Fiction makes a comeback in 2020

NewsPress Release
(c) Suad Kamardeen

New figures for the UK’s publishing industry reveal that in the first six months of 2020, fiction sales income rose 13% to £285m, driven largely by digital formats – but also helped by hardback increases.

An increase in sales income from digital consumer books (ebooks and audiobooks), up 23% to £199m (home and export), went some way to help counterbalance a decrease in overall print book sales income during this period.

These figures are the most accurate insight into the UK’s book sales in the first half of 2020 because other methods of tracking sales were halted when bookshops were forced to close during the first lockdown.

UK (home) sales of digital consumer books were up 26% to £125m, reflecting 24 and 25% increases for fiction and non-fiction respectively and a 50% rise for children’s books. If this pace continues, the industry will be on course for a record year in terms of digital sales.

There was a 47% rise in UK sales of audiobooks (up to £39m), while the value of consumer ebook sales rose 18% to £86m.

The value of UK print sales of both paperback and hardback fiction rose where other print categories fell and the volume of hardback fiction sold also grew.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Consumer print sales down 8% to £453m in the UK market
  • Non-fiction/reference down 13% to £269m in the UK market
  • Children’s down 3% to £117m in the UK market
  • Consumer exports down 13% to £275m

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, commented:

“These figures show us that UK readers have returned to fiction during lockdown, turning to novels for entertainment, escapism and comfort during the first six months of this year. Incredible books such as Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other have offered people support in these difficult times.

“In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases and this has largely been driven by a combination of wonderful new writers and a resurgence of interest in the classics. These figures really emphasise the enduring nature of books and reading – and that readers continue to embrace books in all their forms.

“Whilst it is encouraging that books continued to reach readers during lockdown it has clearly been a difficult time for bookshops, which are vital to the health of our industry.”