Tag: book sales

A year in review: Interview with Lara Borlenghi

Lara Borlenghi has been Finance Director at Pan Macmillan for five years. Prior to this, Lara worked for 15 years in a variety of finance roles for different media companies, including Warner Music, Grazia magazine, Magic Radio and BBC Worldwide. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

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Behind the scenes at Blackwell’s: What publishers can learn from a bookselling icon

Last week I was lucky enough to receive a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of Blackwell’s flagship store in Broad Street, Oxford. The point of the exercise, led by Kate Stilborn, Blackwell’s Customer Service and Operations Director, is to build stronger connections with publishers, in order for all of us to work better together. And sell more books, of course.

I expected a whistle-stop tour, but in fact I was greeted with a full day’s programme, prepared by the shop’s Customer Service Manager, Nicky James, which included meetings with lots of different staff members, and the opportunity to get to grips – literally – with the books themselves. By the time the day ended – with an unexpected fire alarm and al fresco goodbyes – I had aching feet and an even greater appreciation for the dedication and passion of our bookselling colleagues.

So here’s a snapshot of my day at Blackwell’s, plus some – ah – snapshots. (Sorry.)

It’s all about customer experience

The first stage on my tour was the Gaffer’s Office, furnished just as it was in Basil Blackwell’s day, and now used as a reminder of former times and as a green room for visiting speakers. But this step back in time is no indicator of the company’s direction of travel. They’re currently in the midst of a Revolution in Customer Service, and they’re in the process of transition to an employee partnership model similar to John Lewis’s.

In an age when online shopping is so easy, Nicky James explained that Blackwell’s is aiming to provide a wonderful customer experience every single time. They have a programme of ‘mystery shops’, leading to feedback on how customers are treated, with an emphasis on learning rather than blame. I love the fact that there’s a box to tick on the mystery shopping questionnaire for ‘moments of delight’ – that moment when a bookseller goes above and beyond the shopper’s expectations.
The theme of autonomy came up again and again during my time at Blackwell’s. In a booklet containing 10 Great Ideas for Giving Outstanding Customer Service, Toby Blackwell gives staff freedom to bend or break the usual rules in pursuit of excellent service – an approach I find outstanding.

A community of booksellers

After meeting several booksellers from different departments (quite a few of them called James), I found myself in the breathtakingly book-filled Norrington Room, in the care of David Kelly, the store’s Sales Manager. I know this room well from my earlier life in Oxford, but I didn’t know until now that it covers come 10,000 square feet and contains an outrageous three and a half miles of bookshelves.

David also revealed another fact that surprised me, when he told me that the booksellers for each department make their own decisions about what to stock, meeting reps personally and negotiating terms specifically for their lists. My experience of the bookselling world from the publishing side of the net has been one of increasing centralisation and lack of empowerment at the individual shop level, so this was a true surprise for me. Each bookseller organises the displays in  their area of the shop with care and attention, and they invite visiting speakers and academics from the university to curate thematic collections – as you can see on the tables in the picture below.

Yes, David agreed when I questioned him on this, it would be more efficient to negotiate with publishers centrally – but the benefits of empowering staff to make their own decisions about which titles to promote and how to promote them cannot be underestimated.

How can we, as publishers, make David’s work easier, I asked. His answer, without hesitation, was that we should stop jumping on bandwagons such as colouring books and children’s book parodies. In his view, it ‘saturates the market and makes books less special’ – it’s like copying another bookshop’s window display: unimaginative and backward-looking. New ideas, please!

Don’t ignore your backlist

I emerged from the bowels of the building into the bright light of the ground floor, the home of fiction from 1960 onwards. I met James Orton, a star of the bookselling team whose love of books positively radiates from him, and I saw just how much freedom the staff have to curate collections of titles, enabling them to share their passions and participate in topical cultural moments.

