My 2016 Predictions: The Verdict

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

book publishing, publishers, books, salesLast December I wrote a blog post setting out my predictions for the publishing industry in 2016, and I promised to revisit them after 12 months. I always stress the importance of accepting accountability in business, and therefore I must also live—or fall—by the same rules.

I have placed a score by each prediction. Please feel free to leave your comments if you agree or disagree, or if you want to add your own predictions for 2017.

So, here it goes:

1. Continued regrowth of print sales. A decent start: the steady growth of print book sales, after years of falling, has continued—words that should please and enthuse all in the publishing industry. According to the U.S. Census Bureau), the first half of last year saw sales grow nearly 2 percent, and through the first six months of 2016, bookstore sales have jumped more than 6 percent. Score: 9/10.

2. Increased focus on export sales. This is something we have done internally in my publishing businesses, successfully building an international sales infrastructure. I strongly believe the future for publishers consists of lots of small-medium pots of revenue spread widely, and I can see the role export sales can play in this. The UK’s Publishing Association stated that UK book export revenues were £1.42bn in 2015 (42 percent of total books revenues), slightly down on 2014. Early signs are that 2016 will show varied in territory but steady growth, so middle marks. Score 5/10.

3. Amazon spending some time under the radar. It is hard to assess whether one of the world’s most successful retailers led by one of the world’s richest men has had a quiet year or not. But after the negative public industry battles of 2015, I think they have gone back inside and focused on their strategy, which is now coming through with their bookstores and checkout-less grocery stores arriving with increasing pace into the market. Score: 7/10.

4. The middle to continue to diminish with more consolidation. This has continued steadily in 2016, with large conglomerates, such as Bonnier and Taylor & Francis, as well as supply chain giants, such as Ingram, showing strong appetite for acquisition. The Internet-empowered customer has removed the middle in all industries, and it’s split between the huge resourced conglomerates and small but nimble businesses. Expect continued consolidation in 2017. Score: 7/10.

5. Picking up a Penguin; keep an eye on Pearson. This has been bubbling—with Pearson selling off many of its cost-anchoring parts—but has yet to come fully to the boil, despite the 10-percent share price fall in October. Something will have to give soon, but it didn’t in 2016. Score: 5/10.

6. Increasing Chinese influence. The Chinese drive for greater international ownership and business continues with increasing pace. Publishers Weekly reported that Zhejiang Publishing United Group became the fifth Chinese publisher in the global top 50 and with “quiet acquisition” continuing, expect more to follow. Score: 8/10.

7. Publishers taking advantage of licensing opportunities. Licensing has continued as a valuable revenue stream with trade publishers starting to catch up with their STM counterparts in terms of innovation. What has been interesting is the increasing number of licensing partnerships with companies from other media industries. A space to watch. Score: 6/10.

8. New English language partnerships. It is an area we have highlighted for opportunity with partnerships across the UK, US and Canada, North America and India, but hasn’t made a big noise in 2016, outside of our office. Score: 3/10.

9. Book fair evolution and the emergence of the micro-fair. The calendar is filling with smaller events around the world, many benefitting from a clear focus. While the largest fairs retain widespread focus, I talk to many people who I may not see at the main events but are going to a smaller event I haven’t heard of previously. A good time for smaller, more focused events. Score: 7/10.

10. Struggle for subscription but steady digital sales. Sadly, the struggle for subscription has continued with many of the more prominent names falling out of the market. There is hope, but only by throwing out a flawed business model. Ebook sales in some areas have been worryingly lower than expected, with many publishers reporting fiction sales dropping by 20-25 percent, but strong growth in new areas such as non-consumer digital sales has leveled the overall line. Score: 8/10

So there you go. I won’t be getting my own fortune-telling show anytime soon, but not a bad average score. Let me know your thoughts, and I am looking forward to a very exciting 2017 ahead!

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