Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Has Book Publishing Returned to Pre-9/11 Business?

May 24, 2005
By Rachel Deahl

More books were released last year than ever before, according to a new study from R.R. Bowker. The statistics, released today, indicate U.S. publishers put out significantly more titles in 2004, jumping 14% from the previous year, to total 195,000, an all-time high for the industry. Andrew Grabois, Bowker’s director of publisher relations, says the rise points to a “return to a pre-9/11 pattern of publishing.” Grabois says the numbers point to an overall shift in the industry as publishers are now betting on the fact that the public is ready for more “escapist and self-help” fare, after being “exhausted by four years of terrorism, war, and polarizing elections.”

While the Bowker study does not reflect sales of books, and, therefore, industry revenues, it does point to the fact that there is a vast number of titles in the marketplace coming from sources other than the 12 major houses. Grabois says that, while vanity presses and POD companies make up for approximately 50,000 of the total number of titles released, the other 145,000 are coming from a combination of minor and major industry players. The Bowker study also touches on interesting trends in adult fiction, university press output, the growth of various genre categories, book pricing and translations of English titles.

Adult fiction, which accounted for 25,184 of the new titles in 2004, increased a hefty 43.1% from 2003, the highest jump ever recorded for the category. Interestingly, the large houses contributed modestly to this growth, increasing their output in the category only 3.5% from the previous year. Nonetheless, the overall growth means that adult fiction now accounts for 14% of all titles published in the country.

Grabois credits the difference in the output of adult fiction between the major houses and all other publishers with the fact that the biggest industry players are following a more conservative business model. Recognizing there might be more of a consumer interest in the category, Grabois says the major houses are still “a bit more cautious” and won’t “do a 180-degree turn in one or two seasons.”

Major trade houses released a total of 24,159 new titles, up 5.4% from 2003, Bowker reported. University presses also raised their output, releasing 14,484 titles, up 12.3% from the previous year. The strong numbers for university presses point to a turnaround in business, since the group saw a decline of 4.3% from 2002 to 2003.

Grabois says the university presses were able to turn business around by returning to their standard model, which had changed after 9/11. “[The University Presses] were hurt a lot by post-9/11 trends because they tried to gain a foothold in the trade market since there was such an interest in Afghanistan and terrorism and wound up over-publishing. They’ve cut back and now seem to be finding their sea legs again.”

Juvenile titles saw a marked rise in 2004, up 6.6% to 21,516, marking another industry high. And in the adult nonfiction category, the genres enjoying the largest increases included religion, travel and home economics. The big houses filled out their lists by releasing more titles in business, juvenile, law, sociology and travel, while cutting back markedly on religion, poetry and literary fiction.

Another decreasing area in the industry, according to Bowker, is translations of English titles; in 2004 4,040 books were translated from English into another language, a drop of 8.1% from the previous year.

As for pricing, the suggested retail price of various formats went up, for the most, with the exception of adult hardcovers, which dropped $.10 to $27.52. Adult fiction hardcovers remained the same at $25.08 while both adult trade paperbacks and adult fiction paperbacks saw a jump in price; the former rose $.11 to $15.76 and the latter climbed $.07 to $14.78.

A category seeing growth, surprisingly, is poetry, which jumped 40.5% from 2003 to 2004. Bowker, which tracks poetry and drama together, indicates that 1,779 more titles from the combined category appeared from 2003 to 2004. Despite the fact that poetry is not a big seller for the major houses, a number of POD publishers and vanity presses release a steady stream of titles in the category; Grabois estimates that poetry, drama and fiction account for 50% of the titles coming from POD and vanity presses.

No comments: