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Insight into the State of Book Markets in the UK and Beyond

The book markets in the UK, Europe and the USA, along with many others worldwide, experienced a strong year in 2021. That’s reassuring as the bounce back took place against the backdrop of emerging COVID-19 variants and the pressures on supply, staffing, and pricing that resulted. In China, though, book sales have yet to recover after the significant drop in sales in 2020, making the country an exception to the rule. Granted, in the current climate, custom hardcover book printing has been subject to the same pressures, but with the expected recovery, prices and availability of hardback book printing look set to recover along with the rest of the market.

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Changes to the landscape within the book industry continue, with publishing firms consolidating through mergers and acquisitions. Every market has seen notable takeovers, and it’s the largest publishers that have experienced the biggest increases in their share.

Other trends divined from observation of multiple markets include record book sales in Spain and the United Kingdom. There has been a flattening in the growth of sales of eBooks and a cooling in the nonfiction sales area. Ecommerce continues to grow, as does the threat of Amazon on booksellers, and there has been a boom in sales of manga publications in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In fact, in the UK, Manga sales have increased over twice fold, in terms of both value and volume, increasing by 157 per cent to £18.3 million.


Bricks-and-mortar stores worldwide have emerged as the clear losers in many markets after two years of Covid-19 lockdowns and other pandemic measures.

However, in the UK overall, record sales have been announced, even with the ongoing supply chain issues, of which Brexit was the frontrunner.

The strongest performers in terms of sales were fiction and children’s books. In the final 42 weeks of 2021, fiction sales increased by 21% over the same period in 2019 and accounted for 23.8 per cent of the overall market, the highest share since 2012. Children’s book sales increased 15% in the final 42 weeks of the year compared to the same period last year, while nonfiction sales increased by 3%. Overall, the average selling price of a book increased for the ninth consecutive year to £8.84.

Following a ‘bonanza’ year in 2020, eBook sales were expected to decline in 2021, in line with other markets. According to data from the UK’s top six trade publishers, eBook sales fell by around 13% year on year to 47.5 million copies.

This is good news, indicating increased interest in physical books over digital, and suggesting that custom hardcover book printing is well worth considering if you are looking to distribute copies of your latest work.

While the trend for sales in bricks-and-mortar retailers went downwards globally, those businesses, including independents, are still doing well in the UK. The Booksellers Association now has 1,027 indie members, the highest number since 2013. Around 60% of respondents to the trading survey said their sales were up from the previous year.


In the US, data shows that sales of printed books went up by 8.9 per cent in 2021. According to NPD BookScan data, 825.7 million print books were sold in the United States in 2018, up from 757.9 million in 2020. The most significant increase was in the Young Adult (YA) segment, which increased by 30.7 per cent. Adult fiction sales increased by 25.5 per cent, while children’s fiction sales increased by 9.6 per cent. Adult nonfiction sales increased by 4.4 per cent.

Sales totalled US$15.4 billion last year, up from US$13.7 billion in 2020, according to the Association of American Publishers, which tracks sales from 1,369 publishers. A rebound in sales in the K–12 instructional materials category, as well as a strong year for trade segments, drove the increase.

The German-language market saw growth in online sales as bookstores were closed for much of 2021. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland all saw steady sales last year, while sales of print books and book-related physical media increased by 3% in 2020. Revenue is stable compared to last year, but this is due solely to a higher average selling price, as unit sales are still down.

In 2021, book market revenue in Germany increased by 3.2 per cent, with more books sold (+1.6%) at a higher average selling price (+1.6%). In comparison to the previous ‘normal’ year, 2019, turnover was slightly higher (+0.8%) due to a significantly higher average selling price (+4.8%); however, volumes of book sales have decreased significantly during this time.

Repeated lockdowns hit sales in bricks-and-mortar stores, as they did to many other markets. Following an 8.7% drop in sales in 2020, physical stores saw another 3% drop in 2021, bringing the total loss to 11.5 per cent since 2019.

In Italy, sales have also bounced back. Book sales increased 16.9% over the previous year, more than making up for the market’s 14.6 per cent decline in 2020. Turnover was up 10.4%, a rebound from the 9% drop in 2020, with books selling for an average of €14.78, a slight decrease on 2020 figures.

Book sales in China suffered because of the increase in online sales. Although physical bookstore sales were up 4.1 per cent and online sales only increased by 1 per cent from 2020, this represents a significant slowdown in the growth of a developing market that was regularly posting double-digit year-on-year growth before the pandemic hit. Sales fell 5.1 per cent in 2020, marking the first year of negative growth since OpenBook began tracking the book market, and the year ended a five-year streak of annual growth of 10% or more.


Get Your Story Printed

If you have a manuscript, a product catalogue, a coffee table book or any other work you want printed to share with the world, a good hardback book printing company is critical. The content is certainly vitally important, but the physical book and its production should also be of high quality. If the printing materials and print quality are anything less than acceptable, you are missing out on a chance to share the fruits of your labour with the world.

At Ex Why Zed, we can help transform your ideas into print in various ways, whether you need short run hardback book printing, booklet printing, and many more! We can print magazines, artists’ catalogues, children’s books, self-published novels, photography collections and much more.

Our prints have an award-winning quality. Browse exwhyzed.co.uk to see our services, or send us a message to request a paper sample pack to see which type of printing you want your masterpiece to be immortalised in.


Social Media

Google My Business – With physical books making a comeback in popularity, now is the perfect time to invest in hardcover book printing. Learn more about the state of the book market here.

Facebook – As the world increasingly digitises, there is a growing trend of people yearning for physical products that they can hold and touch. This is especially true when it comes to books. Read about the performance of the book market in 2021 here.

Twitter – Last year saw a resurgence in the popularity of physical books, which is a welcome sign for publishers around the world. Find out more about it here.

LinkedIn Personal – The book market in the UK and elsewhere in the world saw welcome developments last year. Click here for more information.

LinkedIn Company – The physical book market experienced a strong year in 2021. Get more insights here now.

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