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Surge in online sales spurs discounting pressure

3 January 2005

Bookshop figures for Christmas 2004 are not yet available, but it looks as if the gloom of the last quarter will be reinforced by the statistics, which will show a poor Christmas for the retail sector as a whole. This seems to have been another year when many people chose to stay at home and order on the Internet. Although online sales still only account for 2.5% of spend, increasing broadband access and many people’s reluctance to brave the crowds and parking problems mean that these sales are growing fast.

According to Retail Decisions, credit card use online between 1 November and 7 December soared by 61.6%. It’s difficult for retailers to compete with the low overheads of online retailers and increasing Internet competition has encouraged heavy discounting, both online and in the shops.

Elsewhere 2004 has shown growth in academic publishing online, in spite of the pressure for open access, and also rapid development of distance learning over the Internet.

Perhaps it’s reassuring therefore to know that the most popular book in terms of Christmas sales in the UK was not a cookery book, punctuation guide or illustrated TV tie-in, but The Da Vinci Code, a fast-moving thriller with what used to be affectionately referred to in the book trade as ‘crank’ overtones. Reading tastes still seem much the same, even though book purchasing habits may be changing.