Table of Contents
- A Leg, a Trunk, a Tail…
- Which Readership Has Spoken? If You Try Doing Surveys at Home…
- Good Data for Entrepreneurial Authors: Which Piper Can You Afford?
- Bowker on Who Buys What (Warning: Shirtless Men Surprise)
- Your Blog Sommelier: Ch-Ch-Change
- Last Gas: eBooks — Is That All There Is?
While there are perils around trying to identify exactly what a self-publisher is, Bowker Market Research estimates that approximately 3% of books bought by Americans (and 1% of dollars spent) were by self-published authors. Further, these self-published books accounted for 8% of ebook purchases throughout 2012, and 10% of all adult fiction e-books bought.
One of the things most frequently overlooked in good professional market research material is the “discussion.” Sometimes it’s shoehorned into a heavily bulleted “executive summary.” At other times, it’s shunted to the side as “observations.”
In the case of the newly released U.S. Book Consumer Demographics & Buying Behaviors Annual Review from Bowker Market Research, you find some highly valuable material in the “Introduction and Highlights” section. While I’m sorry that no credit is given to the writer of the piece, its quality makes me think it’s the work of Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly with Bowker Market Research Director Jo Henry. Milliot is the study’s editor and PW’s Clive Chiu is credited with art direction.
While it’s the 2013 edition, the study covers 2012, of course, and is created using a monthly, changing 6,000-person panel that totaled more than 70,000 “unique U.S. book-buying men, women, and teens” for the year.
The first lines of the intro are telling, with a half-century switcheroo waiting:
“There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of people than any other time in history.”
These words by Robert Kennedy more than 50 years ago, could well apply to today’s book industry.
An interesting point, though, comes quickly after the article does a fast listing of 2012 factors, from the Department of Justice’s anti-trust lawsuit to the incursion of ebooks in a former print marketplace. Right, right, right, then:
The readers? Bowker says he and she are doing just fine.
Hm. Interesting. Because in one way or another, various points of argument about the industry! the industry! are frequently articulated with an unspoken air of concern for the reader baked in as if it’s an ingredient as common as flour. Not so much in the Bowker Family Kitchen:
Through all this, the American book consumer remains largely unfazed. Sure, they may be inconvenienced by a local bookstore closing or baffled by ebook pricing which vaguely seems to have something to do with Apple, Amazon and publishers battling things out in court. But otherwise, book consumers are finding new and efficient ways to get “lost in the book.”
This may be one of the parts of the industry’s upheaval that’s hardest to grasp from inside. And it’s not to negate the importance of learning better how to find, connect with, and serve the reader. The question is how easily we can project onto the reader our own fascination with the fray.
I’m familiar with it from newsrooms, in which everyone tightly following the incremental progress of a big story thinks the readers-listeners-viewers-users are all glued to each detail as it falls, too. And, of course, as soon as you dash out with your camera crew to buttonhole the MOS, or “man on the street,” and hear his thoughts on the matter?—he has none. He’s barely following the story, if he’s heard of it at all.
In this point, Bowker is signaling a useful caution: a crisis in publishing may not be more than background chatter to our readers. Not their problem. Smile at them.
Let’s look at another area of our choreography, the ebook-and-print pas de deux.
Bear with me, and I’ll give you this next bit at a little length, since this one bedevils many.
Reassurance for everybody:
2012 confirmed that the ebook is here to stay. For 2012 as a whole, ebooks accounted for one in five units (22% share of all books), and one in ten of the dollars spent on books. But that doesn’t mean people have moved away from print—the majority of books are still bought and sold in print. What it means, is that the ebook, especially in fiction (where ebooks accounted for 38% of units in the fourth quarter of 2012, and over 50% of units in the romance genre), has now established itself as a major format category along with hardcover, mass market paperback and trade paperback. Despite the growth of ebooks, the new figures show that their sales are growing at a more sustainable rate.
I like that “more sustainable rate” phrase. Some have wanted to characterize the (natural) slowing of the rate of growth for ebooks as evidence that their popularity is in decline, “petering out,” “winding down,” “on the wane.” That’s not the case. How many times has radio petered out, right? Ebooks are simply now growing “at a more sustainable rate” instead of at the runaway initial-adoption rates that made them a more violent force earlier, rates that couldn’t be sustained by any new product entering a marketplace. We do have the phrase “early adopter” for a reason.
