Monday, January 27, 2014

'Great paradigm shift' in publishing says Wellington publisher

ROB STOCK - - 26/01/2014

Publisher Bridget Williams likes to quote British bookseller Tim Waterstone when asked what the future of books is.
"Anyone who tells you they know the future is telling you the most grotesque lie, because none of us do," Waterstone said.

The book industry - in both publishing and sales - is going through tough times.
And it is being felt acutely in the kind of publishing Bridget Williams Books (BWB) specialises in: local, intellectual books such as Max Rashbrooke's Inequality which caused a splash last year, focusing on this country's increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots; Claudia Orange's The Treaty of Waitangi, and Judith Binney's history books, though BWB also has some titles with more widespread appeal such as The New Zealand Pregnancy Book.

They are the kinds of book that tell local stories, but the economics of the industry have changed a great deal since BWB was founded in 1990 when Williams bought publisher Allen & Unwin's New Zealand business, which she had headed until its UK parent was sold that year.

Tight household budgets, the continuing rise of online sales driven by overseas companies, the spread of e-books and the globalisation of publishing and marketing have all had an impact on this "mid-list" area of publishing.
"People are buying fewer books," Williams says.
"It's partly recessionary factors. People are being more careful with their funds, and buying online is a major factor for all New Zealand retailers.
"A good NZ history that used to sell, say 3000-5000 copies is more likely now to sell 2000 or so."

That, she says, is "the great paradigm shift" that has taken place in publishing here.
The numbers indicate something of the issue. Although Booksellers NZ reports some independent bookshops have seen growth in the past year, the 2013 BookScan figures from researcher Nielsen show that volume of sales was 4.9 million through bookshops, or 15 per cent down on the previous year. Total sales were $115 million, Booksellers NZ said.

This does not include books bought GST-free through the likes of The Book Depository or Amazon, but those are not the places where the vast majority of locally-authored books are bought by New Zealanders.
Independent bookshops have been the great sales point for New Zealand titles, and the wave of closures which has diminished their numbers does not yet appear to have ended.

"I don't think we have seen the full flow-through of the seismic shift yet," Williams says. 


Geoff Churchman said...

Things are no better in the U.S. and Australia is simply dire - I went into the Powerhouse Museum shop in Sydney last year and they said they don't buy books now because they don't sell any - they had heaps unsold in their storeroom. The problem is competition generally from small screens, I wouldn't overrate e-books, few get bought in that form either.

jules older said...

"Anyone who tells you they know the future is telling you the most grotesque lie, because none of us do,"

Love the quote.
And greatly appreciate Bridget Williams' candor.

— jules