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132% increase in US print on demand

25 May 2009

Astonishing new figures just released by Bowker in the States show that US book production declined by 3% in 2008 but print on demand publishing almost doubled. This means that a staggering 275,232 new titles and new editions were published, but this figure is actually down from the 284,370 that were published in 2007.

Out of this number 285,394 print on demand books were produced last year, a huge 132% increase over last year's final total of 123,276 titles. This is the second consecutive year of triple-digit growth in this segment. This is largely due to the explosion in self-publishing, but is also affected by publishers gradually turning to print on demand to keep costs and inventory down.

Kelly Gallagher, Vice-President of Publisher Services at Bowker, commented that: 'Our statistics for 2008 benchmark an historic development in the U.S. book publishing industry as we crossed a point last year in which On Demand and short-run books exceeded the number of traditional books entering the marketplace. It remains to be seen how this trend will unfold in the coming years before we know if we just experienced a watershed year in the book publishing industry, fueled by the changing dynamics of the marketplace and the proliferation of sophisticated publishing technologies, or an anomaly that caused the major industry trade publishers to retrench.'

The travel category is down 15% and fiction down 11%, perhaps surprisingly as it is usually seen as fairly recession-proof. Fiction still amounts to 47,541 new titles, so American readers won't be running out of reading-matter anytime soon.

Perhaps this proliferation of titles is good news? Gallagher commented that: 'The statistics from last year are not just an indicator that the industry had a decline in new titles coming to the market, but they're also a reflection of how publishers are getting smarter and more strategic about the specific kinds of books they're choosing to publish. If you look beyond the numbers, you begin to see that 2008 was a pivotal year that benchmarks the changing face of publishing'.

The latest sales figures coming from the US show a pretty gloomy picture. Book sales fell 17% in March, as reported by 84 publishers to the Association of American PublishersThe national trade association of the American book publishing industry; AAP has more than 300 members, including most of the major commercial publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. Adult paperback (which excludes mass market) dropped a staggering 35.8% and audiobooks were down 43.3%, as the recession continued to hit the American book trade. It's not much comfort to know that e-books rose by 110.4% in the month, off a low base. The e-book revolution is not yet with us, so there's no escaping the conclusion that the figures tell a truly dismal story.