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Be happy

I was going to write an email today about time, and how to write it. But then –

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

My take?

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.

My take?

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.

My take?

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.

My take?

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.

My take?

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.

My take?

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.

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Comments (16)
    • Do we know where the market for books is currently increasing? Asking out of curiosity rather than any grand plan.

      I spent much of my early adulthood in parts of Africa. In the tiny Ugandan village I lived in I met many readers. My not-quite finished copy of War and Peace was wrestled from me when I left (still not got round to replacing it and finishing!), and books were the gift I was always asked to send to friends there. But during my years in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, reading seemed more of a rarity. I suspect I fell in love with my husband in part because he was a reader… Of course literacy in both these countries was primarily in the imposed colonial language, which complicates matters somewhat. But I never worked out why the two countries had such different reading cultures.

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      • The market for books is zooming upwards in places like China & India, where better education and just more cash is bringing a ton of people into the market for books. In Britain, then the richest country in the world, novels didn't take off until paper was cheap enough & the middle class wealthy enough to create something like a mass market.

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      • Skip the first incident you refer to and the final reason as . . . well, just because it is what it is. I watch a lot of the KDP University author interviews/webinars, and I have to say they mirror everything we see and hear from your good self, Harry, and the guests on the webinars we get to see through the year at Jericho. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see a new author making it, be it on their own or via one of the independents. It is all the more reason to support the independents to ensure we newcomers have an outlet when our work is ready.

        That's not to say I won't be sending to agents any time soon, as I will be. I find that game far more appealing, and will take it over international morris dancing, any day! 

        Children's literature is by far the most appealing, informative, and progressive form. It dares to go places that others don't because its audience is open, unblinkered by what others would say is discernment, but which I think is something more akin to an unwillingness or a creeping apathy or inability to read outside what is in essence comfortable. Comfort food for the brain and just as bad. You only have to look at the prevalence of soap operas, romance novels, the same old thing churned out in a different format. If that's your thing then OK, it makes money for the writer and comforts the reader. There are boundaries within children's writing, and rightly so, but they are flexible and provide a richness of talent and forces the writer to experiment. I do think many 'adults' and writers would greatly benefit from reading MG books to refresh their palette and their inspiration.

        But more importantly, getting books into the hands of ALL children is the priority for us as writers, for adults, parents, teachers, and the government. The eroding of the library network, and limiting of educational budgets has meant that resources are tight. I love it when children's authors and book bloggers/reviewers join forces to motivate and empower young minds. Often I see people giving away extra copies of their book free to schools. You only have to look at the massive social media network for children's books to see how much passion there is.

        Hitting spiders with police procedurals seems far too heavy. Something more lightweight, possibly suspenseful, or a comic, would be more appropriate and generous. OK, joking aside I think spiders should keep their non-flattened shape. Unlike most of humanity, they do far more good than harm. As to porcine kind (and for that matter, any other of our fellow creatures) let them keep their bladders for what they were meant.

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        • Our school has been supergood at distributing books & our little local library is (give or take a major covid-hiccup) pretty good with younger age kids. But also? Amazon is great. If you determined never to spend more than $0.99 on an ebook, you could still read pretty much the whole of world literature and a ton of great commercial literature without spending more than a few hundred bucks in total. People bash Amazon, but it's done a huge amount to make books super-cheap and vastly accessible. In the history of making the written word available to the masses, it's taken the final hugest step

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          • That is so good to know.  With you in the village, I'm sure if they hadn't been you'd have sorted it. Wholeheartedly agree about Amazon and opening up availability. There still needs to be advocates in schools, and to be fair I believe most do have excellent librarians who battle with budgets and are not as well provided. Fighting against the pull of 'tech' is always an issue. I was so pleased you commented about children learning young to enjoy literature. I did, and that was and is my world. The mediocre world of television is a poor substitute for real imagination. It is so much harder later on, especially with peer pressures. 

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          • After devouring many of the resources that Jericho has to offer, I published my detective novel, A Memory of Murder, on Amazon on May 20 of this year. I have an ebook priced at $4.99 and a print book priced at $12.99. I am also in Kindle Unlimited, so I get paid for page reads. I expected the majority of my sales to be ebook and page reads, and just included the print book because Harry says your mother needs to be able to buy one. 

            The royalties are similar for both editions, although I do earn a bit more on the print book. I earn the least on KU (meaning, if someone reads the whole book, I earn less on the page reads than if someone bought the ebook).

            As of today, my unit sales are almost equally divided between print, ebook, and page reads. That is, if I take the total page reads and divide by the number of pages in the book, I get the same number of ebooks as I've sold on a unit basis. But because of the difference in royalties, my sales revenue is 48% from print books

            All this is to say, the market for my book was not predictable (at least by me!) until it was actually out there and people were reading it. Now that I know there's a high interest in print books, I'm in the process of getting my novel with Ingram Spark, the distributor to bookstores in the US, and see if the trend will continue with retail outlets. 

            I know another mystery author who hasn't put paperback files on Amazon because she believed there would be no demand. Maybe she's right, but how will she know until she tries? A huge advantage of being an indie is the ability to test the waters and develop strategies when the market speaks. Good luck to everyone!

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            • Sounds very exciting. You must have done a good job with marketing.

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              • I've just ordered a print copy of A Memory of Murder and am looking forward to it arriving.

                All my reading is from print. The reasons: easier on my eyes; pleasure of handling a book; a connection with a paper page. Shutting out of the rest of the world doesn't happen for me with a screen. These things could be common to many readers who prefer print.

                As we're both here, Nichelle, these are my personal reasons in case they're helpful for knowledge of your market, although I may be on the far reaches of anyone's sales programme. I have to confess to not being a regular detective story reader. But every so often I dip in and choosing one has been in the back of my mind for a while. The premise in A Memory of Murder sounds good. A strong sense of place is a big plus, whether that's somewhere I know or, as here, have never heard of. And the cover is appealing. Clean, neat, contemporary, non-violent and with that reference to location. That and your writing really swung it.

                PS I must add that I've enjoyed Harry's Fiona Griffiths books too!

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                • My self-pub sales are about 95% ebook (whether KU or sales.) That would be a more normal picture for indies. But get some more books out there, throw some more marketing juice at them, and see what happens. YMMV - your mileage may vary - as they say. In the end, you have to test to find out what works for you & your books

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                • Everybody seems very excited that football’s coming home. I’m not sure where from. Personally I agree with this quote:  “I have nothing against football. It just seems very wasteful losing 2 hours of my life to watch 22 millionaires on TV chasing a bag of wind in their underwear.” – Guy Martin. But if it makes other folks happy then I’m happy too. 

                  Other reasons to be happy: It’s Friday night, my son is old enough to cook dinner (and he did!), the wine is open, there is always the lovely Townhouse to visit, Winnie the Pooh. 😀

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                  • To be fair, it's much more than two hours if the game goes to extra time ...

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                  • Happiness comes home.

                    Thank you for a wonderful and timely blog Harry~as humorous as ever! 

                    Standing up for the minority~The whole pigs bladder thing is just not helpful to vegans. As it turns out I am not one of those so I will be happy when 1) we put three of them into the Italian fishing net while they only manage 1 pig bladder incident against our lads..and, I will be even happier (sorry for putting my personal happiness above the nations) when I finish my next book..and discover 142,000 ways to say I will be very, very, very happy about that! And all before Harry's webinar on our own writing goals (or should they be known this month as writing bladders?! Who knows anything till the fat lady sits down!

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