2020 predictions: trade looks ahead
A boom in audio, a commitment to sustainability, challenges on the high street and a less London-centric publishing industry all in the shadow of Brexit. These are just some of the predictions for 2020 offered by senior figures across the book trade. C.e.o.’s of major publishing houses, retailers, indie publishers and trade associations have offered their insight. 2020 looks to be an interesting year with challenges including the ongoing diversity deficit, the perennial bugbear of rates and rent for booksellers, the move into Open Access for academic publishers and how to put the green agenda at the heart of the trade. Below, senior figures from across the book trade share their hopes and expectations for the year ahead.
Association of Authors’ Agents president Lizzy Kremer
I would love to see a year of surprise wildcard bestsellers, a growth in truly diverse and inclusive genre fiction publishing and the emergence of powerful new book advocates to expand our reading lists. But even if all my wishes come true, the most seismic changes for publishing this year will be political. Shortly we will be able to assess the real trade, economic and legislative consequences of Brexit on publishing as the UK sits down to trade negotiations.
With export sales accounting for approximately 60% of our industry revenues, key advocates for publishing will be lobbying to protect and preserve our gold standard copyright laws and the territorial principles which protect our business overseas. I will also be anxiously hoping for signs of anti-trust structures and market principles in a post-EU Johnson-led era that will seek to protect independent businesses and the income stream of IP creators from the dominance of big tech.
Fane Productions m.d. Alex Fane
2020 sees continued opportunity for promoters to develop how they work with publishers. A certain type of event should not be mutually exclusive and we are seeing more andmore tours where all types of event are possible; from bookshop talks and in-store signings to festivals and larger theatre events.
The coming year should also challenge the traditional belief that author-based events are only valuable within the first two weeks of publication. Events open the door to huge opportunities to extend the author/publisher calendar in building a platform for an author to attract audiences and sell books long after publication.
As live author and spoken word events become more widespread, one of the main challenges moving forward will be to ensure that the quality of content, production values and messaging remains as high-standard as it is currently.
One of my personal continued aims for 2020 is to continue the debate surrounding paying authors for events. FANE are firm believers that authors should be paid, regardless of whether books are being sold alongside the event. It is a divisive issue, but a debate that I hope continues to gain traction in 2020.
Bertram Group c.e.o. Raj Patel
Books will remain as popular as ever and the Government’s commitment to early learning and improving literacy outcomes will change the penetration of books into schools through greater funding, advocacy and parental buying power.
More and more people will want the ability to switch between printed, audio and e-books, one will not dominate the other. Flexibility of offer will be important. There will be further consolidation across the book industry, as economies of scale will become an all important measure of sustainability. Brexit will create a short-term level of uncertainty and unpredictability, but the books economy will realign and will be dictated by the equilibrium of market forces.
The continued growth in internet sales of books will see fewer booksellers on the High Street overall, those that will remain will be important centres supporting community cohesion. Multi category retailers will reduce the footprint of books in their stores, replaced with more profitable product lines. The sustainability and ethical trading spotlight will be shining on all book wholesalers and retailers. And this is a huge factor in our plans for 2020.
Society of Authors c.e.o. Nicola Solomon
As Brexit is delivered, we need to keep at the forefront of negotiations to ensure our gold standard copyright system cannot be weakened as a bargaining counter in new trade deals, while pressing for the European Copyright Directive to be enacted into UK law.
We’ll be picking up on manifesto promises about more supportive tax and administrative environments for freelancers, particularly for those who, like authors, have ‘lumpy’ incomes based on intermittent payments – as well as promises for cultural funding and additional money for arts in schools. And we will continue to shout out for free speech.
We’ll work with publishers and agents to set industry standards for royalty accounting and protecting ideas. And we’ll be warning of publishing “services” that don’t give value for money.
And day to day, we’ll be doing what we do best: working to empower authors in every way we can – through individual advice, networking, training and campaigning, as well as through over £500,000 in grants for work in progress and in prizes to help the flow of diverse, innovative and exciting work in all genres and in all the regions and countries of Britain.
CILIP chief executive Nick Poole
We predict that in 2020 we will continue to see the same mismatch between public policy and practical reality for libraries. The reality is that libraries everywhere have done a magnificent job of adapting to the digital world. Building on the three magic ingredients of ‘books, digital and experiences’, they have innovated, attracted new audiences and proven how resilient and cost-effective they can be. Sadly, public policy continues to trail far behind this wave of library innovation and too many libraries are still suffering badly under the impact of austerity in too many parts of the country.
Meanwhile, librarians will continue to make a real impact on some of the key challenges facing our society. We’re going to be celebrating the power of books and reading in 2020, reflecting the tremendous surge of readership and the amazing work being done by publishers and authors, particularly in children’s and young adults fiction. We want to support the push for greater diversity and representation in books and authorship through initiatives like the Carnegie Greenaway Awards and our new diversity magazine and listings guide Pen & Inc.
In 2020, we’ll continue to educate people about disinformation and fake news, helping people to stay safe online. We’re also seeing lots of new opportunities in emerging agendas like climate change and localism – helping communities to build better, healthier and more sustainable places. All in all, we think 2020 is going to be an amazing year for libraries – just as long as we can finally encourage policymakers to catch up!
