In marked contrast to comments made by the then Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson at Futurebook at the end of 2016, his fellow chief execs at this year’s BookExpo in New York were bullish. Back in 2016, Hely Hutchinson famously said: “The book market is in secular decline, whether the platform is print or in e-book, and it’s quite hard managing businesses in decline to make them continue to thrive, to be profitable and preferably growing their sales and profits.”
Scroll forward 18 months and here’s Penguin Random House boss Markus Dohle at the CEO roundtable telling the audience: “Over the last 15 years since the digital transformation really started, book markets have been growing. Even in our mature markets, the large markets of the world, we’ve seen growth.” He talked about an expanding children’s market and rising literacy rates, concluding: “I think there is little reason to be pessimistic.”
The reimagined BookExpo ran alongside the inaugural New York Rights Fair (NYRF) – and both fairs presented to, and heard about, an industry that is also reimaging itself. Whether it be the American Booksellers Association’s CEO Oren Teicher welcoming nearly 130 members this year “including pop-ups, book buses, all kinds of collaborative efforts with other businesses, as well as all kinds of traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstores”, or the NYRF hearing how the proliferation of streaming services has created something of a ‘content’ gold rush, there was a positive mood.
At a session entitled ‘State of the Industry: Publishing and Copyright Policy’, session moderator Maria Pallante, CEO of the Association of American Publishers, commented: “I would say that so far we are very pleased with the access and the interest we have with the Trump administration…The general public and lawmakers are now sort of worried about the things that authors and publishers are all worried about,” including, she added, “too much control” in the hands of large tech companies.
Amazon Publishing continues to flex its muscle. Patricia Cornwell has signed an exclusive deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint for a series featuring a young NASA test pilot and aerospace engineer, Captain Calli Chase. She said: “I wanted the very best publisher in the galaxy to launch Captain Chase. I couldn’t be more excited about taking this journey with Amazon Publishing.” Her other English-language publishers include HarperCollins, Little, Brown and Penguin.
At BookExpo, a session entitled ‘The Future of Retail: the Outlook for Books in a Difficult Landscape’ heard NPD BookScan’s Kristen McLean focus on four concepts that will be increasingly important to physical bookshops: curation, convenience, personalisation (“customised experience in a mass-produced world”) and a focus on consumers (“like an anthropologist”).
China’s online bookseller Dangdang has begun a move into physical bookstores and is focusing on ‘personalisation’ and ‘experience’. Cafes, wi-fi, sofas and plants that make areas seem like a living-room are the order of the day. In 2015 the chain said it would open 1,000 physical stores in three years; while that may have been overly ambitious, it seems as if a physical presence of some sort will now accompany Dangdang’s online offering. James Hawkey, head of retail for real estates services firm JLL China said: “China’s bookshops are having to adjust to their consumers. As China’s shopping malls dedicate space to “experiences”, this means a new generation of bookstores with reading spaces, art galleries, cafes, retail space and Wi-fi.”
Some thirty five Chinese publishing houses have also just visited Sharjah Publishing City in the UAE, the world’s first free zone dedicated exclusively to the publishing industry, to explore investment opportunities and view the facilities on offer for organisations looking to either expand or enter into the regional market. A number of publishers from Nigeria and Kenya have also expressed interest, following Sharjah’s sponsoring of the International Publishers Association’s Africa Seminar in Lagos, Nigeria, last month.
Finally, while centralised invoicing and swift electronic payment may not be the sexiest of subjects, congratulations are due to Fraser Tanner and the team at the Bookseller’s Association’s Batch who have now secured “substantial financial investment” from the ABA who will be bringing the system to the US from January 2019.
This supply chain technology gets the boring stuff out of the way to allow booksellers to concentrate on selling books. US indies will discover that ‘Life’s a Batch…and then you pay [invoices more smoothly than you ever imagined possible]’.