Welcome back to our latest issue of the Yates & Yates Author Coaching monthly newsletter providing a brief update of the current state of the book publishing industry. As always, feel free to share with your friends, colleagues, or anyone else who might care.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE
Final 2020 year-end numbers won’t be out for a little while yet, but with the year that will be remembered in infamy finally behind us, the book market emerged as one of the economic sectors that came through relatively unscathed – in the aggregate (more on brick-and-mortar and employment numbers later). As of the week before Christmas, total print sales year-to-date were up 8.2% over 2019. If you’ve been following along at home, you’ve heard us say plenty of times that we all were quite fond of good ol’ 2019. It was a solid year for the publishing industry. To have bested 2019 in a year of such unprecedented calamity is down-right astonishing. It shows, anecdotally, that the printed book is as influential and impactful as it has ever been—even in a world of ubiquitous Tweets and prolific IGs, of infinite Google searches and ever-multiplying streaming services. Its foreseen demise has been “greatly exaggerated,” it would seem.
THE DEMISE OF THE BOOKSTORE?
The silver cloud of 2020 does have a distinctly dark lining. The bookstore channel took a year of sustained body-blows, with each month hitting harder than the last. All told, with 10 months of numbers reported, brick-and-mortar sales were down a whopping 31% from 2019 figures. Complete and accurate final numbers will take some time to compile, but with revenue down that much, it’s certain that we lost a lot of stores.
Our last U.S. mega-chain (used loosely at this point), Barnes & Noble, entered 2019 with a grandiose plan for a restructure and relaunch, had to simply hold on for dear life. New CEO James Daunt did make some headway aimed at more local control of inventory and titles, as well as some bold reconfiguration moves. And as we wrapped up 2020, Daunt said he expected to finish this year of woe with sales down no more than 20% from 2019. A big hit for a low margin business, but not as bad as we all expected when every store in the country was closed for a couple of months or more (who remembers the now nearly forgotten “15…err, 45 Days to Slow the Spread”?!).
In a bright spot for indie stores, who were sucker-punched as much or more than big papi B&N in 20-COVID-20, Bookshop.org (which was featured in our rookie e-course) delivered on its promise. With another quarter yet to report (and payout profit pool shares), the eponymous e-tailer that services the independent bookseller community funneled over $10 million of its just over $50 million in sales back to the more than 1,000 independents it serves.
The book industry’s leading trade show, BookExpo, went the way of the dodo—along with perhaps other trade shows across all industries, as large in-person events of every stripe were canceled—for a year or longer or forever. Scholastic’s Book Fair business—a revenue flywheel historically—was crushed to nearly 20% of its prior size, pulling parent Scholastic down 32%. Remember, this is the house of Harry Potter. So, talk about needing a magic wand!
THE WORKPLACE—To be continued
In the interest of time/length, we’ll do a deeper dive into the COVID-related changes to the publishing workplace—or lack thereof—in a later issue. But we didn’t want to sign off on a year-end report for a year of surprising growth in our industry without acknowledging the price paid by so many of our publishing brethren. A Publisher’s Weekly survey found that 26% of publishers had to resort to layoffs, with 25% cutting salaries and/or reducing hours, and still 20% employing the weakly-defined practice of furloughs. To all of those so affected, we offer our thoughts and prayers of support and encouragement – and a commitment to take our industry to ever-greater heights, so hopefully, the ones left behind can once again join us in this quest.
So, you think you want to write a book…. If you are an aspiring author, and you don’t know where to start, well you can START HERE. We have a comprehensive ecourse for anyone who thinks they might want to write a book. Check out START HERE: A Beginner’s Guide to Publishing Your Book. You’ll be glad you did.