Videl Bar-Kar, global head of audio Bookwire
I have absolutely no doubt that audiobooks and audio listening – whether at home, on the move, in the car, or via smart speakers – will continue to boom in 2020 and for years beyond. Books and stories will, and must, continue to play a vital role in our lives but we are faced with the double challenges of ‘peak attention’ and the threat of a new ‘post-text’ future. It’s clear that huge new, and diverse audiences who spend time listening to podcasts on platforms like Spotify and beyond are developing a lifelong spoken word listening habit, which is a once in a generation opportunity for publishers to engage with. These audio hungry consumers are now discovering and falling in love with audiobooks for the first time and we need to keep them coming back for more; more titles, great production, smart marketing – and I would encourage authors, agents and publishers to make audio a strategic priority in 2020. And work with audio specialists who can bring expertise into your business around production, distribution, audience analytics and even playlist marketing. Listening will become more frictionless than ever.
PRH UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon
Our starting point in publishing is a deep commitment to free expression. The flipside of free expression is the expectation that our editorial choices may be contested. We should expect an increasingly vigorous debate about who, what and how we publish, and we must prepare ourselves carefully for this greater scrutiny.
At the same time, there are emerging increasingly divergent commercial models for how the public consumes and experiences media content. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions about the long-term sustainability of some of these models.
And finally, the concepts of consumerism and capitalism are shifting. Consumers are increasingly thoughtful about where and how they purchase and are looking to brands that are not only commercially attractive but also ethically inclined. We need to actively engage with this debate and define our role within this movement.
Hachette UK c.e.o David Shelley
In 2020 I think audio sales will continue to grow exponentially, fuelled by the rise in wireless headphones, as well as the growing amount of quality content from publishers. Although its growth has been incredible over the past five years there are still vast swathes of consumers who I think would love audiobooks if we can reach them and persuade them to try the format.
In terms of physical books, we are seeing an extremely resilient gifting market for books at the moment which should continue in the next year. I think this is primarily driven by the move to digital for many other entertainment products (with CDs and DVDs, which have long been direct competitors of ours in the gifting market, well on the way to obsolescence). It is also due to bookshops now often being amongst the most inviting and well-invested retailers on high streets, and publishers upping their game in the last decade to produce books of unsurpassed quality.
In terms of the political climate, I don’t believe that the election result will do much to restore harmony – but I think it will continue to fuel the boom in political and ideological non-fiction, with readers hungry to understand better the world they are living in. I hope and believe that as an industry we will continue to ensure that readers have access to a wide range of views and beliefs, and that the work the whole industry has been doing on diversity also includes focus on diversity of thought and expression.
HarperCollins UK c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne
I think 2020 will continue as 2019 went before it. Some growth in physical sales, a stagnating ebook market and continued steep growth in audio. Beyond this there will be more experimentation in the area of podcasting as authors and publishers try to define whether this is a marketing tool or a business.
Following the result of the election Brexit will now clearly be delivered – and with such a strong mandate I am hopeful that the Government will be able to negotiate a good and fair deal for Britain – enabling us to continue to grow our trading opportunities with our European partners and countries around the world.
Publishers will continue to face challenges over what they should and shouldn’t publish. As an industry, I believe we should publish books from different sides of the argument, reaching diverse audiences; books that are well written, interesting, informative, thought-provoking, challenging and not just reflecting our own views.
2020 will be a year where our industry moves its focus from London and the South and looks to make an impression on a broader audience and across the country.
We will also be closely observing the retail market, and hoping that as James Daunt tackles Barnes and Noble, Waterstones continues to deliver the strong, creative and intelligent bookselling that is, once again, its stock-in-trade.
And following up on my comments from this time last year, I do believe that 2020 will be the year where our industry turns thought into action in the area of our environment, plastics, pollution and climate change.
Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson
We will begin to see beyond Brexit-driven national dysfunction to a larger nationalist trade war-driven global dysfunction, and feel nervous. The book industry has been on the wrong side of the national vote and will struggle to break out of its metropolitan bubble, to stay in touch with its wider market.
Eco-anxiety will grow as a key element in our growing global angst, and the hunt will be on for the first inclusive eco-megaseller. As awareness grows of the difference AI is beginning to make in our everyday lives, we will start to have more time on our hands to think and read about our purpose.
We will become more aware of our – and our children’s – reduced capacity for deep reading and the loss its benefits, as digital technology-driven skim-reading habits prevail. Audio publishing will start to mutate into new and exciting forms
Simon & Schuster UK c.e.o. and publisher Ian Chapman
In 2019 the big books got bigger, again. However, the autumn showed a broader offering appealing to a wide audience of book buyers. As much as it is good to see a handful of books selling in large volume, I anticipate and hope to see more variety and breadth across the bestseller lists in 2020. As retail slots become increasingly competitive, publishers need to be more nimble, more versatile, and encourage the passionate, niche interest audiences to come to the fore.
2020 begins and ends with significant political events; we wait with bated breath to see what our new government has in mind for libraries, the reading tax and how Brexit will impact the way in which we conduct business with Ireland and further afield. The continuing and vital emphasis on environmental and sustainability initiatives will be reflected in the books themselves, the way we produce them, the way we market and sell them.
As a business, we are excited about the opportunities that being part of the newly-merged ViacomCBS brings in terms of learning more from the content providers we now work alongside.
The ongoing need for publishers to connect with readers will intensify through 2020. We cannot rest on our London laurels. Through more diverse hiring of staff, publishing a wider range of authors and increased regional focus, the challenge within the publishing community is to be both relevant and enduring. Our media landscape is both fast-paced and perpetual and it is quality writing that will sustain meaningfully.”
