Academic sector outperforming market

The surge of students attending higher education institutions ahead of funding changes in 2012 has led the academic market to outperform the wider book market this autumn.

According to Nielsen BookScan figures, sales through its "Specialist Non-fiction" sector (the best measure of the academic market) in the 12 weeks to 5th November were down 3% (£1.6m) year on year, to £62.3m. The decline could be attributed to a poor academic market in October, when sales were down 6% (£1.6m) year on year, to £27.4m, as well as the continued slump in sales of computing and IT titles (down 14% year on year over the 12-week period).

However, despite the decline, the sector performed favourably compared to total book sales over the same period, which were down 10% (£38.4m) year on year, to £363.4m—an eight-year low.  Andrew Robinson, group sales director at Cengage Learning, said academic publishers had performed better than the wider market as they had benefited from more students attending university this year before the higher education funding changes come in next year.

He said: "In addition, a number of publishers—including Cengage Learning—have expanded their custom capabilities, offering a better fit for courses and slowing natural attrition in [sales] units." Robinson said Cengage had seen more sales in its economics list—led by Economics by Gregory Mankiw and Mark Taylor—because the subject was popular in the current financial climate, the authorship was strong, and it had a digital assessment companion called Aplia. He said sales in computing and IT titles had declined over the last few years as users at all levels had become more computer literate.

Jacob Pienaar, managing director of Pearson’s schools and colleges business [pictured], said the whole education sector was facing a tough budgetary climate at the moment, which was reflected in the industry’s latest sales figures. However, he said that long-term global trends suggest that governments and individuals will continue to invest in education, but not always in books alone. Pienaar said: "In the longer term, we’re seeing a shift towards customers demanding educational resources in digital or blended [print/digital] forms, and Pearson is investing in making our digital products really compelling and engaging for students and teachers."

Peter Gray, chairman of John Smith’s academic bookseller, said that in contrast to the academic publishing sales figures, his company was seeing like-for-like growth year on year. He said: "For us it’s about maximising the potential in our host universities. We are very pleased with our results so far. Clearly there remain many challenges ahead, but we are confident that we have a good long-term strategy for growth, and overall we are confident that this will enable us to continue to develop our business."

The data shows the "Language and Linguistics" sector is up 3%, "Engineering and Technology" is up by 5%, while "Philosophy and Psychology" and "Maths and Sciences" are both up 1%. Sales in the "Geography and Agriculture" area have fallen by 9%, "Medicine" is down 7%, "Law" sales have shrunk by 5% and “Social Science” and "Management and Business" are down 1%—added to the "Computing and IT" sales figures of -14%.

According to an exclusive analysis of BookScan’s "Specialist Non-fiction" sector for the August/September period, sales at Pearson, OUP, McGraw-Hill, Palgrave, Sage and Cengage have grown against 2010, while Sweet & Maxwell, Elsevier, Microsoft and Kogan Page have seen their sales fall year on year.