I was going to write an email today about time, and how to write it. But then –
- A group of eleven Englishmen managed to kick a pig’s bladder into a white net once more often than a group of eleven Vikings.
- I read about a speech from Markus Dohle (CEO of Penguin Random House) about reasons to be happy.
So – we’ll talk about time next week. This week, let’s look at the Dohle Six – his reasons to be positive about the future of publishing.
Reason Number One
The global book market is growing every year.
That means people are spending more money on books. More money is coming into the industry. Yay!
Now, those statements do need to be expanded a little. The US and UK book markets are very highly developed and better described as flat or mature rather than growing. But they’re certainly not shrinking and more books are being read in parts of the world that have had too little cash (or sometimes literacy) in the past to support a mature books market.
Yes. A good reason to be happy. Even a flat / mature / stable market is something to celebrate. Ten years ago, nobody knew if the internet would simply kill books. Why not? In Stewart Brand’s famous formulation: “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable … On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” Which would win? In music, free mostly won. In newspapers, free has bankrupted a ton of local presses and is placing unprecedented pressure on many, even highly established, titles.
But in books: free has not won. There is a lower cost ebook market and a higher cost print one. Both are orderly. Piracy is minor. The original publishing model has adapted – but held strong.
Reason Number Two
The industry has a robust business model for both physical and electronic distribution.
Publishers have strong stable relationships with all parts of the retail ecosystem: Amazon, other e-stores, supermarkets, flagship booksellers (B&N, Waterstones), and independent book stores. All those parts of the ecosystem are doing OK. Nothing is tottering.
That’s true – just. A few years back it was genuinely unclear if B&N or Waterstones would survive. I think that, in the longer term, the fate of those chains is still not completely clear. Will the shift to online selling just decimate ordinary retail? Those flagship chains survive because people go to the High Street or the mall to buy other things and pop in for a book at the same time. You don’t need many people shifting from physical to online buying to jeopardise a huge swathe of physical retail, including the bookstores.
But that’s a bit too doomy for our present mood. The fact is that, as of today, all the key sectors are OK. The publishing industry has been through the most wrenching ten years of its half-millennium history and it’s done just fine. It’s making more money than ever.
Reason Number Three
The physical / digital split seems stable rather than precarious.
As with all big publishers, print books account for about 80% of PRH’s global sales. Physical sales remain the anchor product of the entire market.
Well, I have two reactions really.
The first is that he’s right. When you think of a book, you think of a thing you can whack a spider with, or hurl at your TV screen if a Viking kicks a pig’s bladder into an English net.
That’s no longer true of music. You think of a song as something you find on your phone or stream through your iPad. You actually have to strain to remember music as something that lay embedded in grooves laid on vinyl, or spooled on tape, or weirdly curled up somewhere in the shine of a CD.
My second reaction is irritation, as always, when grown-up publishers just pretend the self-publishing market doesn’t exist. The 80% physical / 20% digital split is true of traditional publishers only. But just this year, as part of our regular JW member events, I’ve interviewed, or am about to interview, Marie Force (10 million copies sold), Mark Dawson (4 million), Amanda Prowse (untold bazillions.) Virtually all of those sales have been self-pub or with Amazon Publishing. Virtually all self-pub and APub sales are digital. Markus Dohle knows this perfectly well but, like all publishers at his level, he pretends to forget it when talking in public.
That said, the fact that this enormous digital market exists while the traditional one is still healthy is a powerful endorsement of Dohle’s basic contention. Now is a good time for publishing. It’s a good time for authors.
Reason Number Four
The addressable audience is growing.
The world population is growing. Literacy is booming. More and more people are earning enough to be able to think about books.
Well, I’m not absolutely sure that more humans is a good thing. (If you asked our planet, it might very politely ask for rather fewer monkeys, pretty please.) But, OK, Dohle’s talking economics not mass extinction, and of course he’s right. And the fact that many, many more people are able to read and can afford books is an unalloyed good.
Reason Number Five
Ever since Harry Potter, children’s books have been the fastest growing category in publishing.
Reading habits are formed early, so that means more and more children are becoming adult readers. That means we can already be confident in the reading appetites of the future.
He’s right. My kids are aged 7, 7, 5 and 5 and they’re all addictive readers. I’ve noticed how their language improves, how their imaginative play is enriched, how their horizons broaden. The gift of reading is a huge one and it’s embedded young.
Reason Number Six
Audiobooks are booming.
You can listen to audiobooks in a car, or while cleaning, or in the bath, or wherever. That means the number of attention-minutes available to publishers has increased. And it turns out that audiobooks have expanded the overall market for books. They have not cannibalised it.
I’m not an audiobooks fan. I haven’t even listened to my own books on audio. But again: boom. He’s right. In a way that no one predicted, digital has expanded the for-sale books market, when plenty of people thought it might actually kill it.
And because it’s our duty and our pleasure to out-perform expectations, here’s one more reason to be happy just for you:
Harry’s Bonus Reason
There have never been more or better paths to market for authors. There have never been more or better ways to market and establish yourself.
Self-pub and digital first publishing are wholly new routes to market. They earn a hell of a lot of money for authors. They provide an amazing way to access a huge number of readers.
Micro presses and very specialist presses are having a golden age. In literary fiction especially, some of the best work comes out of the smallest spaces. If big publishing has grown a bit conservative (and it has), that hardly matters when experiment and passion at the micro level is stronger than it’s ever been.
Same goes for marketing tools. Mailing lists have an extraordinary power. Ten years ago, virtually no authors have them or deployed them well. These days, we know just what to do and just how to do it. Those lists (and other tools, such as ad platforms) give authors a power we never had back when publishers controlled everything.
Oh, and the heck with it, here’s one more reason too. If you happen to be Italian, you may want to look away now.
Harry’s final reason to be happy
The England football team are going to win the Euros. We’re going to beat the Italians 19-0. Our pig’s bladder kickers are better than theirs. It’s coming home, football’s coming home.