Bloomsbury founder Nigel Newton
Publishers have to be optimists. I am predicting a robust 2020 for the trade, in spite of everything. Books will remain an affordable luxury and two of the needs we serve – those of reliable information and escape through entertainment- will be in much demand.
People will clamour to fill the dead moments in their days by listening to even more audio books which will largely be extra sales. Readers will be wowed by the originality of a handful of authors who will find completely new ways to write about familiar things as we have seen in 2019.
Two of the biggest macro-economic threats to the year ahead have already resolved themselves. The certainty that Brexit will happen (however much most of us in the publishing industry will mourn it and in spite of the rocky road of trade negotiations ahead) may help reduce the uncertainty we have had to negotiate, and steady the volatility in exchange rates. The US tariff on books printed in China affecting most of us with illustrated lists and US customers was also a menace. The fact that the Trump administration halved it from 15% to 7.5% in mid-December and announced that they wouldn’t roll it out to include children’s titles is a piece of unexpected good news from the most unpredictable of politicians.
The knowledge that our largest US retailer Barnes & Noble is now in the same hands which turned around Waterstones fills us with hope. The standards of staff engagement will continue to rise inexorably as publishers set new priorities, seeing their own staff as their greatest asset together with their wonderful authors. Publishers will take a leading role in changing thinking on climate issues through their books and their example- the Gretas of the mind. Publishers will also take a more prominent role – out of self-interest as well as idealism -in defending the humanities as governments and education ministries dumb down on them.
Atlantic m.d. Will Atkinson
Publishing is usually robust during periods of economic upheaval and political uncertainty, but these are anxious times. Predicting what will happen is a fool’s game, but we have all had to plan to a great or lesser extent. One thing our industry does not need is a recession. There is already enough pressure on the UK high street, and further stress will cause lasting damage. Bookshops have become a beacon in the high street and their growth, both indie and chain, has been heart-warming over the past few years.
Publishers have more options than physical retailers. We publish in the biggest language in the world – the consequence of British history and a century of American power – and we reap those benefits every day. I am worried about the long term effects of the language becoming less influential, if we are seen as turning our back on Europe and being more aligned to a clumsy United States. Our reputation in the cultural and intellectual world has already been damaged.
For these reasons, I don’t see much of a shift in readers’ tastes. Books that explain our world better, and that enhance our understanding of the people around us only get more important. Most of our best sellers last year were political in tone. On the flip side, escapist and up lit will continue to thrive. Literary fiction which concentrates on the familiar won’t succeed and novels that tackle “other” stand a better chance. Like e books, audio will find a level with which society is comfortable.
Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page
Coming off the back of another good year for print, the market in the UK and most other territories feels solid, so we’ll expect little change and continue to build much of our success in partnership with the revivified high street book trade.
Headlines in digital publishing will continue to centre on audio market growth, but as with the print market, ebook sales have been solid with some indications of modest growth. So we expect this stable market to continue in 2020.
The challenges will continue to come from longer term issues, such as changing habits around leisure time, the international economic and political outlook, and the renewed realities of a no deal Brexit. At Faber we’ll also continue in 2020 to put our efforts into accelerating change in the make-up of the industry, and to meet the global climate with strong, original publishing for which we believe there will be a very strong market.
Finally, it is a time for the industry to engage forcefully with the new government, and to do so in partnership with our Creative Industry colleagues. We need to make the great success of sector count as this government prepares for the post-EU landscape and that will take active industry effort.
Bonnier Books UK c.e.o. Perminder Mann
The climate crisis will continue to dominate headlines next year, but it will affect us more on a practical, day-to-day level, including how we operate our businesses and how we behave as consumers. Speaking to young people who are joining us in entry-level roles, it’s becoming clear that this new generation expects more from us and we must listen to them to stay relevant. I’m currently reading The Future We Choose by Christina Figures and Tom Rivett-Carnac which explains how the coming decade is the most important we have ever faced – it’s a startling prospect, but this book shows how we can move beyond the crisis into a thriving future.
Sustainability is now at the forefront of every decision we make as a business and, while taking a long-term view can be empowering, we cannot be naïve to the challenges that lie ahead. In 2020 I’m determined to step up to these challenges, working with my team to accelerate the pace of progress at Bonnier Books UK.
Amidst a growing epidemic, promoting positive mental health and wellness is more important than ever. We will continue to publish thoughtfully into this space with books such as Ollie Ollerton’s Battle Ready, while looking at how we can create a more productive and supportive culture for everyone – I believe this will also be key to attracting and retaining a more diverse pool of talent.
The political climate will remain uncertain as Boris attempts to “get Brexit done,” whilst healing the country’s divisions – he has quite a task ahead of him! As a result, I think we will continue to see demand for stories with powerful, universal themes – stories that remind us of what unites us, not what separates us. I’m looking forward to the publication of The Phone Box at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina in the summer – inspired by the true story of Japan’s 2011 tsunami, it’s a beautifully written, uplifting story about finding hope in difficult times.
The explosion of audiobooks will continue and become even bigger and we will see more publishers look to podcasts, informing their publishing decisions and their marketing.
I also hope that we will also see the continued resurgence of independent bookshops – the creativity, knowledge of their audience and resourcefulness they have shown in recent years has been truly inspiring to us all and we are so grateful for their support.
