Printed book sales have been in a period of growth since 2014, but that was thwarted last year by a fall of £168m, or 5.4%.
According to figures from the Publishers Association, 2018 sales were £2.95bn compared to £3.11bn in 2017. However, while physical sales slipped, the sales of audiobooks surged by 43% to £69m in a shift that has been attributed to the rising popularity of podcasts.
Publishers Association chief executive Stephen Lotinga said: “One of the biggest changes has been the increase in audiobook sales. There is some substitution away from print, audio has surged, but there was also always going to be a point where print sales couldn’t continue rising every year.”
Titles which enjoyed high sales across 2018 were Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, Joe Wicks’ The Fat-Loss Plan and Michael Wolff’s exposé on the Trump administration Fire and Fury, which was printed at the start of last year by Suffolk-headquartered Clays.
Clays sales director Vicky Ellis said: “I would not say 2018 was a bad year, we did not see a big decline. We have certainly not been concerned and, if anything, we were buoyant. When e-books came out, we had our heads in our hands and expected a drop, but that did not really happen so the book market remains strong.
“We started this year very strong, which was unexpected because the early months are usually quiet. We had a lot of activity in March, a quieter May, but things have picked up again now and we are heading into a strong autumn.
“There are a lot of good titles coming up in August and after that it will depend on what contracts we win, but we have put in a lot of investment that will position us well.”
In general, early 2019 has been a markedly promising period for UK book printers. One of the year’s early runaway successes was the Pinch of Nom recipe book, borne from an internet forum based around healthy, cost-effective meals.
Glasgow’s Bell & Bain was one of the printers of the UK edition, its initial 30,000-copy order was quickly doubled and then “snowballed” to 100,000 units and beyond.
Managing director Stephen Docherty said: “I am very surprised to hear there was a decline in 2018, does not at all reflect our business – in fact, the polar opposite.
“You can never tell if something like that will be a blip or a pattern, but I think books will keep going strong. We have near-doubled our turnover in the last six years.
“For 2019, our plan is simply to buy a new press and print more books.”