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OPLIN 4Cast #241: Print books checkup

Posted in 4cast

While the 4cast usually focuses on tech news, our stated interest is “headlines, topics and trends impacting public libraries” (see our masthead). Certainly one inescapable trend is that the print book industry is changing, largely as a result of changes in what/how people read. We’ve all seen lots of articles about how ebooks are making significant inroads on reading habits, and also leading to new ways of presenting reading content (like subscription books). So what’s happening with print books, that staple of the public library? Well, it looks like some segments of the business are quite healthy, while others are undergoing some tune-ups.

  • Paperback publishers quicken their pace (New York Times/Julie Bosman)  “E-books have made price an issue for publishers who are weighing the timing of a paperback. While there is often a huge gap between the cost of a new hardcover (say, $25) and its e-book edition ($13), paperbacks and e-books tend to be within a few dollars of each other, leaving many publishers to wonder if cost-conscious shoppers are reading e-books right away rather than waiting for the paperback.”
  • Despite overall decline in trade books, science fiction/fantasy will grow 3.4% in 2011 (Simba Information)  “According to the report, the science fiction/fantasy segment is gaining market share, adding half a percent in 2011 compared to 2010, as it more than triples its 1% growth rate from the past two years. ‘The sci-fi/fantasy segment has been a stable growth segment for the past few years,’ notes Michael Norris, Simba Information’s senior trade analyst. ‘Since the book market took a big hit in 2007, it has been inching closer to its previous high-point.'”
  • Print isn’t dead, says Bowker’s Annual Book Production Report (R.R. Bowker)  “In 2008, the production of non-traditional print-on-demand books surpassed traditional book publishing for the first time and since then, its growth has been staggering. Now almost 8 times the output of traditional titles, the market is dominated by a handful of publishers. In fact, the top three publishers accounted for nearly 87% of total titles produced in 2010.”
  • Print-on-demand and the future of independent publishing (PopMatters/Matthew Asprey)  [Interview with Matthew Moring, founder of Altus Press] “With each year, I think POD comes closer and closer to the same respectability as traditional publishing. It’s telling that so many mainstream authors are going this route, as are some of the old-school publishers. POD allow for the most esoteric books to see the light of day. Are we selling a million units a year? No, but there’s a long tail here… lots of things to publish for the same dollar that otherwise would be spent on a traditional publisher’s product.”

Trend fact:
Bowker’s survey of book consumers also revealed a trend that might affect all kinds of books: reading as a pastime continues to decline, with only about 57% of book buyers reporting that they read a book at least once a week.