Publishers have called on the Government to use new internet laws to rein in Amazon’s “monopoly” dominance over the book trade.
The Publishers Association (PA) reported record sales of £6.7bn in 2021, boosted by TikTok influencers recommending new and old titles in video clips which went viral during the pandemic.
A TikTok community called BookTok, whose members rave about their favorite books in clips filmed in book stores, helped push UK sales to a new high.
Recommendations have reactivated sales of titles which had been lying dormant on shelves for years, with the Young Adult (YA) fiction genre the greatest beneficiary.
Stores reported teenagers buying multiple physical copies of backlist books such as They Both Die at the Enda 2017 sci-fi YA novel by Adam Silvera and Cain’s Jawbonea murder mystery published in 1934 by cryptic crossword inventor, Edward Powys Mathers, described as an “almost impossibly difficult literary puzzle.”
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association (PA), told i: “TikTok is bringing a new generation of enthusiastic readers back into stores and it’s breathed new life into a lot of backlist titles.
“With Cain’s Jawbone, the pages are published in the wrong order and people are putting up videos of themelves trying to solve the mystery. It’s selling tens of thousands of copies.”
The Official Highway Code has risen to the top of the bookseller Top 50 for the first time since 1999. Mr Lotinga attributed the surge to “pent-up demand for driving tests” after nearly two years of pandemic restrictions.
However the industry warned that more independent book stores, already reporting reduced customer spending as the cost of living crisis bites, could disappear from the high street as Amazon extends its dominance.
In a submission to ministers considering powers that will be given to the new Digital Markets Taskforce, tasked with clamping down on anti-competitive behavior by tech giants, the PA said Amazon had “established a monopoly of the digital and audio book markets and an enormous share of the physical book market. Publishers cannot afford not to trade with Amazon.”
Mr Lotinga said: “While the industry has done well during the pandemic, we have also seen further consolidation of sales on a single digital market platform.”
“Such a lack of competition cannot benefit readers in the long-term and that is why it is more important than ever that the Government meets its commitment to bring forward new powers to properly regulate the tech giants in the forthcoming Queen’s speech.”
Mr Lotinga told i that those powers could include designating Amazon a “supersized” business that is not allowed to arbitrarily remove books from sale if publishers don’t sign up to its terms.
Despite bookstores being closed for months during the pandemic, and supply costs rising due to the soaring price of paper, print sales rose by 5 per cent.
Children’s book sales rose by 7 per cent to £425m whilst audio downloads continued to thrive during lockdown, with revenues soaring by 14 per cent to £151m.