Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Publishing Revenue Down In 2011 – Or Was It Up?

The Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group revealed a number of statistics that authors and publishers should be interested in except that one has to question how accurate they are.

Book sales come in many forms, from many sources, and I am not sure how these studies account for things such as books sold directly by authors. For instance, who is reccording the sales of self-published authors? For another,  what if an author purchases 1,000 books from his or her publisher and then resells them on his site of through a bulk sale to an organization? Was any of this accounted for? Is this study counting up ALL sales, from all possible channels?

That said, however the study attempted to be complete and accurate, it reports:

·         Book publishing revenue was down 2.5% in 2011, but it didn’t note how this impacted profits. Still, $27.2 billion was spent in 2011 on books.
·         The total number of books sold rose by 3.4%, to 2.77 billion books. The lower-priced ebook’s growing share of the marketplace is to blame for an  increase in units could lead to a decrease in revenue.
·         388 million ebooks were sold last year – up 210% from 2010. Ebook revenue more than doubled, to $2.074 billion.
·         Brick-and-mortar sales are still the No. 1 source of sales for books, but sales declined 12.6% to $8.59 billion, largely due to the loss of Borders’ 500+ retail outlets.
·         Online retail sales grew 35% -- to $5.04 billion – representing 18% of total book revenue.
·         The biggest growing genre was children’s/young adult books, which saw a 12% jump in revenue.

So what can one conclude from these numbers?

·         Ebook sales will continue to rise and paper book sales will continue to decline.
·         Ebook pricing will need to rise, to make up for the decreased print revenue and because the ebook market will eventually dominate the marketplace.
·         Authors will have to write more books to generate the same amount of revenue from dong fewer books today.
·         More comprehensive research needs to be done to figure out how many book sales are not being measured or accounted for in order to get a true understanding of whether the book industry is growing, stagnating, or shrinking.

Regardless of these numbers and an endless analysis of them, writers will continue to write and publishers will continue to publish books that are promotable and profitable. So don’t get caught up in anything else. The next bestseller awaits its writing.

Interview With UK Thriller Author Peter Smith

1.      What type of books do you write? Mainly they're thrillers. I was first publishedin the UK by Macmillan under the nom de plume 'James Barrington', and I wrote six books for that publishing house: Overkill, Pandemic, Foxbat, Timebomb, Payback and Manhunt. These were all mainstream thrillers, in the Tom Clancy mode. While I was still writing this series, my agent was approached by a commissioning editor at Penguin, and I then ghosted a non-fiction book – Joint Force Harrier – about British Harrier operations in Afghanistan, writing the book with Commander Ade Orchard, the British Royal Navy's most senior frontline Harrier pilot. At Macmillan, I followed up the 'James Barrington' novels with a couple of Second World War thrillers – To Do or Die and Right and Glory – written as 'Max Adams'. My literary agent, Luigi Bonomi of LBA in London,  then 'sold' me to Transworld and, writing as 'James Becker', I've now had five novels published by that company: The First Apostle, The Moses Stone, The Messiah Secret, The Nosferatu Scroll and Echo of the Reich. Luigi then found me another home, with Simon & Schuster, to write conspiracy thrillers and the first book for that publishing house – The Titanic Secret – by 'Jack Steel' was released early this year. And while all that lot's been going on, I've also ventured into the exciting new world of electronic publishing, writing as 'Tom Kasey' for The Endeavour Press – Trade Off and Sanctuary – as well is reviving my 'James Barrington' alter ego for another non-fiction book – Falklands: Voyage to War – and a new writing name, 'Thomas Payne' for a non-fiction rant entitled Uncommon Sense.

2.      What is your latest or upcoming book about? Apart from the Kindle books, all of which were published this year, I've had two novels released by Simon & Schuster and Transworld –The Titanic Secret and Echo of the Reich respectively – and I have two more scheduled for publication later in 2012 and in 2013, by the same two publishing houses. These will be The Ripper Secret and The Pantera Testimony. The subject matter of all four books is fairly diverse. The Titanic Secret was a novel set around the actual sinking of the Titanic, but involving a German plot to plunge the world into war; Echo of the Reich is about a Nazi secret weapon being revived for use in a terrorist attack aimed at the London Olympic Games; The Ripper Secret is a new take on the series of murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper, and links those events in London to the finding of an ancient relic in Jerusalem. And, finally, The Pantera Testimony begins two thousand years ago in Judea with a rape and then shifts to the present day when evidence of  that crime surfaces with potentially catastrophic results for the Catholic Church.

3.      What inspired you to write it? I've always been lucky enough to be able to write about things that interest me. When I was a student, a very long time ago, history was one of the subjects I studied, and ancient history in particular has always fascinated me. I've used the knowledge I gained to guide the books for Transworld, and I always try with all my books to ground them firmly in fact. To this end, I always include an author's note in the novels to explain something about the reality which underpins the fiction. As for the specifics of the two books coming out later this year and in 2013, the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been established with any degree of certainty, and nor have his reasons for beginning and ending his reign of terror in Whitechapel. So I wondered if there was more to it than just a series of murders, and I've built the novel around the premise that the killer was an intelligent and organized man who was carrying out the murders for a very specific reason. In the other book, the story of Pantera has been around since about the third century, and has been argued about ever since then. I wondered what would happen if unarguable proof that event suddenly appeared today, and in particular how the Catholic Church would react to it. That is the basis of the novel, which I'm still writing.

