UK Print Book Sales Pop in 2015, Indie Bookshops Get a Boost

In News by Dennis Abrams

The Bookseller reports a jump in the average sale price of books in the UK last year, as well as a boost in print sales — especially at indie bookstores.

By Dennis Abrams

Waterstones was among the book chains seeing a serious bump in sales.

Waterstones was among the book chains that saw a jump in sales.

Writing for The Bookseller, Tom Tivnan reports that in recent years “a good way to sober up in January was to read one of The Bookseller’s Review of the Year features.”

But not this year. Because 2015 saw the first rise in print book sales in seven years.

How large an improvement? It’s actually a bit complicated: 2015 was one of BookScan’s 53-week years, with the extra seven days “added to recalibrate the calendar in order to make historical and future comparisons more accurate. So, if one compared 2014’s 52 weeks against the first 52 BookScan weeks of 2015, the market rose 6.6% to £1.49bn, £92m up on 2014’s total…But when you add in that extra week, the TCM broke “the £1.5bn (£1.51bn) and the 190m copy (190.6m) mark for the first time since 2012.”

Even better was the key number for 2015: £7.95. Tivnan writes:

“That is the average selling price for the year, the highest since BookScan records began in 1998. The other key stat: 23.9%. That was 2015’s percentage off r.r.p., the lowest in 10 years. In short, part of print’s 2015 success was due to the fact that books were sold at a higher price (21p greater per book than in 2014) and discounted less (2014 discount was 26.6%; 2010-12 had a three year span of all-time highs, between 29.3-29.8%).”

Tivnan notes that while BookScan “cannot reveal sales through specific retail channels,” part of the price shift was due to what seems to have been a good year for “booksellers — especially Waterstones — and a difficult one for (discount-friendly) supermarkets.” Bookstores it seems, “assuredly had a great part of the print pie in 2015.”

And nowhere was that more apparent than Christmas sales at independent bookstores, with 72% reporting sales increases over last year, “reflecting a buoyant market for indie bookshops.”

Also reporting in The Bookseller, Lisa Campbell wrote that:

“Altogether, 72% of bookshops that participated in The Bookseller’s Christmas Trading survey saw sales increase year on year indicating that, despite the number of indie bookshops in the UK falling, those that remain are performing well.

Booksellers Association c.e.o. Tim Godfray revealed that before Christmas the number of independent bookshops in the UK had dropped by 31, to a total of 895, over the course of 2015. Despite this, those shops that saw sales rises reported that the annual percentage increases ranged from as little as 1% to as much as 35%. Of the 51 booksellers that responded to the survey, conducted between the end of December and the 5th January 2016, 8% said sales were down on 2014’s festive trading figures, while 20% said that sales were flat in comparison to a year earlier.”

Campbell quoted Harry Illingworth, the marketing and communications manager of central London’s Goldsboro Books, who reported that the store saw its “best December ever,” with “like-for like sales up by 12%.”

“We made an active attempt to engage with our customers on a more regular basis through our newsletter and social media channels,” he said, “alerting them to what we believed to be ideal gifts, highlighting precious books they could own as book lovers and/or collectors, and also telling them exactly why these books are special”.

Tim Morris from Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, Shropshire, told Campbell, “Books are back!”

He added: “People are reconnecting with and loving books and bookshops. The quality of publishing was also high and we had an extra trading day in the week leading up to Christmas in comparison to last year.” While Peter Donaldson of Red Lion Books in Colchester, Essex, added that the “overall quality of titles this year was high with more publishers looking to improve the look and feel of physical books”.

The article went on to note that those sales are translating into strong feelings of optimism for 2016, “with physical book sales back on the rise and the threat posed by Amazon thought to be abating.”

To learn more about how independent bookstores fared over the holiday season, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.