2019: A record-breaking year for publishing


Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, reflects on 2019 and publishing’s response to the challenges that 2020 has brought.

It’s a real pleasure to be able to share such a positive report on the state of publishing. Over the past year, the industry has not only shown itself to be resilient but to have flourished. In fact, 2019 was UK publishing’s biggest year ever.

Total publishing sales were £6.3bn in 2019 which is 3.5% higher than in 2018 and 19.8% higher than in 2015. Of this impressive figure 59%, £3.7bn, comes from exports. Total print, digital, home and export sales income are all up on 2018 making this a consistently strong picture across the board.

Areas of significant growth in consumer publishing include non-fiction and reference which rose 5.6% to £1.0bn; children’s books which rose by 5.5% in 2019 to £387m and an impressive 39.3% increase for audiobook downloads to £97m. For the first time, we are able to share export data by country and Australia is the largest export country across fiction, non-fiction and children’s.

In academic publishing, academic and professional journals continue to perform well with the value of income rising by 3.5% to £2.2bn in 2019. North America is the biggest export market for journals with invoiced sales accounting for £722m, followed by Europe (£475m).

In education, the invoiced value of UK publisher sales of education books rose by 12.7% to £657m with sales of English Language Teaching books rising by a particularly impressive 19.8% to £322m. Spain is the largest export market for ELT.

While there is a lot to celebrate here, there are areas of contraction including fiction and academic and professional books.

Of course, since 2019 ended we have entered one of the most challenging times ever seen for this industry and the wider economy. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, publishers have made a crucial contribution to society. This period has highlighted that access to pioneering research, high-quality learning resources and books remain of utmost importance. The UK publishing industry has supported researchers, those studying remotely and the millions of people who have been confined to their homes.

The 2019 data on the publishing industry shows that we entered into this challenging period in a strong position and, while it has been difficult, we are in the best shape we have ever been in to weather this storm. The Publishers Association will continue to call on government for the support needed to ensure that the industry can rebuild and continue as a world leader.

The statistics in this Yearbook show how important strong trade links are for our industry and the importance of our gold standard copyright regime to maintaining that.

Thank you to all the publishers who submitted their data to the Yearbook and to everyone involved in supplying the accompanying commentary. We hope that you find our industry analysis insightful and valuable. Despite the uncertainty and the many challenges facing the industry, we remain optimistic about the future. The current crisis has clearly demonstrated that people need and want books. They offer education, entertainment and comfort. Publishing remains vital.

This piece originally appeared in the Publishers Association Yearbook 2019. You can see more information about this publication here.