The value of e-book sales grew 89.1% year on year in the first six months of 2012, bringing in GBP145m (USD235.7m) versus GBP77m (USD125.1m) over the same period last year, according to new figures from the Publishers Association (PA). By contrast, the value of physical book sales fell a modest 0.4% GBP982m (USD1.56bn), suggesting that the growth in e-books is barely making a dent on physical revenues. Overall, the industry saw growth of 6.1% over the period and some GBP1.1bn (USD1.79bn) in revenue, with digital accounting for 12.9% of that total, up from 7.2% last year, suggesting that while physical sales are falling, readers are switching their purchasing habits to digital formats.
In particular, digital sales were driven by a growth in fiction, with the value of e-book sales up 188% to bring in GBP64m (USD103.9m), versus GBP23m (USD37.3m) the previous year, as e-reader and tablet owners actually increase the number of books they buy compared to print.
The growth figures will come as a positive signal for an industry that, like other content markets, was thought to be struggling with the transition to digital. However, speaking to StrategyEye, PA CEO Richard Mollet says that the “responsiveness” of publishers to new devices such as e-readers and tablets has led the growth of e-books.
“Since e-reading took hold about two years ago, we’ve seen an upward curve, driven primarily by responsiveness of publishers,” he says. “Works have long been available to read online and publishers got their act together in terms of licensing works, and developing new format.”
Publishers have also taken measures to protect their copyright faster than their counterparts in other content industries, such as film or music. And unlike the music and film industries, consumers appear to value digital books relatively highly. They also have fewer options to pirate content, despite early fears that e-book piracy would be as rife as music, which has crippled the UK industry. According to Mollet, readers value the physical book more highly than music listeners might value more modern formats such as cassettes or CDs.
“Unlike the CD or cassette, the book has history behind it,” says Mollet. “There’s a deep cultural attachment to the book that people aren’t going to lose. You’re still looking at 87% of reading being done physically, though that’s lower in some genres. That’s due to a cultural resonance, and the look and feel of a book.”