Digital growth in 2020 was crucial to the sector’s success, but a balance of formats and ways to reach consumers will remain vital.”

The total invoiced value of UK publisher sales of books, journals, and rights/co-editions combined rose by 2% to £6.4bn in 2020. UK sales income grew by 4% to £2.5bn while export sales income remained unchanged year-on-year at £3.7bn.

Overall, total print income was down by 6% to £3.4bn, as it performed less well in the areas of education publishing and academic publishing than in consumer publishing, while total digital income rose by 12% to £3bn.

Total education publishing income was down 21% at £528m, with the UK market down by 5% to £176m and the export market falling 27% to £351m. Print made up £461m of the total figure, down 24% year-on-year, while a strong shift to digital saw it grow by 8% to £67m.

Meanwhile, total academic publishing income grew by 3% to £3.3bn, and comprised of books, down 5% to £1bn, and journals, which grew by 6% to £2.3bn.

The home market made up £906m of income – no change on last year, while the export market was up by 3% to £2.4bn. However, the total income increase was driven by digital, which grew by 9% to £2.5bn, as print dropped by 13% to £861m.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Publishing has proved incredibly resilient throughout the significant challenges of 2020. It’s clear that many people rediscovered their love of reading last year and that publishers were able to deliver the entertaining and thought-provoking books that so many of us needed.

“Despite the positive overall performance of the publishing industry, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it’s been a particularly challenging year for education publishers and many smaller publishers.

“It’s also been a hugely difficult time for many booksellers and authors whose livelihoods have been enormously disrupted.

“With bookshops now able to reopen, and physical events returning, we are optimistic that people will soon be able to enjoy books together again. We need to harness this return to reading and build on the huge opportunity this presents to everyone.”

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