In PW’s annual salary and jobs survey, 25% of the 442 respondents picked flat sales as the #1 issue facing the industry in 2017. It narrowly edged out competition from other media, identified by 24% of respondents as the most important issue.
While book publishing has fared better than some other media in the digital age, there has been no growth over the past five years. According to the Association of American Publishers’ recent StatShot report, total industry sales fell to $26.24 billion in 2016, down 5.1% from 2015. Between 2012 and 2016, sales fell every year except 2014, and over the five-year period sales dropped 5.3%. Within the trade segment, sales rose 1.5% in 2016 over 2015 and were up 1.3% in 2016 over 2012.
The lack of real growth in the industry, in some ways, has likely been caused by the other issues highlighted in the survey. Certainly, publishers must compete with the many new entertainment options available to consumers to get attention for their books, and the explosion of video games and the growing use of social media has made reading books less popular.
Although the limited number of online retailers was only picked by only 5% of survey respondents as the major challenge in the industry, a number of publishers who commented on industry issues named Amazon—in one way or another—as the greatest challenge to book publishers. Two respondents referred to “Amazon’s monopoly” and another cited Amazon’s “aggressive tactics” as the #1 concern for publishers.
Financial pressure on bricks-and-mortar stores was seen by 16% of respondents as the industry’s top challenge. Here, too, some publishers pointed to Amazon and its “encroachment” into physical retail as a concern, while others cited the continuing troubles of Barnes & Noble. “I think the struggle of Barnes & Noble in particular is a massive challenge for this industry,” one respondent wrote. The collapse of Family Christian Stores was a “big deal” for religion publishers, another noted. A third surmised that “this may be the deciding year for a lot of retailers in general.”
Cuts in funding for schools and libraries were also cited by several respondents as major problems. Others cited financial issues closer to home: “The pay scale is abysmal, especially at the lower and midlevels where talent could be nurtured and grown.... Publishing will continue to lose talented, passionate people to other industries that are willing to pay.”