Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three

Eoin Purcell

Bestseller!

More on Category & Average Selling Price
So the bones of the category analysis makes it look like Fiction is the way forward. Before we decide if that is a real picture of events we need to dig a little deeper. For one thing we need to look at a critical piece of information, the Average Selling Price (SEE NOTE 1).

What is Average Selling Price (ASP) & Why it is important?

    1) ASP is the average unit price that a book sold at. In other words, revenue generated by sales, divided by units sold. This doesn’t mean every book sold at that price, many would sell for more, many for less but the AVERAGE price it sold at is what we are after.
    2) ASP is important because it give you a sense of what discount a book was sold at (EG if the RRP €14.99 but the ASP is €11.49, then it is very likely at least one market player is selling the book at a fair discount to RRP)
    3) From a publishers perspective if you see a book selling at a low ASP relative to the RRP, then you can guess that the publisher gave a decent sales discount to the retailer in order to see that book selling at a hefty discount.

A challenge to our fiction first thinking
When you dig into the ASP figures you can see that each fiction unit sold is worth considerably less than each unit of many other categories sold. This comes to light very dramatically when you look at the Top Ten Categories for 2008 by ASP.

The Top Ten Categories By ASP
The Top Ten Categories By ASP

What crops up there is quite amazing:

    For one thing only one of the top ten categories by revenue appears and that, Food & Drink General, at number 10.

    For another you can see that many of these categories are populated by low volume titles. The entire Architecture category is made up of one title. Which gives the interesting result that it generated the best return per unit in the whole Irish Consumer Market. Quite an impressive achievement.

    That list also cries out, special interest (or niche) Local History, Names & Genealogy for instance has a juicy ASP as does Natural History: General. These are categories that are unlikely to face stiff competition but are equally difficult to break into without niche links, know how and knowledge.

    Here is a nice one for you, National & Regional Cuisine is made up of two titles, both published by Avoca, who must be in effect, Ireland’s most successful self-publishers.

So, is it time to write fiction off?
Is Fiction all flash and underneath no action? Well yes and no. Clearly on a unit by unit basis, selling fiction is less remunerative. As Ivan O’Brien commented on Part II of this series that:

Non-fiction is split into heaps of sections, while fiction is only in a few, so it’s apples-and-oranges time. I guess the sums that would be worth doing would be to take, say, the top 1000 general fiction and top 1000 non-fiction (using the major heading rather than subdivisions) and seeing what the distribution of sales and revenues would be … without doing the sums, I would expect that fiction is dramatically skewed towards bestsellers, with non-fiction giving a meaningful return much further down the chart

To some degree he is right. General & Literary Fiction titles account for 45% of the top 100 but only 8% of the titles between 900 and 1000. Even at that they held their own account for about 8% of the units and about 7% of the Revenue for those 100 titles. It is still quite a skew away from fiction towards that end of the list.

BUT

General & Literary Fiction titles only accounted for 240 of the top 1000 Titles (24%), yet they accounted for 30.96% of the value and 32.86% of the volume. So despite that skew in favour of top selling titles, the Category still outperforms overall. That is worth something!

What does all of this teach us?

    1) That the ICM Top 1000 is heavily populated by Fiction titles (24%)
    2) That Fiction sells at a relatively low ASP (€ 10.71)
    3) That despite that, Fiction outperforms as a category in terms of Volume & Revenue
    4) That within the Fiction list, revenue and volume skew very heavily towards the top 500

None of that removes the attraction of Fiction. If anything it reinforces the idea that when you get Fiction right you can sell large quantities of it and because you are printing in higher runs, units costs are lower so even at a lower ASP it makes money. Still while the story must be fiction works at some level, we cannot ignore the subtext that I have hinted at: Non-Fiction can be very lucrative.

Part IV of this series will look more closely at Non-Fiction and why it is an attractive publishing sector. Part V will look at publishers and then, Finally I will wrap up with a conclusion that will mark art VI!
Still some work ahead of me!
Eoin

Note 1
It is important to remember during this phase of the analysis that Nielsen reports RETAIL SALES. If you want an accurate picture of what the PUBLISHER gets then divide the revenue figure by something like 2. This of course varies per title and by publisher but you’ll get a sense of the likely revenue from a sale if you follow that rule. To avoid confusion, I’ll continue the analysis based on the actual RETAIL SALES reported by Nielsen.

Publishers, Survival is not a right!

Eoin Purcell

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)
Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Noble thoughts, but misplaced
I read an interesting blog post the other day about the demise of print publishing. It was written by Indie Publisher, Barbara Philips of Bridge Works Books on the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency blog. The ideas were worthy and valid (if pervaded by a sense that publishers have a RIGHT to exist) and in fact will work for a while, but overall the post was totally misguided.

