The UK publishing industry was hit by a surprise fall of £168m (5.4 percent) in sales of physical books last year, ending a period of growth stretching back to at least 2014, theguardian.com reported.
Sales fell from £3.11 billion in 2017 to £2.95 billion last year, according to the latest figures from the Publishers Association, which published its annual yearbook on Wednesday.
Audiobook sales surged 43 percent to £69 million last year, with Amazon’s Audible service dominating sales. However, Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, said this was not the sole reason for the decline in print sales.
“One of the biggest changes has been the increase in audiobook sales,” said Lotinga. “There is some substitution away from print, audio has surged, but there was also always going to be a point where print sales couldn’t continue rising every year.”
Some of the biggest hits last year included Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, published in print and as an audiobook, which is on its way to becoming the most successful memoir in modern publishing history.
Other big sellers included Joe Wicks’s ‘The Fat-Loss Plan: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes with Workouts’, Michael Wolff’s ‘White House exposé Fire and Fury’ and John Grisham’s ‘The Rooster Bar’.
Lotinga said the rise in the popularity of podcasts, with the music streaming giant Spotify spending up to $500m this year buying podcast companies to tap the boom, was indirectly helping the book market.
However, he warned against pronouncing the beginning of a terminal decline in physical book sales in the same way the music industry has experienced with the move from CD to streaming in the last decade.
Sales of printed books still accounted for over 80 percent of the combined print and digital UK book market of £3.6bn last year.
Overall, the digital book market, which as well as audiobooks includes eBook sales and subscriptions to services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, rose 4.6 percent to £653m.