Friday, April 03, 2009

BML survey shows a sharp decline in book sales for 2008

According to a survey by Book Marketing Ltd (BML) presented at the Books and Consumer Annual Conference at the end of March, in terms of volume and value, sales of books for 2008, even allowing for Harry Potter, are down. Average price, average "real" spend, and the actual percentage of people buying were all down, as was the percentage of males who buy books and the average spend for those in consumer group ABC1. Adult hardback fiction sales fell by 20 percent in terms of both volume and value, and even paperback fiction, traditionally the best selling sector, fell by 5 percent.

A total of 330 million books were purchased in 2008, down from 342 million in 2007, but up from 322 million in 2006. This showed an average increase of 10 percent over the past five years, mostly due to 2007. Despite this, given that inflation increased by 11 percent between 2004 and 2008, the 4 percent increase in book spending over this same period, translates to a 6 percent decrease in real terms.

The survey showed that Britons aged between 12 and 79 spent 6 percent less on books in 2008 than in 2007. The average price paid for a book was £7.02 in 2008, 20p less than in 2007. Compared to other markets, the book trade has got off lightly, particularly DVD's and music, where average prices have declined by 23 percent and 34 percent respectively (with music, some of this may be attributed to an increase in downloads). The average spend on books per buyer was £83 in 2008 (up from £80 in 2004) but fewer people bought; just 57 percent of the population in 2008, compared to 61 percent in 2004.

This decline in the actual number of people buying books is the most sobering figure of all - the abolition of the Net Book Agreement was supposed to expand the market, but despite prices being lower than ever before, the opposite appears to be true. It worked for a few years, heightened no doubt by the Richard and Judy effect and the Internet revolution, but all it has really done in the eyes of the public has devalued the books that we write. Even before these figures were announced, the percentage of buyers was down; for women between 2004 and 2008, from 65 percent to 63 percent, and for men during the same period, from 57 percent to 51 percent.

In an effort to turn things around, and stop this slump (a bit like shutting the door after the horse has bolted), the industry has been hard at work devising a slogan that will encapsulate what book buying is about, to act as a generic marketing slogan that will pull people in. Tim Godfray, Booksellers Association CEO, said a number of options had been rejected but that the aim was to unveil a slogan at the Book Industry Conference in June. Jo Henry, BML MD, and Charlie King, Head of Creative Marketing at Little, Brown, suggested a wider consultation, involving the Book Marketing Society. In my opinion, the discussion should be broadened to include authors, those who actually write the books, and should after all, understand their market better than anyone.

Circumstances have forced the industry once again to come together to try and save its own skin, for the decline in book sales (and yes, I have been affected too) has not discriminated; it affects all genres and all groups of buyers.

ABC1 females were down from 73 percent to 70 percent, ABC1 males 65 percent to 59 percent; C2DE females down 58 percent to 57 percent, C2DE males 48 percent to 43 percent. In 2008, men and women aged between 35 and 54 bought fewer books, while younger women aged 12-34, and older men aged 55-59 bought more. Women aged 25-34 and both genders over 55 drove growth in volume and value purchases, both spending and buying more. These figures reflect a decline in self purchasing (buying books for your own use) - down from 52 percent of 12-79 year olds in 2004 to 46 percent in 2008, while the number of people buying books for others has increased by 4 percent to 40 percent of the population (I must be the exception, since I never buy books for others).

Taken over a five year period, there has been a 26 percent increase in the purchase of books as gifts, with spending up 17 percent. Overall, spending was down on both adults and children’s titles (5 percent and 11 percent respectively). Somewhat reassuringly given my own genre, hardback non fiction was the best performing category, up 25 percent in volume and 8 percent in value between 2004 and 2008. With regard to children's books, growth has been limited to books for the under 5's.

As expected, sales from traditional bricks and mortar stores declined during 2008, with the Internet and supermarkets reporting a significant increase, in volume if not value (I wonder why that could be - is it something to do with aforementioned NBA and what can the industry learn from this?). Between 2004 and 2008, sales of books from these two types of outlets has more than doubled, leaving many of the smaller independents (and even some chains) struggling to compete.

More than half the books that we are buy are now bought as some kind some of special offer (i.e. heavily discounted). The industry is predicting a trend away from specialist retailers, towards the second hand trade. This may be good for Amazon (not to mention the environment), but it will be disastrous for authors and publishers, who will see their revenue drop accordingly. Most worrying of all, one quarter of consumers indicated that discounting meant that books were over priced to begin with. The majority of buyers (and why wouldn't they be) are very positive about two for three and other similar offers, although a significant number (47 percent) said they had trouble finding the extra books that made these offers worth their while.

The conference concluded with what I have been saying for years; that publishers and booksellers need to emphasise the true value of books, and the work that goes into them, and move away from this pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap mentality, which is costing jobs in the industry that we love. At long last, someone has actually shown some common sense. I just hope that it is not a case of too little, too late.

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