Week 48/21 – week ending 26 November

Daunt: ‘Almost everyone will get the book they want’

James Daunt, head of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, reasssured listeners to Radio 4’s You and Yours yesterday that Waterstones was “very, very full of books at the moment”, when asked about possible shortages in the run-up to Christmas. But he did imply that some titles might be in short supply if reprints were required at short notice. “Almost everyone will get the book they want this Christmas. A few people may get a slightly different book.”

Presenter Winifred Robinson asked Daunt whether high initial orders might result in higher returns than usual. He replied that Waterstones’ buyers were skilled in stocking what the public wanted – it was in “the bad old days”, when publishers paid for display space, that returns were a problem.

Robinson observed that a good many successful UK retailers had failed to reproduce their successes in the US. Was the Waterstones formula working at Barnes & Noble? Daunt said that it was, because rather than relying on direction from the centre it empowered booksellers to do what worked best in their local communities.

Robinson turned to booksellers’ salaries, noting that Waterstones staff started out on minimum wages. Daunt said that he hoped all salaries in the retail sector would go up; “We as business owners should be determined to do that.” He wanted to break the usual retail salary structure, which kept shop floor staff on a low level of wages, with only managers and executives enjoying higher rates: “I think we should be advancing people almost every year.”

Finally, he was asked what single book he would recommend to buyers. “We’re all enamoured with Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics,” he said. “He and Paul Muldoon have produced something really special.”

Gardners opens French operation to sidestep Brexit supply problems

Gardners’ (UK) parent company, The Little Group, is ‘delighted to announce’ the opening of Gardners EU in France.

According to the launch announcement: ‘Gardners EU was born out of a desire to mitigate the frustrations, paperwork, and additional costs that our European customers have been experiencing since the beginning of 2021 due to the changes introduced by Brexit.

It offers the same great range of 500,000 + books, film, music, and merchandise as Gardners (UK) but without the administrative complications and costs. This new business provides our suppliers and customers with the seamless service they have come to expect. As we progress into 2022 additional services will be added to our European offer, enhancing this offering further.

‘Sitting alongside Gardners (UK), Gardners EU is a separate sister company – the two businesses work alongside each other to form a cohesive partnership allowing customers to order quickly and hassle free from within the EU. There is a focus on intra-EU trade, so currently there are no customs charges, border fees or duty at the point of delivery. There are also no brokerage fees to contend with.

‘Existing Gardners (UK) customers can open an EU account, with both accounts running concurrently should they wish. The transition is simple, Gardners EU will also accept new customers that wish to have a single account only with Gardners EU.’

Nigel Wyman, sales & marketing director, said: “At Gardners (UK) and the wider Little Group, we strive to offer customers the very best experience, and the service they need in this ever-changing landscape. With the support of the Little Group, the creation of Gardners EU means customers can continue to receive the best possible service that they can expect. We are very excited to see how Gardners EU will simplify and enhance our EU customers’ experience over the coming years.”

Simon Morley, buying director, said: “This will enable publishers to work even more closely with us, enabling the depth and range of their books to be purchased with speed and efficiency within the EU and removing the possible frustrations in the chain of supply.”

S&S releases Graham Swift backlist in audio

Narrated by Alex Jennings, Waterland, Light of Day, Ever After and Out of this World are available from this morning and further titles will be released in audio throughout 2022.

Simon & Schuster UK acquired UK & Commonwealth rights to Swift’s entire body of work across all formats in 2018, including the 1996 Booker-winning Last Orders, which was rereleased as an audiobook in 2019, narrated by a cast of actors led by Quadrophenia and Vera Drake star Phil Davis.

In addition to the audio programme, a ‘brilliantly reviewed’ film adaptation of Swift’s bestselling novel Mothering Sunday has just been released nationwide, with S&S publishing a tie-in edition next year.

Jennings (pictured) said: “I jumped at the chance to record these four wonderful novels by Graham Swift. Previously I had only read the extraordinary Waterland, which is up there with the best of Dickens. Swift’s evocation of place and character is so rich and true and unsettling. A great writer! To read, re-read, and record these brilliantly original and varied novels was a huge privilege and pleasure.”

Swift said: “I’m delighted that this programme of audio releases is now beginning and it’s wonderful to have, in Alex Jennings, a great actor-reader inhabiting my books with such rapport, intelligence and commitment. It’s thrilling to revisit my work through his voice.”

Pandemic primes audio boom

According to PA sales monitor figures released this morning, audiobook sales income for the first six months of 2021 is up 71% to £76m on the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, consumer ebook sales income is up 10% in the same timeframe with consumer print up 6%.

The data, covering January to June 2021, shows that total books sales income (home and export; print and digital) is up 4% since the same period in 2019 to £1,690m. In 2019 total sales were £1,627m before slumping to £1,452m in 2020 as the first lockdown from late March crippled the high street.

Within those headline figures there are some interesting variations in subsets. For example, print sales in all categories are down from £1,309m in 2019 to £1,239m this year, whereas digital sales in all categories are up sharply from £318m to £451m, a significant 42% rise. Ongoing transport disruption meanwhile has affected export sales, down from £749m in 2019 to £714m in 2021.

The drift away from non-fiction is increasingly apparent: home sales shrank marginally between 2019 and 2021 from £283m to £280m but home sales of fiction saw a marked contrast, rising 31% from £170m in 2019 to £224m this year. Overall the fiction market, including export and digital, is up 28% since the same period in 2019 to £340m in the first half of this year. Children’s books in 2021 are up 8% since the same period in 2019 to £173m with particular rises in export (14%) and digital (26%).

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the PA, said: “It’s fantastic to see that books have offered people entertainment and comfort in this difficult period of time. UK publishers have continued to release books that engage readers across the UK and around the world.

“The steep rise of audiobooks is a truly interesting development as it may suggest that new demographics are embracing this format. It does beg the question why, unlike print and ebooks, booklovers are still required to pay VAT on audiobooks and this is something we continue to raise with the government.”

Further evidence for the boom in audio is provided by research released in the last week by Nielsen, which shows that for the seventh year running audiobooks have seen double digit growth in purchasing, with UK consumers projected to buy nearly £200m worth in 2021.  

This growth has been fuelled, again for the second year running, by consumers trying the format for the first time because of lockdown. Whereas listening to audiobooks used to be mainly for commuting or travelling purposes – activities necessarily curtailed during the past two years – an increased likelihood of listening for leisure and relaxation purposes more than made up for this drop.

The audiobook format appeals particularly to younger men, who say they enjoy listening rather than reading, but over the past year this profile has changed somewhat, with heavier buyers increasingly likely to be female, and with new listeners in 2021 especially likely to be younger women (18-34).  

This demographic particularly value the ability to listen to books while doing other things, as well as using audiobooks to help them relax: 40% of women, compared to a third of men, listen to a book before going to sleep.

Non-fiction audiobooks are also seeing a boost, with increasing numbers choosing to listen to genres such as self-help in the last few years. In fact, listening to non-fiction for relaxation purposes is, for the first time in 2021, preferred to reading for audiobook consumers. Despite this increase in popularity of non-fiction audiobooks, however, fiction still takes the top spots. YA and romance is favoured by younger women, with crime/thrillers and popular fiction top for older females, while men prefer sff and crime.

These findings are contained in the Nielsen report, Understanding the UK Audiobook Consumer 2021, which is available to buy now.