Special Bulletin
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29 January 2018

Post-Christmas survey: Second flat year in a row but booksellers relieved after slow start x

For the second year in a row, Christmas sales were ‘about the same’ for a majority of booksellers (69%), according to the results of Books+Publishing’s annual post-Christmas survey.

Overall sales results were almost identical to what was recorded for Christmas 2016, with just 19% of booksellers reporting a jump in sales, and 12% reporting a sales drop. The two years of flat sales come after a strong 2015 Christmas selling season, when sales were up for 90% of booksellers.

Books+Publishing received feedback from representatives of over 100 bookshops around Australia for its annual post-Christmas survey. The response from many booksellers matched the careful optimism most booksellers reported prior to Christmas, with a strong final week making up for a weak November and December.

‘While Christmas was similar to the prior year overall for the Dymocks network, we were pleased with that result given a very slow start to December and prevailing headwinds in retail generally,’ said Dymocks head of merchandise and marketing Sophie Higgins.

Heather Dyer from Fairfield Books in Melbourne summed up the feelings of a number of high-street booksellers who were nervous heading into Christmas. ‘We had a poor 2016 so when December started slowly I feared we were in for a bad Christmas, but I was pleased in the end,’ said Dyer.

Tim White from Melbourne specialist store Books for Cooks said sales were ‘generally up’ but noted that wild weather days in December ‘had a marked effect’ on sales.

Three-quarters of booksellers described Christmas as ‘ok’, with the remaining responses split between ‘good’ (11%), ‘excellent’ (seven percent) and ‘disappointing’ (seven percent).

Publishers can anticipate similar returns to last year, with 95% of booksellers expecting returns to be ‘about the same’. Four percent said returns would be lower and another one percent said they would be higher.

Related stories

Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume up; Jamie Oliver tops the bestsellers
The books: Harper leads strong local offering
Publishers’ perspectives
Supply: Frustrated booksellers call for industry strategy

 

 

Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume up; Jamie Oliver tops the bestsellers x

Value and volume sales were up in both the 12-week and four-week periods leading to 23 December 2017, compared to the same periods in 2016.

The volume of books sold was up 4.2% to 18.55m units in the 12 weeks from 1 October, and value was up 4.9% over the same period to $351.25m (from $334.80m in 2016).

Growth were similarly strong in the final four weeks, with 9.79m units sold—up 4.5% on 2016; and the value of books sold was up six percent to $189.64m (from $178.95m in 2016).

The biggest category jump came in adult nonfiction, which was up seven percent in volume and 10% in value. The other two categories also saw growth, albeit marginal: adult fiction was up 2.8% in volume and 1.9% in value; while children’s was up 3.5% in volume and 2.5% in value.

However, the year-on-year comparison is skewed slightly by the introduction of sales data from Book Depository, Fishpond and Australian Geographic into Nielsen BookScan’s book sales panel, which commenced in the week ending 9 December 2017. As reported in the pre-Christmas survey, this introduction resulted in a significant increase in that week compared to 2016 sales.

This year’s chart figures also reflect combined trade and academic book sales figures in 2017 and applied retroactively to 2016, as part of Nielsen’s move to merge the two book sales panels.

The top-selling titles in the four weeks before Christmas were:

Overall

  • 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)
  • The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley)
  • The Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  • Bad Dad (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  • The Midnight Line (Lee Child, Bantam)

Fiction

  • The Midnight Line (Lee Child, Bantam)
  • Darker (E L James, Arrow)
  • Origin (Dan Brown, Bantam)
  • The Red Coast (Di Morrissey, Macmillan)
  • The Rooster Bar (John Grisham, Hachette)

Nonfiction

  • 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)
  • The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley)
  • Working Class Man (Jimmy Barnes, HarperCollins)
  • Guinness World Records 2018 (Guinness World Records)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson, Macmillan)

Children’s

  • The Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  • Bad Dad (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  • The 91-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan)
  • Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend, Hachette)
  • No One Likes a Fart (Zoe Foster Blake, Viking)
 

Publishers’ perspectives x

Christmas sales in 2017 were better than expected for three quarters of Australian publishers surveyed in Books+Publishing’s annual post-Christmas survey, with the remaining respondents reporting sales were ‘close to expectations’.

For the majority of publishers (75%), Christmas sales were up on 2016, following a late surge, a trend which also occurred in 2015 and 2016, and which a number of publishers were expecting this year.

The strong performance of local titles was a notable trend. ‘We had more Australian titles performing strongly across all categories this year—we had great success across our local fiction, nonfiction and kids lists,’ said Allen & Unwin group sales and marketing director Jim Demetriou.

