More or less?
30.04.10 | Philip Jones
The Publishers Association's Statistics Yearbook, presented to the industry this week as part of the trade body's annual general meeting, makes sober reading. Non-fiction and reference books seriously down, schools publishing reeling.
Some bright spots, namely fiction, particularly hardbacks, digital, of course, and export sales on the rise thanks to the falling pound. As Canongate m.d. Jamie Byng noted, publishers managed to get "more for less" in areas where there was value growth. Perhaps the best we could have hoped for in 2009, but hardly a strategy for long-term prosperity.
The next year is not shaping up any better: Nielsen BookScan figures are currently showing a market staggering downwards rather than in recovery mode, with Larsson not quite replacing 2009's Meyer.
At least in 2009 we had the London Book Fair providing what was thought then to have been a fillip: this year, despite the Dunkirk spirit shown and Reed Exhibitions' generous offer there has to be concern about the lost business, or at least the extra cost publishers will have to employ getting that lost business.
Yet, despite the gloomy statistics publishing does not feel like a sector in permanent decline. The deckchairs may be moving, but the ship, with new engines from the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple and new passengers such as Nosy Crow and Winged Chariot, is not adrift.
But there is clearly a disconnect between the new world and the old, which now needs to be urgently bridged, lest the publishing sector suffers the headlines that have beset music publishers for the past decade—use of music up, industry down and out of step.
The trade associations can help, as incoming PA president Victoria Barnsley noted in her acceptance speech the trade body "tends to focus more on threats", and not, as outgoing president Simon Allen noted, "talking about the huge opportunities". Perhaps one simple change would be to get Apple, Amazon and Google onside and inside the tent, either as part of the PA or even the Booksellers Association.
The thirst for reading and the sharing of knowledge is self-evidently not in decline. Far, far, from it. Publishers should be looking to gain more from more, rather than what ultimately may become less from less: but we may need to change how we see ourselves first.