“Like every other business sector, publishing has been affected by the recession. Sales overall in Q1 2010 are about four per cent down on 2009 (source: The Bookseller), but despite that drop, the picture overall is more complex, with some areas prospering and others in decline. Non-fiction, celebrity memoirs and travel books have continued to struggle in 2010, while children’s publishing has been more than holding its own.
The trend towards turning books into films and, indeed, successful franchise has continued with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Diary of a Wimpy Kid doing well at the box office and boost sales of the original Puffin books quite considerably.
The other main ongoing trend has been in paranormal romance. Is that market at tipping point? It depends on your point of view. Sales of The Twilight Saga from Stephanie Meyer may be off where they were last year, but a new film in the summer will surely see figures shooting up again. It would also appear there is room in the market for more than Meyer, with Vampire Diaries and Vampire Academy selling well. In fact, book shops generally are stacked with titles carrying black jackets embossed with red ink.
Looking ahead, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair was a brisk and busy affair, with many publishers announcing exciting new deals. For example, Oxford University Press signed up the novel Sky Hawk from first time author Gill Lewis – billed as Kes meets Local Hero, this is already generating a lot of interest with film companies.
The London Book Fair, however, was a strange affair, given the absence of many visitors thanks to the volcanic eruption. For British publishers this seemed to evoke the spirit of the Blitz: keep calm and carry on. The reality though is that export sales and rights teams had their meeting schedules decimated. The actual impact of this on the business is simply impossible to quantify, but when combined with the current instability in the global economy it was very much something you didn’t want to happen.
Publishing has not seen the rush to classics, as is often the case with the general licensing business, I guess rather like gold in a market recession. Instead, it is a mixture of old and new, fuelled by more and more price promotions – typically three books for the price of two at Waterstones and one-off events such as World Book Day. Titles linked to this sell for just £1 and are normally purchased via free vouchers given out at schools. The clear winner this year was Magic Ballerina/Kitten Chaos from HarperCollins/Macmillan with sales exceeding 130,000.
Meanwhile, Twilight titles top the children’s bestseller list and, interestingly, a number of back list books are more than holding their own including The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child and Stick Man.
As in all areas of the entertainment industry, there is an ongoing search for the next big thing. Working Partners, the company behind Rainbow Magic, has announced a new series by Adam Blade – The Chronicles of Avantia – aimed at post-Beast Quest readers. Meanwhile, we’ve been getting a very positive reaction to our initial launch list of seven projects, in particular Alien Boy and Cupidity.
Finally, if there is one word which has dominated the agenda in the first half of 2010 it is digital. But it would also be true to say that never has so much been written by so many who know so little. Most would be better off quoting veteran TV astronomer Patrick Moore, when asked the question how will the digital revolution affect publishing and say ‘we just don’t know!’”