CommentaryFebruary 19th, 2020
A look back on last year in publishing and what might be coming down the line . . .
After what seemed like an interminable January, and we move deeper into 2020, it’s a good time to reflect on the last decade in publishing. The 2010s were characterized by huge change in the way that readers find, buy and consume their books, and by upheaval for publishers and booksellers as the industry sought to respond.
But as we look ahead to a new decade, things feel noticeably calmer in publishing. After years of turbulence, the digital revolution has settled down, with eBook sales establishing a solid and consistent level—crucially without cannibalising physical copies. Nielsen BookScan’s research shows that print sales nudged up 2.4% to £1.7bn in 2019—the fifth successive year of growth, and the highest figure since 2010. Just as it was ten years ago, the list of the bestselling print books of 2019 was a familiar combination of commercial fiction, big-name children’s authors and cookbooks.
This renewed confidence about print books is mirrored in the retail sector. The Booksellers Association says its membership has increased for three years in a row now, thanks to a steady flow of new independent bookshops. Against the backdrop of very tough trading conditions on the high street—which has led the British Retail Consortium to suggest that 2019 was the worst year for retail sales growth in 25 years—this is a remarkable achievement.
It was a year of consolidation in several other ways. The Bookseller’s analysis of 2019 suggests that backlist sales were particularly strong, reaching nearly £1.1bn. International sales held up well too, though that was partly thanks to the weak pound in 2019. Independent and specialist publishers continued to flourish in the niches of the market.