For the record the suggestions were:

1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced.
2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors.
3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Dealing with them one by one
Killing Returns is a double edged sword. Yes it will save publishers from the practice of retailers and wholesalers paying for new books by returning old unsold ones, but equally it will force publishers to cut print runs (reducing margin) and find better ways to sell books than stacking them high and hoping display does the trick (as it often does). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact both these things would be good for publishers, it’s about time we printed the right amount of books rather too many and connecting with the audience properly is well worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Changing the publishing deal. This is eminently sensible. HarperStudio seem to be making some waves by following this strategy (Combined with Killing Returns). The problem, as I see it is that this remains a short termist strategy.

As the cost and difficulty of becoming your own publisher crashes (the last barriers remain access to bricks and mortar bookshops and distribution) more authors will take their self created platforms and followings and become their own publisher avoiding entirely the traditional distribution channels and selling online.

Being against Selling in more ways is like being against Apple Tart (Pie) or (Cotton) Candy-floss. Sure everyone wants to sell the same content in as many possible formats as we can, but what if consumers don’t want to pay anything like the were willing to pay for the print version?

The Traditional Publishing Model
The Traditional Publishing Model

These are not strategies, they are tactics
None of these moves are actions that will change the fundamental reality of book publishing for Indie or Major publishers. There are real strategies that might work (no-one knows though). You can delve into a niche like Osprey, Tor or Adams media. You can try and be the best marketer of general books as I believe HarperStudio is. Even better you can buy the best assets (Seth Godin‘s Purple Cow(s)) there are and use them as the foundation of your publishing business like Bloomsbury is doing. But the rest is just window dressing on a collapsing superstructure that cannot hold.

What The Digital World Enables
What The Digital World Enables

If you don’t trust my judgement on this, read Seth Godin’s recent post on competing with the single minded, read Mike Shtazkin on vertical niches, read Tim O’Reilly’s archive on publishing.

The world has changed. Publishers should certainly try and embrace a new way of business, but it needs to be entirely more radical than just killing returns, changing contracts, selling through more channels and sharing profits with authors. The industry needs to embrace the reality that power has shifted away from publishers and get on with figuring out if we can survive this shift the impact of which is only gradually being felt. Eventually everyone will realise that it has happened (Amazon and Google have certainly figured it out and so have Apple) and when they do, the change will become much more rapid. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SURVIVAL.

I am the proud owner of Season Two of Mad Men in DVD, sadly Season Three is already started, I am destined to be behind the curve in that show!
Eoin

I’m looking for a writer with a huge interest in Irish History

Eoin Purcell

Do you write about the Famine?

I need a non-fiction writer who knows quite a bit about the Great Irish Famine who can write 7,500 -10,000 words by the end of September 2009.

I can’t reveal the project yet, but anyone who is interested should drop me a line with a sample of your writing and a short 1 page cv @ eoin{dot}purcell{at}gmail.com

If you don’t write about the Famine, but do write non-fiction about Irish History, drop me a line anyway, there are several projects on the way that might suit. Ideally I’d have this locked down by the end of next week. Feel free to share this blog post as widely as possible.

Windy day today,
Eoin

Publishing success in Ireland, Part Two

Eoin Purcell

This is Part Two in a series (currently of indeterminate length but I suspect five) of posts. Read the first, Here.

The Categories
I promised at the end of my last post to offer up some analysis of the ICM in terms of categories and trends. The first thing to say about this is that I don’t think people will be surprised by the list in the image below. It reflects the top ten best-selling categories in the 2008 ICM. The image is small but clicking on it will take you to a google document that will have quite a lot of other data as this series moves ahead.

The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

What strikes me as the most interesting part of this top ten categories is that the overwhelming winner is General & Literary Fiction. At 30.9% of the Top 1000 it is 3 times larger than the next biggest, Crime & Thriller, which is also fiction. If you add in Young Adult Fiction and Childrens Fiction to the mix, fiction makes up a solid 47.29% of the Top 1000. Impressive no?

Interestingly, Autobiography of all varieties makes a solid appearance in the top ten, which is not all that surprising when you consider that it includes titles like:

    Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything
    Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes
    The Diving-bell and the Butterfly
    Parky: My Autobiography
    Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up
    My Booky Wook
    Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography
    Carra: My Autobiography
    Sonia: My Story

Yes readers, the celebrity publishing is alive and well in Ireland, just in case you thought we had a more literary bent here in Ireland.

What does the top ten not show us?
Well for one thing we miss the fact that the 11th most popular category was True Crime. I’m not surprised by this and I suspect most people would not be either. The rest of the top 20 is a bit more diverse. But the number of units and the percentage of the market these categories represent slide rapidly towards less than 1% of the whole ICM Top 100.

The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

Which neatly brings me to the core message this category analysis exercise MIGHT suggest, that publishing fiction is a good route to success. After all fiction seems to account for the bulk of the Top 1000 sales. On the face of it that makes sense, but I’m not so sure about it. However I think I will leave the next post to explain why that is the case.

