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Business focus: LibScan
03.09.10 | Tom Tivnan & Philip Stone
Even a very experienced bookseller would be excused if they admitted never having heard of Anna Jacobs [pictured]. The saga writer has published 47 books with the latest, In Focus (Severn House), just released in paperback. Yet it is fair to say that Jacobs has never set the Nielsen BookScan Total Consumer Market charts alight. Her total sales from January 2010 to mid-August are at a respectable, yet certainly not stratospheric, 7,200 copies for a value of close to £28,000.
Ah, but if you are a librarian, there is absolutely no excuse for not knowing Jacobs. According to LibScan, Nielsen's chart of library borrowings that was launched a year ago, Jacobs is the 28th most popular author of 2010 with 427,000 loans. In libraries this year, Jacobs is more popular than Stephenie Meyer (234,170 loans) and Dan Brown (188,470) combined.
That the relatively unknown Jacobs is far hotter in libraries than authors who are burning up the TCM—she more than doubles Stieg Larsson's loans, triples Charlaine Harris' and quadruples Bill Bryson's—underscores the key point that comes out when comparing LibScan to BookScan data: there is a vast gulf in the reading public's tastes between the books it borrows and those it buys.
Taking a look at the LibScan top 50 authors, more than half (27), are not in the equivalent TCM authors list. True, LibScan's second most loaned author, Nora Roberts, just misses the TCM top 50 at 52nd place, but she has a huge disparity between loans and sales. Her titles have been borrowed more than 1.35 million times this year, while her sales are at (a still pretty healthy) 203,000. Adding the two figures, that would mean that 87% of Roberts' combined loans and sales came from libraries, while only 13% came from bookshops or online.
These vast discrepancies exist throughout the LibScan Top 50 author chart. Author and illustrator Mick Inkpen is number seven on LibScan (707,000 loans) and comes in 156th on the TCM (85,000 copies sold), an 89% to 11% split. Hamish MacBeth and Agatha Raisin creator M C Beaton is the ninth most borrowed author of the year to date with 659,000 loans, while her sales are just over 91,000, an 88% to 12% differential. Jacobs has the greatest of all library shares, with 99% of her combined loans and sales coming from borrowers. The 28th most popular library author, she is the 2,090th bestselling author through the TCM.
Finding out what books are being borrowed is obviously of prime concern to librarians in order to help with buying decisions and where to position books. Yet this LibScan data can be vital to booksellers and publishers, too. There is obviously an appetite for authors such as Jacobs, which booksellers arguably are not satisfying (see Ones You Might Have Missed, page 20). Looking at Jacobs again, her bestselling book this year is Star of the North (Hodder), which has sold 3,500 copies. Yet that book has been loaned 16,800 times. Beaton's loans eclipse her sales by some 570,000 copies. If that were sales through bookshops, we would be talking a figure of some £2.5m.
LibScan was set up in July 2009, covering, according to Nielsen, about 10% of all libraries in the UK and the service tracks about one million borrowings a week. For the purposes of this analysis, we have given an estimated loan figure for the entire UK, multiplying the figures LibScan gets from its local authority panel by a factor of 10. Furthermore, in order to get the TCM figures up to 100% (it currently covers 90% of the UK market), we multiplied by a factor of 1.1. The loan and sales data is from 27th December 2009 to 10th July 2010.
The bottom line is that library borrowers tend to favour fiction. The LibScan data shows that almost 50% of all library loans are adult fiction, compared to about 35% of sales by volume through the TCM. Conversely, only 20% of library loans are adult non-fiction, compared to 35% through BookScan. It does make sense that the one-off nature of fiction lends itself more to library loans. Yet it is interesting how dominant fiction is at the top of the list. The first adult non-fiction title on LibScan's most loaned chart, Paul O'Grady's At My Mother's Knee . . . (Bantam), is way down in 221st place. Out of those first 220 titles, adult fiction makes up 180 spots, children's the remaining 40. The next adult non-fiction title? You'll have to go down a further 147 spots to number 368 for Dawn French's Dear Fatty (Century).
