Publishing is in a state of "arrested decline" and "we are now seeing small gains,” said Charlie Redmayne, CEO of HarperCollins UK, in the keynote speech of the Markets conference of the Frankfurt Book Fair on Tuesday morning. Redmayne went on to recall a conversation he had with an executive from Apple a decade ago in which he was told that print books would all but disappear in a generation or two. “But the physical book didn’t go away,” said Redmayne, “nor was it ever going to.”
Overall, Redmayne observed, U.K. publishing is experiencing a period of growth, driven by the explosive interest in digital audiobooks and renewed efforts on the part of publishers to find new audiences through repackaged and repositioned products from established brands. Redmayne cited HarperCollins UK’s success with Gill Sims’ bestseller Why Mommy Drinks, which originated as a Facebook blog, as an example of such activity; he also touted the $250 million deal with Amazon Studios with the Tolkien estate, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema to bring a new adaptation of The Lord of the Rings to Amazon's streaming service.
While acknowledging that streaming services in particular pose stiff competition for consumers' discretionary spending and free time, he noted that lots of streaming content originates from “a startling number of people who write books.” He also noted that more than half of the top films in the U.K. were themselves based on books.
In another panel, Kyra Dreher of Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, the organization that oversees German publishing and bookselling, had a different story to tell. Dreher described the results of a recent survey conducted by the Börsenverein that revealed approximately seven million Germans had stopped buying and reading books in the previous year. Instead of reading, she said, people are “spending their time binge-watching series and talking about them.” In addition to being distracted by streaming entertainment, the survey revealed that readers were growing reticent to give books as gifts because they “represented a significant time-commitment”—something she said was “especially worrying.”
All told, the news from the Markets was largely positive, with a half dozen further sessions showcasing the success of young publishing entrepreneurs and established corporations, from countries including Brazil, Canada, India and Georgia, this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honor.
And André Breedt, managing director of Nielsen Book Research International, confirmed Redmayne’s opening statement that the U.K. is seeing incremental growth. “The U.K. market had seen growth of 0.5% so far in 2018,” said Breedt, who added that there was also growth across the rest of Europe, including Ireland (+6.3%), Spain (+0.4%) and Italy (+3.5%). “It’s not huge growth, just slight gains,” Breedt said.