06 January 2018 xBusiness

Books buck the trend of decline in demand for print

UK government statistics are charting what seems a relentless decline in print sales, but growth in the book market demonstrates that the gloom is not universal.

UK sales of printed products fell almost 5% in 2016 according to government statistics. The Prodcom figures record the value of sales attributed to printed products produced in the UK and these fell from £7.9 billion in 2015 to £7.5 billion in 2016, a drop of 4.8%. But sales of printed books, once tipped to be wiped out by ebooks, are a UK success story, increasing sales year on year.

Overall print was among the worst performing sectors across UK industry which altogether showed a slight increase for the year. The government says that growth in sales of both petrol and diesel cars were responsible for the growth.

When all sources of income to printers are included, the revenue from non newspaper production fell below £10 billion for the first time. The Prodcom statistics record industry wide revenue of £9.92 billion, down from £10.59 billion in 2015. In 2008, the industry generated sales of £12.47 billion, demonstrating the extent of the sales decline.

Some sectors have fared worse than others. Catalogue printing accounted for sales of £214.6 million in 2016, down from £295.1 million in 2015 and less than half of the £559.1 million from 2008. The continuing switch to online shopping and focus on lower pagination products with more targeted demographics is largely responsible. Holiday brochures will also fall in this category.

The value of general advertising materials, which spans direct mail and point of sale, is more resilient, at least year to year. In 2016 sales in this sector reached £1.45 billion, compared to £1.49 billion. The longer term decline, from sales of £2.04 billion in 2008, is sharper.

Sales in the newspaper sector are not surprisingly in unrelenting decline. In 2016 newspapers achieved sales of £102.9 million, down a quarter from £129.9 million in 2015, and radically down on the £445.8 million the sector achieved in sales in 2008.

Smaller sectors have also suffered. The loss of postcard printer J Salmon in the last 12 months can be explained by an industry shrinking from £11.7 million in 2008 to £6.9 million in 2016. This was an improvement on the year before where sales had been £6.8 million. The greetings card sector is larger and has not been hit as badly. Nevertheless 2016 sales of £67.4 million are well below £79.6 million in 2008 and down on the £71.0 million in 2015.

The stationery sector dropped from £1.37 billion in 2015 to £1.10 billion in 2016, and only slightly down on the £1.15 billion earned in 2008. The bald figures do not show the way that this type of print has moved rapidly to online print channels.

The exception to the overall downward trend is in books. This is a sector where sales volumes have almost doubled in a decade. Sales of £581.9 million in 2008 have become £1.02 billion in 2016, up from £1.0 billion in 2015.

Printers looking for guidance on which sectors to look towards can find some hints. Beer sales, led by on premises revenues, fell by £358 million in the year, while sales of gin increased a further £67 million and are now three times the level they were in 2009.

Another print product hit badly, this time through government legislation, was the printed plastic bag. Sales fell more than 42% in a year, from a market sector worth £350 million to one valued at £202 million, with the statistics for 2017 when they become available at the end of this year, expected to show further decline.

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Books are growing

Books are growing

Book printing continues to grow while mass products like newspapers, catalogues and magazines are shrinking with government statistics highlighting the rate of change since 2008. Figures for 2017 are not yet available but are unlikely to show any significant difference.

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