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US title output declines but UK numbers soar

29 May 2006

Just when those in the book trade had resigned themselves to huge annual growth in the numbers of books published, US figures have plummeted, although UK numbers continue to soar. Recent US figures released for 2005 by Bowker showed a drop by 18% to a mere 172,000 titles, down 18,000 from 2004. Unlike last year, Bowker has not yet counted the title output of the largest print on demand publishers, so its figures may not be comparing like with like.

The decline in US numbers has been across the board, except for legal publishers, and shows the largest general trade houses cutting their title output by 4.7%, whilst small publishers showed a 7% decline. With paper costs rising and the market becoming ever tougher, publishers of all sizes will have to make careful decisions about what to publish in 2006. This trend is likely to continue in future years, although the boom in self-publishing will push the numbers up again if these books are counted in.

Andrew Grabois, a consultant for Bowker, said: 'The reappearance of limits was the most interesting thing about publishing in 2005. Even an industry that produces more new products than any other must make choices. The question is, will British publishers face a similar market correction, or have they figured out how fewer publishers can publish more books for even fewer readers?'

British publishers have long held the English language record for the number of titles published per capita, but their figures are now soaring away into the stratosphere and exceed those for the USA. This is truly amazing when one considers not just the much larger population of the US but also book buyers' greater consumer purchasing power. UK publishers released 206,000 new books in 2005, up 28%, or an astounding 45,000 titles, on the previous year.

The irony of this will not escape regular readers of News Review. Just when UK bookshops and supermarkets are becoming more and more stacked with ever-increasing piles of discounted bestsellers, it is becoming ever harder to get them to stock the huge number of other books being published. And, as every unpublished writer knows, or will find out as soon as they try to find an agent or publisher, it has never been harder to get your work into print. To compound the problem, there are more and more writers plying their trade, as increasing numbers of people feel the urge to write. The inevitable conclusion is that it has never been more essential to produce good and original work if your aim is to get it published.