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Publishers prosper with ebooks

31 March 2014

A recent Bookseller interview with Tom Weldon, now CEO of Penguin 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, suggested that the big publishers have accommodated ebooks and are actually doing quite well. He was positive about maintaining the different imprints, which must be good news for writers: ‘We need to protect and nurture the diverse centres of publishing excellence. We want them to get on and do their own thing.'

Weldon is surprisingly dismissive of selling direct, questioning whether publishers can really take the place of retailers, or should want to try. His view is that the channels will change, but they show no sign of going away, or needing replacement. He is more concerned about 'discoverability': "The challenge is how you capture consumers' attention. Once you've caught it, I don't mind where they buy the book.'

Publishers Lunch commented on the latest stable US publishing results: 'More broadly, 2013 was a solid year across the entire publishing industry, as the AAP (~Association of American PUblishrs) recorded total 2013 sales of $15.052 billion, up $152 million (or 1 percent) from 2012. Gains were recorded in every category except trade publishing.'

On both sides of the Atlantic it is apparent that the big publishers have recovered from their fright at the digital revolution and feel they have things under control and will continue to dominate the market. Whether this will be the case, or whether self-publishing and digitisation pose a greater threat than they think to their hegemony, remains to be seen.

The Nielsen Books and Consumers annual research reveals some more worrying trends. Print and ebook sales in the UK declined 4% in volume and value in 2013, while ebook sales alone rose from 20% to 25% of the consumer book market by volume (14% by value). We are still some way away from the idea that ebooks will have totally replace print in a few years' time.
The children's book market continues to outpace other publishing sectors, with a staggered drift to digital and strong growth in brands the prime drivers. We will look at this in more detail next week.

The research shows two figures of particular concern for the industry: the percentage of consumers who said they had bought books in the previous 12 months dropped from 74% at the start of 2012 to 70% at the end of 2013; and a decline in the number of books bought as gifts.

In romance, crime, and fantasy, ebooks have a 45%-plus share of the market, although the figures are very much lower for non-fiction.

Nielsen's survey revealed the increasing significance of self-publishing, up from 13% to 20% of the ebook market by volume - and, because of lower prices, from 7% to 12% by value. The average price at which a mainstream fiction ebook was bought was £4.14, by contrast with £1.98 for a self-published fiction ebook.

The most popular way of finding a print book to buy in a shop was through browsing, whereas familiarity with an author's work was the most important factor driving ebook purchases. Perhaps surprisingly, price ranked lower than the name of the author and the subject matter. But maybe that does makes sense - after all you don't want to read an author's work just because it's cheap, but because you like that author's books. In spite of all the talk and the increasing efforts that authors and self-publishers put into social media, "follow" was, surprisingly, a relatively low factor in driving sales.