It’s already been a month since 2023 got started? Wow, the time has just flown. Well, Happy New Year and Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Last week, I got to sit in on a 2022 recap by NPD, a market research firm that runs Bookscan, the tool used by the publishing industry to measure book sales. They spoke about trends and overall numbers and it was great to compare what was going on here at Central Avenue with the overall market. For all of us, generally it was a rough year. We were still navigating the many supply chain issues that made printing books difficult. Pre-pandemic, I could get a book to my printer 4 weeks before I needed it. Over the last year or so, it became 4 months. This meant that I had to make an estimate on how well a book would do before we had any idea if stores would list it. And if a book went viral and sold out, it was going to take that long to get new stock.
As people returned to “normal” purchasing and lifestyle habits, they stopped buying as many books as they did during the pandemic. This meant that every bookseller (online and in-store) made massive changes to how they were buying and inventorying stock. They seemed less likely to take chances on new authors and new front list titles, instead opting for historic favorites. The proportion of sales the backlist (books more than 1 year old) takes continued to increase, reaching 70% of all sales! This is a massive change from only a decade ago when it was about 50%. A healthy backlist is important to a publisher as it enables us to take on new authors and books. But if you have stores who aren’t willing to list those new books, it makes all publishers nervous about trying to get those new authors out there which does nothing for fostering art.
It’s always been Central Avenue’s missive to find new authors and help get their work into the world, so I tend to focus on the front list and those new authors. So it was a very frustrating year as the industry saw a smaller portion of already big authors take a bigger portion of sales, (not CAP authors. I mean: overall in the industry). It was just more difficult for new authors who were trying to get their work out there.
In addition to this shift to the backlist, the industry saw massive declines in sales year over year and Central Avenue was definitely not immune to that.
Then, just when I was feeling a little down about all this, the presenter of this webinar talked about going forward and I felt hopeful – more so than I’ve felt in months. Rather than wallowing, the directive was to use this time to regroup, and refocus on what is important, what is working, and what trends are out there that might help out. After all, there are some good things happening. Adult fiction is strong, driven by new authors with high profiles on BookTok in genres that historically were held by the same authors for decades. This heralds the rise and new heights of a new generation of consumers that are demanding different content to be discovered in new ways. Our poets have been a part of TikTok for years now, but seeing the variety of entertainment on the platform – like entertaining BookTokkers – is invigorating. It also makes me hopeful as I try to improve the quality of the books I make, find new ways to get new authors out there (like the brand new Central Avenue Poetry Prize), and continue to have stable presences on social media and TikTok.
I’m glad I took an hour out of my day to get out of the trenches and up to 35,000 feet and see what’s going on from a higher perspective. It’s given me the energy I needed to focus on what we do well which is finding new talent and helping bring them to market in new ways.
I hope the new year has brought you some energy for what you’re working on currently. And if it hasn’t happened yet, I hope it comes soon…