First-quarter performance: 2011

First-quarter performance: 2011

The pace of change is perhaps the biggest culture shift in the digital age. Not just because the technology moves on so quickly, with new, supposedly "game changing" devices or business models entering the market seemingly every month, but also how quickly received wisdom shifts. Had you asked observers a year ago what the most solid part of the print market was, the answer would probably have been fiction.

Now as we look at the first quarter 2011 stats from Nielsen BookScan's Total Consumer Market, we see indications that fiction (both adult and young adult) is the most exposed part of the market. Of the four major BookScan categories in Q1 2011, we have seen slides through the TCM top 5,000 bestseller list for the period for three of them: Fiction (down 9% by value in the same quarter year on year), Children's (-6%) and Specialist Non-Fiction (-14%). Only Trade Non-Fiction, up a healthy 15%, bucks the trend.

Overall, print sales slid £10.2m to £324m against the same period in 2010, a drop of 3.1%. There was a sharper fall in volume: just over 44.5 million books have been sold through the TCM in the first 12 weeks of 2011, a drop of 5.5%. Well, you may think, that's something of a triumph for the book trade—if the received wisdom is true that e-books now account for 5% of all sales, surely that means the market is 2% up in value terms.

Not exactly. Until a credible e-book panel is created—and Nielsen Book president Jonathan Nowell said last week that it could be set up in the third or fourth quarter this year—we cannot assess the true impact of e-books. Yet, given that the bestseller e-book lists on Amazon and Apple are dominated by fiction titles, it does seem safe to surmise that the decline in fiction print sales is due to a shift to e-books.

Pulped fiction
Fiction's slide is across the board, yet starts at the very top. At this point in 2010, 12 fiction (in all sub-categories) titles had sales of more than £500,000 through the TCM, with three—Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl (Transworld), and Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire (both Quercus)—selling just over £1m. This year, seven have hit the £500,000 mark, with only one, Emma Donoghue's Room (Picador), over £1m, at £1.3m.

At a 4% decline, Fiction: General and Literary is not suffering as much as the bulk of the fiction sub-categories, and is only just below the overall market slump of 3%. One wonders how deep the decline would have been without Richard & Judy—R&J spring book club titles Sarah Blake's The Postmistress (Penguin), Rose Tremain's Trespass (Vintage) and Donoghue's Room are all in the top 12 bestselling books of the quarter (though the last has been helped by Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisting).
Incidentally, it is worth noting—yet again—David Nicholls' One Day's remarkable staying power. At the end of the first-quarter 2010, it was the 10th bestselling book of the year by value with 135,784 copies for £702,813. This year it is at number five, shifting 143,527 copies for £820,641.

Yet the received wisdom of the past few months is true: digital is almost assuredly hitting genre fiction hardest, with Crime, Thriller & Adventure (-10%), Science Fiction & Fantasy (-14%) and Romance & Sagas (-22%) all recording double-digit declines. True, this is traditionally the weakest quarter of the year where a big book or author can make an even more pronounced difference on a -category's performance. Historical & Mythological Fiction's year-on-year decline, for example, is almost solely down to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), which had taken in almost £950,000 in all editions at this time last year. Still, there seems to be an across-the-board weakening in print performance for Crime, Sci-fi and Romance. Strip out Stieg-Larsson from the Crime sub--category, for example, and there is still an 8% drop.

True stories
Almost counter-intuitively, then, Trade Non-Fiction is on the rise. Food & Drink: General is by some margin the highest rising sub-category by value: up £6.5m. The next closest sub-category, and the only other to have sales growth of more than £1m is Children's Fiction, at £1.3m. And yes, this does have a little something to do with Jamie Oliver. Last year's mega-hit Jamie's 30-Minute Meals (Michael Joseph) continues to barrel along, selling £4.6m worth through the TCM in the first quarter of 2011—some £3m better than the next highest earning book; by contrast the best-selling book at this point last year was Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn (ATOM) at £1.5m.

