British Book Buyers are Switching to “e” from Print and Spending Less

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Bowker plots latest purchasing trends via BML’s Books & Consumers survey

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E-book sales are rising to offset a decline in physical book purchases, but only in volume. With the lower price points of e-books versus their print counterparts, the value of book sales is shrinking.

E-book sales are rising to offset a decline in physical book purchases, but only in volume. With the lower price points of e-books versus their print counterparts, the value of book sales is shrinking. That revelation is just one finding from the latest Books & Consumers survey, an ongoing study of the habits of British book buyers by category experts at BML, a Bowker business.

“Through Books & Consumers we are tracking a remarkable period of change in the book industry,” said Jo Henry, Managing Director of BML Bowker. “And publishers are using these data to make better informed decisions and plan their futures more effectively.”

The Books & Consumers survey shows that in the 48 weeks ending 27th November 2011, compared to the same period the previous year, British consumers’ purchases of physical books declined by 4%, with value down some 6%. However, with e-book purchases included, the total consumer book market grew very slightly in volume terms, up 0.4%, with a market value drop of 3% overall.

The survey also looks at how the e-book industry fares by genre. The adult fiction market saw spectacular e-book growth in 2011, up from 2.8% of purchases in the four weeks ending 26th December 2010 to 12.5% in the four weeks to 27th November 2011. But again, as e-books are being bought for lower prices, they accounted for only 7.1% of adult fiction spending in the latest period

Other highlights from the survey:

  •     Prices for e-books are climbing slightly, but are still significantly less than print books. The latest average price for a fiction e-book rose to £3.39, while fiction paperbacks averaged £4.96 and fiction hardbacks averaged more than £7.08 (Fig. 1).
  •     Older buyers – 60-79 year olds – are outpacing their younger counterparts in the purchase of e-books. They now account for just over a quarter of the e-book market in value terms (Fig 2).

Full 2011 results from the Books & Consumers survey will be released at BML Bowker’s annual conference on 29th March in Central London. Further details and booking forms are available at

The Books & Consumers survey measures consumer book purchasing of both adult and children’s print and ebooks from all sources. The data above are taken from the Quarterly Bulletin for 48 weeks to 27/11/11 and the Ebook Monitor for 12 weeks to 27/11/11. For more information on BML’s ebook market measurements please contact Jo Henry jo(at) / 0207 832 1782 or Steve Bohme steve(at) / 0207 832 1782.

In addition to monitoring e-book purchasing via Books & Consumers, researchers at BML Bowker are currently conducting an international study, the Global eBook Monitor, in partnership with Pearson, Tata Consultancy Services, Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and A.T. Kearney. This study will compare and contrast e-book purchasing and growth in countries around the world, including the UK, US, Australia, India, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France and Spain. Results from this will be released in April. Additional contextual information on e-book discovery, buying behavior and future buying intentions in the UK is being investigated via BML Bowker’s research project, now in its second year, Understanding the Digital Consumer.

About BML and Bowker
Established in 1990, BML is the UK publishing industry's premier resource for understanding British consumer book buying behavior, both print and digital. Its notable Books & Consumers research information is derived from a panel run by Kantar Worldpanel of 15,000 people aged 13-79, representative of the GB population. The accurate, reliable and actionable behavioral information can be used to make tactical and strategic business decisions based on consumer tastes, preferences and buying habits. Bowker acquired BML in early 2010.

Bowker is the world's leading provider of bibliographic information and management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers. Creators of products and services that make books easier for people to discover, evaluate, order, and experience, the company also generates research and resources for publishers, helping them understand and meet the interests of readers worldwide. Bowker, an affiliated business of ProQuest and the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories, is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey with additional operations in England and Australia.


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