Released ahead of the Publishers Association's annual meeting, the figures in the PA Yearbook, which report on sales for calendar 2016, presented a bouyant picture of British publishing. The only fly in the ointment is a fall in domestic e-book sales.
The headline figure of a 7% increase in sales, to £4.8 billion, brings publishing to a record level; once inflation of 1%-2% last year is factored in, real-term growth is still over 5%.
Exports spearheaded the growth with a jump of 6% to £2.6 billion; they now account for 54% of total sales. Overall digital sales were up 6% to £1.7 billion, despite a continuation of the drop in e-book sales, which were down 3%. Physical sales bounced 8% to £3 billion over last year, rising to the highest level since 2012. Europe remains the largest export market, accounting for 35% of exports.
PA chief executive Stephen Lotinga said: "U.K. publishing is a world leader and these figures confirm that the industry is flourishing due to the hard work and ingenuity of its superb publishing houses and workforce.
"All of us have at some point in our lives enjoyed the work of a great author, used a high quality textbook, or benefited from the sharing of academic literature and that is only possible due to the continued success of the publishing industry.
"Whatever the makeup of the new government, they must ensure that any post-Brexit trade settlement it reaches with the EU and other countries reinforces this continued success."
Asked how much of the growth in exports could be attributed to a post-referendum sterling slump, Lotinga said: "publishers have reaped benefits from the falling pound, but publishing has grown consistently".
And would publishing's freshly-minted status as an export-led U.K. industry help the trade's profile with the government? "We have been doing a lot to make the government aware of how successful the sector is - we are one of the fastest growing creative sectors, and rather than just assume that will continue, they need to support us." In terms of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations he said, "we've always had a place at the table, but this will strengthen our hand."
The strength of exports sales, perhaps assisted by a weaker pound, is particularly apparent within academic and research publishers. Export figures for learned journals were collected for the first time show and show that 87% of revenues came from overseas.
Elsewhere, export growth highlights included children’s books, up 34% to £116 million, nonfiction exports up by 10% to £264 million, sales to East and South Asia up 10% to £231 million and growth returning to North America with sales up 19% to £136 million.
The picture in digital is mixed, with overall digital sales up by 6%, accounting for 35% of total revenues, but e-book sales were down by 3% to £538 million, continuing a trend seen for the first time last year. This was in large part down to a 17% drop in the consumer e-book market to £204 million. However, total consumer audio downloads rose by 28% to £16 million and sales of academic/professional digital books were up by 6% to £277 million.
Consumer publishing performed well overall, rising by 5% to £1.8 billion, fueled by a return to growth for children’s books which saw sales increase by 16%. Nonfiction sales rose by 9% but fiction sales fell by 7%, meaning the category has now dropped by almost a quater since 2012.
Overall academic and professional publishing was up by 10% to £2.4 billion, with publisher sales of academic and professional books up 9% and total income from journals up 10%.
A longer version of this story first appeared in the April 27 BookBrunch.