Record books sales as e-reading loses out to words on a page

Scottish publishers have welcomed record book sales, including a boom in printed titles at the expense of the e-book.

Children's book sales increased by 16 per cent last year.  Picture: Alex Hewitt
Children's book sales increased by 16 per cent last year. Picture: Alex Hewitt

Books, digital books and journals combined notched up a new high of £4.8 billion last year, the Publishers Association reported.

Sales of printed books were up by 8 per cent to £3bn - the highest for four years - but e-books were down by 3 per cent to £538m.

Non-fiction titles put on 9 per cent to £884m, boosted by big sellers such as the Lean In 15 series by Joe Wicks.

Revenue from children’s books also increased, by 16 per cent to £365 million.

No Scottish figures were available, but Publishing Scotland, which represents the sector north of the Border, reported similar trends north of the Border.

Chief executive Marion Sinclair said: “Many of our members have seen a welcome uplift in print sales in the past year and a dipping of e-book sales.


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“Overall, there’s buoyancy and confidence in the market.

“The publishing industry in Scotland is largely made up of small and medium size companies, apart from Harper Collins in Glasgow and DC Thomson in Dundee.

“Some of these small companies, such as Floris Books in Edinburgh, Sandstone Books in Dingwall, and Saraband Books of Glasgow, have had a really good past year.”

Ms Sinclair said the growth in Floris Books reflected the success of children’s publishing, mainly due to sales of the Kelpies series.

She said: “Other Scottish children’s publishers have seen growth too – at B&W they’ve had success with young adult fiction.

“Another example is Barrington Stoke, which publish children’s books that break down the barriers that can stop kids getting into reading.


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“In addition, picture books don’t translate very well to e-format, so they hold their own in the digital age.”

Jamie Byng, chief executive of Edinburgh publisher Canongate, said: “It is gratifying to see such strong book sales.

“We’ve had particular success with books that have Scotland running through their veins, such as Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, of which we’ve already sold 70,000 copies.

“Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain has sold 47,000 since we published it in 2014.

“With her appearance on the Scottish £5 note, it’s wonderful to see sales increasing year on year.”

Jan Rutherford, director of Edinburgh-based Birlinn, said: “We have seen a decline in e-sales over the last year and this looks set to continue.


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“The Scottish book trade still faces difficult times in this climate of political uncertainty.

“That said, although there has been a slow start to sales across the board in 2017, physical book sales were up last year, and we had our best Christmas in some time.

“As publishers, we are also delighted to see the investment in high street stores in Scotland - the refurbishment of key Waterstones stores, Blackwells and key independents.

“Much of the book industry in Scotland is dependent on a healthy tourist season, so we await figures from the start of this season with interest.”

Marc Lambert, chief executive of Scottish Book Trust, said: “These figures show a very strong year for book sales and suggest that books and reading, in whatever form, continue to be a popular choice for people to spend their leisure time.

“While fiction sales have dropped in favour of non-fiction, it just goes to show the breadth of reading options out there.”


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“It’s encouraging that given the variety of choices people now have to spend their free time, and the fact that many people carry a screen around with them in the form of a smartphone or tablet, the trend seems to be moving back in favour of physical books.

“The slight drop in sales of e-books would suggest that, for many people, nothing will replace the simple pleasure of browsing in a bookshop or library and holding a physical book in your hands.”