Book sales hold up in New Zealand against worldwide decline

Could new sunshine on the US Book Industry break out to the world?

You have probably heard the old adage related to economic recession: “If America catches a cold, then the rest of us catch the flu”. And that’s what happened in 2009 to the book industry in many countries.

But could the opposite situation arise,  became a very positive question at the European International Booksellers Federation annual conference held during the Frankfurt Book Fair.  This followed opening remarks at the conference by American Booksellers Association CEO, Oren Teicher.

“Indie Bookstores (in the US) have enjoyed a 12 percent increase in units sold in 2012 as compared to 2011,” he told the conference.

This had everyone at the conference sitting.  Other than in Asia, the book industry has been in recession and spirits have been gloomy.

And more: “ABA membership numbers continue to grow modestly; we now represent about 1550 companies doing business in more than 2000 locations (with a smattering of new stores opening all across the country”).

Then Teicher got everyone in a state of almost disbelief: “Many of the various tests undertaken by individual publishers to reinvent the way they do business with our channel have shown positive results; and, at least, a few companies are rolling out changes more widely.”

Teicher ended with the thought that these glimpses of a turnaround for the retail book industry would be sustainable in the United States and harbinger of better news for other countries who have been facing a downturn for some time.

Comprehensive figures on the the current  global book trade scene were presented to the conference  by Jonathan Nowell, President of Nielsen Books.

At minus 2.7 percent, New Zealand had the lowest drop in book sales for the year to date (week 36) of all established markets measured by Nielsen Book Scan.  The highest was United States with a drop of 13.6 percent.  The decline in Australia was by 10.4 percent.

“Established book markets continue to struggle as economic stagnation leads to fragile consumer confidence,” Nowell told the conference.

He did not offer country by country reasons for the variations in decline of book sales but in general terms he quoted the impact of e-books as “contributing to a reduction in book sales – but non-fiction is also seeing declines”.

Representatives of 24 countries were at the conference including New Zealand Booksellers CEO, Lincoln Gould and Board Director and The Women's Bookshop owner Carole Beu.

The consumer confidence issue was one the Nielsen chief explored in some detail and he highlighted that emerging markets such as Indonesia, India, Brazil China and others showed “opportunities for growth”.

It was hard to know why the New Zealand market had declined the least, but Gould thought that the full impact of e-book sales in New Zealand had not yet been felt.  Also the economy in New Zealand, while difficult, was not as badly off as many countries such as Spain where the decline had been 8.8 percent and Italy at 6.5 percent.

“And of course while the Australian economy is relatively strong, the country’s book trade had been severely mauled by the loss of many bookshops when Angus and Robinson and Borders were closed down after REDGroup Retail collapsed,” he said.

The full impact of e-book sales is still uncertain.  While many commentators have estimated that it might get as high as 20 percent of the market, The UK’s Booksellers Association CEO, Tim Godfray, advised the conference that in the UK e-books sales has reached 14 percent while the UK Publishers Association had reported that printed book sales had declined by 5.6 percent.

The Nielsen figures also showed some interesting breakdowns across different genres.  Fiction sales in New Zealand had increased by 11 percent with Australia, the only other country across the positive side of the line, with 3 percent growth. 

Non-fiction was another story,  with a drop in New Zealand of 7 percent, but still way off Australia’s decline of 24 percent in this category.  Children’s book sales in New Zealand fell by 1 percent with the biggest fall being in the US at 9 percent.

However, it would seem New Zealand looses out to Australia in terms of purchase of erotica as indicated by sales of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  In New Zealand 182,000 copies have been sold or one for every 23 people while in Australia the ratio is one book for each 8.5 persons.

Read the full report from Jonathan Nowell.

Article written by Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