Okay, so now, let’s look the elephant in the room right in the eye:
While most Americans, about 56%, still got books from a brick and mortar store in 2012, online book retailers have collectively amassed 42% of units and 44% of dollars. Amazon took the biggest share of this slice, alone accounting for 28% of book units and 31% of dollars spent—the single largest source of books for Americans.
That 31-percent figure is an increase for Amazon in dollars spent on books over 26 percent in 2011.
Before we hand a carrot chunk to the elephant and move on—I’ve fed a real elephant, damn it, I know what I’m talking about: Flora preferred carrot chunks—I’d like to call your attention to my Publishing Perspectives colleague Dennis Abram’s American Booksellers to Fight Amazon Through Negative Publicity from the weekend. He quotes a good bit of American Bookseller Association chief Oren Teicher’s epistle to the membership, urging them to “encourage…scrutiny” of what Teicher describes as Amazon’s “combination of complex strategic machinations, brass-knuckles capitalism, and a myopic disregard for the consequences for any stakeholders save itself.”
Kindly note that I have made no comment whatever. Carrot?
@bsandusky That’s my feeling but what do I know?
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) August 11, 2013
More news from the Bowker survey regarding the Internet, and this might not entirely gladden the eye of Teicher’s independent bookstore owners:
In-store awareness is slowly giving way to increased importance of author Web sites, product placement on a e-reader or tablet app and review and recommendations. A particularly interesting finding in the data for 2012 is that mobile apps are generating significantly more impulse purchases than straight online purchases (though still not at the same impulse level of in-store purchases).
And as for one of my fave topics, gender among the readership, in hardbacks, men led the way in 2012, spending more on that format than women.
But in all other formats, we’re going to need to kick some guys’ butts: women bought more than men, in the sales Bowker could identify. (Remember some sales information is held secret as proprietary data, by Amazon and other companies, so we’re not seeing everything.)
Women accounted for 58% of book spending in 2012, up over 55% in 2011. The age groups where men spent the most money was in the 30 to 44 year-old group at 46% and in the 65 and up group where men accounted for 45% of spending.
Now, a quick detour to help us all remember how helpful Bowker’s market research is. Then we’ll come back to this new report to hunker briefly on one interesting area. Back to Table of Contents
[Marie] Force got responses from 2,951 people who replied to most of the 44 questions in the survey. That’s a really good response rate and speaks to the depth of her community. The vast majority — 81 percent — of readers said that Romance was their favourite genre. In second place came Mystery with just 5 percent of the responses. This immediately indicates that this survey is one of Romance readers, not of general readers. Although for many of the questions that may not matter, we cannot definitively say it doesn’t matter because we don’t know if Romance readers have different behaviour sets to readers of other genres.
This is Suw Charman-Anderson in London at Forbes writing in Reader Surveys Provide Insight, But How Much? Her focus is on author Marie Force’s survey, which she wrote up in The Readers Sound Off! How They Read, What They Like and Where They Find Us. Charman-Anderson is at pains, as I am, to stress that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an author surveying readers. And Force didn’t make undue claims of scientific validity for her results. As Charman-Anderson points out, 2,951 responses is a great number for this month-long (June) Survey Monkey effort.
But before Charman-Anderson wrote, I’d been in touch with Force, myself, independently, asking how responding readers found the survey. Force told me in a tweet that, “A wide variety of authors promoted it on all their social media platforms and via their readers.” I pointed out that the survey responses’ strong support for romance (81 percent) might indicate that the response sample skews toward romance. And Force responded, “Possibly, but if you look at bestseller lists, you will see that romance popularity is quite high across the board…so I wasn’t surprised by that 80% number. I think it would’ve been high even if it was more scientific.” It was good of Force to get back to me. (Not for nothing do I get into trouble when I refer to those Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women covers in the romance world.)
