This week, our colleagues on book trade magazines internationally share data on the past year in their own markets—some with confirmed statistics, and some using early estimates that still give a useful indication of the state of play.
It’s always interesting to see what an international comparison throws up—if only for the bemusing picture of tech-loving China’s 24-hour, self-service, fully automated version of the modern bookshop, opened in Beijing and other major cities last year.
China’s double-digit growth aside, the book markets our trade magazine colleagues describe in Europe, the US and Australia are generally fairly steady, showing only marginal increases or decreases in value across 2018—although where a small decline follows several years of similar performance, as in France, this may add up to a more concerning picture. Nowhere here is the book trade a noticeably comfortable place to be: but equally it holds its own, more or less, in a tricky climate. There are shared areas of growth: the political books that have boosted the US and UK have also been bestsellers in Germany; and the audiobooks boom is being enjoyed everywhere, even in markets such as Spain which came relatively late to the party.
But fiction didn’t have a great 2018 internationally, despite fresh success in Italy for Elena Ferrante’s newly televised My Beautiful Friend or big sales for Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore in China. In the US, a poor year (a 4.6% decline for adult fiction) adds to a longer term record of relative print weakness in fiction across the past several years (with the exception of the Go Set a Watchman year in 2015). The long travails of the largest US bookselling chain Barnes & Noble must be a factor here, while reviving indie numbers offer some hope. In the UK, fiction has also seen a falling-off from its print heyday in 2009–10, when sales through the TCM were at £475m; today they stand at £359m, nearly 25% lower. Yet the category has been steadily rising for the past five years, coinciding with a stronger Waterstones.
The growth potential shown by non-fiction was a factor for the restructure at Penguin Random House US, which saw c.e.o. Madeline McIntosh (profiled this week) merge the Random House and Crown divisions last year. McIntosh tells The Bookseller the restructure was driven by “evolution... where, in the adult space, there is potential for growth”, with Crown having the “essential seeds” in non-fiction categories such as business, lifestyle, wellness and self-help that McIntosh now expects to grow under the purview of Gina Centrello, formerly president and publisher of Random House alone.
But publishing is cyclical, not linear, as our feature on YA publishing suggests. Once the locus for soaring sales, YA lost its way in the UK in 2018, with print sales slumping 26%. This year—which will see real event publishing, with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale sequel— may yet see fiction regain some of its lost foothold on the publishing stage.