News & Trends: Book Sales Forecast to Grow (Slightly)
Book publishers combined to pull in $40.3 billion in net dollar sales in 2008, a 1-percent increase over 2007, according to Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) “Book Industry Trends 2009.” Total unit sales, however, slipped 1.5 percent from 3.13 million in 2007 to 3.08 million last year. BISG has published the “Trends” report, which provides comprehensive statistical information and forecasts about the U.S. book market, for 30 years; the 2009 edition, developed in partnership with research firm Outsell Inc., is due out this summer.
BISG Executive Director Michael Healy provided a preview of the main unit and dollar sales figures in all the major U.S. book categories tracked in “Trends 2009” at BookExpo America (BEA) on May 29.
Notable conclusions Healy drew from the report included: “flat is the new up”; revenues are projected to grow 1.8 percent in 2009; and, by 2010, all categories should be in growth mode, even if it is only moderate growth.
Publishers earning more than $50 million per year accounted for $27.6 billion, or 68.5 percent, of all book publishing revenue, according to the report.
The adult (27 percent) and children’s (9 percent) trade categories made up 36 percent of the industry’s total sales, ahead of professional (22 percent), el-hi (18 percent), college (14 percent), religious (6 percent) and scholarly (4 percent).
Religious publishers experienced the biggest fall-off in 2008 versus 2007, with sales declining 10 percent. College and el-hi publishing both grew their categories by 4.5 percent to mark the largest increases among all categories.
“Trends 2009” also includes projections for the industry’s total revenue and unit sales for 2009 and 2010. It forecasts a revenue increase of 1.8 percent from 2008 to 2009 and 2.4 percent from 2009 to 2010. Unit sales are projected to rise by 0.7 percent in 2009 and by another 2.2 percent in 2010.
Dissent Over Data
There were 130,477 active publishers in 2008, according to U.S. ISBN agency R.R. Bowker, a 27-percent increase over 2007. Most of this increase was within the $50 million per year or less small-publisher category, according to “Trends.” This data has been questioned by some industry observers, however, including Publishers Marketplace’s Michael Cader, who questions the “aggressive sales] estimates” for the small publishers category. His article following BEA in his Publishers Lunch e-newsletter, titled “The Problem with Statistics: BISG’s New Method Still Inflates the Unknown,” takes issue with the report’s methodology.
The “Trends” report queries more than 70,000 publishers by e-mail, and only about 500 companies responded with data and projections this year. Cader argues that “Trends” arrives at its numbers via “the magic of multiplication (and fancy statistical methods to align and ‘triangulate’ the new information versus the previous, also unproven, numbers), a fraction of real information turns into billions of dollars of revenue.”
Healy’s response to such criticism: “Statistical sampling of the kind we used in the preparation of ‘Trends 2009’ … is a valid approach in our view, and it’s difficult to see what other practicable approaches there are in a market of so many companies,” he says. “However, it’s important to stress that our surveys were supplemented and stress-tested by other tools, including interviews with key executives and reviews of other independent data sources. At BISG, we continue to look at ways to improve the accuracy and authority of ‘Trends,’ which we believe remains the most reliable source of the size of our complex and fast-changing industry.”