“If this is the start of a long-term trend then everyone will have to have a rethink; rents go up 3 to 5 per cent a year, wages go up. But I think it’s premature to predict the long term. There are bright things on the horizon – a new Hilary Mantel which will be huge for us, a new Kate Grenville, a new Trent Dalton. I’m excited by the new book by [French economist] Thomas Piketty; it’s $80, if I can sell 1000 copies of that …”
‘I’m excited by the new book by [French economist] Thomas Piketty; it’s $80, if I can sell 1000 copies of that…’
Mark Rubbo of Readings
The chief executive officer of HarperCollins Publishers, James Kellow, says the economy generally has not been in “great shape”, consumer confidence is low and the bushfires have also had an impact. “Footfall across all retail has been well reported as sluggish.”
Hachette’s chief executive officer, Louise Sherwin-Stark, says a 3 per cent drop in sales value is “serious but not the end of the world. There’s been a perfect storm with retail malaise as consumers hold on to their money worried about mortgage stress, there was a lack of really big titles last year and there wasn’t the breakout of debut titles we saw in 2018.” The rise of Netflix may also have distracted readers from devouring as many books.
Children’s and Young Adult books are now the strongest category of publishing, increasing by 3 per cent in 2019, according to separate analysis from Nielsen BookScan, to represent 30 per cent of the market. Bluey, a doggie star of ABC kids’ television, buoyed the market in December, albeit with low-priced books. Adult fiction fell by 3.4 per cent and non fiction by 6.2 per cent. The arrival of the Harry Potter stage show in Melbourne and sumptuous gift editions made J.K. Rowling (once again) the highest selling author the year by value, with sales worth $10.2 million.
A surprise Christmas bestseller, 488 Rules for Life by comedian Kitty Flanagan (100,000 copies at an affordable $29.99), spearheaded a 19 per cent increase in the value of humour titles. The family and health category rose by 26 per cent, led by Dr Michael Mosley’s The Fast 800, and narrative non fiction books rose 26 per cent, with Leigh Sales’ award-winning Any Ordinary Day the category killer.
In longer term trends across the last decade, sales of personal development books (such as Scott Pape’s chart-topping The Barefoot Investor and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F..k) have increased by 8.2 per cent. While sales of diet and health books have risen, more conventional cookery books have slumped by 6.1 per cent and biographies/autobiographies by 5 per cent. Ebooks, not measured by Nielsen, are reportedly flat although the much smaller audio book segment is rising. Australian online retailers such as Booktopia contribute data to Nielsen, but orders placed with international retailers, such as Amazon, do not.
There have even been declines for some top authors over the past 10 years. This year’s offering from “treehouse” authors Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton , the Wimpy Kid’s Jeff Kinney and crime author Lee Child were down on 2018. Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments sold an impressive 87,000 copies but didn’t sell on as strongly as retailers were expecting (perhaps because readers are waiting for a cheaper format). The mega titles are staying on the charts for longer: The Barefoot Investor was the Number 1 book in both 2018 and 2019, while The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F..k and Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz were in the top 10 both years. But all three recorded lower annual sales.
Although there are worries in the booktrade that some stores, especially in bushfire-affected towns, may be forced to close, Simon & Schuster’s Ruffino says he will be investing strongly in new books in 2020. HarperCollins’ Kellow says: “Future publishing looks strong, so hopefully we will see the market bounce back.” Hachette’s Sherwin-Stark says: “Publishers and booksellers just have to work smarter and more collaboratively. There’s a huge amount to worry about, but there will be another phenomenon around the corner.”