Research firm Nielsen has just released its Books & Consumers survey for the UK book market in 2013, and the data shows ebooks forging ahead against a marginal decline in overall purchases in Britain last year. According to the survey precis, last year saw “a 20% increase in e-book purchasing, with UK consumers buying an estimated 80 million e-books in 2013, with spending on this format reaching £300 million [$495 million] … E-books accounted for one in four consumer book purchases in 2013, up from one in five in 2012, with their share of spending rising to 14%. In Adult Fiction, the e-book share rose from one in three books bought in 2012, to over 40% of purchases in 2013.”

Yes, getting close to half of all adult fiction titles bought in the UK in 2013 were ebooks. And this in a market where “UK consumers bought 323 million books in 2013, and spent £2.2 billion [$3.63 billion]  on them, with both the volume and value of purchases down 4% on 2012.”

However, that drop mostly speaks to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. “Much of the decline in 2013 can be attributed to the phenomenal sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in 2012, and without E. L. James’ books, consumer spending dropped only marginally in 2013, and volume purchases rose by 1%.”

Self-publishing also comes well out of the figures, although still only part of the overall upsurge in ebook sales. “Self-published books (including Amazon publishing and other ‘non-traditional’ forms of publishing),accounted for one-in-five e-books purchased in 2013, and 12% of spending on this format, with the self-published share higher for e-book Fiction than other categories in 2013,” Nielsen’s release continued.

There was even a crumb of comfort for traditional booksellers. “While bookshops lost share of book purchases in 2013 overall, they did gain share in the albeit declining print market, and remained ahead of internet retailers in that sector,” Nielsen found. “The fact that internet-only business were ahead of bookshops in terms of overall volume therefore reflects their continued dominance in the e-book market.”

There are many other fascinating nuggets in the report, and it’s well worth plowing through the release in detail. And it calls the conclusions of some other research, specifically Enders Analysis’s recent and very Big Media-friendly report, deeply into question. Few would argue that adult fiction sets the pace in publishing as a whole. And that category is now almost split down the middle between ebooks and traditional print. Furthermore, “the e-book share was higher still within Adult Fiction genres such as romance, crime and fantasy.” Ebooks are really beginning to dominate. And Nielsen is the last entity to bring a pro-disruption agenda to its research. For publishers and authors alike, the choice to disdain or avoid ebooks isn’t looking like any kind of choice at all any more.

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


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