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UK book sales grow by 8%

10 April 2006

Recent figures from Book Marketing's annual Books and the Consumer study show encouraging growth in UK book sales of 8% in value in 2005, compared to 3% in 2004. The report, which is based on a rolling questionnaire of 10,000 people aged 17 to 74, estimated that book buyers spent £2.3bn on books in 2005. In adult books the growth of 3% in both volume and value led to sales of 238 million books worth £2bn. Sales of fiction, thrillers, fantasy, biography, history, sport, cookery and sagas all increased during the year.

Children's book sales showed astonishing growth, with a 38% rise in value to £401m and an 18% growth in volume to £73m. Even without the Harry Potter effect children's books grew 8% by volume and 17% by value. This rapid growth confirms the perception in the industry that children's books are booming. The imbalance between sales and value reflects the fact that there has also been substantial price inflation in the children's area, with prices going up 39% since 1997.

The other remarkable element of this year's figures is the boom in online and supermarket sales. Internet sales rose by 38%, with Amazon by far the biggest beneficiary. This trend is reflected internationally and it's interesting to note that in recent weeks both Waterstone's and Ottakars have conceded that they need to go back to the web to rethink their strategy there. Amazon have made vast gains and it looks as if the book chains have left this far too late.

The supermarkets' increase was even greater at 41%, showing just how much the traditional book trade is threatened by the ruthless loss-leading approach and bestseller focus of the giant grocery retailers. These figures show starkly the problems faced by the book chains but also highlight the difficulties confronting independent booksellers. They have seen potential sales from bestselling titles, which used to support less profitable books, eroded rapidly over the years by ferocious price-cutting.

So the increase in book sales is good news for authors, but continues to present the book trade with a series of major challenges.