Eye-catching shelf displays present customers with hand-picked selections of the booksellers’ current favourites – and what really struck me was that booksellers (just like normal booklovers) get just as excited about books published last year, or fifty years ago, as they do about the latest new releases.
I pulled my weight for a short while and earned the right to wear my Bookseller badge by filling a table with books for James’s Dirty Realism display. This is the point where I learned that there are books everywhere in the shop, stacked under tables in orderly piles, and that booksellers are black belts in the art of carrying armfuls of books without bumping into anyone or falling over – fates I narrowly avoided.

Communication is always good – and advance notice is even better

After working with Maria, Lorna and Jade in the first floor Literature department, my day ended with a chat over coffee in the café with Beth from Events and Aleida from Sales Development. Blackwell’s run a programme of successful book-related events throughout the year, and they also provide bookshop services for many of the academic conferences that take place in Oxford.

Beth loves hearing from publicists, and it’s a useful reminder to us publishers that we have to stay alert for every promotional opportunity. There are more organisations than we may realise who are keen to meet our authors, and whose audiences are ready to buy their books. If they don’t come knocking on our doors, it’s up to us to make the introductions.

Aleida explained that proof copies are invaluable in building up staff enthusiasm for forthcoming titles – you’ve probably got the message already that the team at Blackwell’s are mad about books, and Aleida told me all the staff read the proofs the shops receives. So it’s worth splashing out on some digital copies of your forthcoming titles if you can find room in your budgets.

What would they like from us, as publishers? Beth and Aleida gave me their wishlist:

  • Always time your book events after publication and not before.
  • Make the returns process easy and transparent – dealing with boxes of unsold titles after a festival takes up time that could be spent planning your next big event, so it helps everyone if we can make this as painless as possible.
  • When schedules go awry and stock dates slip, it really helps when publishers are willing to pull out all the stops to get books to an event. Bringing a flexible and positive approach to the inevitable moments of crisis helps us connect readers to books, and makes good business sense for all of us.

Speaking of moments of crisis, our meeting was interrupted at this point by a fire alarm, and I joined book browsers and booksellers in the sunshine on Broad Street for a last chat and goodbye before heading home.

Meeting the staff and seeing behind the scene of one of my all-time favourite bookstores was a treat that I will treasure – and I hope the experiences I’ve shared here have helped to shed a little light on the mysterious world of bookselling that exists between us publishers and those even more mysterious people: the readers.

Many thanks to Kate Stilborn for inviting me, Nicky James for planning the day, plus David, James, Miguel, Maria, Lorna, Jade, Beth and Aleida for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm!

Abbie Headon has worked in editorial and digital roles at Summersdale Publishers and Oxford University Press, and is now working for a range of publishing clients as Abbie Headon Publishing Services. She’s available for all kinds of publishing projects and spends too much time on Twitter at @abbieheadon.

Business books

The new hustle

This week in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I interviewed Patrick Vlaskovits, co-author of Hustle (with Jonas Koffler and Neil Patel) and The Lean Entrepreneur (with Brant Cooper).

The name of the book itself raised a question about the meaning and value of words: when Patrick told his father, an old-school, first-generation Hungarian immigrant to America who’d thrown out the TV as a Bad Influence when Patrick was a child, that he was writing a book entitle Hustle, his father was baffled and dismayed. ‘Why would you write a book about stealing?’

But as Patrick points out, for millennials, the word has lost its negative connotation: today, it’s not about a con, it’s about moving fast, making money, finding a way. It’s about discovering your talent, working it, making a difference, not waiting for permission from anyone, not waiting to be asked. It’s about agency in the philosophical rather than the literary sense, ie the capacity to act.

That’s an interesting semantic shift.

And it underlines something that’s happening in publishing right now, and which Vlaskovits himself illustrates beautifully.

The Lean Entrepreneur was born in a chance conversation in a coffee shop. In Pete’s Coffee Shop in Emeryville, California, to be specific, while they were discussing Steve Blank’s brilliant but dense book on lean entrepreneurship. They were passionate about the ideas in the book and recommending it to everyone they met, but it was so hard to read that very few people ‘got it’.

‘[Heaton Shaw] said, “Someone should write the Cliff Notes,” and then Brant and I just looked at each other, like, “Why don’t we do this?” To be honest, there’s actually quite a few reasons why we wouldn’t have been good people to write the book. I don’t think we had necessarily the credibility or the experience, but what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily the winners who write history. It’s the people who write history are the people who write history.’

