Bookshops: A Retail Bright Spot

Margareta Pagano’s article in the December 12th issue of the Evening Standard contained welcome news, ending with this: “But the best news of all is that people are buying books again in physical book shops, rather than on line with Amazon.  It’s difficult to get accurate figures, but there is a definite shift back to bricks and mortar: Waterstones, which bought Foyles earlier this year, is making excellent profits and opening new stores again.  And, for the first time in years, there are more new opening of book shops this year than closures.”

ResPublica says about Ms Pagano. “(She) is a columnist and the Independent and the Independent on Sunday. She is one of the UK’s leading financial journalists and has worked for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, the Times and the Sunday Times. A founding editor of the Financial News, Margareta helped turn this specialist newspaper into one of the City’s premier online news services which is now part of Dow Jones. She also writes for the Spectator and the First Post and appears on TV as a financial commentator.”

Margareta Pagano

The article begins: ” . . . here’s as safe bet; you are going to buy or receive from someone in your family either Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, or The Ice Monster, by David Williams and Illustrated by Tony Ross. . . . To date, Obama’s Becoming is the fastest-selling, hardback, non-fiction title in the UK since Alex Ferguson’s My Autobiography published five ears ago. . . . It is being gobbled up by women of all ages around the country to give to their female friends and relatives.  They also reckon that with two million copies of Obama’s book having been sold worldwide more or less at the full price, Penguin Random House may be close to raking back much of the enormous $65 million (£50 million) advance paid to the Obama couple for their books- the former president, whose biography is out next year, has a job on his hands to beat his wife’s record.

“Like in the jewellery business, December is the Holy Grail for the book trade with u to 40% of all fiction and non-fiction books sold in the Christmas month.

“The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that sales for the year up to December 1 are 1.3% up on the year before at £1.3 billion, although volume sales are down a smidgen.  This is still along way off its pre-crash heyday, when sales between 2006 and 2007 hit a record £1.9 billion.  But Tom Tivnan of The Bookseller says the industry is going through a renaissance and reckons that sales this year could be a\s high as £1.6 billion after Christmas is taken into account.

“What is driving this revival? Fewer retailers are discounting prices, digital has opened up new markets and book shops have woken up to the need to host live events with authors and other experiences to attract readers.  Growth is most marked in the childrens’ books market and in audiobooks.  Audiobook sales are up 20% year on year and have created a new market, notably among men aged between 25 and 45, a demographic that traditionally reads the least.  In an era when time is short and the mood troubled, readers are also pouncing on ‘smart thinking’ books and authors who stir debate. That’s quite a contrast to the Ladybird books and adult colouring books which did so well after the crash.”

On a personal note, I should mention that Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives has been named winner in the Novel category, Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards, 2018.

Audio e-Books

There is an article in the December 2016 issue of the IBPA Independent magazine which caught my eye.  Entitled ‘Engaging Readers Through Sound’ it is written by Cameron Drew, who is Vice President of Publishing, Booktrack Ltd.  The article says that he is a veteran of the publishing industry with extensive experience in online retail and B2B commerce publishing.  Booktrack is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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Cameron Drew

I quote from the article:

“When we first began pioneering an immersive audio-enhanced experience at Booktrack, independent authors and publishers were among the first early adopters.  Independent publishers know what it’s like to navigate challenging environments, and they know how to stay focused on providing the best possible experience to readers.

“Booktrack is a reader-focused platform that allows users to dive deeper into the narrative worlds through the addition of a synchronized, movie style soundtrack.  As users read their favourite books on our platform, our technology tracks their reading speed ans enables ambient noise, sound effects and background music to play at precisely the right points in the text.

“It’s something new on an industry that loves tradition.  It’s prefect for publishers and authors who want to offer their readers something more than text but don’t want to take anything away form the beauty of the written word.  Because the soundtrack enhances a reader’s sense of place rather than taking them our of the narrative, Booktrack actually improves reader engagement and enjoyment of the text.  The Booktrack versions of titles aren’t meant to replace the paper-based versions, or even the straight e-pub versions.  The Booktrack experience is not for every reader; it reaches the readers who are ready for something outside the norm.

“The platform is also designed to be accessible to publishers and authors at all levels.  Self-published authors who want to try their hand at soundtracking their own work can use our creator tool for free to create a Booktrack version of their work.  Some authors have taken to using Booktrack as a promotion tool by embedding a Booktracked version of the first chapter of their work on their website.

“For our premium content from our publishing partners and top indie authors, our trained sound engineers create fully customised soundtracks.  Publishers and authors review the soundtrack at several points throughout the production process to ensure the soundscapes we create match the mood, tome and lot of the story.

“We currently have more than 200 premium titles for sale across all genres, half of which came from partnerships with top independent publishers including Sourcebooks, Skyhorse, Orca Books, Mighty Media, Light Messages, and Canelo.”

When I first read the article, I had the mistaken impression that Booktrack was repeating the written word – like an audio book.  Actually, what is added on the soundtrack is music or sound effects.  The soundtrack is ‘synchronised’ to the reader’s speed by the rate at which he or she is turning pages, and the soundtrack can be re-synchronised to the text by touching a word in the text.  The wearing of head phones may be an advantage for some readers in that ambient noise is excluded.  Use of the technology is free to authors, but I suspect that a finished book can be sold only through Booktrack to their 2.5 million ‘engaged readers’.  If an author wants to to have Booktrack add the soundtrack, they say they will do it at an average cost of $1000.  Reportedly, Booktrack has 20,000 tracks from which to choose.

A clever idea.  I have no idea how it works in practice, or how well it will sell.