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UK book sales: value up, books sold down

14 April 2003

Book Marketing's excellent annual study Books and the Consumer (which gives the UK some of the most detailed information on book sales of any country in the world) has just reported another year of growth in 2002, although not all the indications are positive. More money was spent on books last year, but around four million fewer of them were bought. Contrary to what you might expect, given the current visibility of children's book, their sales declined by 11% in 2002, with spending also down.

It's good to know that adult books increased by 3% in volume and 4% in value, with growth coming mainly from non-fiction, which was up 4% by volume and 6% by value. Fiction sales were pretty static though, in spite of the fact that 50% of adult paperback fiction was sold at a discount in 2002, compared with only 33% in 1997. The many '3 for 2 offers' running in the chain bookshops do not seem to have increased overall levels of buying, although the chains may well justify them in terms of an increase in their market share.

What is striking is the continuing inexorable shift in where books are sold. Total chain book sales are up 17% and supermarket book sales are up a whopping 32% over the last four years, accompanied, not surprisingly, by a 26% decline in sales through independents. Spending through direct channels (Internet, books clubs and direct marketers) rose by 6% in 2002 alone and it looks as if this is about to spark off a row at the Booksellers' Association conference later this month.