Yet Food & Drink: General's growth is not solely down to Oliver. Strip out his sales and the sub-category would rise still by £2.3m to £9.5m. The second bestselling title overall through the TCM by value in Q1 is Baking Made Easy by model turned pastry chef Lorraine Pascale, which sold £1.4m, powered by her BBC2 series of the same name. After Oliver and Pascale, there are three other cookery books in the Top 50 earners by value: the Hairy Bikers' Mums Still Know Best (Weidenfeld), a follow-up to their 2010 Mother's Day hit; Nigella Lawson's autumn 2010 release Kitchen (Chatto) and Tarek Malouf's Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days (Collins), the first outing with HarperCollins for the Hummingbird Bakery brand after it moved from indie Ryland, Peters & Small.

It is interesting that Food & Drink is doing so well, given that not only is there a surfeit of free recipes on the web but that these celeb chefs and cookery brands have all invested heavily in digital and enhanced e-books. There is a suggestion that print in this genre will not slow anytime soon for purely practical purposes: no matter how whiz-bang the digital products are, iPads and Kindles will have to get a lot less expensive and disposable for people to tolerate getting bolognese sauce or chocolate frosting on them.

Outside of cookery, the Trade Non-Fiction that has worked well this year is, by and large, strongly narrative-driven, many on the more serious end of the market—Simon Sebag Montefiore's lavishly reviewed Jerusalem (Weidenfeld), Edmund de Waal's Costa Biography winner The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto), Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects (Allen Lane), the last still selling well in a £30 hardback some seven months on from publication.

There have also been, of course, a few tie-ins: Quercus' clever and timely publication of Mark Logue's The King's Speech, Aron Ralston's "a farewell to arm" memoir 127 Hours (Simon & Schuster), and TV science hunk Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System (both Collins). But the trend suggests people seem to be willing to stay in print for the more serious end of the market.

Publisher performance
It stands to reason, given that Q1 can often be dominated by Christmas titles in the January sales, that how publishers finished 2010 is much as they start it in Q1. Given that the latter half of the year is when the trade earns its crust, we perhaps should not make too much of this. But at the top of the table, Hachette UK's lead has shrunk, with TCM sales falling 18% and its Q1 market share sliding from 15.67% to 13.21%. Second placed Random House remains essentially level (a TCM sales loss of 1%), and increases market share to 12.43%.

The question over the past few years has been whether Random will catch Hachette; maybe the question in 2011 should be: will Penguin? Its rise continues unabated, up 18% on last quarter (22% for Penguin, 3% for DK, although Rough Guides lets the side down with an 11% drop). It is early doors, but it is just a whisker behind Random (12.09% market share, and trailing by £1m in sales), and within shouting distance of Hachette (£3.6m behind).

Elsewhere down the list, fourth placed HarperCollins' 3% TCM slide is less precipitous than the publisher has experienced in the past couple of years. Pan Mac continues its rise, up 3% to leapfrog the Indie Alliance (just), which remains level for Q1, and hit fifth place. Bloomsbury is up 5% to ninth place, Simon & Schuster up 11% to 11th and Faber rises 18% to claim 12th spot.

For publishers who have had huge jumps in percentage terms for Q1, there is a trend that many have consumer bases which are keener on physical books: from children's publishers such as Usborne (up 27%) and Andersen Press (+29%); to illustrated publishers Laurence King (+32%) and V&A (+26%); to the heritage and specialist market such as Amberley (+58%), Osprey (+21%) and Birlinn (+18%).

A special mention, though, must go to Igloo, the highest riser, up 253% in Q1, with sales of £870,000. The Northamptonshire-based children's, novelty and puzzle publisher has fully entered the UK trade in the past couple of years, and its rise has been meteoric. It finished 2010 up 742% year on year, and has started 2011 in brilliant shape.