Nielsen reveals further decline in print and books as gifts, rise in digital

We already know that print sales declined in 2013 (as they have year on year for a while now), dropping in value from £1.514 billion in 2012 to £1.416 billion – a slump of £98 million, 6.5% of total print sales in 2012. We also know that the decline in print books sold year on year was even more precipitous, dropping 9.8% from around 203.9 million units sold in 2012 to 183.9 million. Now Nielsen has released the results of its Book Survey analysing the damage in more detail, showing an overall decline of 4% in UK book sales across print and digital and pointing out one major contributing factor in particular – a fall in the number of books bought as gifts.

In 2012, the total percentage of books bought as gifts was 24%. In 2013, that share fell two points to 22%, which might not sound so bad but in reality works out as nine million fewer books sold. Jo Henry, research director at Nielsen, described the fall as ‘concerning’, suggesting that further work be done to account for ‘the apparent decrease in the value that consumers are placing on books as gifts’.

The rest of the survey’s results suggest that that research might not take too long – along with the decline in print came a concomitant rise in digital sales, and as anyone who’s tried sending a Christmas present through iTunes can tell you, giving a gift in the digital realm doesn’t hold quite the same romance as a physical exchange, which could conceivably lead book buyers to pursue other avenues for the Kindle carriers in their lives.

Anyway, while the lower price point of digital means that overall profits were down, its continued success at least shows that there is no less of an appetite amongst the public for reading, which is heartening. E-books now account for 25% of all books bought, up from 20% in 2012. Digital now accounts for over 40% of all adult fiction sold, 12.5% of adult non-fiction and 10% of children’s books. The continued rise of self-publishing – obviously, for the most part, an exclusively digital venture – has also contributed to the success of online retail.

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