27 July 2012 by Dominic Lenton
According to the BookStats annual survey of the US market, readers bought 2.77 billion books last year, a year-on-year increase of 3.4 per cent. However, the number that only existed as electrons meant that revenue was down by 2.5 per cent to just over $27.2 billion.
That shouldn't be surprising bearing in mind the arrival of so many new e-reader devices in shops during the period covered. What publishers and retailers will be interested in is where the patterns lie. One landmark was that digital copies represented 30 per cent of all adult fiction sales, making it the most popular single format, up from fourth place in 2010.
So what can the industry do about it? I'm mid-way through the new edition of John B Thompson's weighty 'Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century', which is as much a comprehensive history as it is a forecasting exercise, but skipped to the chapter near the end on 'the digital revolution' to see what the insiders Thompson interviewed are expecting to happen next.
One CEO, speaking only last year, is refreshingly frank, admitting that it's anyone's guess what proportion of the market e-books will account for when the dust settles.
"I wish I could give you wisdom," Thompson quotes the unnamed executive as saying, "but I have no idea. The consumer will act to define this - it won't be defined by Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Apple or us. Maybe only 26 per cent of people in America will want to read on devices and maybe we never go up another percentage point. On the other hand, maybe 100 per cent in the next three years switch over to reading devices. We just don't know. Anyone who tells you anything else is telling you a complete load of *****."
'Merchants of Culture' isn't just for the industry. If you're an aspiring author desperate to get your book it's a fascinating insight into the factors on which publishers base their decisions that undermines a few myths about how they only bank on established sure-fire winners at the expense of new writers.
Of course, even since the new edition came out earlier this year, the success of EL James's 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has moved the goalposts yet again and proved the 'We just don't know' maxim. Publishers are starting to look at how they can integrate the self-publishing route they have always looked down on as a massive slush pile into their business models.
In the past week, Pearson has spent £74m buying the self-publishing behemoth Author Solutions Inc, which has helped 150,000 writers get their work into the public arena. Whether we refer to them as authors or customers (ASI revenues from the services it provides and royalties on books stood at $100m in 2011 and were growing at a healthy 12 per cent) it looks like a sound investment. But how sustainable is it? A publishing novice will need their hand holding through the process of editing and producing a book on paper. As long as they're happy for it just to be available electronically - and now that most sales of adult fiction are in this format many will be - are the likes of ASI about to be undermined themselves by the digital revolution?
Read all about it...
Buy 'Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (Second Edition)' by John B Thompson, (Polity Press, £12.99, ISBN 978-0745661063) at Amazon.
The Bookseller reports on the 2011 BookStats survey.
How Author Solutions makes its money. 'If an Author Needs It, We Deliver It.'
Posted By: Dominic Lenton @ 27 July 2012 04:02 PM General
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