UK book sales, 2008-2014

I may have mentioned that I’m speaking at Frankfurt next week.  With Google announcing Google Books, the BA seeking a degree of charitable status for bookshops, and Apple rolling out another product launch (those iPhones will carry a lot of eBooks in the Far East), trying to settle my content is like nailing jelly to the wall.  “I’m sorry,” I shall have to say, “but I have been unable fully to reflect developments in our sector covering the past four days”.

Anyway, I dug out this graph, which Book Marketing Ltd created (and in which they own the copyright) and shared it with you earlier this year:

What, I wondered, would be the relative size of each of those channels in 2012, and 2014?  I whipped Excel into action, and came up with this:

Now, my apologies for presenting the same data in two different formats.  But the 2008 and 2010 bars in my table show exactly the same data (millions of unit sales by channel) as the BML graph.

What I’ve then done is to extrapolate.  This hasn’t been based on anything much more than informed guesswork, but here’s my rationale:

– All sectors will be impacted by the growth of eBooks, which will increase the total number of book unit sales, but take a progressively bigger bite out of physical sales.  eBooks are not represented in this data.

– The chains – essentially Waterstone’s and WHS – will sell fewer books as a result.  For Waterstone’s, this will cause many of their stores to tip into unrecoverable unprofitability, and closures will follow.  Whether the tangential link with Barnes & Noble established through Waterstone’s new board structure paves the way for an alliance and for Nook licensing (as I’ve encouraged in the past) remains to be seen.

– Internet only – essentially Amazon – will continue to attract physical book sales from the bricks and mortar players, but will also see the greatest uptake of eBook sales (of course).  So its physical book sales start to flatten from 2012.

– Supermarkets – assuming that the bulk of eBook sales are in narrative formats (fiction, biography), and given the broad age-range of Kindle users, I’m guessing that book sales, and in turn book commitment, will fall noticeably at the supermarkets.

– Bargain books could go either way.  The Works already carries much less fiction than it used to.  Plus, if gift books and value publishing at garden centres, heritage attractions etc are included in this line, this channel could continue to grow.

– Book clubs/direct – if physical books become more marginal, this channel – reliant on sales to less “bookish” customers – will continue to contract.

– Independents – the established trend continues, regrettably.  As with Waterstone’s, too much fiction, history and biography will transfer to Kindle; though indies that diversify beyond books can continue to trade well as good merchants.

(I omitted “Other” from the table.)

One other thing.  Crystal ball gazing never works out the way it’s predicted.  So, my graph isn’t saying, this is what will happen.  It’s saying this is what could happen.

And, if you’re in a position to do so, you may want to do what you can to have things turn out differently.

Right, back to the Frankfurt presentation…

2 Comments on “UK book sales, 2008-2014”

  1. Eoin Purcell says:

    The key question is who buys the ereaders and hence ebooks and where these readers formerly purchased their print books. Are they dedicated and heavy readers or light readers.

    If it is dedicated and heavy readers buying ereaders (as it would appear to be by watching their patterns if consumption once they purchase devices), the assumption that book sales through supermarkets will fall is probably misplaced. Indeed, as a percentage of sales this portion will increase because other outlets will suffer all the more because they have a bias towards heavy and dedicated readers.

    The issue makes Waterstones tardiness in releasing its own dedicated ereader (even a tie up with the nook is only a patch to my mind, but a better one than they currently have) and pushing their store to death a terrible strategic error. B&N has ONLY been successful because they moved quickly to lock heavy readers into their device and platform quickly once the realised the threat. Every heavy reader that Waterstones loses is one they may never get back!


  2. Thanks Eoin. I think the supermarket question is an interesting one – I don’t know to what extent “heavy book buyers” and “supermarket users” overlap. Most book-buyers are promiscuous in their purchasing, and all of them have to eat.

    Plus, eReaders are proving to be very popular with an older demographic (thanks to magnification etc). Random House’s decision to launch an e-only series of romance titles (sort of muscling in on Harlequin/M&B territory) suggests to me that supermarkets are vulnerable.