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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Book industry: Big stars, steady growth
Children reading Harry Potter
Harry Potter has boosted morale in the book industry
by BBC News Online's Emma Clark

One of the biggest retail sensations over recent years has been four books charting the adventures of a young wizard.

Publisher Bloomsbury has reported a surge in recent profits, thanks to sales generated by Harry Potter.

Harry's success story is the stuff of every publisher's dreams.

Peter Carey's 'True History of the Kelly Gang'
Carey's Booker win is set to become a bestseller
Increasingly, publishing companies are trying to understand how to create a bestseller and, as a result, are spending more energy marketing fewer titles.

No doubt Faber, the publisher of the new Booker Prize winner, Peter Carey's "True History of the Kelly Gang", will be ramping up its marketing machine for another big push.

"Big books have got bigger," says Ian Taylor, a director at the Publishers Association.

"Publishers like big books. They sell well and give you muscle at the book shops in the battle for window space and other things."

Steady growth

The industry itself grows by only a few percentage points each year.

The book industry supports steady growth

According to Whitaker BookTrack, 628.5m was made from the UK general book market - excluding sales on the internet, in the airport and at university shops - in the year to 6 October.

This is only about 10m more than was made in the same period last year.

Despite slow growth, the book market is managing to squeeze a little more value out of the books it sells, without increasing the volume sold.

Since 1999, about 88 million books have been consistently sold each year while profits crept up.

Impact of US attacks

In the UK, the market has also responded robustly to the attacks on New York last month.

In the week of the attacks the amount of books sold shot up to 182,078 from 93,757 the previous week, says Whitaker.

Sales of Nostradamus
Wk ending 25/8:
2 sales (14.38)
Wk ending 1/9:
16 sales (140.24)
Wk ending 2/9:
2 sales (14.38)
Wk ending 15/9:
102 sales (913.38)
Wk ending 22/9:
238 sales (2,135.12)
Wk ending 29/9:
477 sales (4,243.23)
Source: Whitaker BookTrack

Although the jump was in line with seasonal trends, it demonstrated that British consumers continued to buy books.

The events, however, did influence which books were bought, as maps and tomes on Afghanistan fell off the shelves.

Whitaker's Richard Knight says Nostradamus - whose cryptic 16th century poetry is claimed to contain information about the future - became an overnight success.

At the end of August, two copies of his work were sold a week, a figure that increased to as much as 477 a week at the end of September, according to Whitaker data.


Over recent years the book market has got increasingly competitive with the arrival of new upstarts, such as supermarkets and internet retailers.

Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, says "price competition between different types of booksellers" is one of the key challenges facing the industry.

During the late 1990s, supermarkets started stocking books, choosing to sell a large number of a few bestsellers.

As part of their strategy, the supermarkets knock between 33-50% off the sale price as a result of mass deals negotiated with publishers.

Such competition has particularly incensed the small independent booksellers who have been unable to purchase books even from wholesalers at the price that supermarkets are charging.

"Some independent booksellers are even resorting to buying their stock from the supermarkets," says Mr Godfray. rivals

Internet retailers are viewed with less animosity by traditional booksellers following the crash, but are still a force to be reckoned with.

Novelist, Stephen King
Stephen King pulled his second ebook

Amazon, which claims it is on track to profitability, has been increasing its reach through a number of strategic deals, including partnerships with Borders and Waterstone's.

There are also moves in the industry to embrace electronic books.

However, Stephen King's high-profile experiment with ebooks was shelved after not enough people paid to download his second online novel, The Plant.


Until recently, technology research firm IDC was extremely bullish about electronic publishing and predicted that the US market for digital books would grow from $9m in 2000 to $414m in 2004.

It hasn't really taken off here. I find my eyes get tired very easily when I am using a reader

Tim Godfray
Booksellers Association

The company is now revising its forecast downwards.

But IDC believes that reduced publishing costs and the ability to download several novels onto a handheld "reader" will drive demand.

However, the Booksellers Association's Mr Godfray says that ebooks have not yet had a significant impact on the UK industry.

"It hasn't really taken off here. I find my eyes get tired very easily when I am using a reader.

"I use them on the train and if the light changes when the train turns a corner, it's difficult to read."

Good morale

Despite increasing competition, Mr Taylor from the Publishers Association believes morale in the industry is fairly high.

"Most publishers are fed up of hearing about Harry Potter, but it has [nonetheless] been the retail sensation of the last few years," he says.

"Not a video or a computer game, but a book. That cheers everyone up."

Harry Potter and other bestsellers certainly prove that the great British public is far from growing tired of the printed book.

And despite the recent shocks to consumer confidence, the industry is also feeling upbeat about the upcoming Christmas season.

See also:

18 Oct 01 | Business
WH Smith sells more newspapers
26 Sep 01 | Business
Harry Potter brings wizard sales
24 Jul 01 | Business
Amazon's quest for profit
26 Jul 01 | Business
Amazon in Waterstone's deal
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
The world in your hands
21 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Ebook awards herald new age
28 Aug 00 | Business
IT giants in e-book deal
31 Mar 00 | Business
Pearson buys Dorling Kindersley
15 Sep 99 | The Company File
New chapter opens in online publishing
23 Oct 98 | Your Money
Book boom nets e-commerce
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