Ether for Authors: Data Deluge

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By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

From March 25, 2013

An excerpt from my series of Ether for Authors columns on pub­lish­ing at Publishing Perspectives, appear­ing Mondays.


Data Deluge – Books & Consumers

The emergence of the e-book has had a predictable impact on channels to market; with physical bookshops slow to find a viable way to be involved in the supply chain, e-tailers have had it all their own way and now account for nearly 100% of all e-book purchasing. But there has been another, less well-publicised impact too; if you buy your digital books from Amazon, you are increasingly likely to purchase your print books there as well.

Yes, it’s springtime for Bowker.

The research arm of the company is reporting facts and figures on publishing at everything that even remotely looks like a conference. A winter spent crunching survey results has produced a torrent of new numbers. Living room Tupperware parties could probably book a Bowker expert with PowerPoint slides these days.

Pay enough attention to the flying facts and figures and you need nothing so much as an authoritative voice cutting through the charts and graphs with the compassion of a statistician who cares about books.

Jo Henry

That would be Jo Henry, Director of Bowker Market Research.

In the kind of cleanly written, smart synthesis of survey results I wish we had more frequently, her commentary Discovery channel hits The Bookseller’s blogs page with an artfully informed case for the UK’s beleaguered bookshops:

High street booksellers punch above their weight in the value of each book that they sell, with adult non-fiction being bought for around 20% more in bookshops, children’s books at around 25% more, and adult fiction at a whopping 50% more than books bought through online channels. They also account for nearly half of all books sold at full price and are of particular importance to the children’s market, with 41% of all purchases in this category going through high street booksellers, worth some £183m.

Henry’s comments follow Bowker’s presentation at its half-day Books & Consumers Conference in London.

Roger Tagholm

As Publishing Perspectives’ Roger Tagholm writes in UK Book Buyers Spend Less, But Still Loyal to Print, survey results saw UK book sales go up from 288 million books in 2011 to 296 million books in 2012. Tagholm:

Of these, some 11% — around 32.5 million — were ebooks, with consumers spending £125 million ($188.7 million) on this format, more than double the figure for the previous year.

  And from Enders Analysis comes Why bookshops matter, a logically stepped argument posted at The Bookseller by COO Douglas McCabe. Here’s an excerpt, as chilly as the northern spring:

We estimate that when a bookshop closes about a third of its sales transfer to another bookshop. This means as much as two thirds of sales disappear. Some of this spend doubtless migrates online; but much of it vanishes from the book sector entirely.

McCabe puts it more plainly:

We strongly argue that the single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops.

Douglas McCabe

And then he puts it even more plainly:

There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant. Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level; and the role of general books and reading would be rewritten forever.


From the States, here’s a particularly troubling sideline to that last comment. Making us remember Foyles chief Sam Husain’s call earlier this year for more publisher support for bookstores, we now read Leslie Kaufman at the New York Times, in Orders Cut, as Publisher and Retailer Quarrel. She writes:

A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.

Leslie Kaufman

Kaufman cites unnamed sources apprised of the issue telling her:

Barnes & Noble believes that because its physical display space is so important to publishers, and because it is the last major retail chain remaining, publishers should be doing more to support it.

While Barnes & Noble won’t comment on widespread allegations of “reduced Simon & Schuster books as leverage,” Kaufman writes:

Simon & Schuster editors, as well as agents and writers who work with them, are apoplectic on the subject, since Barnes & Noble accounts for about 20 percent of consumer book spending and is a main conduit for publicizing new releases.

“Apoplectic,” she writes. Found in a straight news report at the Times, this is a strong word, one of those terms fondly misused by one’s mother when the cat goes missing for an hour. It means “extremely enraged,” Merriam-Webster tells us.  And Kaufman comes the closest to making good on the phrase when she quotes agent Simon Lipskar, never one to run from apoplexy, saying:

“Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.”

And yet, we’ve barely started our pilgrimage to data-stations of the springtime cross, Ethernaut. We’ll be back with more from Bowker shortly. Stagger on…    

Main image / iStockphoto: Tomas Skopal

Join us for the rest of this column at Publishing Perspectives.

Ether for Authors: Data Deluge

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