Publishing industry reports over the past year have cited sluggish book sales, with figures declining month after month. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, book sales fell 4.3 percent from January to April alone. The landscape seems gloomy indeed. Judging by these reports, book retailers are shutting their doors due to the lack of sufficient business and publishing houses have tightened the reins on their finances. As a result, some publishers are increasingly reluctant to offer deals in the record numbers they did just a short while ago.
Other figures indicate a much brighter industry picture, however. For one thing, there are more than 86,000 publishing companies on record. These include not only the handful of large, traditional publishing houses, but also mid-sized and small publishers, as well as self-publishers. In addition, the Book Industry Group reports that more than 3.1 billion books were sold in 2005, up 5.9 percent from 2004, with revenues exceeding $34.6 billion. And Para Publishing notes that anywhere from 8,000 to 11,000 publishing companies are established each year.
Sluggish sales or not, book publishing remains a billion-dollar industry. The current edition of Target Market News’s “The Buying Power of that Black America” shows Black households alone spent some $267 million on books in 2004. Book Expo America, the biggest annual event serving the book market worldwide, this year boasted the largest presence of Black book publishers and industry professionals in the event’s history. Blacks accounted for more than 16 percent of the attendees, representing a 1 percent increase over 2006 and an impressive 14 percent increase from 2004. The event’s African-American Pavilion, which was founded by Tony Rose, publisher and CEO of Amber Communications Group, and Adrienne Ingrum, of Adrienne Ingrum L.L.C., has grown considerably since its inception in 2004, increasing the wider industry’s awareness of the African-American book market. “Establishing a presence at Book Expo America was important because there was no presence before,” Rose says.
Though the presence and roles in Black book marketing have gained considerable ground, sales in this segment remain unaccounted for within the traditional methods large companies use for tracking. The idea of an increasing number of publishers producing more titles while fewer sales are being reported therefore raises the question: How accurate are the reports that track book sales? Based on the industry’s standard tracking methods and information from the traditional group of reporting retailers, the reports seem accurate. But who is tracking all the sales that are taking place outside the scope of traditional radars? What about sales through unconventional channels, such as book fairs, events, the Internet and direct sales to customers? These and many other nontraditional sales conduits represent a slice of the market that has yet to be measured and accounted for. With nearly 86,000 publishers nationwide, is it even possible to obtain accurate estimates?
The independent market, especially self-publishing entrepreneurs, is claiming a growing slice of the bookselling marketing place. Innovation and agility have allowed these entrepreneurs to circumvent traditional selling methods and in the process experience sales growth at a phenomenal rate. With bureaucracy removed, implementing out-of-the-box strategies and using unconventional sales channels to reach their markets allow smaller publishers to turn higher profits in shorter periods of time. “Many ... large companies have African-American editors but lack a Black presence in the areas of sales, marketing, promotions and publicity. As a result, they don’t necessarily know the audience or understand how to reach them,” Rose says.
New tracking methods eventually may help capture those sales that go undetected by traditional radars, while diverse staffing can help larger houses capitalize on the growth of new market sectors.
Author Renée Daniel Flagler has written many articles about business. She may be reached at www.reneedanielflagler.com.
By Renée Daniel Flagler