Friday, 14 September 2012

The writing is on the (electronic) wall

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey, Thomas Payne and Jack Steel)

There’s been both good news and bad news in the world of publishing in America just recently, your perception of the various reports being coloured significantly by exactly where you stand.
            According to Publishers Weekly, and their report was based on sales data supplied by Bowker Market Research, Amazon further extended its considerable lead in the book marketplace over the past twelve months, and today almost a third – 29% in fact – of all money spent on books passes through the tills at Amazon. That’s a big jump from the figure quoted last year, of 23%.
            Some other retailers are also improving their figures, though not by much. Barnes & Noble – still the world’s largest bookseller with both online and High Street retailers – managed a 1% shift – hardly a jump – from a 19% to 20% share of the market, and other online retailers, excluding both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, together accounted for roughly 10% of all spending on books by consumers. Adding the various sets of data together produces the unsurprising conclusion that well over half of all consumer spending on books is today done online.
            Independent bookstores are continuing to be less and less significant, this year holding only 6% of the marketplace, a fall of a third from their 9% share of a year earlier. Coming in at fourth in the sales figures are three separate outlets: the supermarket giant Wal-Mart, book clubs and Christian outlets, each holding about 4% of the market. Apart from Wal-Mart, American supermarkets only account for 1% of all book sales, a significantly lower percentage than in Britain, where the fiction buyer for Asda can literally decide whether or not a particular book will make it into the bestseller charts, based solely on his or her decision about whether or not Asda will stock it.
            The only other significant sales reported were the warehouse clubs which sold 3% of books, and Books-A-Million, the second largest American bookstore chain, which accounted for a mere 2% of all book sales.
            If I was investing money in any American bookstore chain apart from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I’d be worried. Remember that last year Borders accounted for roughly 10% of all book sales in Britain, and today the stores are shuttered and barred.
            Perhaps surprisingly, the study also showed that sales of ebooks only accounted for about 10% of all book revenue, and that women were responsible for 64% of all spending on ebooks. The demographic analysis was interesting as well, showing that the highest percentage of ebook purchases came from people in the 18-29 age range (31%), with the 30-44 year old buyers very close behind with 28%. The younger teens, in the 13-17 age range, only bought 5% of ebooks, so presumably the ‘Harry Potter effect’ has now started to die away.
            There was a slightly different poll conducted in a recent edition of USA Today, which asked readers how they obtained their most recent book. Less than half of those who responded (48%) said that they had bought it. Almost a quarter of them (24%) had borrowed it from either a friend or family member, and a further 14% had borrowed it from a library.
A somewhat surprising 13% ticked the ‘other’ box, which could mean that they found it, stole it – though most people wouldn’t consider books to be high value or desirable items in the eyes of most thieves – received it as a gift or obtained it from some kind of communal resource, like the paperback cupboard in a clubhouse. Those people reading electronic versions, of course, could well have downloaded the book for free from Amazon, either because the book was offered as a loss leader to advertise that particular author’s other works, or as a kind of free promotion ahead of the book going on sale at normal price.
But whatever the reason, the one fact that shone out very clearly from that particular survey was that less than half of those readers who answered had actually paid money for their current choice of literature, and that really cannot be good news for anybody involved in publishing, at any level or in any position.

You can contact me at:
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