This headline may not come as a revelation to many booksellers, but for those still taken in by the likes of David Carr, and by recent statements around Independent Booksellers Week in the UK implying that the Big Five are friends of the little high street booksellers, here is some new perspective on current developments that really show how publishers are jumping into the Amazon/e-book camp, and deserting the print book retailers they purport to defend.

Quoted recently in Britain’s The Bookseller, Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Big Five player Hachette UK, stated in his annual letter to authors that combined online print and e-book sales now made up almost 50 percent of his company’s trade sales.

Journalistic and reader attention naturally focused on the subsidiary data that e-books were now responsible for some 30 percent of overall fiction sales, rising to 50 percent for some authors and genres, but perhaps a more interesting statistic was revealed elsewhere about the sales and revenue patterns for Hachette UK from its e-book and online sales, versus its traditional print sales.

As cited by Rogers, Coleridge & White agent David Miller, Hely Hutchinson stated that Hachette UK “used to have to print 10,000s, but I can get an economical print run now with 1,500 copies, so we can keep the stock low, and wait to see which formats the books are selling in.”

That rather undercuts the arguments of David Carr and others that the publishing giants, and with them, bookstores and books per se, are being threatened by Amazon’s inroads into their revenue base. But if you combine that statement with the other sales patterns already instanced above, you can see very clearly where publishers are going to concentrate their efforts in future.

Miller went on to share some figures of his own. Quoting his recent royalty statements in The Bookseller article, he pointed out “that the income earned from e-books was greater than their share of sales.” One hardback release he mentioned saw 40 percent of total income generated by e-book sales that accounted for just 23 percent of total copies sold. And for one trade paperback title, 33 percent of total income came from e-book sales that amounted to only 14 percent of copies sold.

“In short, the greater the proportion sold in ebook, the greater the income for the publisher,” Miller concluded. He utilized these figures to argue for a higher royalty for e-book sales for authors. But they make far more persuasive, and sobering, evidence that relative revenue yields are going to push publishers ever more strongly towards e-book and online book sales, and away from bricks-and-mortar and print.

“Publishing still seems to hit a brick wall when it comes to digital,” Miller claimed. “More is sold digitally, but we still don’t know how to publish digitally.”

Well in fact, from the sound of it, publishers seem to be doing very nicely out of digital, now that they’ve got over their fear and envy of Amazon, and can see how the system can be made to work for them. But no one, and least of all the Booksellers Association or The Bookseller itself, should believe them when they next try to defend their position and privileges by claiming that they are the last friends and allies of the retail booksellers and the printed book. Self-interest and revenue margins are going to push them in completely the opposite direction.


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