Official data black holes required us to focus on the bigger trade publishers in this year’s publishers’ review, but we can look at some stats that might be indicative of independent house performance. By the way, we have included as indies some entities that might be considered borderline, whose main activity is not the business of producing books (such as Guinness World Records, The Stationery Office and Private Eye), but we have excluded some companies which have been acquired by conglomerates in 2020—for example, Walker Books—from both years, even though they were still indies in 2019.
The number of titles from independent publishers in the TCM Top 5,000 for 2020 was almost level year on year: 1,171 spots were claimed last year, marginally down from 1,181 in 2019. The difference, however, was in how high up the chart they were. In 2019, 39 of the top 500 books were published by indies; last year that figure was 28. One-hundred of 2020’s Top 1,000 were indie-published; in 2019, it stood at 132. Undoubtedly, the larger publishers’ footprints in those retailers that were able to operate for all 53 weeks of 2020—Amazon and supermarkets—have squeezed indies out from higher up the list.
But there were, of course, some hits. Our Independent Alliance Top 10 (based on full-year chart position, with no value figures) shows Faber had a decent time of it, with five of the Independent Alliance’s top 10 bestsellers of the year, helped mightily by the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People; and the author’s Conversations with Friends enjoyed a knock-on boost, to bag third. Tenth-placed Eion McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar’s While We Can’t Hug (Faber Children’s) was a Lockdown 1.0 acquisition teaching kids how to cope with social distancing; it was rush-released in e-book in May before print copies were available in June.
With quite a few publishers, particularly in the education and children’s space, it is often not about how high up the TCM you are, but the depth of the list. Cumbria-based Study Guides powerhouse CGP had 154 titles in the TCM last year. That was only two up on 2019, but it can be considered an excellent result given the amount of free content disseminated in the first lockdown in particular.