Two very interesting meetings today,
Eoin

Eoin’s Christmas Recommendation – Non-Fiction

Eoin Purcell

First Things First
So I’ll get the shameless self promo out of the way from the get go. I heartily recommend my own addition to the Food & Drink genre, Our Grannies’ Recipes. It is a wonderful collection of recipes gathered and collated from ourgranniesrecipes.com and set beautifully in a hardback b-format for the relatively decent price of €14.99 (I hear H&H are selling it at €12.99). Whatever price you get it for, Age Action Ireland will get €1 for each and every copy sold. That’s good news I like to think. Not much chance of it getting to you by post so drop into your local bookstore and buy it there.

Our Grannies' Recipes
Our Grannies' Recipes

Other Great Ideas
Given the tumultuous times publishing is passing through I thought it might be nice for those who enjoy books and the bookish life to read Gabrieal Zaid’s So Many Books. It is a great read and well worth the tiny amount of time and effort you will expend reading it. So Many Books is a really nice company whose slogan is, Publish Few But Wonderful Books. There is a lesson in that for us all!

So Many Books FCP
So Many Books FCP

I have a weakness for Niall Ferguson so I could hardly write this post and not mention his rather great looking,The Ascent of Money. I think they rather smartly retooled the TV series to make this appear a far more skeptical tome than had originally been envisage, but I’ll wait until I have read the text to judge that.

The Ascent of Money FCP
The Ascent of Money FCP

I read and loved Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920. It is a really excellent book that in a short few pages paints a picture of a forgotten conflict that might have had much further reaching effects were it not for the cataclysmic World War Two. Alternatively you could conceivably make the case that the world would be different for the better now but I hesitate to suggest that, the Europe of 1920 was hardly ready for a war with Russia the like of which it would have had to face had Poland succumbed to the ALMOST unstoppable juggernaut.

Warsaw 1920 FCP
Warsaw 1920 FCP

A smaller list than normal this year. The sheer volume of good material made me lean in the direction of the truly great stuff. I hope no one minds.

Fiction tomorrow,
Eoin

Serious Non-Fiction: Doomed?

Eoin Purcell

Bodley Head thinks not
I’m honest enough to acknowledge that if I was the average buyer of books, our industry would be in a fairly fantastic position. Firstly I buy too many (even with a mostly effective book buying bar I’m tallying about 5 or 6 a month) and I buy expensive (a weakness for serious non-fiction and hardback new release genre fiction). I’m rarely swayed by 342 offers unless someone does it across the range when I take advantage to pick up a selection of backlist titles I have eyed for a while (mostly non-fiction).

In any case, I am not the average reader and that makes for a tricky time for serious non-fiction publishers. In fact there have been some signs that serious there will be thin times ahead and the dumping of books by W&N as mentioned twice before on this blog is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is an interesting piece in today’s Independent (the London variety) which paints the market in a very negative light:

Anecdotal evidence abounds that high-quality works of history fail to arouse the level of support in the retail trade that they once did. That, in turn, inhibits editors who seek to commission more of the same.

Dissing retailers is easy enough for most book people but the really harsh words though are reserved for publishers:

Too often, even the most dedicated houses have been content to print good popular history rather than really publish it. That attitude no longer suffices. Given high-street resistance, 50 per cent and more of likely sales for many top-notch histories will soon come from online outlets. Which means that publishers have to toil to recruit and retain virtual communities with a passion for the past.

All this makes the relaunch of Bodley Head as “a list devoted to quality non-fiction” quite a strange and perhaps a brave move. You will find a fascinating article on the topic by imprint publishing director Will Sulkin in Publishing News:
So why The Bodley Head? Why now? What does Random House think it’s doing?

Well, for a start, if you’re a major player in any field then you need to know you’re playing with a full deck. We didn’t have a World’s Classics list, so we started Vintage Classics. (And what a success that’s turning out to be.) We haven’t had a Penguin Press, so we’re launching The Bodley Head.
And this, for the first time, allows Random House to concentrate its formidable resources on the acquisition, design, marketing, publicising, production and selling of quality non-fiction – to become a specialist in the field. It gives the likes of Misha Glenny, Jonathan Powell, Roger Penrose, Karen Armstrong, Simon Schama, Nicholas Stern, Stephen Greenblatt, Norman Davies, et al a purpose-built platform for their wares – somewhere the texts can be hand-crafted and polished by a peerless editorial team and sent out into the world in the best shape and with the best chance of reaching the broadest possible readership.

I like the idea here. Basically he is saying We did it because we could!! How is that for confidence? You have to admire the ambition too.

Hoping it works,
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 6/04/2008

Eoin Purcell

More from the guardian on the Weidenfeld & Nicolson story I wrote about before
Here

The Irish Independent comments on the shortlists for childrens literature prizes (i disagree in places, no doubt it will be clear where)
Here

The hype surrounding Robert Miller’s coming imprint and the reality (Judge which is which for yourselves)
Here and Here

An interesting little rant on the current status of some hallowed Company/Imprint names
Here

Liking time
Eoin