Snapshot of print & digital books in the UK in 2022
While our previous 2022 roundup posts have covered print books, first for the UK and Ireland and then looking further afield, here we have a summary of both print and digital formats in the UK, from our ongoing Books & Consumers monthly survey. In total, 348m books were bought for the year, adding up to £2.5bn, with both measures down around 4% compared to 2021. Overall, consumers bought more paperbacks (which cover more than half the market) and audiobooks (marking the format’s highest annual volume yet) than the previous year but generally spent less on all formats, with only paperback value matching 2021. But that doesn’t apply to all corners of the market; let’s dig into variations by broad sector.
We’ll start with the largest, adult fiction, at 142m units across print, e-books and audiobooks. 2021 marked the first year since 2013 that fiction in print outsold e-books, and 2022 saw print books pull even further ahead, with 5% growth vs 10% decline for e-books. Going a step further, even just paperbacks on their own surpassed e-books in 2022, hitting their highest point since 2012, joined by hardbacks and audiobooks setting records. The increase in print and audiobook purchases wasn’t enough to offset the drop in e-books, as overall fiction volume fell 2%, but thanks to the print growth, spending was up 2% to £822m, a record high.
Next in volume size, we have the children’s and young adult sector, with 105m books bought in 2022, up 0.5%. As with fiction, paperbacks posted the strongest growth in the children’s market, up 4%, helping to balance the drop in hardback sales and keeping total children’s print books in growth, by less than 1%. But the digital formats follow the opposite pattern than the rest of the market: audiobook purchases actually dropped in children’s, while e-books managed 1% growth, although in value terms, audiobooks were up and e-books down. The digital formats together only make up 6% of the children’s market so overall performance tends to stem more from the print side, but the value growth in audiobooks did help to boost the sector growth to 0.3%, ahead of the print value increase of 0.1%; in total, £655m was spent on children’s books across print and digital, second only to 2020.
And finally, adult non-fiction, which remained the largest by value in 2022, at £1.0bn, but the smallest in volume, just shy of 100m. Both measures declined for non-fiction, with audiobook volume the one bright spot of growth across the formats. Audiobooks accounted for one in ten non-fiction books bought in 2022, double their share from five years prior, and even though spending on non-fiction audiobooks dropped, it was still ahead of every year pre-2021. If the decline in e-books continues, audiobooks are on their way to becoming the predominant digital format for non-fiction: only 1.6% volume share now separates the two, compared to twice that in 2021, and then twice that in 2020.
We’ll soon publish the annual UK Book Market in Review, which delves into format and genre trends in the UK, along with exploring the consumers behind the purchases and how they find, choose and buy their books. A preview of the 2021 report can be found here, and for more information, please contact email@example.com.