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General Book Industry Gossip

With a UK leaning. Firstly, UK libraries are looking rather vulnerable at the moment:

Campaigners have warned that there are just “six weeks to save the public library service” with more than 330 libraries now at risk of closure.

It is estimated around 1,000 libraries will be threatened with closure next year, out of 4,500 nationally. Campaigner Desmond Clarke said there were six weeks to save the service before councils finalise their budgets in February.

And sales are down, too:

But although spending at UK booksellers last week was much higher than the weather-afflicted week ending 4th December (when spending was down 18.4%, or £11.4m year-on-year), the recovery was not large enough to drag book sales into positive year-on-year territory.

Christmas is huge for bookselling. In the general shopping period of this time of year, the bulk of the industry’s sales are made. Admittedly, these sales are swayed massively by gift books – the usual crap you find by the tills or on ‘humour’ tables, and during recessions or hardship these tended to be the ones people stopped buying because of the very transient readership. Genres like SF, Fantasy, Crime – I’d be interested to see their end-of-year stats broken down.

Yet it seems that ebooks are growing.

E-books accounted for 5% of Hachette’s total sales in the fourth quarter of this year, the publisher’s c.e.o. has said.

In a letter to authors dominated by digital issues, Tim Hely Hutchinson said e-books were now a “significant” part of Hachette’s business. He said in the United States, e-book sales had been tripling year on year, from 1% of total sales in 2008 to 9% this year. He said: “Our market in Britain and the Commonwealth is not far behind and, actually, I would not be surprised if the British and Australian markets were to end up with a higher percentage of ebook sales than that of the USA.”

Too early to tell where these sales are coming from, or if they’re cannibalising physical copies, but it’s certainly a silver-lining. I’ve heard mutterings that in the US hardcovers are down massively and ebooks are up – and they’re possibly taking the hardcover sales. This always surprises me, because I thought the hardcover readers were the collectors, but they’re possibly just the early adopters of literature instead. If that is the case, you can see why publishers want to resist lowering their prices.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

14 replies on “General Book Industry Gossip”

It’s hard to give an ebook as a gift, I think. You always want something to unwrap under the tree, and a digital file doesn’t have that effect. I think it’s the same reason CD and DVD sales still haven’t completely died out. It will be interesting to track how ebooks do after Christmas, when people open their new ereaders and start spending on them.

Most worrying in that report is the lack of sales for children’s annuals. I hope it’s not a trend.

That’s a very good point regarding gifts. There are always gift vouchers, I guess, much in the same way as iTunes vouchers. But yes, people buying on ereaders will be interesting.

I also wonder just how many people will buy a book on an iPad out of curiousity, say, but not read them – casual sales bulking up the numbers, in other words. (As in, the sales are there but the readers are declining.)

The thing is that the actual savings are pretty small anyway. Highland Council were looking at closures earlier in the year.


“The closure of 11 others – Bettyhill, Knoydart, Achiltibuie, Lochcarron, Cromarty, Golspie, Lairg, Broadford, Mallaig, Bonar Bridge and Muir of Ord – would save almost £100,000.”

It’s not clear from that quote whether they mean £100K per library, or £100K altogether, if it’s the latter then, really, that’s tiny compared to local budgets, let alone the national budget. Even the former would seem to me to be a relatively small amount, especially when weighed against the impact of cutting these kinds of service would have in areas like the Highlands.

Re: the gifting thing, I’d be happy if my family had gotten used to the buying physical gifts as books: “but, Richard, you’re so hard to buy for.”

“I’m really not… a fucking book… a paperback book would Make Me Happy!”

But, oddly, I think I could handle a digital file as a gift.

Regarding ebooks, I wonder if people would be less averse to buying them as presents if they could get someone a specific book, rather than a voucher to spend on anything? That seems to be the problem most people have with vouchers after all, that they’re too impersonal and don’t show any thought. I’m living abroad right now so ebooks make the perfect gift – one friend has sent me an ebook voucher with instructions for which book I’m supposed to buy with it.

Richard – that’s a common trend with the cuts recently. Much of it isn’t a great deal of money, but it’s the ethos that the State should not provide certain things – I guess knowledge and free reading being one of them…

Minusakidney – yeah, I guess so. But you know, I’m one of those people who would rather people didn’t buy me a book unless it was off a wish list, because I’m so nitpicky about it all.

