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UK ebook sales flounder as interest in print copies rebounds

Consumer ebook sales fell by 17 percent in 2016.
Nick Summers, @nisummers
April 27, 2017
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Book sales in the UK are on the rise, but not because of ebooks. Figures for 2016 released by the Publishers Association show a 7 percent rise over 2015, the largest year-over-year growth in a decade. Physical book sales were up 8 percent, however ebook sales fell by 3 percent to £538 million. The biggest contributor to the drop? What the industry calls "consumer ebooks" -- novels, autobiographies and the like -- which slipped 17 percent to £204 million. As The Guardian reports, the numbers suggest a shift back towards printed books. We spend much of our time on smartphones, laptops and tablets, so for many reading is an opportunity to disconnect.

"There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week," Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association said. "[Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that."

That's not to say ebooks don't have a place in the industry. Overall "digital sales" increased by 6 percent to £1.7 billion, and now account for 35 percent of industry revenue. That's mostly due to academic journals and professional textbooks, which rose 6 percent to £277 million in 2016. The ebook market is important for smaller authors who want to self-publish or write novella-length works. That breadth of titles, some of which you'll never find in a brick-and-mortar store, is part of what makes ereaders so attractive. If nothing else, today's numbers show that the two formats can coexist, facilitating readers in different, but equally valuable ways.

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