Sanphy Thomas, m.d. JKP
Topics traditionally viewed as niche will become more mainstream and trade publishers will start to occupy the spaces specialist publishers previously owned. We’re already witnessing this in the areas of autism, neurodiversity, gender and mental health.
Social divisions exposed by recent domestic and global events will fuel the actions of the younger generations who are already more aware of identity politics; publishing for these groups will grow. D&I initiatives will increase as companies do more to incorporate a wider range of skills, recognising the value of diverse thinking.
This opening up of different talents will help publishing companies transition their self-perception as book publishers to publishers of content, allowing for a liberation of new formats and media. This is something that has been happening in academic publishing for some time now; I think we’ll start to see more talk of this in trade publishing.
Polly Powell, chair of Pavilion Books and advisor at Quarto Books
Books can be at the forefront of the world’s encouraging new hunger for all things sustainable. Print books are, after all, made primarily from trees that can be environmentally managed, and have the potential to be used time and time again. We, as an industry, need to keep reminding people of that!
The outcome of the recent general election might not be to my personal liking, but I do think it will provide greater stability for business, even given the protracted negotiations with Brussels still to come.
For the illustrated book market, the recent challenge has been how to address the tariffs that Trump has imposed on Chinese imports and, with their extension to children’s books, will continue to trouble us into 2020. Naturally, my biggest wish would be for the US and China to put their heads together and sort it out.
The US retail landscape will change and, certainly in the short to medium term, will be harder to fathom, as James Daunt continues his turnaround of the Barnes and Noble stores. We all will be looking with interest at the new opportunities that these changes will bring.
SPCK Publishing c.e.o. Sam Richardson
In the Christian publishing sector, where the SPCK Group is the largest player, I expect to see the trend for consolidation continue. As the practice of having separate US and UK publishers becomes increasingly unsustainable in a globalised Christian marketplace, and the UK Christian market starts to feel the effect of reduced numbers of people in the pews, Christian publishers need to have the scale to reach a global market where Christianity and literacy are on the march and books (including in digital formats) are increasingly affordable.
Looking at the wider publishing space, I will be watching closely how academic publishers respond to the push for open access, and how trade publishers respond to the potential of a Spotify model on e-books. With the latter in mind, I hope one positive to come out of Brexit may be the removal of VAT on e-books and digital audiobooks, and therefore bundling becoming a viable model for publishers both to serve and to understand our consumers better. While as publishers we are may be competing for ‘eyeballs’ with big and well-funded players like Netflix, we also need to find ways to emulate their data-driven approach to understanding what customers want.
Galley Beggar co-founder Sam Jordison
Obviously the biggest immediate issues for the industry will be the nightmare of Brexit and the collapse of the rule of law under Boris Johnson’s government of crooks and liars. Our industry, which trades so much on prestige and goodwill is going to be hit hard even before you get onto practical issues related to importing raw materials, selling books to our friends in Europe and keeping hold of those vital Europe-wide English language rights. When margins are so small, it’s hard to see us all surviving.
On the other hand, our industry’s ultimate missions will become ever more vital under the shadow of these monsters. What are we for if not for promoting free thought, free speech and truth? Who explains the world and understands it better than our novelists and essayists? And who is more able to point us to a better future?
Ten years ago people were asking about the relevance of the publishing industry in the digital age. We answered that by producing better quality books and reasserting the value of what we do as editors, marketers and advocates for our writers. Now we’ve moved into another new age of nativists and deceivers. And we don’t even have to make the case for our importance. We just need to do the work.
Nathan Connolly, publishing director, Dead Ink
With the country more divided that it perhaps ever has been in living memory it would no longer be seen as alarmist to say that we now face very real and very dark horizons. Publishing, though in some regards a niche industry, must take stock of the role that it has played in us arriving at this point. Many of us consider this industry to be a moral one and yet, as we begin a new decade, it is clear that we have failed the moral challenges of the decade we are leaving behind.
The issues of diversity within the industry, in all terms—of ethnicity, sexuality, class, regionality—are known to us and have been known to us throughout all of the decade that we are now leaving. And yet, they still persist. And they will continue to persist. These are not issues that will be resolved through any amount of corporate social responsibility and they are issues which will continue to undermine us. Publishing, as well as the arts and media as a whole and many other sectors, is not egalitarian. This is not a place where talent, skill, ambition, and innovation will win out over nepotism, cronyism, and elitism. What is needed, and needed urgently, is fundamental structural change. Change that isn’t cheap, change that isn’t easy, and change that delivers on promises we are all overdue on.
We cannot and we should not make predictions on what is to come in this new decade. Too much is at risk. We need to ask ourselves if we truly have the will, the commitment, and the determination to transform this industry into what we all tell ourselves that it is, because those on the outside do not see it. What does 2020 hold for publishing? I hope that it isn’t more of the same. I hope that it delivers change. And I believe that those who are unwilling to deliver it will be overshadowed by those who are.
Magdalene Abraha, Jacaranda Books
A challenge the publishing industry still faces in 2020 is the ongoing diversity deficit. In 2019 the Publishers Association found that only 11.6% of publishing roles were taken up by black and minority ethnic people.
The potential opportunities that could exist if the industry effectively engages with the issue of diversity are truly endless. For an industry whose core is built on storytelling, and sharing these stories with the masses, having a truly inclusionary and diverse workforce would do wonders for the industry.
