All circuits are go for this year’s London Book Fair, which returns on March 16 – 18 to the Olympia Exhibition Centre with its usual bagful of rights-trading (400 tables at the International Rights Centre are virtually sold out); foreign affairs (“huge” stands from Belgium and Greece); and industry seminars (such as ePub London, chock full of “practicalities and mini-case studies”). “We’re on track for 6% growth in overall size of the show,” Exhibition Director Alistair Burtenshaw tells PT. “Preregistration is looking very positive indeed.”
If only the same could be said of the British book market, which suffered a dearth of high-profile author output and bobbling frontlist sales in the first half of last year, leading some to charge that publishers were punishing the industry by saving up their big guns for the Christmas blitz. That’s the opening question, anyway, of “The Great Autumn Flood: Good for Business?”, a presentation prepared by Nielsen BookScan’s Richard Knight and originally scheduled for last November, but postponed after booksellers said they were too clobbered by the holiday onslaught.
The presentation may have been sacked, but here’s the take-home message. Analyzing sales in the UK over the last five years, Knight says he’s confirmed the obvious: September and October log 25% higher title output when indexed against an average month, and 40% more books are handled in September than in February. As for last year’s dismal showing, he found no difference between 2002 and previous years: “In fact, 2002 remained very poor on top author output in the UK, but the market eventually compensated (as it always does with books) so the year ended up being ‘OK’.” So does the “Great Flood” work? “Looking at the lifetime sales of books launched at different times of the year actually shows that publishers are right to keep some books back to the last quarter or autumn release,” says Knight. An October biography will see three times more copies sold than biographies launched in the spring, owing to the crucial Christmas gift factor for this genre. For midlist paperback fiction, a spring release actually turns in a slightly better sales performance. And top fiction authors can launch at any time of the year, with books sailing off the shelves. Somebody tell John Grisham his next holiday offering ought to be Skipping Groundhog Day.