Growth in the independent bookselling sector was highlighted by some of the surveyed publishers, both big and small, as a positive outcome this year. ‘Our growth came mostly via the chains and independents which was great to see,’ said Simon & Schuster managing director Dan Ruffino. Ventura Press director Jane Curry echoed the sentiment: ‘We were significantly up from 2016—with great traction in the independent bookshop sector.’

While there were some reports of stock issues with ‘one or two’ titles, the overall tone of the responses indicated publishers felt satisfied with stock and supply this Christmas, although one respondent admitted it under-printed and ‘sold out of a number of key titles in the weeks before Christmas’.

Ebook sales held up fairly well over Christmas for major publishers—in line with previous years—but fluctuated wildly across smaller presses. The market share of ebook sales this Christmas at major publishers ranged from 15% to 20%, although Ruffino noted ebook sales tended to be more significant in the period directly after Christmas. Smaller publishers reported anything from ‘less than one percent’ to eight percent.

Allen & Unwin’s Christmas was boosted by strong local performers, including titles by former Miles Franklin award-winners Michelle de Kretser (The Life to Come) and Sofie Laguna (The Choke). Michael Connelly’s Two Kinds of Truth, Steve Smith’s The Journey and Roland Perry’s Monash & Chauvel rounded out the publisher’s top five titles.

Hardie Grant recorded ‘solid sales from a large range of titles’, including Insta-poetry, food and drink, middle-grade fiction and adult nonfiction. Its bestsellers included Renovating for Profit (Cherie Barber), Milk and Honey (Rupi Kaur), Explore Australia by Camper Trailer (Lee Atkinson), Tales from a Tall Forest (Shaun Micallef) and Minecraft Survival Sticker Book.

Hachette was ‘particularly pleased’ this year with its Australian titles, said joint managing director Louise Sherwin-Stark, especially from its children’s and nonfiction lists. Standouts included Peter FitzSimons’ Burke and Wills, Jessica Townsend’s middle-grade fantasy Nevermoor and Ben McKelvey’s memoir The Commando. International fiction by heavy hitters John Grisham and Stephen King and Owen King were other highlights.

A mix of nonfiction, key fiction and children’s titles sold well for Pan Macmillan, whose Christmas sales were led by Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k and Jane Harper’s second novel, Force of Nature. The Guinness World Records 2018, The Red Coast (Di Morrissey) and The 91-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton) rounded out Pan Macmillan’s top five titles.

Penguin Random House reported its strong performers came from ‘right across the board’. Its bestsellers include 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Jamie Oliver), The Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney), The Midnight Line (Lee Child), Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Cavilli & Francesca Cavallo) and Sanctuary (Judy Nunn).

Nonfiction was ‘easily’ the strongest category for Simon & Schuster, said managing director Dan Ruffino, with Maggie’s Recipe for Life (Maggie Beer & Ralph Martins) leading the publisher’s bestsellers. It was followed by The Sun and Her Flowers (Rupi Kaur), Principles: Life and Work (Ray Dalio), Crush Catastrophe: Dork Diaries (Rachel Renee Russell) and In the Midst of Winter (Isabel Allende).

While Simon & Schuster experienced no significant stock issues, Ruffino noted that ‘some customers just didn’t have enough stock of key titles and left it too late to get more’. Reduced budgets from some of the discount department stores ‘at the worst possible time of the year’ also had an impact on sales.

Christmas sales were ‘better than expected’ for a number of smaller publishers who responded to the post-Christmas survey. Text reported a growth of 20%-30% in sales on 2016 and ‘some unexpected surges in demand’, said publisher Michael Heyward, but ‘we worked hard to stay ahead of [it]’. Bestsellers included Tinkering by John Clarke, Two Steps Forward (Graeme Simsion & Anne Buist), The Trauma Cleaner (Sarah Krasnostein) and two hardcover Helen Garner collections, True Stories and Stories.

For Ventura Press, Christmas sales were ‘significantly up from 2016’ by about 30%. ‘We deliberately did not have a “big book” and pleasingly our sales were up across all categories,’ said director Jane Curry. Fiction and memoir in particular performed well, and the publisher’s bestselling titles were The Better Son (Katherine Johnson), In Two Minds (Gordon Parker) and Everyday Ethics (Simon Longstaff).

Curry said that despite Ventura’s decision to not publish ‘big books’ this year, intelligent marketing into the Christmas market, as well as support from ‘the Simon & Schuster sales team and booksellers’ throughout the year, resulted in an excellent Christmas season.

 

 

The books: Jane Harper leads strong local offering x

There was a strong showing from local authors in booksellers’ most-mentioned bestsellers across fiction, nonfiction and children’s.