This is a for profit business. It has ALWAYS been a for profit business. Let’s not kid ourselves that it was once some kind of commune. — Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) August 9, 2013
But as Charman-Anderson goes on to discuss in her piece, taking the results of surveys as guidance could prompt you to overweight one social medium or another in publicizing your work. Again, she works hard not to say these questions “do not devalue Force’s survey at all.” But, she rightly points out:
These sorts of reader surveys are incredibly useful, but we do have to remember that they always come with caveats. If we are looking at a skewed sample, in this case skewed towards Romance readers, then we have to compare that segment with other segments and see whether we get different results. We also have to remember results for opt-in surveys are not indicative of the general readership, just those people whom we can reach with our survey.
And here’s where we want to start moving back toward Bowker’s fine new report. Back to Table of Contents
Bowker Market Research has the resources, the experts, and the apparatus, built over many years, to scientifically survey the market and its readers. The new report is, simply, a thing of beauty, from its graphics to its input.
Nobody would ask an author’s good effort in surveying her readership to come up with what Bowker produces in New Provident, New Jersey, of course. Bowker’s annual focus is landmark material. But the Bowker report costs $799. This is not as outrageous as it sounds at first: remember, it’s produced—and priced—for institutional use. In fact, one reason such surveys as this are so costly is that they’re prepared for a relatively small set of industry-leading corporate entities that can afford such prices and budget for exactly this, procuring independently produced high-grade market data. Then here we are, yelling daily at our authors to become more entrepreneurial, to think in the ways of the industry, to take their seats among the professional business people whose companies long have acquired just this kind of sterling data to guide their operations.
I have an idea. (Run for your life.) A little background: In the last year, Bowker has created a new approach to authors. As we reported here at Publishing Perspectives in February, a part of this is a new partnership with Data Conversion Laboratory to “streamline the process” by which entrepreneurial authors produce ebooks, providing them with high quality format conversions of their work as they approach Bowker for ISBN identifiers to assign to each formatted edition of a book.
What’s more, under the direction of metadata expert and knitting enthusiast Laura Dawson—whom I’ve named our Mme. Defarge of publishing—Bowker has produced a site, SelfPublishedAuthor.com, replete with useful information, tips, guidance on self-publishing and links to reputable partners. Notice how much of their own dog food these Bowkerians are willing to eat: Dawson has self-published her own story cycle, The Place Where I Come From, both as a collection and with individual stories sold as singles. There couldn’t be a better way to learn what authors are experiencing as they work their way through the process of self-publishing. Nor has she sugar-coated it. At one point during formatting of her manuscript, she blogged:
It’s hard work, and boring, but ultimately rewarding.
Not only because she works at Bowker (the US agency for ISBNs), but also as a result of her years of interntional specialization in the industry’s metadata issues, Dawson has taken the step of looking at her own process with fresh eyes, even questioning the importance of the ISBN, which has been challenged loudly by many in self-publishing as a tool of antiquated gatekeepers. In a post, Another Thought About ISNBs (and Amazon), she writes:
Dozens of millions of books, over many many networks, are ultimately viewed by more consumers than ever before. And yet there is a vocal group arguing that standardization of information (and the ISBN in particular) is antiquated. “Print-related.” The ISBN was invented because of digitization. To argue its demise due to ebooks is short-sighted…A movement away from standards – particularly standards that were created to deal with digitization – may be bucking the system. But the system isn’t always going to look like it does now. Standards at least give some continuity in a shifting market.
And wherever you come down on the ISBN issue, if you’re an entrepreneurial author, you need data and market research as much, or more, as major publishers of the size that normally can buy the Bowker Annual Review.
There’s a reason no one names their kid Humidity. — Jen Doll (@thisisjendoll) August 9, 2013
Perhaps Dawson and her team can think of a way to offer an author-specific, less expensive distillation to writers of the market research’s material most pertinent to them, as part of its SelfPublishedAuthor.com services. This would align well, for example, with the sort of market-sorting developments Bookigee is working on with its WriterCube for authors. An author-specific edition of the Annual Review, by the way, wouldn’t be a dumbing-down but a segmentation of the data, pulling out what’s actionable for authors who are trying to understand who buys their books. So there’s my idea for the day, no extra charge. And speaking of who buys what… Back to Table of Contents
The adult fiction category benefited from the tremendous popularity of the Fifty Shade trilogy, while the juvenile category owed much of its increase in spending to the success of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Think back two Ether-eal sections today to when we were considering the idea that romance might run away with a readership survey. Certainly in Marie Force’s exercise, that was the case.
