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UK book sales flag in first half despite boost from pandemic boredom

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 13: Several people go to the stalls and book booths in the Cuesta de Moyano on November 13, 2020 in Madrid, Spain.  The "Day of the bookstores" in Madrid takes place as many shops have closed their doors, with some of the most famous bookshops in the city taking to the streets instead. (Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Getty Images)
The UK market saw a decrease of 6%, to £837m. Exports fell 17% to £653m, weighed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, PA said. Photo: Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Getty Images

Book sales fell in the first half of 2020, dipping 11% despite a big bump for fiction and a surge in digital formats such as e-books and audiobooks.

Total invoiced sales from publishers of all formats, including the UK and exports, hit £1.5bn ($1.98bn), a decrease from the £1.7bn brought in the same period of last year, according to the Publishers Association (PA) Sales Monitor.

The UK market saw a decrease of 6%, to £837m. Exports fell 17% to £653m, weighed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, PA said.

The plunge in print sales (down 17% to £1.1bn) outpaced the 13% rise in digital formats. Digital formats brought in £351m in the first six months of the year, seeing a nearly 50% rise in UK consumer sales of audiobooks, up to £39m. E-book sales also rose 18%, up to £86m.

The overall slump can be attributed to a dip in demand for books related to the educational and professional sectors. All categories saw double digit declines, but none more so than ELT which plunged 31%.

Fiction outperformed the overall industry, increasing by 13%.

The PA said the statistics were the most accurate insight into book sales following a period which saw shops closed during the first retail lockdown from March to June, affecting the available consumer data.

Amid refreshed UK lockdowns eyes will be on sales for the second half and the all-important Christmas period.

Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, said: “In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases and this has largely been driven by a combination of wonderful new writers and a resurgence of interest in the classics.

“While it is encouraging that books continued to reach readers during lockdown it has clearly been a difficult time for bookshops, which are vital to the health of our industry."

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The news comes alongside a new online offering which promises to put the power back into the hands of independent bookshops.

Bookshop.org is a challenger to behemoths such as Amazon (AMZN) and aims to level the playing field when it comes to the online retail of books. It fast-tracked its UK launch after considerable success in the US.

Since its launch at the beginning of November it has raised £148,482.15 for local bookshops.

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