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Better news from the UK

18 January 2010

Last week's News Review was headlined 2009's troubled times continue in the US and it's good to be able to report a somewhat better picture in the UK, although there is undoubtedly more pain to come in 2010.

2009 was down just 1.2% down in value and only 0.5% down in volume in a year which has seen a contraction in the overall economy of 5%, so the book trade can justifiably claim that book sales have held up reasonably well. It's been patchy though and the high street is in real trouble, with the closure of Borders UK removing a large chunk of retail. The General Retail Market measure, which covers the high street, showed sales value falling by 7%, a catastrophic decrease easily explained by the increase in internet and supermarket sales.

Waterstone's had such a disastrous Christmas that its first act in 2010 has been to replace its well-liked chief executive Gerry Johnson by someone who is viewed as a tougher manager.

One cheerful bit of news is that indie bookshops have fared well during the all-important Christmas selling-period. In a Bookseller survey 54% of those surveyed also said sales were up in 2009, a surprisingly good result in view of the recession. Although there have been some casualties during the year, the independent bookshops which have survived the recession thus far are proving that good customer service is still attractive to a substantial book-buying audience.

One independent, Hereward Corbett of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury, Gloucestershire commented that: 'They seemed to be very happy to buy from us at full price when they could go down the road and buy the same books for half price or less.' Perhaps book-buyers are beginning to realise that they need to support their local bookshop if it is to survive.

So, things could be worse and the general feeling of gloom and panic about e-books and digitisation is not supported by what is currently going on in the market-place. Readers are still buying books, although perhaps from different places, and there is no immediate prospect of the book market collapsing or being diverted from print books to e-books on a massive scale.

Having said that, dealing with the major changes going on at the same time as dealing with a recessionary market will require publishers to employ both ingenuity and innovation on a major scale. The view going forward has been well-summarised by Gail Rebuck, charimain and CEO of 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, in the Bookseller:

'The industry is going through a tectonic shift (to digital) and the next five years will be absolutely crucial for publishers. We will see the beginnings of a recovery, though not massive growth on the physical side, and the investment will be in new skills for staff. There are opportunities and we need to reskill ourselves. All publishers must be more creative and innovative than ever while keeping their core business, which is quite a complicated task.'