2018 Saw UK Print Book Sales Decline, but Audiobooks Increased

2018 saw the release of a number of high profile books, including the likes of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Bob Woodward’s Fear, and Blood and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Despite this, it has been revealed that, in the UK, sales of physical books went into decline for the first time in five years, though audiobooks saw an increase.

According to The Guardian, the UK’s publishing industry saw an expectant fall in physical book sales, which marked the end of a growth period which first began in 2014. At a decrease of 5.4%, this decline is valued at around £168m. Sales fell from from £3.11bn in 2017 to £2.95bn in 2018, according to findings recently released by the Publishers Association on Wednesday.

While physical sales may have seen a dip, people are still clearly enjoying audiobooks, which had a 43% surge in sales. Sales were mostly made up from amazon’s Audible sales, though this may not be the main reason print sales declined.

“One of the biggest changes has been the increase in audiobook sales,” said Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association. “There is some substitution away from print, audio has surged, but there was also always going to be a point where print sales couldn’t continue rising every year.”

Lotinga also noted that the increasing popularity of podcasts could be contributing to the decline in physical book sales. “We think that podcasting is helping to drive a resurgence in audio in general, including books,” he said. “Publishers are investing a huge amount in building [recording] studios and securing the services of top quality actors to voice the books. We think the whole audio scene is showing huge opportunity.” The digital book market, which includes audiobooks, eBooks, and subscription services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited rose 4.6% to £653m.

While there was a dip in the sales of physical books last year, Lotinga stated he doesn’t believe this indicates a rapid decline akin to the sales of CDs following the advent of music streaming services. Printed book sales still accounted for 80% of the combined print and digital UK book market of £3.6bn last year, so there are clearly still plenty of readers out there who enjoy physical prints.

“I’m not concerned that this could be a watershed moment for the printed book, we are not there yet,” said Lotinga. “We have not seen a huge shift into subscription services, piracy is low, people still love physical books. It is a trend halt, sales are still up 8% over the last five years.”

It’s worth noting that sales of eBooks have also continued to slowly but surely decline. A 20% decrease has been recorded since 2014 and it is thought that competition from other screen related media such as Netflix, YouTube, and social medias is to blame. However, the overall sales figure of UK books published in the UK and abroad has risen by 2%.

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