However, information from the Bowker Annual Review for 2012 indicates that while romance is certainly strong among adult major subgenres, it’s not the strongest. Nor has it shown growth in four years in terms of market share, either in units or dollars. Have a look, I’ve added circles to help you find the romance stats quickly. Certainly, there’s no disrespect here for romance, a powerful part of the industry’s market. But notice that other categories of adult books, both in units and dollars, have increased since 2009—literary/classics and young adult are up over the four years, both in units and dollars. Mystery/detective is up in units, as is espionage/thriller, but both are flat in terms of dollars. General fiction has taken hits in both dollars and units, young adult being on the rise in both categories. And just for a closer look at romance, some quick stats. Respondents to Bowker’s work indicated that romance book buyers
- Represented 8% of the total market of buyers in 2012
- Purchased 6% of the overall units
- Spent 3% of the overall dollars
- And for alert authors looking for a sweet spot? — they paid an average $4.93 per book.
Now, as is frequently noted, romance buyers seem to have taken to e-reading more readily than some other groups. Bowker writes:
The higher portion of e-book sales in the romance segment also resulted in e-commerce outlets taking a large lead as the biggest channel for romance purchases. E-commerce sites accounted for 42% of expenditures on romance titles in 2012, up from 33% in 2011, and its share of units increased to 39% from 30%. In contrast to e-commerce outlets, bookstores’ share of spending dropped to 20% from 31% in 2011 and bookstores fell behind other retailers as a source to by romance books.
Oh, and those Artful Literary Guys can shake hands with the Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women on one point: The largest group of respondents on literary/classic books cited “author” as their key criterion for buying a book, just as did romance readers. This doesn’t hold for all genres. In other cases, the topic or subject far outweighed other considerations. Interestingly, in YA, a fondness for a series trumped other considerations. Of course, this is all the more reason that entrepreneurial authors need an affordable way to access a version of this kind of data. If we’re going to ask them to up their business ante, it sure helps to offer them the tools they need and can afford. My special thanks, by the way, to the good folks at Bowker—particularly Henry, Carl Kulo, Phil Caine and Beth Dempsey—for their support in this coverage. Back to Table of Contents
How we are convinced finally to change is by hearing stories of other people who risked and triumphed. Not some easy triumph, either. But a hard fought one that takes every ounce of the protagonist’s inner fortitude. Because that’s what it takes in real life to leave a dysfunctional relationship, move to a new city, or quit your job. It just does.
It goes without saying—until I say it, of course—that what Bowker is really about is change. What we’re all about in publishing these days is change. “Interesting times.” We have to hope so. And in two signal articles, we find that stuff, change, being studied in parallel candor. That’s Shawn Coyne, longtime editor and business partner for Steven Pressfield, above, doing that clever swap of us for protagonists and protagonists for us. In Stories Are About Change at Pressfield’s site, Coyne retells one of the stories of remarkable escape from the Twin Towers and goes on to question why change is so hard on us.
I think it is because change requires loss. And the prospect of loss is far more powerful than potential gain. It’s difficult to imagine what a change will do to us. This is why we need stories so desperately.
We cling to our rituals and discipline as firmly (and as desperately) as any major league pitcher on a winning streak, and often with as much deeply held belief that they are the only thing allowing us to get words on the page or to make progress toward our dreams and aspirations.
LaFevers is exploring the strange way we morph supposedly beneficial routine and and pattern into the traps of magical thinking.
For those of us trying to walk a creative path, it’s important we don’t mistake the deep wagon ruts we’ve created as a bona fide guaranteed path to success, or even happiness. Sometimes they are just that—ruts.
More clarity, please. It can be so hard to get an honest take on this. So, writes LaFevers:
We get quiet and we listen. To ourselves. To our work. To the universe. And we especially listen to our heart. Our minds can trick us with rationalization and intellectual reasoning, but an artist’s truth tends to reside in her heart.
And then, says Coyne, we remember to carry what we learn back to characterization, too:
We need stories to temper our anxieties, either as supporting messages to stay as we are or inspiring road maps to get us to take a chance. Experiencing stories that tell the tale of protagonists for whom we can empathize gives us the courage to examine our own lives and change them.
