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US new titles soar to 195,000

13 June 2005

BookExpo America, the biggest book fair in the US, seems to have been the usual heady mixture of author breakfasts, panel discussions and bookselling. Booksellers are wooed by publishers and do the rounds collecting large numbers of early proof copies of the big fall books.

For the US book trade the fair is a must and a chance to meet up with old friends. ‘There's a lot of schmoozing going on, but real work gets done and you can really set up books coming down the pike,’ was the view of Suzanne Herz, a publisher at Doubleday. But BEABookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States, although still important, is getting smaller, occupying around 270,000 square feet of floor space, some 50,000 square feet less than it did in the late 1990s, as publishers cut back to reduce their costs.

BEA is an intensely American book fair, with international subsidiary rights business very much less important than the business of selling the big books to American booksellers. In that respect, the London Book Fair, heading in 2006 for a new, out-of-the-way venue in London’s Docklands, has already stolen the crown of the big spring rights fair. It’s so much more welcoming to rights business and London is much cheaper for European publishers to get to.

On the domestic front the American book business has much to think about. Bowker’s recently published figures show that last year the number of books published raced up to 195,000 new titles, an increase of 14% over 2003. The largest print on demand companies catering for self-publishers account for 20,000 of these titles, but the figure is still quite astounding. Poetry and drama show increases in the number of titles published of over 40% in a single year; presumably many of these titles are self-published.

Book Industry Study Group figures point to a drop of 21 million units in the number of general trade books books sold, although rising prices mean that revenues increased to $28 billion. Within these figures there are startling trends. Sales of children’s books, surprisingly, given all the hoop-la, are down, as are mass market sales. But trade hardcover sales of fiction are up, and so most of the big trade houses are publishing more.

The biggest change is in college textbooks, where the sudden increase in used book sales brought about by companies trading in secondhand books is thought to have taken $2 billion a year out of the market. Since students are a particularly price-sensitive market, this trend is likely to continue, and may yet have a more radical effect on other parts of the book market.