Missing Readers

Missing Readers

I didn’t intend this site to be the constant bearer of bad news as it relates to reading, but I can’t help report what I find. We all know the trends. According to a   released this week by the Book Industry Study Group, the number of books being published each year continues to rise while the number of readers continues to decline.

"The number of books sold dropped by nearly 44 million between 2003 and 2004, even as the annual number of books published approaches 175,000," writes Hillel Italie of AP news. "The Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit research organization, reported estimated sales of 2.295 billion books in 2004, compared to an estimated 2.339 billion the previous year. Higher prices enabled net revenues to increase 2.8 percent, to $28.6 billion, but also drove many readers, especially students, to buy used books."

Yet, the a report issued by the group in April might run counter to the current data. It seems that many book sales may take place "under the radar." Here is a press release: "Under the Radar: A Breakthrough, In-Depth Study of the Book Industry’s Underreported Segments and Channels shows that–contrary to conventional wisdom–small and midsize publishers generate enough business in the aggregate to challenge assessments of concentration.

“Since so many smaller publishers operate under the radar of traditional tracking mechanisms, it’s been tempting in the past to think of them as “regional” or “niche,” and to assume that they’re responsible for a small fraction of book sales in the market.” said Jeff Abraham, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group. “Our new study shows that this kind of thinking won’t fly in the future.”

“Under the Radar reports that approximately 63,000 publishers with annual revenues of less than $50 million generate aggregate sales of $14.2 billion, and that a subset of that population–roughly 3,600 publishers with annual revenues of $1 million to $49.9 million–generates $11.5 billion of that amount. By comparison, the older, more visible segment of the industry measured by conventional tracking systems generates annual revenues of $23.7 billion to $28.5 billion, depending on the source of the estimate.

“Smaller publishers also have impressive track records with marketing strategies and tactics that industry giants now see as the wave of the future.

“Through its dozens of tables and charts, the new study shows that:
• Small and midsize publishers have been multiplying, and often prospering, while the largest publishing companies have been consolidating.

• Small and midsize publishers have been using routes to readers beyond the bookstore world, and often selling more books outside trade channels than within them, while the largest booksellers have been claiming more of the traditional bookstore market. More specifically, the study findings indicate that small and midsize publishers do more than 50% of their business outside book-trade channels and inside sales channels designed mainly to serve other industries that the book industry has not monitored.

“The fact that these publishers are doing billions of dollars worth of business outside trade channels sheds new light on concentration in bookselling,” said Judith Appelbaum, chair of the Book Industry Study Group’s Publications Committee and managing director of Sensible Solutions, Inc. “It could mean that people in the government, the media and various segments of the publishing industry will need to reassess their judgments.”