Book sales are in decline but audio books are thriving

Luke Graham | News Assistant

Sales of books, in both print and digital formats, are struggling around the world, despite the efforts to promote reading on World Book Day. However there is one area that's bucking the trend: Audio books.

World Book Day is promoted a worldwide celebration of books intended to encourage reading, but revenue from book publishing is falling worldwide.

Statistics from Euromonitor released in 2015 show that turnover from book publishing has experienced sharp declines in recent years. Between 2011 and 2014, revenue fell from $165 billion to $145 billion. The harshest decline was 2011-12, when the global book market contracted 7.4 percent.

Eri Morita | Photodisc | Getty Images

Some regions have recovered slightly since then. Data from the Association of American Publishers (APP) released this week showed U.S. book sales from January to October last year grew 0.5 percent, although overall revenue for publishers during the period was down 2.8 percent at $13.2 billion.

Similarly, the U.K. market is doing better after a rough period, according to James Daunt, managing director of retailer Waterstones.

"Book sales in the U.K. are in robust growth and have been for the last year," he told CNBC via email. "Physical book sales are growing at 3 percent to 4 percent after many years of decline. To give this context, the market for physical books declined by 25 percent in the three years of 2011 to 2013."

Part of the reason for declines in print book sales was the rise of e-books and e-readers, but this sector is now falling. According to business magazine "The Bookseller", e-book sales by the U.K.'s five biggest publishers dropped 2.4 percent between 2014 and 2015, to 47.8 million.

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E-book sales in the U.S. are also falling. The APP said e-book sales were down 12.3 percent in 2015 compared to the year before.

The consumer shift away from e-books and back to print may be a good sign for the industry, as e-book sales seem to rely on cheap prices. Market research by Mintel found 36 percent of e-book readers would only buy an e-book priced under £3 ($4.23), compared to 22 percent of all readers.

"Growth of the e-book market is beginning to stall," Mintel said in a report from September. "The e-book market appears to be worryingly reliant on very cheap prices in order to boost consumer purchases."

However, one area that is experiencing strong growth is audio books. The APP said audio book downloads increased by 38.1 percent in 2015 and services such as Audible, where users pay a monthly subscription to access a library of audio books, are growing.

"Audible membership growth is consistent at 40 per cent year on year, as more consumers realise how well audiobooks can fit into their busy lives," explained Tracey Markham, country manager for Audible, to CNBC via email. "Audible members globally listened to 1.6 billion hours of audio content in 2015 (up from 1.2 billion in 2014)."

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