Uncomfortable Statistics - Kathleen Jones takes a look at the current state of publishing

Uncomfortable Statistics for traditional publishers - Good news for Indies - 

          The Big 6 are not so big any more.  According to the latest figures for 2013, Penguin Random House came top of the table with a 24% share of the market, but its sales were down £342m (15%).  All the others - Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan MacMillan, Bloomsbury, and Simon & Schuster were also down.  Their total share of the market was only 59% - down from 70% in 2001.  Is this a sign that their dominance of the book trade is fading?  I think it is.  But they won't go down without a fight, so - more turbulent times ahead.

The end of Constable and Quercus

          The hope of many 'mid list' and 'literary' authors dumped by the Big 6 for commercial reasons has been a group of valiant and well-respected independently owned publishers still willing to take on authors for their literary merit. These presses have been having a hard time of it in the orca-infested ocean that is BookWorld at the moment. The trend for conglomeration in the face of severe competition continues and this inevitably means mergers and job losses.  The Penguin Random House merger has seen major bloodshed among the staff (out of the public eye) with the loss of many talented individuals, some of whom have now gone freelance because there's simply nowhere else to go. Several small independent publishers have been hoovered up - sadly the innovative Quercus press was acquired by Hodder (part of Hachette) after making big losses.
Swallowed by Hachette

          Constable, which was taken over by Nick Robinson is 2000, has now been taken over by Little, Brown (also part of Hachette) following Nick's recent death.  This means less choice for traditionally published authors and will precipitate more movement towards the self-publishing sector.
Hachette are now the second biggest publishing conglomerate
Self-publishing and Ebooks on the rise

          What the 2013 figures do show is that self-publishing in both ebook and paper book formats is really taking off. Paperback sales through Lulu rose 38% and CreateSpace sales were up a massive 161%.    This is bound to send shivers of fear through the boardrooms of the publishing industry.  Half of all book sales (both traditional and self-published) in the UK are now through Amazon.

          Rumours that ebook sales are flat-lining are untrue.  Obviously they aren't soaring at the goldrush rates that happened in the beginning, but they're now climbing at more realistic levels. According to Nielsen, ebook sales across the industry were up 20% overall in 2013 and readers spent more than £300m buying at least 80m ebooks.  This accounted for more than a quarter of all book purchases.  One in five of these sales (12% of all sales) was an 'Indie' book.  Early figures from the first three months of 2014 show that the moment when ebook sales will overtake paper book sales is very close and the percentage of 'Indie' books is also rising fast, particularly in the USA.  In the UK Tesco have just launched their own ebook platform Blinkbox Books with a reading tablet called the Hudl (who thought that one up?).  It's too early to tell where this will go, or whether this is a significant opportunity for Indies, though they've apparently sold 500,000 Hudls so far.

Paperback sales down

          The figures for paperback sales were rather more depressing for traditional publishers and booksellers - sales have fallen by 23% and now account for only 66% of the market.  There's a lot of pressure within the industry to be more digitally aware - the publishing and retailing sectors of the book market were initially slow to realise the potential and have been very resistant to e-publishing.  Many are still hostile and unable to accept the fact that e-publishing is here to stay.  They seem to think that if they throw their weight about a bit they can put it back in the box. They feel the same about self-publishing. It's obvious to observers that the two sectors are going to have to co-exist.  The Hachette/Amazon dispute is only one of many conflicts as the traditional world of publishing is confronted by a changing landscape.

From this .....

To this?

Ebook Fiction up from £4m to  £200m

          The Bookseller also released some interesting publisher statistics that give a bit more information about what is really happening within the genre divisions.  In 2013 paper book sales of fiction were down from £561m to £400m, but ebook sales of fiction are up from only £4m to a whopping £200m in the same period.  Non-fiction suffered less, with only a minor shift from paper to ebook, but children's paper book sales dropped £35m without any compensation in digital sales - bad news for children's authors.  But many children are reading on i-pads - particularly i-pad minis.  My 4 year old grand-daughter reads a lot on her i-pad mini and loves interactive books. Her mother (a publishing professional with one of the Big 6) reads on the i-pad when it's not otherwise engaged.  Authors need to think about Apple much more seriously as a market for books. It may well become bigger than Kindle.

What does it all mean?

          The future for ebooks is bright.  This doesn't mean that they'll replace paperbooks entirely, but there will be more of an even balance between E and paper sales.  It also means that there will be more opportunities for Indies, but we're going to have to be more pro-active in marketing ourselves against increasing opposition from the traditional publishing sector. The problem of visibility also increases as there are more and more authors clamouring to sell themselves in the self-published arena.  We're probably going to be forced to buy in marketing as well as editorial services if we want to be seen, but there are lots of refugees from the Big 6 offering their experience freelance.

          The rosy dawn of self-publishing is over - it's now a serious business and we are in competition with traditional industry professionals who won't necessarily play fair. They see themselves as the legitimate land-owners and ourselves as the barbarian hordes. Naturally, they want to protect their commercial interests from the self-published invaders. We will have to think about how we organise ourselves to cope with a probable book war in the near future.  The Hachette/Amazon conflict is only the beginning.  But history is on our side - the mighty Roman Empire fell to the Barbarians eventually!

