In his opening keynote at the London Book Fair’s pre-conference, Quantum, Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen Book Research U.K. ran down Nielsen’s just-released 2016 book industry stats, which showed British print book purchases on the rise for the second year in a row.
“In 2016, consumers turned up their printed book purchases by around 4%,” Bohme told attendees. “And with higher prices boosting spending, we saw spending on printed books by U.K. consumers up by 7%."
Bohme said the industry should be buoyed by the strong 2016 results and overall solid growth, especially among younger consumers.
“It’s refreshing to see how books generally, and print books in particular, are still appealing to younger consumers, both male and female, despite so many other forms of entertainment and information competing for their attention,” he observed.
Jacks Thomas, director of the London Book Fair, agreed. After years of concern about "e-reading cannibalizing the sales of print books,” she noted, print is on the upswing. “I’m sure the book industry and the general public will be pleased to hear that our beloved books are very much alive and kicking,” Thomas added, in a statement.
Over the course of his presentation (which featured David Bowie-themed slides) Bohme hit the major beats of the 2016 U.K. report, which also offered good news for British bookstores, which saw a 4% increase in book purchases through physical stores, compared to flat online sales—however, when declining e-book sales were factored out, online retailers saw their share of the print market increase, with a modest 1% rise in volume.
By contrast, the U.K. e-book market showed a decline for 2016. Bohme said purchases of e-books dipped by about 4% overall coinciding with a slow down in the growth of device ownership, coupled with e-book price hikes. In addition, multi-function devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, overtook dedicated e-reading devices as the most commonly used devices for e-reading.
The report wasn’t all good news for publishers, however. In running down some of the “pressure points” facing the book business, Bohme noted the ever-growing competition for readers’ attention.
“While the sales figure are really very promising, we shouldn’t get too complacent because over the past four years, the proportion of book buyers who perceive themselves as reading books daily has fallen by about 3%,” he said. At the same time, he added, daily use of social media has surged, as has the time spent on streaming video sites, especially among younger age groups. And in an eye-opening conclusion, Bohme said that Nielsen data showed that the self-publishing market in the U.K. has “stabilized,” essentially flattening out, as e-book prices now rise faster than print prices.
The figures largely mirror trends in the U.S. where print sales have also showed consecutive years of growth for traditional publishers, while e-books have shown declines. Also, digital audiobooks in the U.K. showed strong growth, as they have in the U.S.
The London Book Fair officially begins tomorrow.