Bookseller Briefing 30/18 – week ending 27 July

The Bookseller


Forbes removes article suggesting Amazon should replace libraries

US news media company Forbes has removed a controversial article suggesting that Amazon bookshops should replace local libraries.

The piece was written by Forbes contributor Professor Panos Mourdoukoutas, who said: “At the core, Amazon has provided something better than a local library without the tax fees. This is why Amazon should replace local libraries. The move would save taxpayers money and enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.”

He said the e-commerce giant had created its own online library “that has made it easy for the masses to access both physical and digital copies of books”.

“Amazon Books is a chain of bookstores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local bookstore. It improves on the bookstore model by adding online searches and coffee shops.”

Library professionals and campaigners reacted angrily to the piece, which is “dripping with privilege”, according to UK-based CILIP trustee and librarian Dawn Finch. “I really don’t give it any more credence than I would any ill informed person spouting the “it’s all on the internet” garbage,” she added, pointing to a blog  that said the UK had only 282 million library visits in 2016.

Nick Poole, chief executive of libraries membership group CILIP, said Mourdoukoutas did not understand the point of libraries on a “basic and fundamental” level.

“The role of libraries is not, and never has been, to solely provide access to books. The role of libraries is to equip the whole of society with the skills, information, connections and services they need to flourish. It is unfortunate to see an economist misrepresent our sector and fail to understand the value of investing in literature, learning and opportunities for all. The outpouring of support from people that love their libraries is a welcome antidote to Prof Mourdoukoutas’ assertions.”

Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News added: “The author fundamentally misunderstands, possibly wilfully, the role of public libraries and appears to think that everyone is like him, with money to spare. That he also thinks that tax-avoiding Amazon is a suitable replacement for the library sector is almost beyond parody and he deserved the online reaction he got.

“People care about libraries, understand them and see the inestimable value they give to communities. This is apparently a mystery to Panos, who does not understand some things are for paid for by all for the good of all, like education, hospitals, roads and libraries. Perhaps he missed having a helpful librarian in his life at an early age that could have recommended the books to read to have helped him get this.”

However, library campaigner Tim Coates said people should not be scornful of the article because the public library service in England was in very poor shape.

He said loans are falling and in Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham and Liverpool “the figures show truly dramatic collapse”.

“What the public library service needs is high quality management of a kind it does not have,” he said. “That does not mean it has to be management for profit, it can be for leadership for the improvement of service.  Amazon may not be the most appropriate suggestion – but it’s hard to argue that Amazon doesn’t understand good service; they do. So do many other organisations. The public library service could learn from several.”

Beijing invests millions to keep bookshops open

China is investing £5.7 million in preserving brick and mortar bookshops in Beijing as the country increasingly adopts digital.

The Beijing city’s authorities have upped its investment from £2 million a year in 2016 to £5.7 million in its annual budget to help pay for at least 40% of rents and improvements to bookshops.

The move is designed to encourage 700 more bookshops to open within three years, the Times has reported. If achieved, the overall number of bookshops in the capital would reach 1,700 to serve its 22 million residents.

Zhang Su, deputy director of the Beijing bureau of press, publication, radio, film and television, said: “Brick-and-mortar bookstores are an important part of a city’s cultural infrastructure. They carry the memories of a city, they embody a city’s cultural heritage and they affect a city’s cultural ambience.”

Many of the country’s bookshops have closed over the last decade as readers have adopted digital and turned to e-books.

“We cannot rely on the market to ease the bricks-and- mortar bookshops’ existential difficulties, and a government policy supporting them is absolutely necessary,” Zhang said.

Now the authorities want each of Beijing’s 16 districts to have a “highly visible” bookshop, in shopping centres, sightseeing spots, transportation hubs and densely populated neighbourhoods. They can open 24 hours a day and public libraries will also set up branches inside bookshops and vice-versa, bookshops can open in libraries.

The authorities have also scrapped the requirement that a bookshop must have been in business for three years to receive subsidies, meaning more are eligible to benefit and the city has extended a clause to exempt all bookstores from sales taxes.

The Beijing News has reported that the subsidies saved Paper Tiger, a privately owned store in the west of the city, from closure. “It’s fair to say that Paper Tiger would not have made it had it not been for the government subsidy,” Cao Zhangqiong, its owner, said.

US audio booms by 29% but overall publishing sales dip

American publishers’ total industry sales dipped slightly in 2017, but audio downloads continued to boom, rising by 28.8% year-on-year.

The Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) annual StatShot puts 2017’s industry sales at $26.23bn, showing a slight decline from $26.27bn the year before.

The figures contain publishers’ net revenues from trade, higher education, course materials, school instructional materials, professional books and university press, across all formats from all distribution channels and do not represent retailer or consumer sales figures.

The latest figures reveal an ongoing hunger for audio from American readers, with downloads up 28.8% from 2016 to 2017 to $820 million. This continues the trend from the AAP’s quarterly report last September, which showed that audio revenues in the US rose 29% in the first four months of 2017, as well as across the pond in the UK, where the Publishers Association’s figures posted earlier this month revealed a 22% uplift in the UK to £31m. Meanwhile, e-book sales fell 5.3% in the year, to $2.05 billion. Between 2013 and 2017 e-book sales fell 36.7%.

Trade comprises the biggest industry category in the AAP report and showed a slight increase from $15.9bn to £15.95bn, led by readers’ renewed interest in non-fiction, which rose 5.4% on 2016. Since 2013, revenue for the category has grown 28.4% to $6.18bn. This follows The Bookseller’s report last month which revealed a dramatic shift in the UK non-fiction market driven partly by the decline of celebrity memoirs and an appetite in ‘brainy’ backlist titles.

However, adult fiction in the AAP figures dipped slightly by -1.2% to $4.38bn, continuing the overall trend of the last five years – between 2013 to 2017, this category saw only one year of revenue growth in 2015. And the higher education, school and professional categories remained relatively flat.

Children’s and adults’ books gave US publishers reason for optimism, with more units sold in 2017 than in 2016, up 1.1% and 4.4% respectively. Over the past five years publisher revenue for children’s and YA fiction has grown by 11.3% to $3.67 billion, although non-fiction has declined by -2.3% to $652m.

Publisher revenue for trade books comprising fiction, non-fiction and religious presses were essentially flat overall (increasing by 0.3%) increasing by $45m in 2017 over 2016.

Meanwhile, for the first time, publisher sales to physical and online retail channels were roughly equal at $7.6bn and $7.5bn respectively last year.

Revenue from higher education was flat with growth of only 0.5%, while revenue from school text books and professional books declined in 2017 by -2.9% and -0.7% respectively.

According to Publishers Weekly, the AAP’s survey is based on figures submitted by over 1,200 publishers combined with estimates based on AAP’s model for publishers that did not report sales.