Print is Up, E-books are Down — the 2016 UK Book Sales Figures

For many readers, nothing beats a print book. And while it might be tempting to call it “old-fashioned,” the younger generation is driving the sales of printed books.

“More than 360m books were sold in 2016 – a 2% jump in a year that saw UK consumers spend an extra 6%, or £100m, on books in print and ebook formats, according to findings by the industry research group Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey,” writes Sian Cain in The Guardian. “The data also revealed good news for bricks-and-mortar bookshops, with a 4% rise in purchases across the UK.”

“While sales through shops increased 7% in 2016, ebook sales declined by 4%,” Cain continues. “It is the second year in a row that ebook sales have fallen, and only the second time that annual ebook sales have done so since industry bodies began monitoring sales a decade ago.”

What’s behind the continued fall-off in ebook sales? While high profile releases, combined with items like coloring books, have helped, there is something more to it, Cain explains. It seems that, at least in 2016, the increase in print over digital comes down to younger people preferring printed books.

“Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen Book Research UK, who presented the data on Monday ahead of this year’s London book fair, said young people were using books as a break from their devices or social media,” Cain writes.

“We are seeing that books are a respite, particularly for young people who are so busy digitally,” Bohme said, adding that books “tend to translate better in the print form.”

Also playing into the equation is the continued slump in e-readers. For the first time last year, Nielsen found that multi-function smartphones and tablets were more popular for reading digital books than the single-purpose e-readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.). Those multi-function devices simply don’t lend themselves to a good reading experience.

Don’t expect digital sales to rebound anytime soon, according to Bohme. “One thing we’ve seen is that when print sales surge, industry confidence in the print increases. If publishers are confident, they can have huge success,” he said. “If we have a couple of years of that success story, print sales will keep going up.”

Digital book sales have plateaued, but at 25% of the market in 2016 they still do have a significant place. It will be interesting to see if 1) the younger generation continues to prefer print, and 2) what technological advances might occur in the e-reader category that could change the balance.

For the meantime, any print lovers can rest assured that their favorite medium isn’t going anywhere.