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Shelf Life - News from around the book business - April 2016, London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – April 2016



Spring arrived with the very best news for publishers: the UK book market was up by 4% in volume and 5% in value in 2015.  The data was released at the annual BookInsights Conference in London, given by research company Nielsen.  However, depending on which side of the industry you occupy, there are some clouds amid this spring sunshine.  So although e-book sales grew by 5% in volume in 2015, Nielsen Research Director Steve Bohme observed: “All of the e-book growth in 2015 can be attributed to a rise in purchasing of Amazon/self-published titles, with purchase of e-books from mainstream publishers down slightly on 2014.”


If you are Amazon, or if you are an aspiring writer about to take the self-publishing plunge – either independently or through Amazon or another platform – then this is tremendously encouraging news: it shows that there are consumers who will buy self-published or Amazon-published titles.


But if you are a mainstream publisher, this has to be of concern.  Mainstream publishers have to ask themselves what are they offering that will make prospective authors come to them, rather than going it alone. 


Anthony Forbes Watson, MD of PanMacmillan, said that future growth for publishers would come from “all the books people think aren’t books, which they disdain”.  He was thinking of Fifty Shades and Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 and all those colouring books.  He argued that publishers would need to “re-wire their entire outlook on life” in order to capture the next generation of readers—a generation for whom “reading doesn’t come first”.  The solution, he said, is not “generic book-based pleading” but “looking and observing” at how those people live.


Print books enjoyed something of resurgence in 2015, with sales up 3% by volume and 4% by value, but there is worrying news concerning the gifting market.  The number of books bought as gifts has fallen by 8% since 2012.  Bohme said: “The decrease reflects fewer books bought as birthday presents or as impulse gifts, with purchases of books for spouses/partners falling fastest over the four years, with decreases as well in books bought by grandparents and mums, but less so dads.”


One sign of a vibrant publishing industry is the launching of new houses and imprints.  March saw both of these happy developments.  Quercus launched Rivverrun, which will be literary in flavour and publish both fiction and non-fiction.  Now come on, test yourself.  From where does Riverrun takes its name?  Give up?  It’s the first word of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – and some might say the only part of that challenging work that many have read!  Riverrun launches on 2 May with Six Four by Japanese writer Hideo Yokoyama and, later in the month, a new crime novel, The Birdwatcher by William Shaw.


Orion launched Trapeze, a fiction and non-fiction imprint that will have a more commercial slant.  Trapeze aims to publish 20 books a year that “identify trends, break new voices and start conversations”. 


Author Mary Hoffman has co-founded The Greystones Press with her husband Stephen Barber.  The aim is to be “an alternative to commercially driven major publishers”.  Hoffman said: “Commercial success [for major houses] means selling tens of thousands of copies of a title in the first 12 weeks.  Without wishing to knock the ‘Big Five’ [Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, PanMacmillan and Simon & Schuster], I think the trouble is we have so few companies, now with a huge number of employees and big premises and they can only really afford to publish things that will bring in guaranteed money”. 


Hoffman believes that there are a lot of good books out there “that the big publishing houses are not picking up”, books that might not necessarily sell in their hundreds of thousands but are certainly worthy of an audience.  A word of caution though – this message is on their website: ‘As an independent start-up with limited funds, The Greystones Press will not offer advances against royalties.”


Finally, some interesting future-gazing from Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk Chi at the Independent Publishers Guild Conference.  He noted that the “loudest voices [in publishing] were overwhelmingly Western [but] our readers, the ones we serve, are not”.  He added: “This means that tomorrow’s readers are going to be a lot more diverse than yesterday” and the industry should “be ready to make some changes”.


This is a concern that will be returned to many times as publishers look to the make-up of their staff and ask themselves if this reflects the society they see around them.

Latest entries:

London Wall Publishing’s Project Manager, Fiona Marsh, with US actor, Trey Gerrald, at the 18th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards held during BookExpo America in New York receiving the Gold Award for Romance Fiction for The Echoes of Love by Hannah Fielding. 

Launched in 1996 and conducted each year to honor the year's best independently published books, the "IPPY" Awards recognize merit in a broad range of subjects and reward authors and publishers who "take chances and break new ground." Independent publishers, along with independent booksellers, have long held an important role in the world of books, offering an alternative to "the big five" conglomerated media publishers.