By ERIN ALLEN
Are hard copy books becoming a thing of the past as more people get their information online? Is the book industry “hit driven” by works such as “Harry Potter?” Are channels of distribution like Amazon.com having an impact on sales of new titles? These questions and more were discussed during a recent lecture featuring economists Albert Greco and Robert Wharton.
Greco and Wharton, professors at Fordham University and senior researchers with the Institute for Publishing Research, discussed their forecast for the book industry and the effects of various issues and trends in a lecture sponsored jointly by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). Their remarks were based on their data and projections, which have been compiled in “Book Industry Trends 2007,” a guidebook prepared by the BISG. The publication offers comprehensive coverage of publishers’ dollar and unit sales figures for the years 2005-2011.
“Overall, the industry is growing but only at a rate slightly greater than inflation,” said Wharton. “Publishers are profitable and sales are increasing, but the bar is being raised higher and higher for profit margins.”
Both Wharton and Greco predict major changes for the next decade because of factors such as the prevalence of used books in the marketplace, the mechanization of distribution through outlets like Amazon.com, the increasing price of books, book piracy (in excess of $550 billion) and affordable electronics such as like laptop computer that allow students to bypass books and receive intellectual content online.
“The electronic distribution of content has become the 600-pound gorilla in the room,” said Wharton. “It used to be that data sources like reference books were provided in hard copy. The online version is now forcing out the hard copy.”
Greco provided a breakdown of the industry into individual segments—trade, which includes mass market paperback and adult and juvenile trade; religious; professional; university press; elementary-high school (ELHI); college; and standardized tests—and offered a forecast for the future.
The juvenile trade sector is predicted to be quite strong, considering the response to the publication of the final book in the Harry Potter series and tickets sales for the latest movie based on an earlier Harry Potter title.
“This portion of the industry is hit driven,” said Greco. “We predict 6.8 billion total sales [of juvenile trade titles] by 2010.”
Interestingly enough, according to Greco, the mass market paperback is the one sector that should be doing better. These are the rack-sized titles that can be found at the local drug store, Walmart and large-chain booksellers.
“Unfortunately, this is not a nation that sees an increase in sales and reading, even though these books are inexpensive and accessible,” he adds.
Greco and Wharton are also concerned with the university press sector, saying that “unit sales are less than anemic.”
“This sector has to give more than a passing thought to open access,” says Greco, adding that he wished they would offer print on demand services, which means that copies of books are not printed until after an order has been received.
One of the strongest sectors is religious books, which can be attributed to the significant number of publishers active in this field, the rise of mega churches, increased church attendance and expanded offerings on this topic at large secular bookstore chains. Publishers’ net dollar sales and consumer expenditures are predicted to be up 5 percent through 2010 and 2011.
The professional and college sectors are growing dollar-wise but declining in number of units sold. These two sectors are moving most rapidly towards the electronic distribution of content.
“This won’t be the death of the book, though, because there is no guarantee the electronic version will be available in 10 to 15 years,” said Greco.
According to Greco, the ELHI sector is the hardest to predict because it is governed by local education boards. With state and national elections coming, the authors were cautious in their predictions regarding publishers’ sales and units sold and consumer expenditures, with each segment seeing only modest increases for 2010 and 2011.
“There’s not one sector in particular trouble,” Greco said. “Overall, the industry is healthy.” Greco said.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.