Nielsen BookData 2022: A ‘Slight Decline’ in UK Book Sales

In News by Porter Anderson

In 2022, Nielsen BookData saw a 10-percent fall in ebook volumes in the UK, and a 3-percent drop in print. Audiobooks’ growth slowed.

Whitley Bay’s Forum Books is the North England regional winner this year in the British Book Awards’ Independent Bookshop of the Year competition in the Book Trade Awards division. Our coverage of the complete shortlists is here. Image: Forum Books

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

Bookstores Regained ‘Nearly All Their Share’ in Print Sales
This morning (March 22), Nielsen BookData research director Steve Bohme has held a Consumer 2022 presentation at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, in which he’s released the top-line findings of Nielsen BookData’s full-year 2022 report. This is part of the company’s Books & Consumers survey series, and the company’s Annual Book Market in Review is to follow later in the year with its higher-level view across 11 territories and more.

Of key interest, the Consumer 2022 study has detected what Bohme and his team describe as “a slight decline” and “market shrinkage” in the British consumers’ performance last year.

UK consumers bought 348 million books in 2022, at a value of £2.5 billion (US$3.07 billion), which the report deems to show “a slight decline relative to the pandemic-boosted highs of 2020 and 2021.

Both volume and value, the research shows, were “down 4 percent to 5 percent over 2021.”

In the five-year period since 2018, those volume sales were lower by 2 percent (as compared to 2018 figures), but spending was up 4 percent over the five years.

Nielsen is positioning the long-term outlook as positive, seeing the 2022 step-back as the inability of the market to “keep up with the bumper sales of 2021, which saw consumers flocking back to shops after lockdowns and retailer closures.”

Steve Bohme

According to the findings,” this morning’s media messaging says, “the market shrinkage in 2022 has been driven by a 10-percent fall in ebook volumes to 72 million, and a 3-percent drop in purchases of print, to 250 million.

In fact, growth in the audiobook market was seen to slow in the United Kingdom, although no figures have been provided to us today for how much of a slowdown might have been tracked by Nielsen in the normally robust audio format. The company says that at 27 million units, audiobook volume was “still up by more than 50 percent since 2018, driven in part by self-help, science-fiction, and fantasy listening.”

The Bohme report includes observations on “a shift from hardbacks to paperbacks” in the print market, which “reflected the strong performance of many fiction genres while nonfiction struggled in 2022. Particularly strong category performances came from romance, fantasy, graphic novels, and horror in adult fiction, and young adult fiction, graphic novels, and activity books in children’s.”

Nielsen BookData estimates that in print, brick-and-mortar bookstores in the United Kingdom “regained nearly all their share lost during COVID–still classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic—either in-store or via their online retail offerings, and “accounting for 37 percent of volume purchases across all categories in 2022, and slightly increasing their share in fiction (43 percent).”

Social Media: Some Perspective on the Excitement

In the eagerly discussed social-media-impact arena, Nielsen tracked one-in-four book users surveyed in 2022 saying that they had used TikTok’s BookTok, “and these consumers accounted for nearly 90 million book purchases last year.” The key demographic for effects of BookTok, however, still is not supreme in the market.

“Females aged 13 to 34 were the largest users of this platform,” the report tells us, “although Instagram usage still ranks above TikTok for this age group.”

In addition to that perspective on the relative presence of Instagram over TikTok in the field, Nielsen’s observations include this: “While important to some sectors, video sites remain much less important sources of book discovery overall than previous readership, physical shops, word-of-mouth, and online book retailers, with discovery via physical shops up 13 percent in 2022 over 2021.”

And in a note for those following the controversy around TikTok and purported concerns about its safety, here’s a reminder that the company’s CEO, Singaporean Shou Zi Chew–a former venture capital banker who led investments in ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company–is scheduled to testify before a US congressional hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday (March 23).  The Biden administration has demanded that ByteDance sell off its interest in TikTok so that it no longer can be subject to the control of Beijing. A helpful walkup article for Thursday’s hearing is available here at the Washington Post, by Drew Harwell.

Bristol’s StorySmith is the southwest England regional winner in the 2023 British Book Awards’ Independent Bookshop of the Year competition in the Book Trade Awards division. Our coverage of the complete shortlists is here. Image: StorySmith

More from Publishing Perspectives on book publishing industry statistics is here, more on Nielsen and its work in book-publishing data is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s book publishing industry is here. For more statistical information on the major English-language markets, see the Asoociation of American Publishers’ StatShot report series here and the NPD/Circana print-only report series from the United States here.

In the run-up to London Book Fair, you’ll find our coverage here.

See also:
British Book Awards: Trade and ‘Book of the Year’ Shortlists
London Book Fair’s New Director Gareth Rapley: ‘A Rich History’
AAP StatShot: US Book Industry Up 3.5 Percent in January

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, 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.