Books as popular as ever among video-age Britons

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The Independent Online
Britons have been trying to beat the recession by curling up with a good book, according to the Publishers' Association yearbook, which was released yesterday. The yearbook shows that the market grew significantly in 1993, with sales, adjusted for inflation, up 5.2 per cent on the previous year, to £2.7bn.

It says that books have maintained their share of spending on recreation, despite the fierce competition from videos, compact discs and computers. However, there are strong signs that sales of best-sellers dropped during 1994. The survey says that after sharp rises in mass-market paperback prices in the early 1990s, bringing the pressure to cut prices, there have been modest falls, mainly due to the adoption of £4.99 as a standard price.

However, the school book market grew modestly (5 per cent) after two years of boom, reflecting the introduction of the new national curriculum.

The yearbook says the weak demand for academic and professional books should be a matter of some concern since student numbers have risen by 11 per cent.

The survey also points to trends suggesting that 1994 will turn out to have been a tougher year, with problems created by education authorities suspending school books sales as the national curriculum was amended.

Britain spends on average £43.73 per head per adult on books, compared with £39.98 in France, £30.80 in the Netherlands, £49.98 in Germany, and £53.43 in the United States. In Britain public libraries are used more , with 11 loans per person, compared with fewer than two in France and Germany.

There is also a healthy export market for educational and professional books in English.

The survey shows that the total number of new titles continues to increase steadily, with adult books (fiction and non- fiction paperbacks) showing steady growth.

The yearbook shows that the average margin on books (the difference between the retail price and the price charged by the publisher) grew to around 42 per cent of the price paid by the customer in1993, compared with 40 per cent in 1985. However, margins on school books were unchanged at around 25 per cent.

The report also notes a recovery in sales of children's books, which had fallen between 1990 and 1992 by 12 per cent. The number of newly published children's books rose to an all-time peak of 7,030

during 1993. Sales were £258.6m, with the average child (5 to 14 years) having £35.43 spent on him or her.

The preface to the book, compiled by Dr Francis Fishwick, says publication has been held up because of delays in obtaining relevant government statistics.

Book Trade Year Book, 1994.

The Publishers' Association, 19 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HJ.