- May 2, 2013
EL James’s erotic trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games novels topped the books charts last year and contributed to an overall rise in digital and print sales for 2012
Fifty Shades author EL James’s blend of romance and erotica has helped to drag the book trade out of the doldrums, with new statistics showing that 2011′s decline in sales has been reversed and a record amount was spent on books in 2012.
The rise in the book trade’s fortunes was driven by digital developments, with total digital sales up by 66% to £411m in 2012, and total fiction ebook sales up by 149% to £172m, according to figures released by the Publishers Association.
The trade body said digital book formats – audiobook downloads, online subscriptions and ebooks — accounted for 12% of the total invoiced value of book sales, up from 8% in 2011 and 5% in 2010.
In 2011, print sales fell as digital rose leading to an overall decline in the market of 2% to £3.2bn. In 2012, physical book sales were down by 1%, but the digital success meant the book market grew by 4% overall, reaching a record-breaking £3.3bn.
“The fact is that the vast majority of books sold in the UK are print books,” said Jon Howells at Waterstones. “These figures are reassuring, reminding us what we know – that people are still buying physical books and that, while obviously the take-up in ebooks has been significant, a lot of it is new custom, rather than replacing physical sales.
“We said from the beginning that ebooks were giving people another approach [to reading], just as they have already got now when they listen to music or watch television.”
The recovery was led by the British public’s insatiable appetite for erotica, with James’s three Fifty Shades titles taking the top three spots in the print chart in 2012, according to figures from Nielsen BookScan.
The first novel in the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, sold 4.46m copies last year, the second sold 3.16m and the third 2.9m. Although there are, as yet, no official ebook charts, Fifty Shades of Grey also topped the Bookseller magazine’s analysis of the bestselling ebooks of 2012, selling 1,609,626 copies, according to the magazine.
James’ unprecedented success meant she became the first author to be named publishing person of the year by US book trade magazine Publishers Weekly. As the mainstream press presaged the end of civilisation, it pointed out that the Fifty Shades trilogy “helped boost print sales in bookstores and turned erotic fiction into a hot category” as it awarded the prize which is “reserved for those shaping and, sometimes, transforming, the publishing industry”
In the UK, fiction had a particularly strong performance in 2012, headed by James and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. The first novel in the series sold 832,350 copies in print last year and 405,000 ebooks, according to the Bookseller. Total fiction ebook sales up increased by 149% to £172m, said the Publishers Association, while physical sales of novels was up by 3% in 2012, brininging in £502m.
Fifty Shades was initially a piece of online fan fiction before being released by a tiny Australian press as an ebook and then being signed up by publishing powerhouse Random House
Howells acknowledged the impact of Fifty Shades on the healthy 2012 figures. “You can put a lot of it down to EL James – she came completely out of nowhere,” he said. “But although she started out digitally, it is in print that she sold vast numbers of copies.”
He said there were some genres in which the digital takeup had been very significant – he singled out popular fiction – but said it was making less of an impact elsewhere. “For more illustrated titles, and for children’s books, it has been much less,” he said. “When it comes to Christmas, when most retailers make most of their money, people are buying ereaders as presents, but how do you wrap up a digital book? The books people are buying are hardbacks. We sold an incredible number of copies of [Venetian cookbook] Polpo, a £25, lavishly illustrated, beautifully bound product, something which can’t be replicated online.”
Digital sales of non-fiction and reference books have grown significantly, according to the Publishers Association. They were up by 95% in 2012, to £42m, compared with print sales for the category of £767m.
The trade body’s statistics are based on data compiled from about 270 publishers representing 78% of total UK publisher sales.
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the sales figures showed that “British publishing is a healthy industry which continues to grow”. He added: “The continued increase in digital sales across different disciplines illustrates the shift of readers to ebook reading.”
PublishingEL JamesFictionRetail industryBooksellersEbooksAlison Floodguardian.co.uk