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There was an unexpected beacon of light in otherwise gloomy sales stats for the UK book industry for the first six months of the year: sales of hardback fiction, traditionally the hardest of categories to sell, increased 25% by volume to 6.7m units and 37% by value to £34.2m for the period, according to figures released by the UK Publishers Association (PA).
Stephen Lotinga, the PA’s CEO, was quick to focus on this success. “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 & the Light and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other have offered people support in these difficult times.”
The overall figures released by the PA show that total book sales across the industry fell by 11% in the first six months of the year, which included a long lockdown period when bookshops were shut. Big increases in fiction and sales of digital formats were not able to stop this decline.
Sales of ebooks and audio increased by 13% but this wasn’t enough to combat a 17% decline in print saes. Educational publishing fared the worst, declining by around 16%, while consumer sales slipped by 6%. Like its hardback counterpart, sales of paperback fiction performed well, remaining constant during the period.
Lotinga added: “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.
“While 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.”