So far we’ve been looking at the economic statistics of the book publishing business over time in an attempt to understand the grim mood in the industry these days. We started by looking at the industry receipts from the early 1990s to the late 2000s and saw a generally positive growth pattern. However, in looking at the period 2002 to 2007, two years for which there are detailed statistics from the Census Bureau, the picture of decline emerges. This is particularly true when we break out the industry receipts by category.
While the number of titles per year has been on the rise, receipts have actually been falling. Here’s a rather telling graphic summarizing of our findings thus far:
Basically, what we’re seeing is an industry in a state of great flux. The number of new titles published annually is on the rise yet the income from those titles is falling. This is particularly true for novels. Fiction leads the way in terms of rising number of titles and declining revenues. This translates to more work for publishers for less revenue, at least at the industry level. Within any particular company, this may not be the case.
The only subdivision within the industry that is seeing growth is publishing services; its revenues appears to be growing, which may explain the increasing numbers of publishers offering services to the self-publishing crowd. Publishing services, as defined by the Census Bureau, includes such things as the sale or licensing of rights to content, printing services for others, fulfillment services, and sales of ad space.
As for books as such–they aren’t really bringing in as much money as they once did, particularly on a per-title basis. This, of course, is a trend that is understandably worrisome for publishers. While dealing with new formats and a need to build new distribution networks, they are faced with downward pressure on prices. Reasons for the gloomy atmosphere in the industry are thus becoming clearer.
Worth noting is the fact that we did not, in the calculation presented here, include a category of new titles offered by Bowker which that gatekeeping organization refers to as Non-traditional and defines as consisting “largely of reprints, often public domain, and other titles printed on-demand. The number also includes records received too late to receive subject classifications.” If we had used those data, the growth rate in new fiction titles between 2002 and 2007 would have been 278% instead of 55.5%.
This non-traditional segment needs more study.
Detailed Source Note:
The percentages presented here were based on receipts data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2002 and 2007 Economic Censuses, Product Lines by Kind of Business for the United States: 2002 and 2007, available here for 2002 and here for 2007. The percentages showing change in number of new titles annually came from calculations of data collected and published by R.R. Bowker LLC and available here.
It is worth noting that we had to make some calculated guesses when matching categories between the two sources since they do not use the same classification systems. For example, we combined the following Bowker categories to get a total for all fiction even though it is very possible that some books they categorize as Religion may be fiction as well—Fiction, General Works, Juveniles, Literature, Poetry and Drama. Nonetheless, in the aggregate, we believe that the decisions made in matching categories are useful in getting a broad look at the industry’s trajectory by business category. Feel free to send us inquiries if you’re interested in our more detailed spreadsheets.