British publishers have reported their biggest annual sales ever and insisted rumours of their demise at the hands of growing e-book consumption are greatly exaggerated.
Total spending across printed and digital formats rose 4pc to hit £3.3bn in 2012, according to the Publishers Association.
Printed books still account for the vast majority of sales and slid by just one per cent to £2.9bn.
Publishers were cheered, however, as continued growth in the digital market more than made up for the shortfall. Digital sales, including the hugely important market in e-textbooks and titles for e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle range and a new wave of smaller and lighter tablets, led by Apple’s iPad mini, were up 66pc to £411m.
Sales of consumer e-books, the measure of the digital market for mainstream fiction and non-fiction, were up 134pc to £216m.
That was down from growth of 366pc in 2011 so the resilience of printed books offered comfort to publishers who feared they could be as badly battered by technology the record industry has been.
“Panic and apocalyptic predictions were always the preserve of commentators rather than publishers,” said Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association.
“What these figure show is that publishers are more about the opportunities of digital. There’s definitely an additive element to e-books as well as some substitution of printed book sales.”
“What publishers have been good at is making sure the books are available to consumers in as many places and formats as they demand. That’s something the music industry perhaps struggled with, although they had different threats.”
“There is an inevitable slowdown going on,” said Mr Mollet. “You expect that with any new technology but there is still very healthy growth.”
Benedict Evans, an industry analyst at Enders, said it is likely that e-books will account for a smaller portion of the publishing industry than digital music does of the record industry.
“We’ve had this first surge of e-reader ownership… but they are not a direct substitution like digital music. With digital music you were replacing one piece of consumer electronics with a better piece of consumer electronics and even then digital is still only 70 or 80 per cent of sales,” he said.
“An e-reader or tablet is not better than a book. It is better in some ways, but it is different. There are genres such as romance, sci-fi and business it really works for, where people are often impatient to get new titles or have no physical attachment to the book as an object.”
Amazon’s dominance of sales of both e-books and e-readers remains a matter of concern for publishers, especially after it opened a European publishing unit in November. From its base in Luxembourg, it will compete with British publishers to sign up established authors and those who have proved their popularity online.
“Everyone wants to see as wide a choice in devices and digital outlets as possible,” said Mr Mollet.
EL James, who launched her career online, provided the industry’s biggest hits of 2012 with her Fifty Shades trilogy. Between them the books sold 10.5m copies and took the top three spots in the printed fiction bestseller chart of the year.
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