Does living abroad mean you can and can’t buy certain ebooks? I guess some might be restricted with respect to different markets.

As a published writer and a local authority finance wallah, I can see both sides of this.

To give a concrete example, my local authority has been given a 14% funding cut for next year, at time when its cost pressures are rising.

Yes, cutting libraries doesn’t save a whole lot of money, but it saves *some*, and it all counts. We reckon on having to take about £40m out of our budget next year, and the stuff we spend big bucks on is adults and children’s social care. Every penny not taken out of “non-essential” budgets (and that’s what libraries are, regrettably), is a penny that comes out of employing social workers or providing care for the vulnerable elderly.

To get political about it, if you want to blame anyone: blame a government which has cut harder and deeper than necessary to look macho; blame a banking industry allowed to operate unregulated for a decade and then let off scot-free.

I haven’t had any problems buying ebooks in Vietnam except with Waterstones, who just won’t accept my card while I’m out here.

As for books as gifts, what about those rare occasions when someone buys you a book you’d never have picked for yourself, but then it grabs you? (Or if you have a friend who hates Fantasy because it’s all racist, macho quest nonsense with zero character development and you want to try and persuade them otherwise for Christmas?)

I can imagine the 100K being per library as each library needs to employ several staff members, who need a salary, and then there’s the maintenance of the building etc.

Even so, this seems like the kind of thing various banking companies should consider before doling out bonuses. I’m sure between them all they could save all the libraries but even if they just saved some of them it would be a little bit of PR before they take the rest of their bonuses anyhow.

Speaking of ebooks though, is there a way that the library could start to exist as a digital entity? That could save a lot of money and still provide a valuable service. Councils could start loaning out kindles for those who really can’t afford one.

Thanks for sharing, Tim. Some good context there, and I quite agree about the final sentiment.

Minusakidney – I must admit, that’s one of the things about ebooks that can’t be recreated. Books are devices themselves after all (whereas music was simply played on a device for decades).

Neil – I guess that’s the thing with private companies, especially if they’re owned by shareholders, when they’re legally obliged to maximise value, and therefore anything service-based is bound to come second (and suffers). I’m not sure about a digital library – loaning out expensive devices isn’t going to be popular…

Can i just disagree on Libraries being *non essential*, i find that the people who say this have access to books, computers/internet and disposable income to buy books.A Surprisingly large amount of people do not have access to computers at home and cannot afford to buy whatever books they like, especially if these are in a different format (Large print, spoken word etc). What about the need for specialist access reference websites that require a subscription?. Not to even mention the professional knowledge that Librarians provide to all of their customers. I’m glad that you don’t need libraries Tim (though i expect many stock your book so also improve your sales!)I can only hope that when you are old your books sales mean that if your eyesight fails you have made enough off your books to pay for large print and spoken word whenever you like!. Libraries are not just about books they are a community centre and a hub.
Also may i just point out my authority is planning on closing 13 of their 26 libraries at a saving of 391k, the saving for cutting senior staff in the council?…….£1.18 million

Pip, when I say libraries are non-essential, I’m not saying they are unimportant. They do all the vital things you set out. I do use libraries, and I looked after a local authority’s library budget for two years; but I can’t blame local politicians when, given an all but impossible choice, they choose to cut spending on libraries rather than social care.

My own local authority, for what it’s worth, is planning to cut £38m from its budget next year, of which less than a million comes from libraries, with another million over the next two years. It’s not ideal but may not involve library closures at all. Managers at all levels, meanwhile, are reduced by 30%.

Surely in terms of PR a bank could afford to splash out on a public service? A bit like Barclays have done with the cycle shceme in London, although admittedly that comes with advertising. Maybe they could start to place books about how great bankers are in the library as a bit of social engineering 😉

The electronic device thing would be something where you’d have to leave a deposit or face a fine but you’re right in the sense that you’d still need a library to hand the things out making it relatively useless. The electronic option is only really valid for those with internet/computers and reading devices. I have no idea how many people have these devices (sounding like a live in an ivory tower) in today’s Britain. So again a solution which ultimately shafts those who could benefit the most from it. A general theme seems to be arising.

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