The importance of the diversity of people, thought and experiences for an industry like publishing cannot be quantified. There is an imminent need and opportunity to improve the processes in which people are selected, sought out and hired for roles in the publishing industry – i.e hiring people from an array of backgrounds (and not just at entry level.)
There is always, excitingly, opportunity for the industry to be more experimental and daring – conceptually thinking outside the box to engage with diverse reader communities in new ways.
Boldwood c.e.o. Amanda Ridout
I think one of the big things the industry needs is to work out how to maximise on the audio format. The growth percentages are fantastic but from a very small base and a lot of people have invested in making audio, it brings a new audience. But in marketing and consumer targeting there is much more we as an industry need to be doing. We are already seeing some of the potential but there’s more. We need to learn to market consumers more and streaming is a part of that. When we have a new format it’s important that the industry gets behind marketing it well.
Sustainability – clearly there are genuine concerns which are vital and important but it gives us as an industry to see if we can re-engineer the supply chain with sustainability at its heart. As a print-on-demand publisher, that’s pretty sustainable, but I think we will move into traditional print next year. We need, both Boldwood and the industry, to think right through the supply chain about how we don’t ruin the planet. We shouldn’t just stand around wringing our hands, we need to think through the whole supply chain, the returns issue, and every aspect.
Welbeck Publishing executive director Marcus Leaver
Books are not going anywhere, which is a good thing. In mine and Mark’s career we have always sold books globally far and wide and we will be re-doubling our efforts to do so, we want to sell books that educate, entertain and enrich the lives of our readers.
One thing I’m really focused on, which is not temporary like Brexit, which will sort itself out, my main concern is the environment. As an industry, yes we have audio and e-books, but by our nature we kill a lot of trees. We will be working with The Tree Council because we want to find ways to do something about the environment on a long-term basis and we would like to see the industry as a whole really commit.
In terms of the political climate, the British people have now voted twice to leave Europe and so we are leaving Europe. I think there is certainty for the next five years, it’s not going to be easy but economic cycles are not easy, whether they are self-inflicted or not.
Bluemoose Books co-founder Kevin Duffy
Brexit will colour everything I think in 2020 as we still don’t know exactly what the trading situation will be with Europe. The big corporations will grow by acquisition and the big book will get even bigger easing out the smaller independents from the high street bookshelf. Creativity doesn’t work well when pure market economics dictate what is on the bookshelf when that offer is predicated on a huge discount. That is why indie booksellers with their eye for innovative curation have seen sales increase over the year and hopefully into 2020 as well.
This continued drive for bigger and shinier books means a great deal of the heavy lifting to find the new and diverse voices will be left to the smaller indies, and we’ll continue to find a and curate new voices and promote new initiatives to engage and excite the reader, like our women’s only publishing list for 2020, starting with Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught which we’re publishing in April 2020.
Increasingly we are seeing indies working together, forming cooperatives with cross promotions and marketing as in the Northern Fiction Alliance. In a publishing world dominated by five global corporations we are working with indy publishers across the country and the world (Melville House in North America) in creating book events and festivals sharing and shouting about our writers and their books. Sales graphs and Venn diagrams don’t create wonderful stories, writers do and long may that continue.
OWN IT! founder Crystal Mahey-Morgan
2020 will see the further rise of indies (both publishers and book shops), a more fluid approach to storytelling with multi-media and cross-platform projects across books, music, and film/TV, new literary festivals which engage and appeal to traditionally ignored audiences/readerships and a less London centric publishing industry. OWN IT! are looking forward to being a key part of some of this exciting growth.
Waterstones c.o.o. Kate Skipper
The economic realities of high street retailing will clearly remain exceptionally challenging in 2020. It seems a bleak certainty that more retailers will go into administration in the coming months, as the retail landscape continues to shift. No economic benefits to Brexit are yet evident. Physical retailers cannot compete with the clinical shopping experience that Amazon provides, so we need to do something different.
Our goal at Waterstones remains to simply improve our bookshops a little more each year, to provide customers who don’t want to shop by algorithm with interesting shops full of books to discover and knowledgeable booksellers making personal recommendations for each individual.
Over the next decade I would certainly expect further publisher consolidation and globalisation. On the flip side, this should allow room for some more independents to flourish as it will create space for a different way of thinking and working.
Despite the economic challenges ahead I remain enormously optimistic about the future for reading and books in the decade ahead. In an increasingly polarised world, the power and importance of the edited word only grows, as does the need to escape into fiction.
Blackwell’s c.e.o. David Prescott
The main thing is publisher support as cost bases increase. There was a small nod by Boris Johnson on business rates which will help slightly but there are other cost pressures, minimum wage and other cost pressures going up and I don’t see that changing over the next 12 months. Publishers need to continue to support booksellers on the high street and for us, also on university campuses.
When it comes to Brexit, I voted remain but I’m not doom and gloom. The economy could slip into a recession but books have always been counter-recessionary. Books have tremendous value and are a low cost form of entertainment. When the economy becomes difficult books have often done really well and we certainly hope to sell even more books in 2020 than we did in 2019.
Simon Johnson, country manager for Amazon UK Books
Sustainability will be a key focus for 2020. We are increasingly talking with authors and publishers about how we respond as individuals and as an industry to this important challenge. As the first signatory to The Climate Pledge, aiming for net zero carbon by 2040, we will drive progress on decarbonising our business, including our work on materials reduction and 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Diversity in all its forms will rightly also continue to be at the centre of many conversations. Our LGBT+ Reading Roadshow is visiting secondary schools around the country to celebrate diversity and inclusion through literature. KDP offers the potential for anyone to publish and we are delighted to see indie authors building a strong and vibrant independent publishing scene.
