Adult Trade Publishing

Accounting for only a quarter of total book industry revenues, the adult trade segment has nonetheless been the measure of the industry’s health and future prospects.

While observers agonize over annual growth rates and what is assumed to be a shrinking piece of the personal entertainment pie, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that by itself, the U.S. adult trade segment would constitute the world’s largest book publishing market.

In their essay on trade publishing appearing in Book Industry Trends 2007, Stephanie Oda and Glenn Sanislo cover all the usual talking points:

  1. Can publishing survive a year without blockbusters like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code?
  2. Will books be able to compete with other forms of entertainment and win the hearts and minds of increasingly distracted and time-pressed consumers?
  3. Who among the publishers will win the war for shelf-space, and how do you compete against a retailer like Barnes & Noble, who is also a publisher?
  4. Where will the digitization of content lead, and can publishers find a way to monetize it?

No concrete answers to these questions were offered by the authors or the industry heavyweights they interviewed. They did note, however, that publishers were coming out with new large print formats to accommodate the failing eyesight of middle aged Baby Boomers, establishing beachheads in China, and launching new religious imprints.

These aren’t insignificant developments, but, far more important in the long run, are recent efforts by the major trade houses to utilize Web 2.0 technology, including the promotion of mid-list authors through “virtual book tours” and self-sustaining web pages, and voting schemes to judge the popularity of unsolicited manuscripts from the slush pile. And while there is currently no successful business model for the sale of e-books in the trade, the digitization of publisher backlists ensures that they will be ready for any application (e-books or web-based) that may come down the pike.

So what kind of year did adult trade publishing have in 2006?

According to the Book Industry Study Group, the adult trade segment generated $9.18 billion in sales in 2006, an increase of 3.9% over 2005. BISG is projecting a 3% increase for 2007, and an average increase of 2.5% for 2008-2011. Net publisher unit sales were estimated at 824 million copies in 2006, a 1.7% increase over 2005. BISG projects increases of less than 0.5% or less for 2007-2011. Average dollars per unit was 11.1 in 2006, with projected increases every year up to 12.4 in 2011.

The split of net publisher dollar sales by channel in 2006 was—

  • Domestic = $8 billion (90%)
  • Export = $338 million (4%)
  • Book Clubs = $307 million (3%)
  • Mail Order = $249 million (3%)

The split for domestic direct to retailer/consumer channels were:

  • Retailers, Mainly Books = $4.1 billion (50%)
  • Retailers, Mainly Nonbook = $2.1 billion (25%)
  • Colleges = $810 million (10%)
  • Libraries & Institutions = $742 million (9%)
  • Direct to Consumer = $301 million (4%)
  • Schools = $106 million (1%)

The last time Bowker separately tracked new title output of trade publishers was in 2005. That year, the dozen largest trade houses published 17,750 new adult titles and editions. About a third of the new books were fiction. Output of new adult trade titles has stayed remarkably consistent over the years, hovering around 17,000. Below are annual output totals for the last seven years compiled from Bowker’s Books In Print database:

  • 2005 = 17,750
  • 2004 = 17,499
  • 2003 = 17,620
  • 2002 = 17,241
  • 2001 = 18,225
  • 2000 = 16,856
  • 1999 = 17,147

Also compiled from Books In Print are average list prices of the major adult trade formats in 2005:

  • Hardcovers = $27.55
  • Trade Paperbacks = $15.77
  • Mass Market Paperbacks= $7.42

According to Publishers Weekly, there were twelve adult trade hardcovers that sold at least 1 million copies in 2006. With one or two exceptions, the authors were established brands. Stephen King had two hardcovers on this short list:

  • For One More Day, by Mitch Albom. Hyperion (2,735,232)
  • The Innocent Man, by John Grisham. Doubleday (2,192,000)
  • Cross, by James Patterson. Little, Brown (1,326,197)
  • Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks. Warner (1,255,425)
  • Next, by Michael Crichton. HarperCollins (1,232,429)
  • Hanibal Rising, by Thomas Harris. Delacorte (1,200,000)
  • Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King. Scribner (1,200,000)
  • Marley & Me, by John Grogan. Morrow (1,198,015)
  • The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama. Crown (1,096,762)
  • Twelve Sharp, by Janet Evanovich. St. Martin’s (1,050,397)
  • Culture Warrior, by Bill O’Reilly. Broadway (1,014,723)
  • Cell, by Stephen King. Scribner (1,000,000)

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