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Paper down slightly, but digital is still tiny

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Digital book sales in the UK rose 38 per cent last year, but they still represent a drop in the ocean. The year saw £120m in reported digital sales out of total sales of £3.1bn reported to the Publishers Association: accounting for just under 4 per cent.

The book market here is actually a larger than that – the Association notes that sales figures it receives are probably around 70 per cent of digital book sales. Extrapolating from this and other surveys, the Association reckons the true size of the digital slice of the market is nearer to £180m, out of a cake worth £3.8bn. Physical book sales fell 3 per cent, although the average retail price rose to £4.56 from £3.93, a trend that has moved up in recent years. The £3.8bn figure doesn't capture UK spending; around 40 per cent of UK book sales are exports, reflecting the demand for English language material globally.

Of the digital books business, academic and professional titles take the lion's share: £84m, of which £58m were social sciences and humanities books, and £19m scientific/technical/medical. Consumer ebook sales rose year-on-year from £4m to £16m in 2010. £6m of these sales were fiction, £1m non-fiction. Schools represent the biggest area for growth, worth just £7m in 2010.

The term "digital books" is understood to include include CD-ROMs, subscriptions to digital services, audiobooks, and whole or part downloads of electronic books.

The figures are representative but not the complete picture, hence the emphasis on the sales as being "reported". But they do give a snapshot of a market worth just under £4bn. By comparison, recorded music sales in the UK have fallen below £1bn, despite digital growth, and Google's income from the UK advertising market will be around £2.4bn this year. Tax-free, naturally...

And despite some lurid tabloid headlines highlighting electronic book piracy, many people are prepared to pay for legitimate content, particularly if retail prices fall as a result of the ongoing Office of Fair trading enquiry into pricing.

Popular titles with ebook freetards include How to Get Anyone to Say YES – The Science of Influence, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex and Fix It – How To Do All Those Little Repair Jobs Around The House. ®

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