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Book purchases grow, genre titles strong

2 April 2007

UK book purchases have increased 8% by volume over four years. In view of the general gloom and doom, it's good to find this cheering news coming out of the annual Books and the Consumer study presented by Book Marketing Limited at a conference in London last week. The figures also show evidence of heavy discounting in the value increase over the same period, which is only 6%.

Volume growth in the last year came mainly from adult paperback fiction (+6%) and paperback non-fiction (+5%), whilst sales of hardback fiction continued the trend which has led to sales decreasing by 18% over four years.

The story on the children's front was encouraging, with a 23% increase in value over the last four years, with double digit growth in children's books (even when the figures exclude Harry Potter) in both volume and value over the the same period.

There's been a lot of talk in the book trade recently about the shift in book purchasing from the high street to supermarkets and the Internet. It's worth noting therefore that even though purchases through chain bookshops fell 3% in 2006, they are still by far the largest source of consumer book purchases. In 2006 the chains accounted for nearly three times the volume of books bought from supermarkets and more than three times the number bought online.

So who has been buying all these books? Since 2003 the growth in the number of purchases came mainly from the 55-74s, with all those affluent retirees playing their part. Women's book purchases are up by 8% from 2003-2006, whilst men's have increased only marginally.

The increasing popularity of some genres is of particular interest to writers. Crime/mystery, literary fiction, fantasy, romance, sagas and horror are all up, showing good growth in genre categories. In non-fiction it's biography, history, cookery, travel guides, humour, religion and transport which are up, and humour is the top performer over the last three years.

So, in spite of all the changes going on in the book world, there are a lot of people out there buying books in a traditional format from bookshops. They are influenced by price discounting, which is driving the growth in paperback fiction, but, amongst older women readers especially, there are signs that book purchases are increasing. There's also very little sign that the paper-based book as we know it is about to be supplanted by its electronic challengers.