Bookseller Briefing 11/19 – week ending 15 March

The Bookseller


Audio ‘booming’ with 13% growth last year

Audiobooks are the fastest growing publishing format with 13% growth in 2018, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Revealing the figures at The London Book Fair’s Quantum Conference, Nielsen said the audiobook boom is continuing with volume up 13% since 2017 and up 87% since 2014.

Audiobooks now account for 5% of all book purchases and have doubled their share of fiction sales. Forty per cent of audio sales are through subscription models, and young men are the biggest audio consumers.

Jacks Thomas, director of The London Book Fair, said: “There are so many reasons to be excited about the book market in the UK right now. Audio has been one of the major success stories in publishing over the past five years, and its incredible growth clearly shows no sign of abating.”

Overall the print book market held steady in 2018, with a 3% increase in volume, while other areas of the book market saw significant growth, with adult non-fiction up 3% to 40% since 2014 with the quickest growing category being Politics & Government titles with 170% increase (up to 1.8m books in volume). Children’s general non-fiction has grown 30% in 2018, with selling 590,000 more copies than in 2017.

Blackwell’s survey finds print textbooks in favour

Eighty-two percent of lecturers see the physical textbook as an important resource for undergraduate students, while students show a strong preference for print textbooks over the digital versions, according to the latest student and lecturer survey conducted by Blackwell’s.

Just over 500 students and 338 teaching staff across 35 UK universities completed the retailer’s annual survey, which this year took student and lecturer attitudes towards textbook based learning as one of its areas of focus.

Textbook use remains widespread, with 91% of lecturers responding to the survey using textbooks in their teaching. Close to 82% of lecturers agreed that print textbooks were an important resource for undergraduate teaching, with 9% disagreeing and a further 9% unsure. Comments from lecturers in favour of the majority view included: “Students often say they would rather read a book that they can hold in their hands than read online. Also, textbooks offer a comprehensive basis for concepts, theories etc and are often written in more accessible language than available online resources.”

Meanwhile students also reported a liking for textbooks, with 73% in favour, and preferring print textbooks to the digital versions in a ratio of seven to three, the survey found.

Campus bookshops also got the thumbs up in the survey, with 74% of lecturers saying it was essential to have a bookshop on campus.

Will Williams, head of academic sales at Blackwell’s, noted: “It seems the academic market is reflecting the trade sales trend with textbooks remaining the preferred format despite the huge range of digital content and resources being tested and use.”

Blackwell’s c.e.o. David Prescott said: “It’s encouraging that textbooks remain such a vital part of study and I believe Blackwell’s are well positioned to support universities and students over the coming years. However with limited student funds and widening participation we must work with publishers to ensure that textbooks remain affordable. Continually increased pricing is not sustainable.”

Agents braced for American land-grab as publishers eye European rights post-Brexit

Negotiation of European distribution rights will become “a horror show”, agents have warned, with American publishers emboldened to grab European English-language rights from British firms after Brexit. The warning gun over a post-Brexit turf war was sounded as far back as the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, when Simon & Schuster US c.e.o. Carolyn Reidy said that when UK publishers no longer have tariff-free access to the EU, “the argument the British have used to grab Europe as an exclusive market will be over”.

Will Francis of Janklow & Nesbit told The Bookseller Daily that Europe had indeed become something of a battleground: “I’ve heard some uncertainty from publishers around Brexit and non-exclusive distribution rights in Europe. I recently had a case with two publishers, a UK and US one, where there was a tussle over non-exclusive access to Europe.”

Madeleine Milburn, of The Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency, has also seen similar fights: “We’ve noticed a difference, and assume it’s a knock-on from Brexit and the uncertainty over potential free movement of trade.”

Agent Lorella Belli agreed, though she said the issue was “never a deal-breaker. US publishers are certainly trying [for European exclusivity], and Brexit is an argument used by some of them, since the deals are going to be for length of copyright. Although we don’t know what will happen [to a post-Brexit trade deal], being part of the EU and the free circulation of goods can’t be used as a supporting argument by UK publishers any more.”

One agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said of US publishers: “They 100% have [tried to secure European rights]. They keep trying to include Europe… We’ve really noticed that over the past year.”

Emma Paterson from Aitken Alexander agreed that there had been an increase in such activity, but said “it is something we would defend”, while Sophie Lambert of C+W revealed that “European exclusivity is definitely a question that is arising more often”.

One agent, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “It’s going to be a bit of a horror show in terms of who has control of the right to sell English books in Europe… It has always rested with the UK, but after Brexit it won’t be so cut and dried.”

However, some agents said they had not seen a change. Robert Caskie of Caskie Mushens said: “I don’t think it is happening more than before. The issue has been going for years and years.” He conceded that the issue “is more relevant now, because US editors are thinking it is harder for the UK to distribute across Europe”.

