Yes, yes, I know you’ve heard all this before, but the publishing market is undergoing extraordinary change. More now, than at any time for the last 500 years.
For the first half of 2012, adult fiction sales are down 17% in print – and that’s despite the amazing (in every sense) success of EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. It’s hard to be sure, but the digital market now accounts for 10-12% of the overall book market, is growing rapidly, and may be enough to more or less stabilise industry revenues as a whole. (Adult print fiction is the most impacted by digital, but that’s only because digital revenues have been growing particularly strongly in that category. Indeed, part of James’ success was the anonymity offered by all those e-readers.)
What does this mean? Well, it’s still too soon to tell, but:
- The outlook for high street book retailers is terrible. Large chunks of the current industry will disappear. Bookshops will remain, but only good ones. Ones where you don’t mind paying the extra over Amazon prices, because the selection, passion, environment (and cakes) are all wonderful.
- In big chunks of the industry, we’ll soon see digital sales that are 50-75% of the total. Crime fiction, for example, is heading that way.
- Publishers can no longer depend on their old methods of promoting books. The handing-a-huge-cheque-to-retailers-for-promotion model has pretty much collapsed, for example. Existing mega-sellers are fine. For new authors, the position is much less certain.
- No publisher has yet demonstrated past doubt a sure-fire method for promoting new work digitally. That’s not to say it won’t happen. And perhaps it’s just plain too early to expect more. But at the moment, I think it’s fair to say that publishers are deeply uncertain about how to sell books. Which is their job.
Oh, and Sainsbury’s have released info about what items are commonly found in the baskets of shoppers purchasing Fifty Shades of Grey. Milk and stuff, of course, but the fourth most common item: a man’s tie.