London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – February

The book industry can seem fragile at the best of times, buffeted by government cuts to libraries on the one hand, and the temptations of tablets on the other – temptations that take attention away from publisher (or self-published) content.  So it was gratifying and encouraging to learn that the overall book market grew by 4% in the UK in 2014. 

Combined print and digital unit sales stood at 268.5m for the year, up 4% on 2013, according to figures from sales recording body Nielsen Book.  E-books represented 32.7% of 2014’s entire market in volume terms, up from 28.6% in 2013.  It is estimated that some 87.7m e-books were sold, up 18.5% year on year (from 74m units). 

So the rise of digital continues, yet it hasn’t necessarily sounded the death knell for print.  While digital has affected sales of paperback fiction, hardbacks have performed well, partly because publishers have upped their game in production values, and partly because hardbacks make such excellent gifts.

Independents reported a very good Christmas, with 55% saying sales were up on the previous year.  Waterstones underlined the feeling of optimism by announcing that it plans to open at least a dozen stores this year, so there does seem to be something of a physical fight back taking place.  For example, Foyles reported sales of physical books up 11% at Christmas.

As always, January brought its crop of predictions for the year ahead.  Agent Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown noted :”It was a good year for British debuts in 2014.  Following the success of The Miniaturist [which won the Waterstones Book of the Year], Elizabeth is Missing or The Wake, we are likely to see more investment in this area, with publishers identifying a handful of key titles and building energetic, campaigns around them.”

Daniel Hahn, Chairman of the Society of Authors (SoA), remains concerned over income levels.  Statistics released by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society showed that just 11.5% of professional authors earned their income solely from writing, with the typical income for a professional author in 2013 being £11,000, which was in fact down £1,330 from 2012.  Hahn said that the key battleground for writers, and for the SoA representing them, “will be around fair contract terms and reasonable remuneration”.  He added that individual authors “will of necessity continue to explore new ways of getting their work to readers, whenever traditional publishing is failing them”.  Among such new routes to market is Createspace, Amazon’s print-on-demand self-publishing arm, whose rapid growth makes it the 30th biggest publisher in the UK consumer market. 

Just as publishers are fond of calling e-books “just another format”, so self-publishing is now simply another route to market for authors – albeit one that will require rather more of the author than might at first be apparent.  Indie author Polly Courtney recently observed:  “[Authors] need to work just as hard at the marketing as they did in writing the book.  Marketing is falling down the gap between publisher and author, because the writer thinks the publisher will do it and, frankly, the publisher does little to dispel this illusion until crisis point.

“This is not a problem we see in the indie world, because there is no gap.  The author is the publisher and they know damn well that promotion is their responsibility.”

There is a feeling among publishers that the big books will become bigger and that it is the mid-list authors, or the authors with back list, who may suffer.  It may be that some of these authors will choose to take back the rights to these titles and go the self-publishing route.  There is talk of ‘hybrid publishing’ now – authors who have a mixed approach to their work, choosing conventional publishers for a new book, and a self-publishing platform for backlist.

And all the while, the sea of content grows.  Writing platform Wattpad reports that 14m – fourteen million! – stories were shared serially on its site in 2014.  The site’s Head of Content, Ashleigh Gardner, commented: “With so many writers sharing stories chapter by chapter, reading is becoming episodic. The reality is people still love to read, but prefer to do it in short bursts, often on the go.”

She noted too that fan fiction continues to be the fastest growing category, covering everything from “celebrities to YouTubers to apps and classic novels.  I expect to see more real person fan fiction and stories about breaking news in the coming year.”

Now, one may have mixed feelings about this, that it isn’t ‘proper’ literature, but what it does represent is a stunning, human desire to write, to express oneself – and that is inspiring.  Some of these young ‘bedroom scribblers’ will surely go on to produce work that may appear in the bookshops of the future.

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.