Hustle, see?

And they didn’t just write the book, they did interesting stuff with it too: they formatted it landscape for easier reading on a screen, they made it freely available as a PDF download, they commissioned the mysterious Fake Grimlock to create cult cartoon illustrations. It sold pretty well, and still does, six years on, but as Vlaskovits acknowledges, the book sales weren’t really the point.

‘If you trace back the revenue that we generated from that book, not only from book sales, but from speaking and workshops, it’s probably in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.’

Patrick Vlaskovits is a great example of the new breed of authors, who will work with traditional publishes when it suits them but are happy to publish for themselves if it doesn’t. The book is part of something bigger for them. They’re not waiting for permission, or acceptance. They’re just doing it. And they’re writing history in the process.

Key trends in the global book market at Frankfurt Book Fair

Every year, the Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the largest gatherings for the international publishing world and for the second year in a row, Nielsen’s Book team is collaborating with the fair to present key trends in the global market.

Nielsen BookScan operates in 10 territories around the world—U.S., U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Italy, Spain and Brazil—and that number will soon climb to 11 with Mexico launching later this year. Nielsen Book is therefore well positioned to provide rich market data and interpretation of global publishing trends that are invaluable to the global book business.

“The Frankfurt Book Fair is proud to work with Nielsen and to provide a platform for the largest gathering of the international publishing community to access this kind of critical information,” said Thomas Minkus, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s vice president of Emerging Media & English Language Markets.

We’ll be looking at the global picture of growth in key English-speaking territories both year-to-date and in the last 12 months. The main headline for these regions is the strength of the European territories. In particular, Ireland’s volume sales have grown 8.8% in the last 12 months, and all of the Top 10 publishers in Ireland are showing growth, year-on-year, 8 of those 10, showing double digit growth through Nielsen BookScan Irish Consumer Market.

This year, Frankfurt is also hosting a pre-fair conference, The Markets: Global Publishing Summit. The conference will focus on 7 key territories*, 3 of which—the UK, Spain and Brazil—have a Nielsen BookScan print sales panel. So what are the trends in these markets?

In Brazil, print book sales are down 3.5% for the last 12 months, with declines in the top 2 genres: Fiction and Adult Non-Fiction. However, sales of Children’s titles are up 3.9%, with large sales of the translated Little Prince pushing the title to the top the genre’s chart.

The U.K. and Spain print sales are up 6.2% and 0.9%, respectively. Spain’s largest category, Children’s, is up by 0.7% thanks to international bestselling author Jeff Kinney and the perennial favourite Asterix. The U.K. growth has been focused in the country’s two biggest genres, Children’s and Non-Fiction.

The Non-Fiction category, in particular, has been reinvigorated recently thanks to some trends that have had a global reach. In 2015, colouring books for adults reached phenomenal success in most territories, with some titles placing at or near the top of the charts for the year. In 2015 and 2016, the U.K. has seen a new take on cookery books with a strong drive for healthy cooking, at times combined with exercise. In fact, if it were not for the reappearance of a certain wizard in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the U.K.’s top-selling book of the year so far would be Lean in 15: 15 Minute Meals and Workouts to Keep You Lean and Healthy, selling 850,000 copies in nine months.

Looking to other territories, only Ireland and Australia have also had a top 10 ‘healthy’ cookbook. New Zealand’s top-selling cookery title was all about homemade food, while in Brazil, the top book of the year is a guide to a healthy and balanced diet inspired by God.

You can hear Andre Breedt, Director of Nielsen Book Research, discussing the key trends in the global market place at 2pm on October 18th on the Analysis Stage in Hall 4.0. Click here for details.

Irish book sales up by 20% as feel-good factor returns to publishing

The book trade in Ireland is booming with sales up by more than 20 per cent to date this year. Here are some of the highlights from The Irish Times’ article.

