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A commuter reads on a Kindle while riding the subway in Cambridge, Mass. Barnes & Noble will launch its Nook e-books reader in the U.K. this autumn, marking the first time the U.S. bookseller has expanded overseas in its 95-year history.

BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

The rapid adoption of digital books has helped propel U.K. publishers' sales to a 6.1-per-cent year-on-year increase despite a sluggish overall economy and falling non-digital revenues.

Sales of fiction e-books in the U.K. nearly tripled to £66-million ($105-million) in the six months to the end of June compared with the same period in 2011, according to figures from the Publishers Association.

Driven by the widespread adoption of e-reading devices such as the Kindle and Kobo, digital sales now comprise about 13 per cent of total U.K. book sales, up from 7.2 per cent a year ago.

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E-books sales are still dwarfed by revenues from physical books, whose sales shrank 0.4 per cent year-on-year from £985-million to £982-million, and declined 3.8 per cent by volume to £251-million. But many publishers now increasingly rely on e-books as a source of growth for their business.

"The figures demonstrate the increased penetration of e-readers, and have been facilitated by publishers making more content available digitally," said Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, which represents publishers in the U.K..

The data – compiled from sales figures from about 250 publishers U.K.-wide – showed that total revenues from digital and non-digital sales rose 6.1 per cent year-on-year to £1.1-billion.

Publishers have increasingly turned to e-books to offset dwindling physical book sales, with Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter series, describing the trend as a "seismic shift" in the industry.

Children's e-books sales – up 171 per cent to £2.6-million – were buoyed by the popularity of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, while non-fiction e-titles rose 128 per cent to £13-million.

"There are no surprises in that growth. I fully expect it to press ahead at that kind of rate next year," said Douglas McCabe, media analyst at Enders.

"With the Kindle Fire and the possible launch of the iPad mini, you would expect that there is room for enormous amounts of growth, especially post-Christmas." Barnes & Noble will also launch its Nook e-books reader in the U.K. this autumn, marking the first time the U.S. bookseller has expanded overseas in its 95-year history.

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Digital and physical booksellers are poised for a jump in sales this month when J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, publishes The Casual Vacancy, her first novel for adults.

But Mr. McCabe said the rise in e-books sales presented publishers with the challenge of maintaining margins.

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