Kathleen Jones  is a poet, biographer and novelist who is both traditionally (all the Big 6) and independently published. As a journalist and book-blogger she keeps a keen eye on the trade. 

Kathleen blogs at www.kathleenjones.blogspot.com  and you can find her books at www.kathleenjones.co.uk

The Author, Summer edition 2014,
The Bookseller,  
Huffington Post,
Neilsen's Data

See Lev Butts' excellent analysis of the Amazon/Hachette dispute here.


Andrew Crofts said…
Brilliant, balanced article. Spot on.
Lydia Bennet said…
Thank you! Very informative and interesting article, with some great data. Things are changing fast! Though it's hard to know where they'll go in the future.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, Kathleen, for such a clear exposition of the status quo. I start reading so many articles on this subject but give up after a few paragraphs because the thinking behind them is impenetrable and the stats seem so muddled.
Mari Biella said…
A great post, with some very informative data. Everything's changing, all right. It's hard to see where it's all going to end up, but I think there's plenty of scope for optimism!
Kathleen Jones said…
Glad I managed to keep it clear - statistics bamboozle me too. But I think there's some really interesting data out there at the moment. As you say Mari - lots of reasons to be optimistic for Indies.
David Penny said…
Thanks for this analysis, Kathleen. 2011 was a wild time to be a self-publisher, but it was also like the Wild West. Now the Indie market is maturing I believe these are about to be even more exciting times for those with the skill and professionalism to match the traditionals.
Excellent and very clear piece of analysis - thanks, Kathleen.
Big error in the first two paragraphs. The Big 6 became the Big 5 more than a year ago.

Also, the following text makes it seem like Random Penguin is one of Big 7.

>> Penguin Random House came top of the table with a 24% share of the market, but its sales were down £342m (15%). All the others - Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan MacMillan, Bloomsbury, Simon & Schuster and Pearson were also down.<<

Random Penguin and Pearson are part of Bertelsmann.
Chris Longmuir said…
And of course, the statistics on ebook sales are always an underestimation because the statistics are compiled through ISBNs. Kindle books do not require an ISBN and I suspect the majority of self published Kindle books do not have one. Amazon are known for their secrecy in respect of ebook sales therefore the share of the ebook market will never be entirely clear. What is certain, is that it is far bigger than the statistics suggest.
AliB said…
Interesting point Chris - one I hadn't thought of. And a very useful article - have been sharing it widely - or wildly!
You're right Chris. It's one of those things that self and indie publishers generally know, but the Big Five choose to ignore.
Kathleen Jones said…
Thanks for putting me right on Pearson Michael!
Dennis Hamley said…
Kathleen, that's a great blog. It's cuts through so much undergrowth and barbed wire and for the first time I feel I've got a clear notion of what's going on.
Kathleen Jones said…
Glad it helped Dennis!
Diana Kimpton said…
Great article - a very balanced overview of the situation. I agree about lots of people reading on ipads but that doesn't mean they buy all their ebooks from Apple. Any ipad owner can download the free Kindle app and read Kindle ebooks.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
A very interesting and informative post, Kathleen. Just a thought - do the volume statistics reflect volume of free e-books?
Interesting post, Kathleen. As an author with one of those smaller houses that got hoovered up recently (Templar by Bonnier) I know how much that hurts, with the loss of an entire editorial team and all the lovely PR people, to say nothing of trying to sort out queries with the new team (who seem to have picked up the surviving pieces of several publishers and stirred them all about until everything is muddy).

Things are changing so fast, I think it's difficult for everyone at the moment. All authors can do is keep writing, and keep and open mind about what happens to those books when they are ready to read.
Hans Maerker said…
Thanks for this analysis, Kathleen. One German author tipped me off, and sent me the link to your blog. I'm glad to be here now. It'll help me to keep up to date in our digital world of 'information overflow'.

Hans Maerker
Copy editor & translator
Kathleen Jones said…
@rubybarnes - No Ruby, the statistics don't include freebies - this is paid for books.

Katherine - I felt sad too when Templar went. Constable I didn't shed too many tears, since it changed to something unrecognisable when Nick Robinson took it over. The old Constable had already gone. But I lament Quercus.

Hans - so glad you found us. Hope you'll find this site an interesting source of information. We're a group of authors with feet in both camps and a lot of experience of the publishing world. We're always happy to share that experience and help when we can!
glitter noir said…
Wow. Best State of the Union address I've seen. Could clarify exactly what you meant by this:

'We're probably going to be forced to buy in marketing as well as editorial services if we want to be seen'
Kathleen Jones said…
Exactly that, Reb. Visibility is the biggest problem for Indie authors and the more of them there are and the more obstructive the traditional industry becomes the more difficult it's going to be. We are going to have to use professional marketing agencies if we want to compete. It's already happening. There are several agencies offering services to Indies - but you have to check them out with ALLI as some are a bit of a rip-off.

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

Navigating by the Stars

The Splendid Rage of Harlan Ellison - Umberto Tosi

No, The Times Journalists at the Hay Literary Festival, Burglarising is Not What It's All About, says Griselda Heppel

Little Detective on the Prairie