Jane Harper topped the most-mentioned fiction title list, ahead of UK author Philip Pullman in second and US crime author Lee Child in third. Peter Carey’s A Long Way from Home (Hamish Hamilton) was the pick of the season’s big-name local literary authors, and the fourth most-mentioned fiction title. After topping the most-mentioned nonfiction list in 2016’s post-Christmas survey, sales of the bestselling The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley) continued apace over the 2017 Christmas period. In children’s, local middle-grade title Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend, Hachette) was the second most-mentioned title, behind only Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, Particular Books).

‘Australian literary fiction did really well, but that’s because there was plenty of choice of [local] big-name authors this year, unlike the previous two or three years,’ reported Heather Dyer from Fairfield Books.

Several booksellers had a positive spin on how the internet and online shopping were changing the way customers shopped in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Tim White from Books for Cooks noted the ubiquity of mobile phones. ‘Every request for a title was accompanied by their phone being thrust forward with the picture,’ said White. ‘No one mentioned Amazon local; instead, there were strong references to shop local and support local bookstores.’

For Bill Concannon at Mary Ryan’s in Milton, customers seemed to be enjoying the ‘lifestyle feeling of the Book Shop Coffee Shop’. ‘We also own the Milton post office, and customers collecting parcels from online sales did additional shopping while in the store,’ said Concannon, adding that customer counts were up.

A Sydney store said customer inquiries for ‘specific and difficult-to-source books increased’ once the Amazon shipping deadlines for Christmas closed.

For Peter Halicki at Collins Wagga Wagga, promoting specific titles has never been more important. ‘Almost nothing sells unless it has been promoted in some way,’ said Halicki. ‘Hand selling is harder these days due to staff costs but is still the best way to sell a book in store. This year, I almost doubled my staff from three to five to maximise every selling opportunity.’

A handful of stores mentioned that Richard Flanagan’s First Person and Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Man were surprising leftovers; however, the few other titles mentioned were one-offs to a particular store, and included a mix of fiction, nonfiction and kids’ books.

Most-mentioned titles

Fiction

  • Force of Nature and The Dry (Jane Harper, Macmillan)
  • La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One (Phillip Pullman, Penguin)
  • The Midnight Line (Lee Child, Bantam Press)
  • A Long Way From Home (Peter Carey, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Manhattan Beach (Jennifer Egan, Hachette)

Nonfiction

  • The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley)
  • 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson, Macmillan)
  • Burke and Wills (Peter FitzSimons, Hachette)

Children’s

  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, Particular Books)
  • Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend, Hachette)
  • The Getaway: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  • Bad Dad (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  • The 91-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, Pan)
 

Supply: Frustrated booksellers call for industry strategy x

For many booksellers, addressing the trade’s issues with delivery and availability is becoming more important with Amazon’s arrival, with stores frustrated by unreliable supply threatening their relationships with customers.

Sophie Higgins said a number of Dymocks’ East Coast stores didn’t receive top-up orders placed on the weekend of 16-17 December before the next Friday. ‘With rents ever increasing and back rooms increasingly small as a result, stores need to be able to reliably expect stock to arrive within three business days of an order being placed of items in stock,’ said Higgins. ‘It is just imperative that we all focus on this in the coming year.’

Higgins added that ‘very little seemed to be shipped between Christmas and New Year with stores placing orders on a big trading day like Boxing Day not receiving them until 5 January’. ‘We cannot compete with the likes of Amazon when it takes that long to replenish stock in key trading periods,’ said Higgins, reflecting the sentiment of the trade.

Similarly, Mark Rubbo of Readings said issues included problems with lead titles such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos (Michael Joseph) and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, Particular Books), as well as issues with short deliveries with ADS and United ‘in the last 10 days’. ‘One day United did not deliver anything—we had staff waiting around to process stock for the shelves and nothing to do,’ said Rubbo. ‘I’m sure these issues had a marked effect on sales in the last days. The industry as a whole needs to address these problems and try and find solutions.’

Other problems cited by booksellers included split deliveries and missing boxes—including customer orders, as well as damaged stock. However, the most common lament was regarding the availability of popular stock.

‘Once again, and it is getting tedious to say this every year, supply with some books was appalling,’ said Natasha Boyd from Book Bonding in Melbourne. ‘We were already out of stock of a few titles before even the first week of December. I realise the pressure on publishers to keep strict stock control especially what they get from overseas but some proven great sellers were sorely under-ordered by them.’

Peter Halicki from Collins in Wagga Wagga said he was appalled at the number of titles that ran out of stock. ‘I micromanage every title every night in the six weeks leading to Christmas to make sure we don’t run out of any titles but this is to no avail when the publishers just run out and can’t even tell us when we can expect to be supplied next,’ Halicki said, adding that the problem is worse closer to Christmas. ‘It appears everyone in the supply chain knocks off about a week before Christmas as we receive very little stock in the last two to three business days.’

 
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