We’re also looking ahead at the changing ways people consume literature. We see a trend towards reading by subscription, whether it be short stories by Dean Koontz, bestsellers by David Walliams or series by L.J. Ross. With more than a million books on Kindle Unlimited we predict more people will use subscription as a way to read books and discover authors in 2020.
On the publishing front, I’m particularly excited about the release of final novel in Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy in March. With the first two having won the Booker Prize, there’s the sense of history being made with The Mirror and the Light. These are books that will be read not just next year but for hundreds of years to come, I suspect.
Golden Hare Books manager Julie Danskin
In some ways it feels like 2019 is leaving us behind. But rays of light, like more independent bookshops opening across the country, some initial steps towards a real green agenda in distribution, and the rallying around of small press Galley Beggar in their time of need, give cause for hope. Next year, and every year, we need to go into our communities and carve out our own version of sanity in an increasingly senseless and selfish world.
In particular, I see the fates of both indie bookshops and indie publishers as closely intertwined: our bookshops should be places to escape or to equip oneself with great books by authors who question or reflect our world, published by houses so vital to us that we can’t bear to see them fall. I like to think of us as a rebel alliance against the imperial powers of Am*zon and Brexit. 2019 may leave us behind, bruised and agape, but we leave no one behind. That’s a bit corny, but maybe in this climate we need a bit of that.
Jasper Joffe of Joffe Books
I feel very optimistic for the next decade! In less than half a decade, Joffe Books has gone from nothing to selling 2 millions books per year. And when I look at the Kindle best seller chart I see a mix of self-published, big traditional publishers, indies and all sorts of combinations thereof. I can’t think of a better time to be an author wanting to reach millions of readers. There are so many ways to do that now. The challenge, opportunity and risk is also there, as we’re all selling on one platform owned by one company.
The biggest opportunity in publishing is that there are many really good authors out there who haven’t got publishers (or publishers that market them). We forecast huge growth in ebooks (they’re great value, my eyes aren’t getting better, and enlargeable font sizes are a winner) and in every format, with obvious potential in integrating devices like Alexa and Google Home to play your audio book.
BA m.d. Meryl Halls
The High Street is a continuing concern and we are going to see more big name retailers go down. Booksellers, and particularly indies, are going to take important leading roles in their communities. It’s already started. There’s a quiet confidence in the indies and they know what they do well and they know they are needed and it’s given them confidence to be the voice on their high streets and to advocate for themselves in the trade.
The green agenda is going to get increasingly important. There is a lot to be proud of but we as an industry, we need to get our house in order. We want to be steering and continuing that conversation. With the supply chain, a lot is to do with being green but it also comes from efficiency. High street booksellers need it to be efficient if they are going to compete with online.
Brexit – we are working closely with the British Retail Consortium and there’s a huge amount of anxiety about what is going to happen and the complexity of it would make your brain melt and we are going to have to help our members navigate that. I think the uncertainty around Brexit will start to abate as people get on with it.
We need a new business rates system and it needs to be thought through and tthe government has said they will do that and we will want to feed into that.
With audio, it’s important that publishers don’t forget about traditional high street booksellers. Audible has a stranglehold but if companies (like Libro FM in the US) come along and can offer audio to booksellers, can publishers please work with these companies. When audio was on CD, some companies were huge but with streaming the technology is different and we need to get a piece of that for the High Street. If the horse hasn’t quite bolted, I would quite like to get its tail.
Hachette Children’s Group c.e.o. Hilary Murray Hill
I think the next year will be defined by how well we respond to the rapid pace of political, environmental and cultural change. We’ll need to react to our diverse audiences with understanding, courage, accountability and creativity. My sense is the tastes of many purchasers of children’s books are on the move, too, and it will be a mistake to rest on current certainties about markets, themes, presentation and language. We might usefully reconsider what we are talking about when we talk about ‘quality’ in the abstract.
A seismic shift in the breadth of representation in children’s books, and the workforce, contributors and partnerships of the entire children’s industry will be a top priority, although not a new one. And to realise this ambition, the collaboration and support of every stakeholder in children’s literacy will be important.
Publishers who manage and revivify their backlists in a smart way will thrive and intelligent IP projects should continue to deliver well to their publishers. I wonder, along with everyone else, for how much longer the super- brands dominating the TCM can continue to do so at the same levels. I am not sure that some squeamishness about this on social media, mainly from the wider book community, reflects the majority of households in the UK, though.
Trends in activism, self-compassion, mental health, well-being and the environment won’t go away in 2020 and whilst not as significant here as in the US, I think the graphic novel category is set to blossom. The importance of non-fiction is evident and I see this as an area for further growth in the children’s market. We are seeing issues surface in the adult market then become relevant to younger readers more quickly than ever before, probably because of their exposure to sophisticated (and confusing) content online, which needs elucidation.
Egmont m.d. Cally Poplak
Reading will keep its place in culture and print will remain the parent and child’s preferred format. But the latest stats are very concerning about the decline in children being read to, which has a direct negative impact on their independent reading and, in turn, attainment. That’s why we’re calling on government to make daily storytime a part of the statutory curriculum – as inviolable as daily playtime.
