In past articles, I’ve frequently commented that the market for books is only one element of a much broader market – that for entertainment as a whole. Books compete with movies, TV programs and series, computer games, etc. for a share of the consumer’s entertainment dollar. Increasingly, books are getting the short end of that stick – and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse.
I know that most of us who read and write here are bibliophiles. We love books, we read them, we write them, and some of us even obsess over them. It’s hard (and painful) to realize that we’re in a small minority compared to the general public. Regular readers appear to be only a small percentage of the general population, and may be a diminishing percentage.
If you doubt that, let the numbers tell the tale. Last year, the electronic games industry raked in more money than movies and sports combined.
With a year full of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns due to the coronavirus, video game revenue worldwide is expected to rise 20% to $179.7 billion by the end of 2020, making the global industry bigger than the sports and movies industries combined, according to the International Data Corporation.
The movie industry reached $100 billion in revenue in 2019 … Sports are predicted to gross an estimated $75 billion by the end of the year, with declines associated with the loss of live attendance revenue due to pandemic restrictions.
New consoles, hardware, software and the latest accessories all contributed to the global rise in video game sales, with U.S. consumer spending on the sector rising 22% in the first 11 months of the year to $44.5 billion. November’s release of the long-awaited Sony Playstation 5 and the new Microsoft Xbox boosted hardware sales 58%.
There’s more at the link.
By contrast, worldwide book sales last year (print, electronic and audio) are estimated to have reached only $12.32 billion. That’s:
- Less than 7% of annual video games revenue;
- Less than 13% of annual movie revenue;
- Less than 17% of annual sports revenue.
We’ve seen massive consolidation throughout the publishing industry over the past few decades. Until last year, we spoke of the “Big Five” publishing houses: but 2020 saw the sale of Simon & Schuster, one of the biggest US publishing houses, to one of its biggest rivals, Penguin Random House. Both will now fall under the umbrella of German publishing giant Bertelsmann. The publishing industry is already bracing for the fallout.
Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House are two of the largest publishers in the world. A merger between both companies would possibly mean fewer book deals for lesser-known authors and agents.
Literary agent David Kuhn told the Times, “There are projects that would have sold for $150,000 years ago that might not sell at all now to the big five, whereas the book that would have sold for $500,000 might go for a million,” he said. “They would rather go in bigger for the thing that they have the most consensus on.”
“For certain books, there will be only four possible customers, down from five,” Logical Company CEO Mike Shatzkin told The Times. “It’s another sign of how the trade publishing ecosystem has weakened.”
Again, more at the link.
So the Big Five are now (or soon to be) the Big Four. How long will it take before ongoing consolidation reduces the market for authors even further?
In a COVID-19 world, the implications for bibliophiles are not good.
Still, the ongoing impact of the economic crisis has many authors, publishers and booksellers worried. With millions of Americans out of work, books may become an out-of-reach luxury, as discretionary spending falls. Likewise, many independent bookstores, a critical outlet for authors and publishers for driving discovery of new books, are at risk of having to close permanently. Amazon, meanwhile, may emerge from the crisis with an even greater market share of book sales. And it seems unlikely that the industry will fully recover until schools are able to hold book fairs, literary festivals and trade shows resume, classroom materials are once again needed for teachers and students, and bookstores are able to hold in-store events with authors — all of which seem like far-off prospects.
“Are we going to go back to in-person author events? Not immediately,” said Kristen McLean, the executive director of business development for NPD Books. “What does book culture look like in the post-Covid period?”
Here at Mad Genius Club, we’ve moved away from focusing on the business of publishing to try to provide more entertaining reading for our visitors. Nevertheless, we’re all in that business, one way or another, either as vendors or as consumers. It behooves us to keep a watchful eye on it, because what’s happening there will filter through to all of us sooner or later.
I’d like to throw this open to readers. How have you found the book market, as writers or as readers, over the past year? Have new books captured your interest? If so, which books, and why? Have you found more, or less, that you want to read among new books? Are you turning to old favorites, or searching through favorite authors’ backlists, rather than try new authors? I’ve been doing a lot of that, because many of the new books hyped in Amazon newsletters and other publications are “woke” – often by feminist or progressive authors, filled with modern tropes, and having little or nothing to do with reality. I don’t react well to such books, as I’m sure most of us here don’t. That being the case, what are you reading, and why? Is your book budget as good as it was, or has it declined?
Let’s keep each other informed. We’ll all benefit.