How do you like 2016 so far?
Today, we're looking for something a little more (or less) than a prediction:
What would you like to see become a high point of 2016?
Clearly, the major author-advocacy organisations in many parts of the world have orchestrated a certain jump on us this year, with their coordinated international demand for publishing contract reform. There's new input from Society of Author president Philip Pullman, as reported by Katherine Cowdrey at The Bookseller.
As we've quoted the Authors Guild's statement asserting:
Unfair terms in publishing agreements negatively affect authors’ incomes and even their ability to write at all. That’s the conclusion the Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative has repeatedly demonstrated since it was launched in May 2015. Now it’s time to act on that conclusion.
But what of publishers? How high on the list of 2016 priorities might contract reform be for them? And what might spring past it, in this young year?
Well, going by my colleague Tom Tivnan's Review of 2015: Print's seven-year itch scratched, one wish may have been granted the trade already. Tivnan writes:
From 2008 to 2014, our annual round-ups were doom-laden dirges, with the print market falling yearly through Nielsen BookScan—the drop over the duration of that period totalled £403m, or 22%.
But times are a changin’; 2015 is a bubbly-popping Review of the Year. After green shoots of abating decline in 2014, last year broke the print market’s miserable run, recording the first rise in sales for seven years.
Ah, yes, the "print surge." And it's not just springtime for Crayola: a lot of types of novelty books seem to be in play. Remember literature? No, I don't either. But see that as we may, Tivnan goes on to write:
The key number for 2015 is £7.95. That is the average selling price for the year, the highest since BookScan records began in 1998. The other key stat: 23.9%. That was 2015’s percentage off r.r.p., the lowest in 10 years. In short, part of print’s 2015 success was due to the fact that books were sold at a higher price (21p greater per book than in 2014) and discounted less (2014 discount was 26.6%; 2010-12 had a three year span of all-time highs, between 29.3-29.8%).
Get that last line? "Books were sold at a higher price." And they were "discounted less." What does that say to you? What kind of signals for 2016 do you glean from such an interesting tidbit on pricing?
Tivnan points out that in the UK, EL James' Grey "easily topped the annual chart, by a stunning 400,000 copies." Some things stay the same, don't they?
In his leader piece, Healthy living, Bookseller editor Philip Jones writes that booksellers recorded "a bound in sales of physical books this Christmas"—no contest there—but also "renewed recognition from shoppers as to the value of the well-curated/loved bookshop." Ah. Maybe. Recording "renewed recognition" is a bit trickier than recording more sales in the print column. And while it's easy to know that Jones is reflecting accurately the sensation of many beleaguered store owners and staffers (and no one can wish them less than well, after all), haven't we crossed that line in the middle of the high street when we start talking of the consumer's "renewed recognition" of anything at all? Tennessee Williams might have whispered "Blow out your candles, Laura," just about now.
And how do things look on that infamous "plateau"?
"The digital picture is more murky (and complex)," writes Jones, "but my assumption would be that ebook sales growth continued to stall for the major trade publishers, but that the wider electronic content market (including sales of self-published books, academic journals, audiobooks and apps) managed not only to grow but also to broaden its reach and ultimately widen its impact."
I do like his quote from Hachette's Tim Hely Hutchinson about how in 2016, we need to “have the imagination to see that our future goes beyond a print up/ebook down analysis. The real job ahead of all of us is to ensure that we compete with all forms of digital media.”
And how likely are we to find that imagination? We don't easily escape the one-thing-vs.-another-thing mentality in publishing, do we? Is it worth wondering if in 2016, the industry might become less a one-thing-or-the-other place?—an arena more willing to see all boats float?—a workforce less needy of seeing somebody be "right" and somebody be "wrong"?
Stateside confetti still is being swept up (or shoved around) the dance floor, too, with Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch writing in Strong Christmas Sales Week Lifts 2015 Print Sales a Little More:
For all of 2015 print book sales grew by 17.6 million units in all, or a modest 2.8 percent, moving over 652 million units in all. (In 2014, unit sales were up about 15 million units compared to the prior year.)
This is interesting:
In the end, frontlist sales nudged into positive territory for the year, up about 2 million units, even as backlist still drove almost all of the unit gains.
This is, too:
The larger and more important shift we focused on in our earlier piece—where books are sold—was even larger by year-end, with Nielsen's "retail and club" outlets growing unit sales by 5.4 percent, as the smaller "mass merchandisers and other" segment declined by 8.8 percent.
But this is most interesting of all:
Misguided popular accounts of nuanced data continue unabated. In the latest, the Observer tried to argue that some of the ridiculous stories magnifying print's modest gains overlook "the fact that publishers jacked up the prices of ebooks just as the trend began." Except that, as we've established, the "trend" began at least one year prior. Plus the biggest trade publisher did not return to agency until September, after the "trend" was reinforced. They try to build a circumstantial case that fiction readers switched from ebooks to print books because of price, blissfully ignorant of the evidence that adult nonfiction trade paperbacks accounted for the year's major gains.
Sorry, are those your crayons or mine?
This story was written as the walkup to the #FutureChat of 8th January 2016. Join us every Friday live on Twitter at:
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You first. No, please. I insist.
Needless to say, the trend to men's suits loosening up "but still retaining a trim fit" is what we're all focused on. To me, this sounds more like weight loss than fashion design, but what do I know? "Suits will embrace more colour, but retain a conservative style," writes Dennis Green at Business Insider. And thank God we got that sorted.
I predict that we'll see such brilliant creative range in the industry's output this year that never again will we say publishers copy each other's successes. And did you see my colleague Charlotte Eyre's report that Faber will publish illustrator Richard Smythe and author Katie Blackburn's Dozy Bear and the Secret Sleep? I'm yawning like a rabbit.
But once we get past those top-level concerns, we find that publishing already has handed us some surprises, of course. We learn from my colleague Lisa Campbell that Pottermore was a bit Potterless than we might have assumed. It took a hit "in the year ending in March 2015" when "sales dropped by £24.8m – or 352% - to £7m (from £31.8m a year earlier), while profit at Pottermore also decreased significantly, from £14.9m in 2014 to a loss of £6m in 2015. Staff count at the company also fell, from 40 to 30 in the period to March 2015, according to the accounts" filed with the Companies House, that bunch of Snitches. I mean come on, our Harry?
We're all Wordsteaders now. Writing and creating and doing bits of work. Sometimes for money, sometimes for the betterment of the world. (Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, etc.)
And here's the kicker -- for those who are more serious about writing and publishing, it means that we have a whole new line of possible income sources. Because people spend money on their hobbies. And writing, as well as reading, is a hobby now.
In fact, LaGuire has decided to drive the car right on over the cliff:
I'll just cut to the chase and make this announcement: I am now officially an Amateur Writer.
It's going to be a great year, isn't it, wordsteaders? See you in #FutureChat.
Join us each Friday live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (GMT), 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).
Main image - iStockphoto: A. Poselenov