4.      What did you do before you became an author? I worked in a number of jobs, including a mortuary and a factory, before joining the British Royal Navy as a pilot, and I served for 21 years in the Fleet Air Arm, first as a pilot and then as an air traffic control officer and later as a staff officer in London. During my time in the Navy, I was involved in the Falklands campaign on board the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, which formed the background to my non-fiction e-book about the ship.

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? I genuinely think that being an author is arguably one of the best jobs in the world. I can work anywhere as long as I have a computer, and I've been able to do useful work in cafés, on trains, in aircraft and on board ship. I've also been lucky in that I'm represented by one of the best literary agents in the business, who is forever suggesting new avenues to explore, and then managing to sell what I write to publishers. As for how it feels, there is a genuine thrill in walking into a bookshop and seeing one of my books on display on a shelf. I think it was Joyce Grenfell who said that holding a copy of her first book was the greatest moment of her life, even more significant to her than her marriage or the birth of her first child, and I do know what she means. Holding that paperback or hardback and seeing your name on the front cover – or in my case one of my names! – is a kind of vindication of the hours spent sitting alone in front of a computer and trying to turn the images cascading through your mind into sentences on a page that you hope will grip and hold your readers. But it is very special. There's no doubt about that.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers? I remember having a conversation with my literary agent over a long and leisurely lunch when the subject of getting published came up. He asked me what I thought the most important characteristic was for any aspiring writer, and we batted ideas back and forth for a while. Obviously, the ability to use the English language correctly, with correct punctuation and spelling, is extremely important. It's also clearly vital that an author has a story to tell, a story that will be of interest to other people. He needs to be able to draw characters, to describe action, to produce vivid descriptions and to write dialogue that sounds life-like. But the one single characteristic that we both agreed was absolutely vital was persistence. Talent and ability help, obviously, but what any aspiring author has to do is get their work out there, to put it in front of agents and publishers, because nobody ever sold a book that simply sat in a drawer or on a computer's hard disk.

When I was trying to find an agent I had two 'packages' for two different books doing the rounds. Using one of the British guides to agents, I had literally started at the letter 'A' and was working my way down to 'Z'. Every single approach had ended in a curt rejection slip until one wonderful week when I received two telephone calls from two different agents, each of whom wanted to represent me. But one agent's name began with a 'W', so I was virtually at the end of the alphabet, and although the name of the other agent was Luigi Bonomi, he worked for a London company named Sheil Land Associates, which meant I was near the end of the alphabet with him as well. But, and I suppose this is the point, if all I'd received were rejection slips my plan was quite simple. I was going to revise both of the packages, try to find out what was putting people off, and then start the process all over again.

One other point which is indirectly related to getting published is that every author must absolutely accept editorial guidance. I've done a bit of coaching of writers in the past and a few times I've come across people who've said words to the effect that 'if a publisher wants this book, I'm not changing a single word of it'. Not only is this kind of attitude extraordinarily arrogant, but it virtually guarantees that no agent or publisher will take them on. It doesn't matter how talented writer you are, as an author you are simply too close to your own work to see its faults and it takes an independent analysis to show what is wrong with a manuscript. I also believe that every manuscript ever produced, irrespective of the fame or ability of the author, needs editing. In some cases, severe editing. And I am also acquainted with a number of authors who are prepared to argue for two weeks over the placement of a comma, and who are such a nightmare for an editor to deal with that their publishing contracts are simply not being renewed. Every author absolutely must accept editorial direction.

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? And this, I suppose, is the million dollar question. The short and snappy answer is that nobody knows, and my guess is just as likely to be right – or wrong – as any other. My personal feeling is that, because of the rise of the Kindle and other e-book readers, the world of publishing in the next decade is going to change out of all recognition. I think that within ten years the hardback novel will simply cease to exist, and a very, very small number of paperbacks will be produced. Because a novel is almost by definition a book that is read once and then given away – it's a disposable item – I think that most will be produced as electronic downloads. At the moment, publishers haven't really grasped how the e-book world works, and they seem to think that they can sell e-books for pretty much the same price as paperbacks, despite the very obvious fact that the electronic download costs almost nothing to produce, in comparison with the price of printing a paperback,, and can then be sold as many times as there are people want to buy it.

What I think will happen is that the publishing houses will have to reduce the price of an e-book to about the same as a cup of coffee, so that it will become a genuine impulse purchase, and when they do they will see sales vastly increase. I also believe that reference books of all sorts will continue to sell as physical copies, probably alongside electronic versions, and  we might perhaps see the book becoming more of a piece of art than simply a collection of words. If you're looking for a present for somebody, you can't really buy them a Kindle download, so perhaps we will start to see the return of leather bound books and other attractive bindings. But as I said at the start of the answer to this question, I really don't know.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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