Peter Straus, m.d. of Rogers, Coleridge & White, agreed with Caskie: “I don’t think this is happening more now. This has been the case for years.”

HarperCollins announces HarperVia fiction in translation imprint

HarperCollins has announced the launch of HarperVia, a new imprint acquiring international titles for world English publication.

The imprint will be led by Judith Curr, president and publisher of the HarperOne Group in New York, working in collaboration with David Roth-Ey, executive publisher at HarperCollins UK [pictured], and James Kellow, c.e.o. of HarperCollins Australia. It will acquire mostly fiction in translation, publishing around the world in the English language.

HarperVia will publish three books in 2019, beginning in September with Lost in the Spanish Quarter by Heddi Goodrich. The book is described as “a modern day, cross-cultural tale of first love between a young American and a young Italian.. originally written in Italian and then translated by the author—an American who called Naples home for 10 years—herself”.

It will be followed by It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo, currently set to be published in 22 countries, and The German House by Annette Hess.

HarperVia has also acquired novels by Norwegian author Maja Lunde, award-winning Canadian Eric Dupont, critically-acclaimed Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian, and Korean sensation Won-pyung Sohn, to be published in 2020 and beyond.

“We are excited to bring extraordinary stories with a global appeal to the World English market,” said Curr. “HarperVia is looking for books in translation that will enliven conversation and spark the reader’s imagination. By working with our colleagues in the UK and Australia, we have a combined three acquisitions teams seeking out superb content for the list.”

Murray said: “Over the last four years, HarperCollins has established strong trade publishing programs and capabilities that publish English writers in 16 languages. HarperVia completes our global publishing vision by offering non-English writers a publishing partner that is seeking books in translation for English-speaking markets.”

HarperVia eventually plans to publish around 24 titles per year.

Hachette launching Essentials modern classics series

Hachette is launching its first ever modern classics list for its international markets, featuring titles from Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Sarah Waters among others.

The publisher said Hachette Essentials, featuring fiction and non-fiction from 1950 onwards, was designed to compete with the likes of Vintage and Penguin Modern Classics. The first 11 titles will be launched on 4th July with major marketing campaigns in Australia, Ireland, India and New Zealand, plus Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Further titles are planned for 2020.

The initial launch list features The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally and If This is a Man / The Truce by Primo Levi.

Also on the list are Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, The Sympathiser by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

Keneally said: ‘‘I am delighted to be mentioned within a bull’s roar of the magical word ‘classic’.”

The jackets have all been designed by Australian artist and designer Josh Durham, featuring spines in the same blue that runs through the river mural at Hachette UK’s headquarters, Carmelite House in London.

Hachette Australia m.d, Justin Ratcliffe said: “It has been a joy to work on this project with my international collegues and this absolutely stellar list of authors and books.  If you are curious, engaged, hungry for experience and alive to the possibilities of literature, with all its questions and complexities, challenges and provocations, shocks and comforts, terrors and joys – then these are the books for you.  They will make you feel and they will make you think. They might just change your life.”

Exhaustion of rights issue ‘a matter of urgency regardless of Brexit’, LBF hears

The UK needs to “lock down” the issue of exhaustion of rights with the EU to stop countries such as the US changing the status quo after Brexit, a panel of industry figures heard at London Book Fair.

The audience at the packed Deal(s) or No Deal(s) session at yesterday’s fair (13th March), which envisaged different Brexit scenarios and how they might affect the trade, heard that paper and books would still have zero tariffs even in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, but logistics and rights were still a major concern.

Lawyer Andrew Hood, an EU law expert and a former adviser to David Cameron when he was Prime Minister, said the publishers had produced a “best in class” response to Brexit.

But he told the audience that while striking an exit deal with the European Union would mean “pretty much business as usual”, agreement on the exhaustion of rights was crucial to stop the issue being traded-off in future negotiations.

Peter Phillips, c.e.o. of Cambridge University Press, said customers had stuck by UK publishers, but added that he was concerned about patience starting to “wear thin” in the face of continued uncertainty around the UK’s EU membership.

Batch launches payment app for booksellers

The Booksellers Association’s online payment system, Batch, is launching a brand new app for bookshops.

The Batch app will allow booksellers to find invoices, check goods in, and authorise payment. The app allows users to search invoices by scanning an ISBN or entering a delivery note number, order reference or invoice number, while also being able to check-in books as they unpack them and upload details straight to their Batch payments account.

Batch m.d. Fraser Tanner said: “Batch is always looking to make the business of book selling simpler and more efficient and we hope that the free app will grow into an indispensable tool for the trade.”

The app will officially launch in May and will be available free to booksellers on the Apple App Store or from Google Play for Android users.