Friday, April 18, 2008

Book sellers working harder for less money

After two days back at work it feels like I need another five days off to recover. It does not take long for the mind chatter to return with a vengeance, try as you might, and working in a shop with loud music constantly on, not to mention two excitable school boys masquerading as grown men, does not exactly help. I have never been able to understand the fascination with much of what we sell, and to me much of it is a total waste of time. I would much rather curl up with good book and a large mug of hot chocolate.

In common with other areas of the retail sector, the book trade today reports that publishers are facing increasingly tight margins, which means that they are selling more books for less money. The price of books has fallen for the fifth year in a row. According to the Publishers Association's Statistics Yearbook 2007, which is out on 23rd April, the average invoiced price (i.e the price paid by book stores rather than consumers) of books fell from £3.59 to £3.50 in 2007. The average price for home market or British books was £3.77, down from £3.85 in 2006, while export titles slid to £3.13 from £3.20. This was largely due to the weak dollar.

Despite these issues, the publishing industry saw overall growth in both volume and value during 2007. UK publishers saw an estimated 9 percent increase in volume, up from 786 million books sold in 2006, to an estimated 855 million books in 2007. The actual invoice value climbed to £3bn from £2.8bn. The export market was particularly strong, despite the weak dollar, with
sales of 357 million units worth approximately £1.1bn. This represents a jump of 14 percent and 11 percent respectively over 2006.

Children's books saw by the far the biggest growth, with unit sales shooting up by 17 percent with a total sales value of 225 million and an invoice value of £404m (£302m in 2006). Fiction saw the next highest growth, up 7 percent in volume and in terms of value 229 million. Academic and professional titles saw the least growth, with a 4 percent rise in unit sales and a 0.7 percent rise in value to £775m.

Returns also seemed to stabilise somewhat, at 9 percent of publishers' total gross unit sales and 13 percent of total gross value. This represents a 3 percent fall and 0.5 percent increase respectively, indicating that the books that are being returned seem to be those of higher value.

In the meantime, and going back to the Amazon debate, one of the world's largest publishers HarperCollins, has stated that they will not be taking on Amazon by selling direct to consumers via their own website. I can't help feeling here that that they are making a big mistake, which will ultimately prove to be rod for their own backs. They will, unlike rivals Bloomsbury and Penguin, be placing Amazon buy buttons direct on their site, so that customers go straight through to Amazon direct.

The reasoning behind this seems to be that Amazon are a global brand, and taking them on would be foolish in the extreme. Personally I beg to differ, as if they don't, as one of our largest publishers, then who will? Someone has to take a stand, and the fact they have chosen not to, signals to me that they are afraid of a fight and do not want to risk losing sales. What they don't realise is that by failing to take a stand now, they stand to lose in the future, an awful lot more.

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