Special Bulletin
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30 January 2019

Post-Christmas survey: Third flat year in a row, after a ‘challenging’ November x

For the third year in a row, Christmas sales were ‘about the same’ for the majority of booksellers (80%) and this was also close to what the majority (81%) had expected anyway, according to the results of Books+Publishing’s annual post-Christmas survey.

Overall sales results were similar to last year’s post-Christmas survey, with just 16% of booksellers reporting a jump in sales (compared to 19% last year), and 4% reporting a sales drop (compared to 12% in the previous year). The three years of flat sales come after a strong 2015 Christmas selling season, in which 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 optimism of booksellers that was reported prior to Christmas, in which many pointed to a strong line-up of new releases bolstering sales.

For the majority of booksellers (74%), the Christmas rush was later than last year. ‘Our growth only came in the last few days,’ reported Linda Tassone, owner of Melbourne’s Jeffreys Books, while Readings managing director Mark Rubbo noted that ‘Black Friday had detrimental impact.’

Dymocks general manager Sophie Higgins said, ‘November was very challenging, but as hoped, sales from mid-December were excellent and made up for the shortfall! It was a white-knuckle ride though. The kick does not really come until mid-December post-online order cut-off for stores; this means that publishers need to carry additional stock and increase order turnaround times for us all to gain the maximum sales benefit.’

‘On our third Christmas, it was interesting to note the same buying behaviour—relatives buying for kids tending to shop from September, and everyone else waiting until the last two weeks of December,’ reported one New South Wales bookseller.

As previously reported in the pre-Christmas survey, the vast majority of booksellers surveyed reported the delays from Harper Entertainment and Distribution Services (HEDS) as the major issue with the supply of stock, however there were some problems with other suppliers.

Obviously the Harper supply issues were a factor, with no stock of Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate, HEDS) even once they got the hot list up and running,’ said Mostly Books manager and buyer Annie Waters. Eric Idle’s memoir Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (W&N, Alliance Distribution Services) was a most-mentioned title in the pre-Christmas survey, but was not listed in the post-Christmas bestsellers. According to Waters: ‘Eric Idle going out of stock in late November and never reprinting was frustrating. Michelle Obama (Becoming, Viking, United Book Distributors) also ran out for us towards the end of the month.’

Most booksellers (88%) described Christmas as ‘good’. Publishers can anticipate similar returns to last year, with 96% of booksellers expecting returns to be ‘about the same’.

One New South Wales bookseller received a Christmas miracle: ‘Oh wow! With the other local bookshop reopening into larger premises we didn’t know what to expect this Christmas, but the publicity generated around their reopening, and more visitors in the area, led to a very exciting, busy Christmas.’

Related stories

Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume remain flat
The books: Locally authored titles supported by strong non-book offering
Publishers satisfied with strong sales

 

Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume remain flat x

Value and volume sales showed marginal growth in the lead-up to Christmas, compared to the previous year.

Books sold during the four weeks leading up to 29 December 2018 had a total volume of 9.4 million units, slightly up by 0.6% compared to the same period in 2017, and a total value of $184 million, showing another slight increase of 0.6% over the same period. In the 12 weeks from 7 October, the total volume of books sold was 19.6 million units—around one third the total volume of books sold in 2018—with a total value of $377.6 million.

The biggest category jump (in the four-week period) was in adult fiction, which was up only slightly: 1.1% in volume and 2.9% in value. Adult nonfiction was down 1% in volume and up 0.5% in value, while children’s was up 1.5% in volume and down 0.3% in value.

The bestselling titles in the four weeks before Christmas were:

Overall

  1. The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley)
  2. Becoming (Michelle Obama, Viking)
  3. Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan)
  4. Past Tense (Lee Child, Bantam)
  5. The Meltdown: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)

Fiction

  1. Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan)
  2. Past Tense (Lee Child, Bantam)
  3. The Lost Man (Jane Harper, Macmillan)
  4. The Three Secret Cities (Matthew Reilly, Macmillan)
  5. Bridge of Clay (Markus Zusak, Picador)

Nonfiction

  1. The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley)
  2. Becoming (Michelle Obama, Viking)
  3. Guinness World Records 2019 (Guinness)
  4. Ottolenghi Simple (Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury)
  5. The Barefoot Investor for Families (Scott Pape, HarperCollins)

Children’s

  1. The Meltdown: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  2. The Ice Monster (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  3. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald the Original Screenplay (J K Rowling, Little, Brown)
  4. Queen of Air and Darkness (Cassandra Clare, S&S)
  5. The 104-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan).

Related stories

Post-Christmas survey: Third flat year in a row, after a ‘challenging’ November
The books: Locally authored titles supported by strong non-book offering
Publishers satisfied with strong sales

 

 

The books: Locally authored titles supported by strong non-book offering x

In 2018, local authors were again well-represented across the nonfiction, fiction and children’s categories. Leigh Sales’ Any Ordinary Day (Hamish Hamilton) was the most mentioned nonfiction title for Christmas 2018. For the second year in a row Jane Harper topped the most mentioned fiction title list, this time with The Lost Man (Macmillan), while Karen Foxlee’s middle-grade novel Lenny’s Book of Everything (A&U) was the most-mentioned children’s title. These bestsellers were in line with the most mentioned titles from the pre-Christmas survey.

Other local bestselling nonfiction titles mentioned by booksellers were The Land Before Avocado (Richard Glover, ABC Books), The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) and Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe, Magabala).

