All of the talk regarding print publishing verses digital, or that print editions have reemerged at the expense of e-books, is reflected in sales figures for five top publishers for the first half of 2016. Publisher’s Weekly recently ran an article in which the headline says it all: “A Rough Six Months for Big Book Publishers.”
Focusing on such houses as HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette Book Group, reporter Jim Milliot addresses the variables that led to stagnant sales, less profits, and even net losses among the giants in the industry. The revenue of Penguin Random House, for example, dropped nearly 11 percent between January and July 2016. Missing from their catalog was a standout bestseller of the magnitude of The Girl on the Train and Fifty Shades of Grey, which they attribute to the decline. This reinforces the reality that bestselling authors drive most of the revenue that allows a publishing house to take a chance on lesser known authors on whom they will likely lose money; without that cushion, profits drop as seen here.
Similarly, Houghton Mifflin attributed its 1.4 percent loss in sales in 2016 to the fact that it had less “movie tie-ins of bestselling e-book titles coupled with lower e-book-subscription revenue.” The slip in e-book sales is felt throughout the industry despite any advantages of author recognition or relationships to hit films where they might exist. Pricing and currency exchange issues have also played a major role as of late. Simon & Schuster earned a profit this year but they also brought in less revenue, attributing their gains to cutting production and inventory costs. That, of course, can only go so far. Increasing revenue is always key.
The article touched briefly on the popularity of audiobooks, which often get overlooked in the debate over print and digital output. Penguin Random House, for example, attributed a gain in audiobook downloads and level print edition sales in offsetting some of the loss caused by declining e-book sales. Audiobooks, according to Random House CEO Markus Dohle, are seeing “a significant upswing.” HarperCollins experienced something similar to help make up for losses elsewhere.
The article features a chart comparing the revenue of these companies in 2015 and 2016 and shows the net loss for this year for each of them. This is a very informative article that highlights the ongoing challenges that the industry faces, many brought about by current trends and changing consumer needs.