Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Sales - Up or Down?

In a Publisher's Weekly newsletter this week was a link to a very interesting article about sales of children's and YA books, but more particularly about a survey on teen book buying habits. The article (found here) starts with this in the first paragraph:
While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index.
This tallies with what I've read in other media and newsletters - that the children's/YA market is booming and book sales continue to rise.

The whole article is fascinating, because it also looks at how and why teens buy books. The back cover copy is a huge influence, as is the cover. Teens like to go to author websites and check out new titles and information about the author - but they also like to meet the author at bookstore events or school visits (that's good to hear - but not sure if it's the same here). When asked how many books they bought, the result was:
Over the period surveyed (two months), 31% bought three to five new books, 21% bought one to two and 21% bought six to 10; 13% bought more than 10 while 13% didn't buy any new books.
Quite a few said they were going to the library more, which meant buying less, but others said they were buying more books now than before. Yaayy!

So what's happening in the actual publishing industry? Plenty of staff have been laid off in the US and UK - I haven't heard of any layoffs here in Australia. I don't have exact stats on Australian book sales for the last few months, but the general feeling for a while was one of "battening down the hatches". Books on backlists were allowed to go out of print, and the bestseller lists were dominated by Stephanie Meyer and now Dan Brown. I got the impression quite a few new writers who had been hoping to break in felt that the door had closed to them. Does anyone know what's really happening? Well, my impression is business as usual here, but publishers are being more picky, and looking for projects that they are sure, or as sure as they can be, will sell well. So yes, maybe new writers are going to find it harder.

But isn't that always the case? To break in, you need something well-written, with a great voice and concept, and ability to carry it all the way. "Nice" and "competent" haven't been good enough for a long time. So has anything really changed? I think belts are being pulled a lot tighter, and they'll stay that way. I spoke recently to a woman running an events and promotions company - she said she had had a really rough six months late last year, and had learned to economise, cut costs and tighten up. Now that business was going well again, she wasn't about to go back to her old ways. The economising would continue to create a better bottom line.

How this will affect publishing long-term is a different matter. We have ebooks to contend with (the Kindle has just arrived in Australia but the response seems to be a bit of a yawn) and in the US there is a strange deep-discounting war going on with the Walmart kind of store - so if you live there, buy from your indie store! It will be interesting to see where we are in twelve months time. My feeling is that we might see more of a marketing push towards the hot new books (more vampires and conspiracies), but I'm hoping keen readers and book buyers will continue to use the good old word of mouth for their book-buying. You're less likely to end up with a dud that way!

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