Bridge of Clay (Markus Zusak, Picador), Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan) and Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate) were other locally authored novels that appeared on the most mentioned fiction list. ‘Customer knew what they were after and were not influenced by reduced prices or specials,’ reported Mary Ryan’s owner Bill Concannon.

Children’s books were hardly mentioned in this year’s post-Christmas survey, with middle-grade sequel Wundersmith (Jessica Townsend, Lothian) and picture book All the Ways to be Smart (Davina Bell & Allison Colpoys, Scribble) each only getting a few mentions; no YA novels feature on the most mentioned list for children’s titles. Owner of Fairfield Books Heather Dyer said: ‘YA is never very big for us but it was really poor this year.’

Owner of Dymocks Adelaide Mandy Macky observed that more customers asked for ‘really obscure old titles’ this Christmas, adding that ‘Adelaide stores working together by ringing around rather than letting them go away thinking online is the only answer’ was one way of addressing that issue. Macky added that there were ‘more customers saying “I’ll buy it online”, even when you explain that the supplier doesn’t have any’, as well as ‘more showrooming’ and ‘more price comparisons in-store’.

A number of booksellers reported increased sales of non-book product this Christmas, supplementing book sales. Concannon said: ‘The non-book product was very strong this year and gave great options to book buyers to top up (add on sales).’ Another Victorian bookseller mentioned they had ‘lots of sales of non-book stock from La La Land and Curated’. One NSW bookseller reported they ‘sold lots more travel guides this Christmas so expect most of our customers will be holidaying a lot this coming year … which leads me to suspect some quiet school holidays’.

Most mentioned titles

Fiction

  • The Lost Man (Jane Harper, Macmillan)
  • Bridge of Clay (Markus Zusak, Picador)
  • Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman, HarperCollins)
  • Milkman (Anna Burns, Faber)
  • Past Tense: Jack Reacher Book 23 (Lee Child, Bantam)
  • Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate)
  • Normal People (Sally Rooney, Faber)

Nonfiction

  • Any Ordinary Day (Leigh Sales, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Simple (Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury)
  • Becoming (Michelle Obama, Viking)
  • The Land Before Avocado (Richard Glover, ABC Books)
  • The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley)
  • Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe, Magabala)

Children’s

  • Lenny’s Book of Everything (Karen Foxlee, A&U)
  • All the Ways to be Smart (Davina Bell & Allison Colpoys, Scribble)
  • Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow ‘Nevermoor’ book 2 (Jessica Townsend, Lothian)
  • Oscar the Hungry Unicorn (Lou Carter, Orchard)
  • Lulu at the Zoo (Camilla Reid, Bloomsbury).

Related stories

Post-Christmas survey: Third flat year in a row, after a ‘challenging’ November
Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume remain flat
Publishers satisfied with strong sales

 

Publishers satisfied with strong sales x

Christmas sales in 2018 were close to expectations for almost all Australian publishers surveyed in Books+Publishing’s annual post-Christmas survey.

Almost half of publishers reported sales were up compared to the previous year, with most of the remainder of respondents reporting sales were ‘about the same’.

Allen & Unwin group sales and marketing director Jim Demetriou said: ‘We knew we were coming into Christmas with one of our strongest programs in recent years, so we were confident we would out-perform the market and we did … With a stronger program across the list we expected sales to be higher than last year.’

Affirm Press sales and marketing director Keiran Rogers also reported strong sales for the small press, with this year’s Christmas sales more than 10% greater than the previous Christmas. ‘We’ve started January well too, so very happy. Bring on 2019!’

HarperCollins sales director Darren Kelly reported that sales were up compared to the same time last year, despite the publisher’s widely known distribution problems. ‘Sales in November and December were better than expected across a broad range of titles, pleasingly this was both new release and titles published earlier in the year,’ said Kelly. He noted that the HarperCollins fiction list performed particularly strongly in terms of sales. ‘We saw great results for Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton), Fire and Blood (George R R Martin), The Woman in the Window (A J Finn) and the much-loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman).’

Simon & Schuster managing director Dan Ruffino observed that it was ‘an incredibly competitive Christmas with big books from everyone’ and was ‘happy we held our own’.

Publishers varied in their perception of the timing of Christmas sales. Hachette sales director Daniel Pilkington said that sales of the ‘big books’ at Hachette ‘really didn’t start to move in meaningful numbers until December’, while Murdoch Books publishing director Lou Johnson noted the effect of changing online shopping trends: ‘You can definitely see the shift in the market coming from the early online sales—Black Friday—and we are also seeing some strong non-traditional sales channels emerging.’

Most publishers felt satisfied with stock and supply this Christmas, with Alliance Distribution Services (ADS) and United Book Distributors (UBD) garnering praise.

‘Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year definitely meant that the final rush was later than previous years. ADS did a brilliant job keeping up with demand right up till Christmas day,’ said Pilkington. Affirm’s Rodgers also reported positive results from ADS: ‘We didn’t go out of stock of any key titles and Alliance Distribution Services ran exceptionally smoothly.’.

Demetriou reported: ‘No major stock problems and the UBD performance was exemplary.’

‘We were in stock of all of our lead titles. No major availability issues,’ said Ruffino.

While publishers’ high expectations were met overall, Demetriou summed up the overall market conditions succinctly: ‘Christmas sales were a reflection of how the market performed all year—flat.’

Related stories

Post-Christmas survey: Third flat year in a row, after a ‘challenging’ November
Nielsen BookScan Christmas figures: Value and volume remain flat
The books: Locally authored titles supported by strong non-book offering

 
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