Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Insights from the London Book Fair

The London Book Fair has traditionally been a trade conference that  reflects the industry’s direction on a global level. This year, the publisher of a friend of mine sent out a report to his authors describing his experience. It is a personal impression rather than a factual description and we should remember that this was one man’s perspective. But I found it so interesting that I felt I had to share some of his thoughts.


As with many authors who are not A-list or mid-listers, I have seen a general rise in the percentage of book sales in e-book form compared to tree books. There are months where I sell more e-books and these are becoming increasingly common. This might be because The Accidental Activist appeals to a socially and environmentally aware crowd who are comfortable with their Kindles and iPads. It also might be a cheaper way to check out an author with whom you are not familiar. The Accidental Activist in trade paperback sells for $11.50 and the e-book for $3.99.

However, it is interesting that the prevailing feeling at the London Book Fair focused on the emergence of the e-book. Publishers, CEO’s, distributors and editors packed the seminars that related to digital publishing. This publisher actually suggested that these industry professionals were ‘obsessed’ with the topic.


Brian Murray, the President and CEO of HarperCollins, said in his address that for some of his company’s front list titles more than 50% of sales are for digital formats. Mr. Murray stated that this was “a watershed” moment for the book trade.

He continued by adding that US e-readers grew from 15 million to 40 million in the past year. This growth “was having a disproportionately large effect on the market because they had reached ‘core’ readers, defined as those buying more than 12 books a year. ‘Some of the heaviest book buyers no longer visit bookstores.’

It is a universal business rule that it is easier to sell more products to a loyal customer than the first sale to a new customer. Mr. Murray went on to say that if these people are not visiting bookstores but buying online, then this fundamental shift is only the tip of the iceberg for the publishing industry.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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