The Book Publishing Industry: A Year in Review

Last week Ingram Content Group hosted a really interesting webinar focusing on the Book Publishing Industry: A Year in Review. We heard from a fantastic panel within Ingram from across the globe and it was fantastic to hear some of the positive messages and statistics that have accelerated the industry’s success over the last incredibly challenging year.

Led by Agustina Casal, Senior Manager, Digital Sales Digital Publisher Support – we also heard from Jess Johns, Manager Consumer Marketing; Pete McCarthy, Director Consumer Insights; Michial Miller, Key Account Sales Manager; Andrew Neilson, Senior Key Account Sales Manager; Nicole Robinson-Hamilton, Lead Content Manager; Amy Williams, Director International Sales and Margaret Harrison, Director, Content Solutions.

Kicking off the webinar, we reflected on some of the big changes as a result of the pandemic last year. Whilst there were significant highs and lows in retail book sales, there was an overall surge in all book buying in Spring 2020 and an overall increase in the sales of books by more than 6% last year – throughout tough times it is clear that books are necessities and are a comfort factor in consumer buying patterns. The launch of bookshop.org supporting independent publishers at the start of this year has really taken off and it will be so exciting to see this develop. Whilst supply chain was under serious strain, and books by large retailers seen as ‘non-essential’ items, Ingram were able to support book production and distribution in local markets.

The analysis is fascinating; one of the biggest and fastest growing areas in the last year has been YA fiction and non-fiction – whilst this has been an incredibly tough time for those at home, it is amazing to see the increase in readership of the younger generation.

The traditional selling model has also shifted, independent publishers were able to showcase great diversity with their approach, and their ecommerce efforts were nothing short of amazing. What is also clear is that online is here to stay and so are print books which are up 29% vs. Q1 last year.

Alongside dealing with the pandemic, the book industry have also had to face the challenge of Brexit which has held up supply chain and decreased UK exports by 41% and imports by 28% in the first quarter of this year. Ingram have been able to support publishers through this process by offering print-on-demand, and in working with their joint venture with Hachette in France to make titles available for sale in the EU. 

The work the industry has put in to responding to demand has been absolutely incredible, across the majority of the industry digital sales were up 30% last year, nearly all of the ebook and audiobook sectors saw digital growth double and some of the biggest growth was across academic and educational institutions. Interestingly, there still aren’t any signs of this slowing down, many library branches have closed globally which means readers have turned to apps, and organisations like Overdrive for example have seen a huge increase with over 229 million ebooks borrowed. Audio has also had huge success, and highlights that the pandemic has accelerated buying patterns with consumers being more willing to try different models and different audio retailers.

So what have been the biggest areas of success for the book trade and what are our lessons learnt? Primarily, the takeaway message here was around how our way of life and behaviour is changing and therefore publishers are shifting their focus to think about:

  • How can we be faster?
  • How can we anticipate what’s coming?
  • How can we ensure we are available in a market that is looking for the fast / immediate option?

Some of the most successful publishers and retailers in 2020 and Q1 of this year are aligning with consumer behaviour and are using data to ensure they are doing this correctly – the ability to adapt quickly and be agile has been incredible. Consumers purchasing decisions have changed as well, more and more consumers are turning to social media as a route to purchase and a whole new set of ecommerce shoppers have emerged as well, who won’t be going away. It is a truly empowering moment for consumers as they get to choose – if we look back to old style bookselling, with the bookseller as a curator – this shifted to the rise in ebooks, then the change of formats to now where consumers can choose what they buy, when they buy it, and in what formats. The publishers who are succeeding are the ones with the broadest channel of distribution, and the widest opportunities.

So where do we go from here? Publishers need to understand who their consumers are, where they’re buying and how, as publishers, we can influence their journey. Keeping an eye on consumer data and trends, what social media channels are most active and understanding consumer buying patterns will all be key to a publisher’s success. The data is there but as a consumer this year has shown just how quickly our behaviours can change – people buy because it’s useful, it’s relevant and it fits into their life in a worthwhile way. They have to make it worth it for the readers and make it easy for people to find and buy their books. Building networks will be hugely important and being aware of how consumers engage – for example partnering with authors, working with influencers, Bookstagram and the huge rise in TikTok. It’s a whole new world out there and an amazing opportunity for publishers and retailers as we enter the next phase – it will be so interesting to see what publishers and consumers alike do next, and see the continued evolution of this industry that we all know and love. 

A huge thank you to Ingram for this incredibly interesting, and thought-provoking webinar.

If you would like to find out more about how Inspired Selection is supporting publishers, such as Ingram, to adapt and thrive in this rapidly changing market landscape, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.