UK book publishing industry 2017 statistics: The Power of the Write Wing


Physical ‘Good’ v Digital ‘Not-so-good’

First of all, for all the talk of printed books being ‘dead’, consider the following from the bookseller.com on the 2017 statistics for the UK publishing industry:


“Physical book sales continue to outpace digital, with revenue up 5% last year to £3.1bn, while total digital sales income including journals rose 3% to £1.8bn.”


Let’s just pause for a second there: physical book sales were almost 75% higher than total digital sales in 2017. That’s a fact. Actually, if we compare like-for-like – physical v digital book sales – then physical book sales were almost x6 higher (£3.1bn v £543m).

“However, stripping out journals, digital book sales are down by 2% to £543m and consumer e-book sales are down even further by 7% to £191m.”

So, if we just concentrate on consumer e-book sales (£191m) then these are dwarfed by physical book sales (£3.1bn).

In other words, published printed works are thriving whilst published digital works are shrinking. So much for digital taking over the world!


The changing digital face of publishing

But hang on a second? For all this talk of published works trouncing digital, why has the UK publishing market consolidated so much over the past decade in its pursuit of the digital market?

See below:

Top 5 UK book publishers

I’ve sourced this list primarily from the ribbonfish blog but have cross-checked it via the internet, and it broadly checks out:

Penguin Random House (23% market share) – merged with Random House in 2013 to create Penguin Random House in order to capitalise on digital publishing.

Hachette Livre (13%) – founded in France 200 years, but has been aggressively expanding in the UK, buying up smaller publishing houses. It has team up with Twitter to produce for #WhereIWrite, a series of video broadcasts offering insights from its authors.

Harper Collins (8%) – an illustrious publishing house almost 200 years old (Agatha Christie was one of its most celebrated authors); Harper broke the record for the most digital downloads in 24 hours, on Christmas Day, 2013.

Pan Macmillan (4%) – lately established as an academic publisher with a particular interest in children’s literature; The Macmillan Prize is awarded to annually to children’s book illustrators.

Bloomsbury (3%) – became a publishing powerhouse when it began publishing the Harry Potter novels.

Source: Statista 2018

Rest of the major publishers

  • Pearson (2%) – actively involved in online, interactive works, given its niche in textbooks and online teaching aids.
  • Oxford University Press (2%) – mainly academic texts, available electronically in many different languages.
  • Simon & Schuster (1.5%) – founded under 100 years ago but specialising in books with a broad appear (e.g. Philippa Gregory) – very active on social media, including podcasts and videos to bring audiences closer to the authors.
  • John Wiley & Sons – specialising in academic works; the Wiley Online Library makes it a major force in digital publishing.


Digital is the platform of promotion

Ah, so there it is – although the consumption of news has moved online, people still like to read physical books…perhaps online reading is now so associated with work that only physical books can provide relaxation and distraction?

Moreover, digital is the way in which people talk to each other about books, post reviews, and most importantly, self promote:

“Whether it’s helping promote an author’s Facebook page, blogging about an author on Tumblr, or organising a Twitter discussion between an author and her readers, the publishing houses understand that the Social Web is all about authors engaging with their readers.”

Source: readwrite.com

The elephant in the room – the self-publishers

Returning to the 2017 publishing statistics at the start of this blog, there was one vital element missing – the self-publishers.

No longer, are published books the sole preserve of the major houses – now anybody (with a bit of nous and perhaps a smattering of outside help!) can write a book and have it printed, regardless of the topic or the size of the print run.

The fact that so many long-established publishing houses have changed their business models to cope with the onslaught of digital, suggests that the online threat is very real. For now though, it seems that the public has the best of both worlds – a vast degree of choice as to the medium, a cap on costs and unprecedented access to authors…long live the revolution!

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