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As E-book Sales Boom, Kobo’s Deal with UK Booksellers Raises Stakes

UK sales of consumer e-books increased from £30 million to £84 million in the first half of 2012.

By Alex Mutter

Earlier this week, Kobo announced that it has partnered with the UK-based Booksellers Association in an arrangement nearly identical to the one it made with the American Booksellers Association back in August. The deal may bring Kobo’s e-readers and tablets to as many as 3,000 stores, including 1,000 independents, in the UK and Ireland. BA members will also be able to sell e-books directly to Kobo users, and participating stores will receive a share of every sale.

The news comes just as the Publishers Association’s Sales Monitor reported that the total value of digital fiction book sales grew tremendously in the UK between January-June 2012 — up by 188% by value from the same period in 2011. Children’s digital books sales and digital non-fiction sales increased substantially during the same time period as well, by 171% and 128% respectively.

All told, digital sales of consumer titles increased from 30 million pounds to 84 million pounds.

These increases are part of an overall growth trend in digital sales (including e-books, audio downloads and online subscriptions) of 89.1%, from 77 million pounds to 145 million pounds.

“[T]he huge increase in digital sales shows how rapidly readers and publishers are embracing e-book reading,” Richard Mollet, CEO of The Publisher’s Association, explained.

The same period saw physical book sales drop 0.4% by value, from 985 million pounds to 982 million pounds, and 3.8% by volume, from 260 million to 251 million.

Taking into account both digital and non-digital sales, the total value of sales increased by 6.1%, resulting in 1.1 billion pounds in sales for the first half of 2012. Digital sales made up 12.9% of that 1.1 billion total.

“The results…show that British publishing continues to perform strongly despite difficult economic conditions,” said Mollet. “Whether books are enjoyed physically or electronically, publishers will continue to invest in exciting authors and titles.”

The key, naturally, will be for UK booksellers to be able to reach consumers with e-books prior to the all-important holiday shopping season. This is likely to make the biggest difference in overall revenue.

Another looming question: is the UK Booksellers Association making too many compromises by partnering with outside service providers to offer e-books to their customers? Would they have been better off with a white label product — with distribution through, say Gardners exclusively — that they could call their own?

Time will only tell. Let us know what you think in the comments.

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