Was the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan right to suggest that people under 35 want to “read books, essays, long-form pieces” on their mobiles? Delivering the keynote address at the Independent Publishers Guild Spring Conference in Oxfordshire, he noted that “a lot of content is now consumed mobile first”. That is beyond dispute – but how much of that content is (a) paid for and (b) from book publishers?
At times like this one turns to Nielsen’s UK Research Director, Steve Bohme, who occupies the same oracle-like position as Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the man who is always called upon to analyse the government of the day’s financial policy announcements.
According to Bohme, 17% of book buyers aged 16-34 claimed to have read a complete book on a smartphone in 2017 (compared to 12% of book buyers as a whole), and 19% of e-books bought by 16-34s in 2017 were bought to read on a smartphone (versus11% of e-books bought overall). Bohme adds that 6% of all books (print & digital) bought by 16-34s in 2017 were bought to read on a smartphone (versus 4% of books bought overall).
These figures from Nielsen’s UK Books & Consumers survey would seem to support Rajan’s assertion, but figures elsewhere still show how flat digital is. Hachette parent company Lagardère Publishing said that in 2017 e-books accounted for 7.9% of its total revenue, as compared to 8% in 2016, which, if anything, suggests a slight move away from reading on devices. In the UK, Hachette Chief Executive David Shelley, said that their e-book publishing had been “greatly enhanced” by the acquisition of independent e-book publisher Bookouture a year ago. That said there are obvious mutual benefits to the relationship as it’s interesting that a recent announcement from the latter is of a print deal with Sphere for three of Holly Martin’s Hope Island novels, presumably in readiness for the Summer reading season.
There has been much activity in bookselling. Barnes & Noble has has had what can only be described as a challenging start to the year, with sales down 5.3% for the third quarter ending 27 January. But Demos Parneros, who took over as CEO last April, has a turnaround strategy in place that includes putting the focus back on the sale of books and opening five new prototype stores that will be smaller than traditional Barnes & Noble stores and which, while focusing on books, will also include cafes and a range of non-book items. The chain has also recently opened five stores with small restaurants.
These moves are in line with trends in other countries. Exclusive Books in Johannesburg redesigned its flagship Hyde Park Corner store to include a ‘Social Kitchen and Bar’; Feltrinelli’s Red in Florence boasts a restaurant/wine bar; and in London, Waterstones Tottenham Court Road store boasts a first-floor café and a basement wine bar. It is all part and parcel of bricks and mortar’s survival strategy. Consumers cannot drink coffee or enjoy a glass of wine online; mix those two with a bookshop and you arguably have a more appealing proposition than just a coffee bar, just a wine bar.
Have we missed an opportunity with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water? The film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, includes this poem: ‘Unable to perceive the shape of you/I find you all around me/Your presence fills my eyes with your love/It humbles my heart/For you are everywhere’. There has been much discussion online as to author of these words, with the Sufi poets Rumi and Hakim Sanai being frequently mentioned. What an opportunity for a publisher to publish a film tie-in collection of Sufi verse entitled ‘The Shape of you’, including this poem. It might have mirrored the one-off success that Faber enjoyed in 1994 when it published a slim collection of WH Auden’s verse to tie-in with Four Weddings and a Funeral following the interest in the poem ‘Funeral Blues’ which begins with the famous line ‘Stop all the clocks…’.
To finish, a provocative quote from a US indie bookseller: “Women are the future of bookselling,” said Taylor Berry of Harbor Books, Sag Harbor, New York to Forbes magazine. “Men have a philosophy of don’t fix it if it’s not broken. There’s never a moment as a woman that you’re not stopping to think about how you can innovate and make something better.” A fitting quote as The London Book Fair announces a wonderful Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage. Woman, innovater, pioneer and inspiration.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.