Bookseller Briefing 2/19 – week ending 11 January

The Bookseller

International sales ‘increasingly important in 2019’, predict publishers

Publishers will increasingly look to international territories for growth this year in the face of a stable but flat domestic market, according to industry leaders giving The Bookseller their predictions for what 2019 holds for the trade.

Yet paradoxically the terms of many international trading relationships are currently uncertain amid the deep confusion surrounding Brexit, scheduled to take place just weeks from now, as many pointed out.

“In a domestic market squeezed by rising costs and price resistance, with only so many ways of dividing up the cake, international markets will continue to grow in importance as the risk of being severed from some of them increases,” observed Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes-Watson. OUP’s Jane Harley warned: “Overseas markets have become increasingly important for the health of the UK’s educational publishing sector and we must work harder to champion the strength of our high quality materials and maintain the demand post-Brexit.” DK c.e.o. Ian Hudson predicted that China would “continue to take centre stage” as publishers became ever more global in their search for growth.

Inevitably publishers commented widely on Brexit uncertainty, with Penguin Random House UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon confirming his company was currently “planning for a number of different scenarios” since the future was still unclear. Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page said: “The manner by which we decide to withdraw from the EU [or don’t] could have repercussions on our publishing processes, our costs, our copyright framework, the high street, and our staff. We’ve planned as far as we can, but one of the challenges for the next year will be about coping with whatever environment is thrown at us while remaining concentrated on publishing our books excellently.”

The effect of political turmoil on the domestic economy worried Waterstones m.d. James Daunt. “We always hope for a good year and most retailers are fairly pessimistic both by nature but probably [also] because right now only a screaming lunatic would be positive,” he said. “If we have anything that resembles a hard Brexit it will be catastrophic. It we have a soft Brexit it will be terrible. I’m one of those retailers that thinks everything about the way we are heading is bad for the economy.”

But Booksellers Association m.d. Meryl Halls said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the year ahead, with booksellers continuing to “cement their position as retail leaders in the UK”, bucking the trend of the troubled high street. Blackwell’s c.e.o. David Prescott acknowledged “a lot of nervousness around at the moment” but said: “History shows us in economic downturn the book is actually surprisingly resilient and always has been.”

Continued growth in audio and children’s, and strides forward in dealing with diversity and inclusion issues, were also among the c.e.o.s’ predictions for the year. Perminder Mann of Bonnier Books UK anticipated more initiatives across the industry along the lines of her own company’s move to only accept anonymous application forms in a bid to tackle unconscious bias. “I hope we’ll also see more publishers throw their weight behind diverse voices, especially in children’s publishing,” she added. DK’s Hudson also thought publishers should “redouble their efforts on environmental and ethical supply chain issues as these become more and more important to consumers.”

In academic publishing, SAGE’s Stephen Barr predicted that evolution would continue “rapidly”, with the Teaching Excellence Framework pushing publishers to innovate beyond the textbook, and the renewed push for maximising open access making it all the more important that research funders and publishers work together to find models which “also maintain all the strengths of the global scholarly communications ecosystem.” Springer Nature’s Daniel Ropers agreed, saying publishers, funders, librarians and researchers would need “a greater level of co-operation than ever before” to reach the ambitious goals they had set themselves for 2019.

The full list of 2019 predictions from industry leaders can be read here.

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