The UK’s Publishers Association 2020 Report: A 2-Percent Rise

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Amid the challenges of the pandemic year 2020, the United Kingdom’s important export sales income held steady.

The Albert Embankment on the Thames, March 2. Image – iStockphoto: IR Stone

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Lotinga: ‘Incredibly Resilient’
In a report released by the Publishers Association in London on Tuesday morning (April 27), the organization says the invoiced value of United Kingdom publishers’ “sales of books, journals and rights/co-editions combined rose 2 percent to £6.4 billion in 2020 (US$8.9 billion).”

UK sales income, the report says, rose 4 percent to £2.5 billion (US$3.4 billion) while export sales income—remarkably, considering some of the hurdles of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic—remained unchanged year-over-year at £3.7 billion (US$5.1 billion).

In a prepared statement on the report released in the early hours of the morning, the association’s CEO Stephen Lotinga is quoted, saying, “Publishing has proved incredibly resilient throughout the significant challenges of 2020.

Stephen Lotinga

“It’s clear that many people rediscovered their love of reading last year and that publishers were able to deliver the entertaining and thought-provoking books that so many of us needed.

“Despite the positive overall performance of the publishing industry, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it’s been a particularly challenging year for education publishers and many smaller publishers. It’s also been a hugely difficult time for many booksellers and authors whose livelihoods have been enormously disrupted.

“With bookshops now able to reopen, and physical events returning, we’re optimistic that people will soon be able to enjoy books together again. We need to harness this return to reading and build on the huge opportunity this presents to everyone.”

Image: Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020’

Top-Line Findings
  • Total print was down 6 percent to £3.4 billion (US$4.7 billion)
  • Total digital was up 12 percent to £3 billion (US$4.1 billion)
  • Total consumer publishing sales income rose 7 percent to £2.1 billion (US$2.9 billion)
  • Fiction was up 16 percent to £688 million (US$955 million)
  • Nonfiction was up 4 percent to £1 billion (US$1.4 billion)
  • Audio downloads were up 37 percent to £133 million  (US$185 million)
  • Children’s content was up 2 percent to £396 million (US$550 million)

In its streamlined breakdown of key points, the association goes on to sort three main sectors of the market’s performance.

Image: Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020’

Trade Commercial Consumer Publishing

Image: Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020’

  • Total consumer publishing income was £2.1 billion (US$2.9 billion), up 7 percent
  • The UK market came to £1.5 billion (US$2 billion), up 9 percent
  • The export market came to £675 million (US$937 million), up 4 percent
  • Print stood at £1.7 billion (US$2.4 billion), up 4 percent
  • Digital came in at £418 million (US$580 million), up 24 percent
Educational Publishing

Image: Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020’

  • Total education publishing income was £528 million (US$733 million), down 21 percent
  • The UK market came to £176 million (US$244 million), down 5 percent
  • The export market was £351 million (US$487 million), down 27 percent
  • Print stood at £461 million (US$640 million), down 24 percent
  • Digital came in at £67 million (US$93 million), up 8 percent
Academic Publishing

Image: Publishers Association, ‘Publishing in 2020’

  • Total academic publishing income was £3.3 billion (US$4.6 billion),  up 3 percent
  • Books totaled £1 billion (US$1.4 billion), down 5 percent
  • Journals came to £2.3 billion (US$3.2 billion), up 6 percent
  • The home market came in at £906 million (US$1.3 billion), no change
  • The export market was £2.4 billion (US$3.3 billion), up 3 percent
  • Print stood at £861 million (US$1.2 billion), down 13 percent
  • Digital came in at £2.5 billion (US$3.5 billion), up 9 percent

These data points are pulled together as a kind of pre-release look at numbers from the association’s “yearbook,” not yet published.

The Coronavirus in the United Kingdom

At this writing, the 10:20 p.m. ET Monday update (0320 GMT Wednesday) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 4,422,562 cases in the UK’s population of 67 million, with 127,688 fatalities. Those numbers place the market at No. 7 in the world in caseload, and at No. 5 in the world for death tolls.

A BBC News report points to the vaccine rollout there opening to those as young as 44.  The goal, according to the health secretary Matt Hancock remains having the entire range of UK adults vaccine-eligible by the end of July. “More than 33.7 million people have now received their first dose” in the UK, the report says, “and almost 12.6 million are fully vaccinated.”

As Reuters London reports, half the British population now has had at least one COVID-19 injection. The progress being made in vaccinations should see the country’s planned easings to be on target.


More from Publishing Perspectives on issues of diversity and inclusivity in publishing is here, more on the UK market is here, and more on industry statistics is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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