The good news about publishing
So everybody’s convinced that publishing is going down the tube. That’s the prevailing opinion. But what do the facts tell us?
Fortunately, we can rapidly compile a dashboard to show the state of UK publishing by drawing on readily available statistics from reputable sources, namely the websites of The Bookseller Association (http://www.booksellers.org.uk/) and The Publishers Association (http://www.publishers.org.uk/).
The statistics show that:
1. From 2001 the value of UK book sales (measured in UK sterling) grew each year, from 2001 (£2,511 m) to 2007 (£3,047 m). After that, they levelled out (though still in fact growing very slightly, as increases in export sales offset falls in domestic sales).
2. The number of ISBN registrations (a proxy for the numbers of publishers) grew from 2007 (2,876) to 2008 (3,142) but then declined (to 3,007) in 2009.
3. The number of new and revised titles published each year has continued to grow (from 119,465 in 2007 to 133,224 in 2009).
This doesn’t sound like crisis to me. Broadly, the figures show that, after a period of sustained growth, the market has been flat for a couple of years. This hardly supports the industry’s lamentations.
We have, after all, had this thing called the credit crunch and the subsequent recession. Not many industries have posted bullish results over the last couple of years. It would be remarkable if publishing were to be completely insulated from such global trends: it isn’t – but why should any one expect it to be?
In fact, the figures show that, overall, the publishing industry here has proved rather robust. One might expect this news to be welcome to publishers, but I find that usually it isn’t. That is only because – in my experience, at least – publishers, like farmers, like to tell you that (a) things are pretty bad and (b) they are about to get worse.