Children's represents about 30% of the libraries market, roughly equivalent to its share of the TCM. Yet children's authors have a greater presence at the top of the library lists; 15 of the top 50 authors in TCM in 2010 are children's authors, compared to 21 of the top 50 in the LibScan chart. This is perhaps no surprise given the recently released Department for Culture, Media and Sport statistics on library visits. Adults who visited a public library at least once a year declined from 48.2% in 2005–06 to 39.4% in 2009–10, but the number of children who visited at least once a year remained steady at 77.9%.
What is interesting about those top loaned children's authors is how different they are from the top selling ones. Only seven of those 21 LibScan authors are also on the TCM Top 50: Julia Donaldson, Adam Blade, Daisy Meadows, Jacqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Michael Morpurgo. And some of the most borrowed children's authors have rarely troubled the TCM Top 5,000 this year. Jez Alborough has sold almost 8,000 books this year, but has had an astonishing 313,000 books borrowed.
Of course, one of the main reasons for the dominance of fiction and children's authors is range. Libraries have more flexibility, and less commercial pressures, in keeping an author's deep backlist in the stacks. It is worth noting, however, that the top of the LibScan chart is still dominated by frontlist with only three titles in the top 200—Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo (Macmillan), Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Walker) and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (Red Fox)—that could be considered deep backlist, and the Sendak book was in no doubt helped by the recent film adaptation. But the very nature of the library allows the backlist to tick over nicely. In Alborough's case, for example, he did not have one book in the top 1,000 LibScan titles, but he had 11 titles that had more than 10,000 loans each.
Given that this backlist can drive an author up the LibScan charts, it is unsurprising to see so many genre authors on the list. James Patterson is by some 300,000 borrowings the loans king. Series crime does particularly well with the likes of Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and Patricia Cornwell in the top 50. The sheer weight of backlist helps: Patterson has 165 different ISBNs that have charted on LibScan in 2010, Rankin 97, McCall Smith 64, and Cornwell 46.
One area of series genre fiction that bookshops seem to avoid but which works well in libraries is sagas, romance and, for want of a better term, commercial women's fiction for older ladies (granny-lit?). There are nine authors on the LibScan top 50 that roughly fall into these categories (if we include Agatha Christie and M C Beaton) and just one on the TCM (Maeve Binchy, who is number 38 on LibScan).
For some of these writers, the disparity between book sales and loans is enormous. Let's take a closer look at Nora Roberts, for example. Now, shifting over 200,000 copies through the TCM in a half year is in no way a bad result and Little, Brown (and Piatkus before) have done a lot to break her in the UK, but she has not approached the levels of book sales that she has had in her native US. Yet that she is within shouting distance of Patterson for the number one spot suggests that she may be poised for greater bookshop success.
And how about Rosie Harris? The Random House published writer of Liverpool and Wales-based sagas has had over 363,000 loans to 10th July, compared to book sales of around 16,000. Four of her titles—The Quality of Love, Whispers of Love, Love Changes Everything, A Love Like Ours (there seems to be a theme there)—have had more than 30,000 library loans each. Again, the popularity of these saga writers in libraries suggests that more can done in bookshops.
Almost counter-intuitively, given how range and number of titles help an author on LibScan, classics do not fare as well as they do in bookshops. If we ignore post-1945 authors (which almost conveniently leaves aside classic children's authors such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, who score highly in bookshops and in libraries) the first classic author on the TCM is William Shakespeare, in 114th place. On LibScan, the bard is down in a lowly 1,609th place. Charles Dickens is 189th on the TCM, 619th on LibScan; Jane Austen is 190th on the TCM, 512th on LibScan. The bestselling version of Pride and Prejudice in 2010 is the Penguin Classics edition, which has sold 5,801 copies, making it the 2,467th book on the TCM Top 5,000. That same edition is the most popular in libraries, with 3,880 loans, which is 10,077th place on the LibScan Top 50,000. Readers prefer to buy their classics.
LIBSCAN TOP 20 27.12.09-27.12.10