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Half of all book sales at a discount

17 March 2008

The Friday Project, which was set up to ride the crest of the Internet wave by adapting material from that medium into book form, is shortly to go into liquidation after a pretax loss for the 13 months to 31 December of £705,713 ($1,425,632), and sales for the same period of just £357,000 ($721,186). This dispiriting news doesn't necessarily mean that their publishing venture was a bad idea, although it may well mean that their costs outran their sales growth.

But this was also the week in which Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing, gave a major speech extolling the virtues of the book and saying that it did not matter whether it was delivered via a traditional paperback or a hand-held device: 'As a publisher I am happy to supply either to customers, and the essence of what I am selling will be the same, whatever the technology transmitting it. I think there is an irreducible quality to reading that means the book will never die.'

Book sales through the Internet continue to grow, as was shown by the UK's annual Books and the Consumer report this week. In this market they now amount to a fifth of all book sales by value, less than the US but more than most of the rest of the world. Growth in 2006 and 2007 came mainly from supermarkets and the Internet, and the value of purchases through each of these channels has doubled since 2004.

Perhaps more notably, the volume of books bought at a discount last year was greater than those bought at full price for the first time. The UK must be one of the most heavily discounted book markets in the world and this shows the fundamental effect that deep discounting is having on book sales. However we should not despair just yet, as the survey showed that consumers aged between 12 and 79 years bought 6% more books in 2007 then the previous year, 342 million books at a value of £2.454bn (nearly $5bn). The discounting, especially three for two offers and deep supermarket discounts, meant that more books were sold. In spite of dour prognostications, a very large number of people in this difficult market are continuing to buy and read an increasing number of books.

Scott Pack of the Friday Project on paperback sales in our Comment column