The Stats

  • Sales up to September 10th were €76.4 million, up 20.3 per cent on 2015, according to Nielsen Bookscan
  • The largest growth has been recorded in non-fiction (up 24.5 per cent to €31.4 million) and in children’s (up 24.4 per cent to €26.7 million) book sales
  • Fiction is up 8.4 per cent with sales of €18.1 million
  • The bestseller of the year has been Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (selling 56,300 copies to date).

Attributing Factors

  • The improving economy meant more disposable income and discretionary spending
  • The decline in the value of sterling has meant books are also cheaper in Ireland
  • The publication of a number of big titles most notably the new Harry Potter book.
2017 in review

All the facts and stats from the UK Children’s Summit

For the first time this year, Nielsen Book held a UK Children’s Summit at London Book Fair, covering the incredible growth we’ve seen in Children’s sales worldwide over the past two years, and will hopefully continue to see. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about book sales data, I couldn’t pick a better subject to present on right now than the children’s market.

Since my first foray to the LBF in 2013, the children’s market has taken a turn for the better – after steadily declining from 2009 to 2013, revenue grew 9.5% in 2014, even as adult fiction and non-fiction continued to decline. Sales in 2015 improved even further, up 5.3% to £309m, marking last year as the highest year for Children’s since BookScan records began. And it wasn’t just one category, or one author, or one publisher. The three largest categories (Children’s Fiction, Picture Books and Novelty & Activity Books) all saw growth, as did the majority of top publishers. Even more impressive, 2016 sales to the end of March are already up 7.4% compared to the first three months of 2015, pointing toward 2016 being another excellent year.

The strength of Children’s Fiction in particular continues to amaze me – value sales grew 11.3% in 2015, and so far in 2016 the category has gone up another 10% in quarter one, topping £20m. Last year, 14 of the top 20 authors were in growth, with the top 20 taking about half of fiction sales. It’s a combination of new and old driving this – David Walliams’ latest Grandpa’s Great Escape was the highest selling children’s title for the last five years, but then we also see J.K. Rowling moving back up the ranks. The new illustrated Harry Potter contributed to her moving from the eighth largest children’s fiction author in 2014 to the third in 2015, and in the first few months of 2016, she’s moved into first.

Contrary to the other large categories, Young Adult Fiction saw a bit of a decline in 2015 (down 5.3%), but there were still some positives – half of the top twenty authors showed increased sales, including Zoe Sugg in first and Terry Pratchett in second. Actually, the top ten YA titles made more money in 2015 than in 2014 (£7.9m vs £7.0m), with 25% of revenue coming from those top ten, led by Girl Online 2: On Tour. We also saw value growth beyond the top 100 titles, and more debut authors earning over £100k than in the previous year, pointing to plenty of future potential in the YA sector.

It’s not just the UK that’s seeing extensive growth in Children’s – of the ten countries we measure through BookScan, only Australia was in decline in 2015, after a really strong 2014. Interestingly, when you look at the breakdown of the market in each country, Australia has the largest share taken by Children’s, at 44% of volume sales, closely followed by New Zealand at 42%. In the UK, Children’s takes about 34% of volume sales and 24% of value, which has grown from only 15% back in 2001, and only 21% as recently as 2012, all pointing to the continuing strength of print in the Children’s market.

Jaclyn Swope is a Publisher Account Manager on the Book Research team at Nielsen BookScan, where she assists a variety of publishers with understanding and utilising both retail sales and consumer data, through training sessions, presentations and bespoke analysis of book industry trends.

consumer insight book sales

How to use consumer insight to improve book sales [INTERVIEW]

This is a guest post from Louise Vinter. Louise  is Head of Consumer Insight at Penguin Random House UK, having previously held the role at Random House. She leads a team of consumer insight specialists in delivering research and insight to support all parts of the business. Louise started her career as a political opinion pollster at MORI and worked in audience research at the BBC before moving to publishing in 2011.

1. What exactly is Consumer Insight and how does it fit into the rest of the publishing model?

At Penguin Random House UK our publishing strategies are shaped by a happy marriage of publisher instinct, insight and the conversations we have every day with readers, and underpinned by a wealth of data, analytics, and the collective expertise of our analysts, digital and marketing teams.

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