We will continue to see the shopper shift Egmont identified a while back through our unique consumer data with heavy book buyers driven by convenience and value, opting to shop at value stores and charity shops, as well as supermarkets, online and their local independent. Book shopping squeezed into hectic lives.
International rights acquisition and global co-operation will continue to mitigate the challenge of cutting through in an overpublished home market; export markets will continue to be an increasingly important part of the business model – so critical for the new government to recognise that in its trade negotiations. Robotics and machine learning has the potential to improve processes and workflows allowing editors to edit and sales people to sell, say, rather than getting bogged down in admin.
Chicken House publisher and m.d. Barry Cunningham
We are 20 next year and are looking forward to the next ten years. The thing that we are always looking for and what’s exciting for the market from Harry Potter to today, it’s that commitment to finding new talent and opening up the stories of the future. I think we will see publishers working increasingly globally. We have a deal with China and diversity isn’t just a matter of opening up access to publishing here but opening up stories from different cultures.
For the year ahead I think we will see a new breakout in YA. Everyone is talking about how difficult it is but we are publishing The Loop by a debut author, there’s a new Hunger Games from Scholastic. I think we will see a resurgence of YA. The biggest and most exciting thing about the future is we don’t know what will happen and we have to keep our courage and publish adventurously.
Walker Books Jane Winterbotham, deputy m.d. and publishing director
We enter 2020 knowing that we will leave the EU but still uncertain of whether that will be with or without a deal, and therefore what the impact will be on the industry in terms of costs, logistics and staff. So we’ll continue to be prepared for all potential scenarios, and hope the transition will be as smooth as possible.
Once we know what sort of Brexit we face, businesses will be able to start planning longer-term. For the publishing industry there will be an expectation that the promised investment in schools comes through quickly and will extend to new funding in book spending, including support for school libraries. Little mention was made of public libraries during the election campaign, but these are in dire need of new investment right across the country and the new government must address that. ‘One nation Britain’ must surely mean that every child across the country should have access to books.
It’s hard to imagine a shift away from online back to the high street, so bricks and mortar stores – and we publishers who rely on them – are going to have to work harder and harder to attract and retain their customers, including making the retail space as welcoming as possible and the books irresistible! With its focus on design and high production values and its incredible author and illustrator base, Walker Books will continue to be seen as the home for the most beautiful books for children.
Walker Group already operates on a global basis with publishers in the UK, US and Australia, giving us a great platform for acquisition of rights and great sales performance. We have seen huge international sales growth in recent years, and expect that to continue, particularly in the Far East and South America.
Reading will definitely keep its place in culture. If we can give the public books they really love, they will keep reading! And in print! The printed book is still the most amazing piece of technology: attractive, cheap, easy to use and share, and never needs recharging! And children’s books are still the most satisfying way of sharing a story and a cuddle with a child, a vital element of growing up with empathy and imagination as well as developing reading skills.
Who knows what AI will bring to books, but it will be exciting and undoubtedly create opportunities for new ways of telling and sharing stories and pictures. In children’s we are at last seeing more diversity in books published for young people, books that reflect their own experiences and open them to the experiences of others. We have been delighted to see the impact of such books as The Hate U Give and Julian Is a Mermaid and hope they are part of a wave of new writing that embraces everyone. Children are also passionate about the environment and books are the perfect tools to share information, and to effect change through calls to action: as publishers we can help the next generation share and tackle the problems we have left them, and at the same time address our own industry to reduce our impact on the planet.
It’s been great to see the rise of the audio market, which is likely to grow further, but not necessarily at the expense of print books. We’ve seen print books remain resilient in the face of eBooks, and they will continue to sit alongside the rise in audio. The more ways people are reading books, the better for us all.
Dorling Kindersley c.e.o. Ian Hudson
Sustainability must be our priority. In 2020 I would like publishers to commit to engaging in open dialogue and developing even more ethical and sustainable supply chains than we have today. We must all take action to significantly reduce our impact on the environment and improve standards for people working within our extended supply chain across the world.
Ella Horne and Helena Gonda, co-founders of The FLIP
Entering a new decade is a time for optimism. We spoke to some brilliant women in 2019 and a common theme of their advice was a focus on increased confidence and knowing your worth. We hope that women are realising the power in a different approach to the way we work – to quote from our interview with the inimitable Lizzy Kremer, ‘As women in publishing, if we are able to successfully marry empathy with absolute authority in our point of view, we can become powerful.’ We think this is great advice whatever your role.
This year’s FutureBook conference saw the call for a move from action to progress; Crystal Mahey-Morgan highlighted that entry-level schemes are helpful to an extent, but to see real change we need to focus on improving access to senior positions. We must keep momentum to effect the changes we want to see, so let’s work together to ensure that 2020 is a great year for diversifying our workforces across the spectrum.
Karen Napier, c.e.o., The Reading Agency
With such ambiguity around the implications of Brexit, my hope is that the book industry and high street booksellers will be a shining light. They are well placed to continue offering inspiration, empowerment, hope, new perspectives and a different reality if we all need to brace ourselves for difficult economic conditions.
In what will be my first full year as Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, I think our mission of transforming life’s biggest challenges through the proven power of reading will be hugely important. In 2020, our work has more to offer and is more necessary than ever. As part of this, we are deeply committed through our fantastic partnerships and the work of our programmes to meeting the challenges of the book industry.
