One of the first hot-button issues confronting publishers in what will be one of the most unpredictable fall and holiday selling seasons in years is what the correct first printings should be for lead frontlist titles, given the growth of e-book sales and the decline of print. With units of print sales down 10.2% in the first half of 2011, according to Nielsen BookScan figures reported in PW last week, the question for the fall is not if first printings will be cut, but rather by how much.

To get a handle on what publishers are planning for the fall, PW e-mailed a brief questionnaire to about 30 trade publishers ranging in size from the largest houses to mid-sized independents. The responses (and non-responses) provide a glimpse of how publishers are approaching the fall. One house said it had not yet determined what its runs will be, while another who chose not to participate explained that the house felt strongly that without incorporating e-books, anything about planned first printings would be misleading. A couple of other houses declined to provide data, although they said they were interested to read the results. In the end, 13 publishers provided information on planned printings for one or more formats with all but one mid-sized house making cuts for the fall.

The results generally reflect what happened in the first six months of the year—deep cuts in first printings of mass market paperbacks, substantial but less severe reductions in hardcover, and more modest cuts in the trade paperback segment. Four out of the 10 publishers who provided hardcover data said they anticipate cutting first printings by over 20%, while two others said printings will be reduced by 16% to 20%, indicating a belief in an even greater shift toward e-book sales as hardcover units in the first half of 2011 were down only 9.5%. Results from trade paperback publishers also indicated that they believe e-books will eat into print sales more in the second part of 2011, as five of the seven respondents said they will cut print runs by the more than 7% decline in units the format experienced in the January-June period. Only two mass market houses supplied information, and each said it anticipated making double-digit reductions in first printings in that format.

The head of one mid-sized publisher observed that, despite the reduction in print sales and lower print runs, it remains imperative for publishers to continue to actively promote print books to help assure nervous retail accounts that they remain committed to that format.

Anticipated Reduction in First Printing of Fall Lead Titles


Percentage Cut 0% 0-5% 6-10% 11-15% 16-20% Over 20%
Responses 1 0 1 2 2 4


Percentage Cut 0% 0-5% 6-10% 11-15% 16-20% Over 20%
Responses 1 1 0 2 1 2


Percentage Cut 0% 0-5% 6-10% 11-15% 16-20% Over 20%
Responses 0 0 0 1 0 1