BEA and Tapas Combo Plate (Friday): Wrap-Up, Part 2

Here’s the only downside to my starry-eyed BEA experience: I missed the Children’s Author Breakfast on Friday morning, due to a perfect storm of allergies, a cold, and lack of sleep. Which is to say…I missed Tomie de Paola, hero of my childhood and of White Rabbit signings. (“Tell him we still have all his signed books,” my mom urged, when I’d mentioned I was planning to go.) Missing that made me feel worse than the allergy-cold combination, and I only made it to the Javits Center later that afternoon.

However, the talk I went to was an important one, crammed full of industry information and projections, and I was excited to go. The Book Industry Study Group‘s “TRENDS 2009” talk, led by Michael Healy (who introduced the first of the Digital Publishing Group’s brown-bag lunches, last month), the group’s Executive Director, and Leigh Watson-Healy (no relation), chief analyst at the media-consulting firm Outsell (hired to survey publishers directly, rather than relying on publishers’ own figures), gave a quantitative overview of the health of the industry. (Slides from the talk are here.)

Healy briefly outlined the purpose of BISG, which is to develop and maintain standards and best practices, and to support better communication between all parts of the supply chain. Then the talk delved into the nitty-gritty of the current state of publishing.

One of the most surprising points (at least to me, new to the U.S. market), made early on in the talk was that all of the increase in revenue occurred in publishing companies making under $50 million per year.

Book publishing was a $40.3 billion business in 2008. Of that, 14% is college publishing, 1/3 is adult and juvenile trade, and professional is approximately 22%. Growth leaders included the college (4.5% growth), elhi/K-12 (4.5%), professional (4.0%), and scholarly (3.9%) sectors. (The juvenile trade, adult trade, and religious sectors shrank.)

The projected growth for 2008-2010 (CAGR) is 2.1%. (Most of the air in the room was sucked out by panicked publishers, at this point.) The downturn, the group asserts, has affected reading and purchasing behaviors.

The question, then, according to the BISG, is how to move to effect change more quickly than ever before. This means managing content in creative ways, making titles more affordable, avoiding returns (Healy emphasized this point, in particular), and making titles “stick.”

Juvenile trade is flat. (“Flat is the new up” became the afternoon’s catchphrase.) To some degree, this is a factor of the blockbuster effect: the loss of the Harry Potter books hasn’t been made up by Stephanie Meyer’s books. Yet the advantage, Healy noted, is that there’s a healthy reexamination of relationships going on.

Religious publishers also seem to be suffering from the bestseller effect: there was no blockbuster in 2008 that paralleled Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, for example. (This, despite the $16 million that Windblown Media made on Paul Young’s book, The Shack…which seems to be an exception to the generally downward trend in religious publishing, and which was picked up in early 2008 by Hachette USA for printing and distribution in exchange for half the profits, according to Forbes. Or perhaps there was a Shack effect, but by now it’s dissipated somewhat?)

Other findings from the “TRENDS” survey:

  • Professional publishing is an $8.6 million business, aided by must-have content and standing orders (from libraries and corporations).
  • Scholarly publishing grew 1.3% in 2009, and is expected to grow 1.4% in 2010.
  • College publishing outperformed the industry as a whole, rising at 4.5%, and is typically boosted by back-to-school sales.

Predicting a return to growth in 2010, BISG and Outsell advised publishers to develop “strategic marketing muscle” and to “figure out what the consumer wants.” The essentials, Healy and Watson-Healy stressed, remain innovation and execution.

(Any discrepancies and errors are mine; I’m happy to correct any inaccuracies.)

I went back out to the floor, after the talk, and bumped into Kim Ricketts, who’d organized the great Tabla dinner a few weeks ago.

“I saw you in the BISG talk, but I left,” she greeted me, as we dodged a stream of people joining book-signing lines and banging into one another with their bags stuffed full of advance copies and catalogs. “How was it?”

“Flat is the new up!” I shouted over the commotion. Kim nodded sagely and ran off to a meeting.

###

Other Things I Learned During BEA Week:

1. Manhattan is wider than it looks. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a 12th Avenue; 9th Avenue was as far as I’d ever been. Twelfth Avenue was Weehawken.

2. The default “Subway/Rail only” and “More street walking/fewer transfers” settings on Hopstop will send you walking from Times Square to the Javits Center. You will feel truly silly, and your feet will hurt. You’ll fume, “Aren’t there any crosstown buses?”, and then the sixth M42, Javits-bound bus will sail by oblivious ol’ you in a cloud of exhaust.

3. Starbucks appears to be making more money at BEA, perhaps, than the big six publishing houses combined. $7 for a miniaturo and a cookie? I can’t believe I fell for that–especially after marching out to a hot dog stand outside the Javits Center on Thursday for lunch for $4.

###

“Your blog has gotten pretty technical,” my dad told me when I called, last night. “Why is that?”

I squirmed, and saw the three readers of this blog sitting at their computers, eyes glassy, zapping this window shut in favor of clips of the First Puppy. No one likes a disappointed reader. “Well, I need to get up to speed about U.S. publishing after being away for so long.” But I started to worry.

What say you? Have I unwittingly committed mission creep?

I promise, wacky bi-cultural hijinks, and food excursions, will return tomorrow with regularly scheduled programming.

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