The 2019 Summer Reading Challenge saw 722,731 children actively engaging with libraries all across the country. We will continue to build on our partnership with this vital social institution in 2020 through our new theme, Silly Squad. I hope that this coming generation of Summer Reading Challenge participants will recall, as past generations continue to do, their formative experiences in the library and pass on this love to their own children in years to come.
With the launch of our new Quick Reads on 20th February, we will once again reaffirm our commitment to physical books available on the high street at an affordable price (£1). But as we look to meet the demands of a market hungry for different ways to read, for World Book Night 2020 we will offer four titles as a free audiobook download. The power of reading will remain undiminished for TRA in 2020. The challenge to ourselves is to widen and deepen the impact of our work even more, to extend out partnerships and to redouble our efforts to fulfil our vision of everyone reading their way to a better life.
Anthony Cond, m.d. at LUP
Although it is customary to make big, bold predictions for change, the history of scholarly publishing tells us that seismic shifts are rare in the industry, thus the directions of travel are in all likelihood already before us:
Open access, inevitably mandated haphazardly in a global scholarly ecosystem and with no one size fits all model, will be just another day-to-day publishing option. Despite much anti-publisher rhetoric around OA, the kinds of models envisaged presently by Plan S and others will cement rather than shift the prime position of the largest STM publishers. Funder policies, which by and large seem to think of Humanities and Social Sciences as collateral damage if indeed they think of them at all, will further challenge HSS publishers who generally lack the scale for transformative journal agreements and of course primarily publish books with all the complexity that process brings.
The current geopolitical milieu is one that will lend itself to robust discussion and ‘serious non-fiction’ in print and audiobook is only going to become stronger with the genuine potential for academic trade books to reach a wider audience. Meanwhile for more specialist tomes, an over-abundance of information and the increasing pressures of the academic day job will ensure the digitally searched for chapter rather than the cover-to-cover whole book is the regular reading experience for many scholars. The affordances of digital, including wider availability of supplementary information and media rich content, will finally be systematically realised. None of these things – OA, impactful publication, granularity, enhanced digital – are new for the decade ahead but it will be vital for publishers to embed all of them in the day-to-day in order to best serve scholarly authors and readers.
David Clark, m.d. of OUP’s Academic division
Over the next decade, we’ll see a continued acceleration in the move towards Open Access publishing. Initially, the focus of this will be on journals but, as the decade continues, we’ll begin to understand how this might impact academic book publishing as well. There will be a continued focus on open research and open data which could leave us with a very different landscape in 10 years. However, much of the next decade will be about how we, as part of the scholarly community, help to transition towards a more open future.
Alongside Open Access, we’ll see a greater focus on research funding in some of the new world powers, with more focus on publishing domestic research, while key research fields like environmental and climate science will grow continue to grow in importance as we attempt to tackle the climate emergency. As digital consumption of academic content continues, we’ll see more specialist commissioning and growth in series like the Very Short Introductions which offer a comprehensive and rigorous introduction into specialist subjects. There will also be some important literary milestones as significant classic works move out of copyright restriction, giving rise to the possibility of new Oxford World Classics editions and scholarly companions and bringing them back into the spotlight.
As technologies driving artificial intelligence move forward, reliable language data in a huge variety of languages will become crucial to its progress which will put greater demand on publishers like OUP who curate lexical data sets. Technology will also drive forward different means of storing, disseminating, and consuming academic research with continued experiments in self-archiving and pan-industry repositories.
As employers, academic publishers will need to support their people in developing new digital and data skills and will be looking for people from all walks of life who are adaptable, open-minded, and nimble as we enter another decade of enormous opportunity.
Steven Inchcoombe, chief publishing and solutions officer, Springer Nature
If the last decade was categorised by the challenges and opportunities afforded by the digitisation of content as publishing moved from being a predominately print business to an overwhelming digital one, the next decade for publishing looks to be characterised by an enhanced digital experience and how content can be engaged with by humans and by machines beyond the platform.
Over the past decade we have seen the impact of digitalisation on content creation. Whilst content remains king – the way in which we engage, use, discover, create, share and access content has and will continue to change. We have already started to see the opportunities that Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, have had on the research and publishing sector – not just with its impact on content creation and use, but also on the publisher side in terms of the platforms on which content is hosted, alongside the visual audience and community data that can be collected, which is enabling a much more personalised and targeted learning and navigation experience for users – be this around discoverability, accessibility or relevance.
The researcher/ learner experience will continue to change, and as publishers we will have a duty of care to not only support our community through these changes, but to also ensure that we are effectively responding to these changes around customer behaviour. The traditional role of the publisher is no longer sufficient and we can expect to see publishers taking a more proactive role as technology and service providers, supporting, enabling and encouraging an enhanced learning environment and experience.
It would be amiss to not also recognise the challenges around the Open Access environment in which publishers and researchers are operating. OA and Open Research should and will continue to drive the research agenda. Whilst OA and OR afford many benefits and positive impacts on research, there is still a lot of work to do in terms of working towards a suitable and sustainable way for all, ensuring maximum transparency, increased rigour and improved collaboration as we do so.
Publishers will have to continue to be nimble, adaptive and innovative in their approach. The next decade will undoubtedly offer many opportunities and challenges for the industry as we adapt to change sustainably and ensure that we continue to keep our commitments to our research community and the production of research to advance discovery, front and centre.