Australian market overview
For the past few years the Australian retail book market has been posting marginal growth (‘flat is the new up’ is a common catch-cry).
In 2018, Nielsen BookScan reported that 61.1 million trade and academic books, worth $1.18 billion, were sold in Australia, with like-for-like growth up 1.3% in volume and 1.4% in value on the previous year. These figures do not include ebooks and audiobooks, as their sales aren’t tracked in Australia in any reliable way.
It is estimated that ebook sales make up around 15-20% of the market in Australia, although this can vary greatly between genres. Similar to other English-language markets, ebook sales appear to have plateaued in recent years—at least within traditional trade publishing. Meanwhile, audiobooks continue to grow in popularity, with more Australian publishers converting their lists to meet the current demand.
The top 10 bestsellers in Australia in 2018 were a mix of local and international titles. The top-selling title for the second year running was Australian author Scott Pape’s guide to household finance, The Barefoot Investor (Wiley). Other local titles to make the top 10 were Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s junior fiction The 104-Storey Treehouse (Pan), Liane Moriarty’s adult fiction Nine Perfect Strangers (Macmillan), Scott Pape’s follow-up book The Barefoot Investor for Families (HarperCollins) and Heather Morris’ historical fiction The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Echo).
Top 10 bestsellers in Australia in 2018
- The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) 524,096 copies
- The 104-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan) 268,376
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson, Macmillan) 227,522
- Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan) 214,145
- The Barefoot Investor for Families (Scott Pape, HarperCollins) 168,761
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo) 144,618
- The Meltdown: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) 143,215
- Past Tense: Jack Reacher (Lee Child, Bantam) 121,970
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman, HarperCollins) 111,240
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan B Peterson, Allen Lane) 106,301
With the adult colouring book boom behind us, one of the biggest trends in the Australian book market has been the growth of personal development titles—in particular, practical advice on personal finance, relationships, health and self-improvement. According to Nielsen BookScan, the personal development category was up by over 80% in 2017 and is now worth close to $40 million. The runaway success has been The Barefoot Investor by Australian finance writer and commentator Scott Pape. First published in November 2016, The Barefoot Investor holds the record for the top-selling nonfiction title since Nielsen began tracking Australian book sales in December 2002, with nearly one million Australians owning a copy.
The other big trend in the Australian book market has been the success—both locally and internationally—of Australian crime fiction. While Australia has a strong history in crime writing—think bestselling, prize-winning authors such as Peter Temple and Michael Robotham—a new crop of (mostly) debut authors has lit up the scene, including Jane Harper (The Dry, Force of Nature, Pan), Sarah Bailey (The Dark Lake, A&U), Emma Viskic (Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, Echo), Chris Hammer (Scrublands, A&U) and Christian White (The Nowhere Child, Affirm). Their titles have become bestsellers locally, as well as selling into multiple overseas territories and attracting the attention of film and TV producers.
Book numbers up slightly, growth in mid-sized publishers
In 2017, 4078 different publishing entities in Australia produced 22,832 new titles, according to figures extracted from ISBN records added to Bowker’s Books in Print. While the number of publishing entities was down from 4247 in 2016, the number of new titles rose slightly from 22,144. These figures include both print and ebook editions, which have different ISBNs.
At the big end of town, 28 publishers produced over 100 titles in 2017. This figure has remained relatively stable over the past few years. Another 100 publishers produced between 20 and 99 titles (up from 91 the previous year) and 96 produced between 11 and 20 titles (up from 91). At the smaller end, 1371 publishers produced two to five books and another 2264 publishers produced just one book in 2017. Many of these are likely to be self-publishers.
When it comes to formats, print continues to dominate the market. Paperback titles made up half of all formats published in 2017 and hardback titles made up another 10%. Both formats were up by a couple of percentage points from 2016.
Ebooks and other digital formats made up 18%, down from 23% in 2016 and a market high of 29% in 2013. It is possible there was a spike in digital formats in 2013 as a number of publishers began to release ebook editions of their backlist titles.
CD/DVD formats maintained a 15% share in 2017 after increasing steadily from a low of 4% in 2013. This category includes MP3 and digital audiobooks.
Legislation and politics
The end of 2017 saw the arrival of Amazon’s Australian store, with its first local fulfillment centre opening several months earlier. The company also launched its Prime subscription service in Australia in 2018. These inroads into the Australian market have been met with wariness by local booksellers whose businesses have been threatened by the online retailer’s growing monopoly.
After several years of lobbying from local booksellers, the Australian government introduced a 10% goods and services tax (GST) on low-value goods purchased from online overseas retailers in mid-2018. Previously, online imports under A$1000 were exempt from the GST, which meant that most books purchased from retailers such as Amazon were tax-free.
Amazon initially responded to the change by blocking Australian consumers from purchasing items from its international websites, with local shoppers redirected to the company’s less comprehensive Australian site. However, the company has since reversed its decision and confirmed it will collect GST on overseas purchases.