New ‘traditional’ shows that old ‘traditional’ book publishing is in sharp decline

Bowker’s recent release of their 2010 annual report on print book publishing highlights an important, but not that new, shift in the meaning of the term ‘traditional’ book publishing. They report that the number of print titles published by ‘traditional’ book publishers has grown by 5%.

There are many aspiring publishers, or self-publishing authors, who might be encouraged by this news. But, if you are a traditional ‘traditional’ book publisher who publishes in the fields of literature,  humanities, or  social sciences, this is not good news. From the article announcing the report:”Literature (-29%), Poetry (-15%), History (-12), and Biography (-12%) all recorded double digit declines. Fiction, which is still the largest category (nearly 15% of the total) dropped 3% from 2009, continuing a decline from peak output in 2007. Religion (-4%) fell to 5th place behind Science among the largest categories.”

However, if you are a new ‘traditional’ publisher this is very good news. “Major increases were seen in Computers (51% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 8%), Science (37% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 12%) and Technology (35% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 11%).”

Bowker explains these declines in the context of those segments being more vulnerable to fluctuations in discretionary spending. This may be true. However, it is equally plausible that the traditional ‘traditional’ audiences have shifted their demand to utilise electronic formats and devices, online experiences, and other content experiences.

If you are a new or an old player in any of the traditional ‘traditional’ segments, the pressure is really on to better understand just where and what your audiences are doing with the content they love. Bibliobazaar’s stellar expansion during 2010, with 1,461,918 out of copyright titles converted to their print-on-demand model may be one indication. We are yet to see if their model is a commercial success, but the brains behind them (two of the guys who set up Booksurge, sold to Amazon) would suggest they certainly know what they are doing.

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