Death knell for books rung too early as sex sells

LONDON Wed May 1, 2013 1:30pm EDT

People wait for E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, during a book signing in London September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall

People wait for E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, during a book signing in London September 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - Erotic trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey" helped drive print and e-book sales in Britain to record levels in 2012 with publishers hailing figures on Wednesday as proof that digital books are not killing the traditional market quite yet.

Print and e-book sales rose 4 percent to 3.3 billion pounds ($5 billion) after slipping 2 percent in 2011, top British trade organization The Publishers Association said, although printed book sales fell 1 percent and had dropped 5 percent in 2011.

Chief Executive Richard Mollet said the overall rise was driven by a 21-percent jump in fiction sales to 674 million pounds, fuelled by demand for E.L. James's trilogy, a sadomasochistic story of student and businessman Christian Grey.

The books, published by Bertelsmann-owned Random House, sold over 70 million copies globally and were lampooned by critics. They are set to be made into a film, and sparked other sales of a growing genre of fiction dubbed "mummy porn".

"You can see in the world around you the growth in e-readers," said Mollet, pointing to commuters engrossed in Amazon kindles, iPads and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

"But what is interesting is that the continued growth of digital books does not seem to be eating away (as much as expected) at physical sales."

Fiction sales buoyed the print market, which nevertheless dipped to 2.93 billion pounds, and helped to more than double e-book sales to 216 million, he said.

Digital books accounted for about 12 percent of 2012 sales, up from 8 percent in 2011 and 5 percent in 2010.

The global book industry that was estimated to be worth $121 billion in 2011 is forecast to grow to $172 billion by 2017, according to a report by market research firm Lucintel.

Mollet said digital sales, for e-books, audiobook downloads and online subscriptions, jumped 66 percent in 2012 to 411 million pounds with fiction sales up 149 percent.

Philip Jones, editor of industry magazine The Bookseller, said fiction was the trailblazer for the shift to digital and it was key to now watch how print sales were affected as more non-fiction and children's titles were sold in digital formats.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)