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Hachette widens the gap

27 July 2009

Recent changes in the ranking of British publishers by market share show how vulnerable even big publishers are to the recession and the extraordinary effects of just one megaselling book.

Hachette announced this week that it had managed to grow sales value in the first half of the year in spite of a declining market and it has therefore consolidated and increased its market-leading position. A year ago, just 0.2% separated Hachette from its nearest rival Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing. Now the gap has widened, Hachette has 16.1% of all book purchases and Random House has slipped back to 13.1%.

All the other big British publishers recorded substantial drops - Random House 14.6%, HarperCollins 12% and Penguin 8.3% (see News Review 13 July). And what's the main reason for Hachette's surge in sales and the huge growth in the young adult category? Well, it's the enormous sales garnered by Stephenie Meyer. Sales at Hachette-owned Little Brown, her UK publisher, were up more than £10m year on year and they have even offset a decline in sales at Little Brown itself.

In the US Meyer was the top-selling author of last year and her sales have had a similar effect on the fortunes of her American publisher. Her books have sold 53 million copies around the world, where they have been translated into 37 different languages.

A recent survey in Publishers' Weekly showed that pay freezes, job insecurity and dissatisfaction characterise the US publishing industry. 35% of workers did not receive any raise last year, and 70% reported a pay freeze at their company, added to the large-scale redundancies made on last December's 'Black Wednesday' and since.

It's certainly a time when the map is being re-drawn. The UK Independent Alliance has been doing so well that it has shown spectacular sales growth of 195.7% in the six months, fuelled by Atlantic's Man Booker Prize winner and Canongate's two Obama books. Faber itself, the leader of the Alliance, is up 46.7% in value, buoyed by its anniversary year.

There are plenty of surprises and changes though, to raise publishers' anxiety levels, already high because of the recession. Huge growth in print on demand may be one of them. The University of Michigan has announced that it is to make 400,000 public domain titles available through print on demand. Cornell University recently announced that they intend to 'create 500,000 digitized books over the next six years'. The University of Pennsylvania library has a partnership with scanning company Kirtas to make 200,000 public domain books available in a 'digitize-on-demand' programme. They're all piling in to what would in the past have been seen as publishers' territory, with as yet unknown effects on the supply of books.

As regards the UK publisher' rankings though, Random House may have an ace up its sleeve in the form of their own megaseller. The book world on both sides of the Atlantic is keenly anticipating the arrival this autumn of Dan Brown's new book and the huge sales which it's expected to achieve.