— Sebastian Posth (@sposth) August 12, 2013
Oh to be a data analyst at Amazon. I would do all the maths and then tell all the world.
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) August 12, 2013
If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers.
September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. The Publishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin). Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.
September 26 London (Southbank Centre): The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference. “Building an international children’s publishing company in an internet age…current and future technologies that are driving change in children’s market…a whistle-stop overview of the market using Nielsen BookScan sales data. Are the biggest writers continuing to dominate? Are sticker books still selling? And what’s up with YA?” More information. (Hashtag: #kidsconf13)
September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers include: Jon Fine, Nina Amir, Philip Athans, James Scott Bell, Lisa Cron, Eric DelaBarre, and more. The program this year includes boot camp sessions, a one-day self-publishing conference, and the regular conference with agent pitch slam. (Hashtag: #WDCW13) Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.
September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest’s Screenwriters World Conference West: “Scribes from around the world unite at Screenwriters World, the annual destination for both professional and aspiring screenwriters to come together to discuss the craft, share ideas, and network with fellow creatives.” Speakers include Erik Bork, Ruth Atkinson, Josie Brown, Karl Iglesias, Jeanne V. Bowerman, and more. The schedule this year includes optional boot camp sessions. (Hashtag: #SWCW13) Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.
October 8 Frankfurt Book Fair: CONTEC Conference: “A new, highly-engaging event experience created by the Frankfurt Academy to address the complexity of the needs of today’s publishing business. CONTEC gathers stakeholders from across the publishing ecosystem – from STM and trade publishers to service providers and tech startups – in one arena to redefine and redesign the experience of publishing.” Save 20% on registration with code CONTEC13KPTW20 at checkout.
October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.
October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time this year by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by Hypothes.is and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and Craig Mod.
November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available.
February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops. An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents. And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”
Not that Baldur Bjarnason is ever reticent to speak his mind, his Make ebooks worth it is one of the clearest statements this Icelandic expatriate has made yet about his concern for how ebooks are developing in the market today.
We are facing the very real risk of limiting ebooks to the role, market position, and capabilities of mass market paperbacks. Remove paperbacks. Add ebooks. Keep the overall system the same with few changes, maybe a bit of consolidation.
This is what a lot of people and companies in publishing want and it would be a tragedy of massive proportions; the biggest lost opportunity in the history of digital media.
So, Baldur, you ask, what would make ebooks worth it?
Among other things, he wants to see “a diversity of new modes of reading…a wealth of new tools for reading and writing that are impossible in print…democratised tools of publishing…”
On that last point, he writes:
It’s still too difficult to create good looking ebooks and distribute them widely.
Don’t get criticism of Bezos – having built up multi-billion dollar company, book industry’s issue is they currently only have one of him…
— Tom Chalmers (@Tom_Chalmers) August 12, 2013
We might check in with Dawson and other entrepreneurial self-publishers to see how many agree with him on that.
It won’t be worth it if all of the platforms keep offering only one business model for ebooks.
His basic point is that the digital dynamic that drove ebooks into our lives has a lot more to offer than mere replacement of the print books in our backpacks and briefcases.
It won’t be worth it if the platforms keep every reader’s contributions, notes, and highlights under lock and key.
Bjarnason’s litany of comments is well worth your time in contemplating not where we’ve been but where we’re going.
It won’t be worth it if we all switch away from ebooks to the web in a couple of years time because they just don’t do what we need.
Am thinking of Asimovian robots in contrast with cloud AI and drones. The latter seeming to quite rule out the former.
— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) August 8, 2013
As Bowker and others track the growth of ebooks in our marketplace, it’s good to remember that annual reviews are highly valuable look-backs. Trying to keep an eye on where we’re going is the tricky part.
Ebooks are only worth the effort if they become something more than what they replace.
Bjarnason, as usual, gives us the benefit of a strong statement against which to test what we think, ourselves.
What do you say? When it comes to all the view-clarifying efforts of Bowker’s research specialists and so many in the field today, are we adequately looking for what our digital developments can do to make writing and reading something deeper and broader? Or are we settling too quickly for the idea that ebooks are just print books without paper?
Parents – learn the signs.. pic.twitter.com/uAUqyDF1Gn
— Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog) August 12, 2013
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.
Main image / iStockphoto: Boris Rabtsevich