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British Book Market Grows

18 November 2002

Figures released this week by Mintel show that the UK and Ireland are Europe's fastest-growing markets for books, with the UK increasing by 5.7% to £2.7billion (€4.3) in 2001, outpaced only by Ireland's 11.3% increase.

The UK is the second-biggest European book market after Germany, where books sales increased by 2.2% (in spite of the deep gloom in the German market) to £5.95bn (€9.6).

However, other sources dispute the Mintel figures and Nielsen BookscanUK bibliographic organisation, describing itself as 'the definitive retail monitoring service for books', which shows UK bestseller lists on its website.' s UK Total Consumer Market figure (based on high street book sales) for 2001 is £1.3 billion. Most publishers use the Nielsen Bookscan figures and anecdotal evidence suggests that their figure of a 2.6% increase in 2001 is closer to the mark.

Other figures from the Mintel report are interesting. 21% of the adult population buys at least ten books a year and, in spite of the decline of independent bookshops, 41% prefer to use specialist bookshops for their book-buying. But one in ten people used supermarkets as their most frequent buying channel, either 'creaming off' sales of discounted bestsellers or reaching a non book-buying market, depending on your point of view.

The survey also attempted to measure the effect of promotions. Only 4% of people were drawn into bookshops by a window display and 16% said they were likely to buy on impulse. Rather surprisingly, only one in five respondents had specific purchases in mind when entering a bookshop, thus reinforcing the importance to book-buyers of browsing as a prelude to purchase.

Lest the book trade should be overly complacent about these figures, Mintel also reported that 2001 UK sales of videos and DVDs grew even faster than those of books, at an astounding 25%, although the music business is clearly threatened by the huge increase in Internet downloads.