Bowker charts growth of internet retail

Last year saw a higher number of books bought from internet-only businesses than from bricks and mortar stores for the first time, according to the annual Books & Consumers survey published by Bowker Market Research UK.

Bowker's survey, presented by research director Steve Bohme at the Books & Consumers conference in London this morning (20th March), recorded a total of £125m in UK consumer spend on e-books in 2012, more than double that of 2011. The survey put British book sales at 269m in 2012, at a value of £2,108m.

E-books represented 11% of total consumer book purchases by volume last year, dropping back from a 12% peak in the third quarter to just 10% in the run-up to Christmas, as consumers bought printed gift books.

However the e-book share of adult fiction continued to rise throughout the year, accounting for nearly one in five books bought in the category in the final quarter. E-books also took an increasing share of young adult market purchases, hitting 11% of volume by the final quarter of the year, although books for children under 12 remained below 2% throughout the year. For adult non-fiction the overall percentage was less than 7%.

Total "p and e" book cash spend through the chain, independent and bargain bookshop sector as a whole remained ahead of that through internet-only retailers. But while bookshops remained "well ahead" on print books, internet-only businesses took 95% of the e-book share. Meanwhile those who bought e-books also bought more of their physical books via internet retailers, suggesting that when customers move to buying e-books they do also start to make a switch from bookshops to e-tailers to buy their printed reading.

However, the majority of books bought by consumers owning tablets and e-readers were still in print format, and the majority of book buyers still didn't own a tablet or dedicated e-reader by the end of the year.

Roughly two thirds of all e-books bought in 2012 were by women—20m units as opposed to 11m for male readers, Bohme told the conference.

Although book buyers are increasingly making use of online media—with over 25% more people in the 2012 survey regularly participating in social media rather than reading a print newspaper—nevertheless "relatively few" book purchases were discovered through social network sites, Bowker found.

The exception to this was the Fifty Shades trilogy, where social media pushed one in seven book purchases, rising to one in five buys of the first book in May and June 2012. However physical bookshops remain the leading source of discovery via browsing, with nearly twice as many purchases found by browsing in shops rather than browsing online.

One in 20 e-books bought last year was purchased primarily to read on a smartphone; that number rises to one in 12 of the e-books bought for study or work, and one in eight bought to read while commuting or travelling.