Big-brand authors have grabbed their smallest share of the print books market in five years, as digital migration continues to reshape publishing. The Bookseller’s look at 2013 author performance (see Review of the Year, pp20–25) based on Nielsen BookScan data, also shows that backlist titles have outperformed frontlist in terms of their relative declines. The conclusions challenge the received wisdom that sales will become more and more focused on frontlist titles and big-brand authors.
In 2013, 122 authors earned more than £1m through BookScan’s Total Consumer Market—the lowest in five years. The number of annual “BookScan millionaires” has eroded steadily over the past half-decade, as the overall print market has shrunk £336.3m (-23.8%), to £1,415.8bn, from 2009 to 2013. But more surprising is that the share of the overall market claimed by authors in this £1m club has declined sharply—down to 20.4% (£288.4m) from 24.7% in 2012.
This is not a one-off year-on-year Fifty Shades-affected anomaly; the £1m club authors had been worth around a quarter of the market since 2009, with 2010—a year in which Jamie Oliver, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer and James Patterson all earned over £10m through the TCM—the high-water mark, at 26.5%.
The big-brand decline continues at the very top. The Top 50 bestselling authors of 2013 sold £194.6m, or 13.7% of the market, the lowest in five years—from 2009–2012, the Top 50 percentage has fluctuated between 14.4% and 17.1%, in the James-led 2012. Similarly, the top 100 authors in 2013 through BookScan had their lowest slice of the pie in the past half-decade: 18.7%.
This is, of course, a print phenomenon. There are, at the moment, no figures available for overall performance of the digital market. As we have noted many times in these pages and publishers rightly point out (see right), much of the brand adult fiction spend has migrated to digital. Yet the conclusion for 2013 is inescapable: at least in print, big brands are getting smaller.
Changing of the guard
The figures also arguably show a sharply dividing market, with shifting emphasis in different retailing sectors; the brand focus for e-tailers is not necessarily the focus of bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Fifty of the top 100 authors last year actually recorded sales growth through BookScan, yet 31 of those were children’s authors or writers of non-fiction. As stated before, full author sales are not available, but an indicative contrast can be gleaned from the most recent Bookseller e-book chart published last week (for November 2013), in which just 10 of the Top 50 came from children’s or non-fiction.
Another against-the-grain finding is the relative strength of physical backlist, a counter to the notion that digital drives the long tail. Last year backlist—books published before 1st January 2013—sold £523m through BookScan’s TCM Top 5,000, a drop of 3.7%, beating the overall physical books market decline of 6.5%.
Frontlist, meanwhile, dropped 17% year on year. The massive year-on-year drop is largely due to the E L James effect. Yet strip out James, and frontlist through the Top 5,000 still fell 5.5%.
The decline in brand strength in shops may be a wobble due largely to poor years from old reliables such as Jamie Oliver (-49% year on year, to £6.2m). Yet it may simply be a generational shift, with new brands coming to the fore: there were excellent years for David Walliams, “Great British Bake Off” stars Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, the US’ breakthrough YA superstar John Green and others.
Brands must deliver
But brands are still the “guy ropes holding the tent up”, publishers say, despite Nielsen BookScan figures showing that big-name authors took a smaller share of the print market in 2013.
Susan Lamb, Orion Fiction m.d., said e-book data was needed to give a true picture of the market. “Brands are every bit as important as they always were,” she said. “When I sit here doing the fiction list, our brands are the guy ropes holding the tent up.”
Pan Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevathan commented: “Pretty much all brand authors have seen declines, in their paperback sales in particular. Hardcover sales largely remain pretty stable. But for these brand authors the total percentage of digital sales in their overall mix is anywhere between 35% to 50%, much higher than the market average of around 30%.
“And the reason these brand authors have such digital ratios? It’s because of discoverability. People already know who Dan Brown is and what he writes, so if they’re interested they can find his digital books very easily.”
Stephanie Barton, Macmillan Children’s Books for children under six, said the children’s market was still very brand-led. “I still think parents are looking for things they can trust and they have a lot of faith in classic brands that have been around a while.”
HarperFiction publisher Kate Elton warned it was “more important than ever that brands deliver because readers are more and more discerning”.
Trevathan added that publishers needed to “constantly refresh big-brand authors, to really investigate author brands whose sales been declining faster than the market suggests they should, and, of course, to create new brands by locating a core market and growing an author out from there”.
One of Penguin Random House’s biggest brands, Jamie Oliver, had a sharp sales fall in 2013. However PRH UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon said the chef’s latest, Save with Jamie, was up against “mega phenomenons” in his 30-Minute Meals and 15-Minute Meals (all Michael Joseph). “Jamie Oliver as a brand went down last year because the new frontlist didn’t do quite as well as the others,” Weldon said.
“The thing I would read into this is that those super phenomenons... you’re lucky to get one a decade. It’s just coming down from those heights.”