Bookseller Briefing 29/19 – week ending 19 July

Pearson breaks from print with ‘digital first’ policy for US titles

Pearson will start releasing its updated US titles in digital form first as it breaks with traditional educational publishing and begins phasing out print textbooks.

The company said its 1,500 US titles would now be updated with a “digital first” policy, updated on an ongoing basis driven by developments in the field, new technology and data analytics. Students who want a physical textbook will still be able to to rent one, the firm said, but they would be updated less often than currently, where revisions are made every three years.

Pearson has been affected by a downturn in the US courseware market in recent years as students switch to renting second-hand textbooks.

The move also comes after education publishers McGraw-Hill and Cengage announced they were merging, creating a major new player in the market with a commitment to affordable courseware for students.

Pearson c.e.o. John Fallon said: “Students are demanding easier to access and more affordable higher education materials, with nearly 90% of learners using some kind of digital education tool.

“We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalized digital materials to students. Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues. By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market. This will create a more predictable, visible revenue stream with a better quality of earnings that enables us to serve the needs of learners and customers more effectively.”

“Our digital courseware makes learning more active, engaging and immersive, improving outcomes for students and their teachers, and helping college leaders meet the growing demand for lifelong learning.”

According to Pearson, college students already access more than 10 million digital courses and e-books annually form the company. It said the move would reduce costs and improve students’ experience.

Students will pay an average price of $40 for an e-book and $79 for a full suite of digital learning tools. Print textbooks will be available to rent from Pearson for an average price of $60.

Gardners strikes deal with ecommerce firm Monwell

Gardners Books has joined forces with ecommerce firm Monwell Ltd in a new partnership that will see the wholesalers take on the Guardian Bookshop account and launch a new online bookshop.

The deal will see Gardners take over fulfilment for the Guardian online bookshop from Bertrams by the end of September. Monwell, founded by the Guardian store’s former head of books Sara Montgomery and its former ecommerce manager Nick Sidwell, bought the bookshop in 2016.

Monwell, which provides customers with websites for their online stores, stock management and customer data,  will launch a new online media bookshop – its first with Gardners – later this month. Enjoy Books More! will be the online bookshop of Archant Community Media, publishers of over 140 regional newspapers, as well as a wide range of specialist magazines and websites.

Sara Montgomery, co-founder of Monwell, said: “We care passionately about providing our clients with the best possible service and that means giving their customers access to a broad catalogue of books, backed up by slick delivery and great customer service. We believe that the combination of Monwell’s industry-leading technology alongside Gardners’ fulfilment capabilities will allow us to make ecommerce available to a wide range of clients, from independent bookstores to major publishers.”

Announcing the new partnership, Gardners said the strategic aim “is to enable more companies to bring affordable, branded online shops to their audiences” with access to the wholesalers’ catalogue and fulfilment services.

Nigel Wyman, head of business development at Gardners, added: “We look forward to working closely with them on new exciting projects to bring affordable branded ecommerce solutions to the bookselling community. Our combined experience should make for a solid partnership offering a first-class service.”

US print sales dip while audio booms by 25%

Print sales in America have reportedly dropped by 1.9% in the first half of 2019 with children’s non-fiction the only major category to show uplift and audio. Meanwhile publishers’ sales of audiobooks soared by a quarter in 2018, according figures from the Audio Publishers Association.

Unit sales of print books fell 1.9% in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period the previous year at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, Publishers Weekly said. Units dropped to 310.7 million, down from 316.7 million over the previous year.

Non fiction for children (termed ‘juvenile non-fiction’ in America) was the only major category to show a boost over 2018, by 2%. Conversely sales in adult non-fiction were almost flat (down by 0.05%) and sales in adult fiction fell by 5.1%. Juvenile fiction sales fell 3.6% in the period.

The adult non-fiction category held up well considering that the first half of 2018 featured a spate of popular political books such as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff and A Higher Loyalty by James Comey (both published by Pan Macmillan in the UK) which sold approximately 1.6 million print copies in the US combined in the first six months of 2018. Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Viking, UK) offset this by selling more than 888,000 print copies at BookScan outlets, and two books by Rachel Hollis—Girl, Stop Apologising and Girl, Wash Your Face (HarperCollins, UK)—which sold nearly 1 million print copies combined in the first half of 2019.

Overall, units fell about 10% in the history/law/political science category, with larger declines in computers and cooking/entertaining. The largest gains were in home/gardening and biography/autobiography/memoir.

The 2% gain in juvenile non-fiction was led by 8% increases in both the education/reference/language and holidays/festivals/religion categories. Declines came in the social situations/family/health, biographies/autobiographies, and animals divisions.

PW reported that as has been the case for the last few years, sales of top-selling fiction titles have been relatively high, but sales below the top tier have declined. In the first half of the year, double-digit unit declines came in five segments, with the biggest drop in science fiction, followed by religion fiction, suspense/thriller, romance, and classics. The largest gains were in action/adventure (up about 41%) and horror/occult/psychological (up about 27%) – the latter was cited as a trend by The Bookseller last summer.

The figures also suggested that the decline in mass market paperback might be drawing to a halt with unit sales down only 3% versus the first six months of 2017—but the decline has since accelerated with mass market units down 16% in the first half of 2019. Sales of physical audio also dipped further as consumers continue to move to digital audio.

Meanwhile publishers’ sales of audiobooks boomed by a quarter (24.5%) in 2018 for the whole year compared to the previous year reaching $940 million, according to the recent sales survey sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association (APA). Unlike past surveys, the 2018 report features publishers’ sales receipts, rather than estimated consumer sales.

The report also confirmed the role sales of digital audio have played in the growth in the format. Over 91% of audiobook sales came from the digital format, the APA said.

The survey found that the most popular audiobook genres in the US last year were general fiction, mysteries/thrillers/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. However the figures showed that nonfiction audio sales have grown and represented 32.7% of unit sales in 2018, led by general nonfiction, history/biography/memoir, and self-help.

The APA statistics revealed that adults continued to be by far the biggest customers for audiobooks, accounting for just over 91% of revenue last year. While sales of adult and young adult titles each increased by double digits, sales of audiobooks aimed at children grew moderately.

According to the report, 44,685 individual audiobook titles were produced last year, up 5.8% from 2017. The association noted, however, that the 2017 title count was revised downward from previous reports.

The sales report is based on figures supplied by 20 audiobook publishers, including all the Big Five houses in the US (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster). NPD BookScan covers around 85% of trade print books sold in the US, through direct reporting from all major retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, independent bookstore and others.