In terms of where publishers are making their biggest investments, the momentum continues last year’s shift to nonfiction. Overall six-figure and up nonfiction deals have climbed for six straight years, with notable jumps in the last two Frankfurt seasons for the larger significant and major deals.
Meanwhile fiction deals, which usually grab the bulk of pre-Fair headlines, continue to moderate, flat with last year’s low volume, with the lowest number of major deals since 2011. Big children’s deal reports were steady with previous years, though again the biggest bets are in decline.
We saw pretty much the same pattern in the spring ahead of the London Book Fair, which led us to look at deal data for the full year-to-date (through October 1 for consistency). Total six-figure deals are about 10 percent ahead of 2015’s low total, but still about 5 percent below the counts in 2014 and 2013. Similar to the pre-book fair counts, major fiction deals are way down, at their lowest level in five years. (We received 63 reports of major fiction deals in the first three quarters of 2013 and 60 in the same period in 2014 — versus only 37 so far in 2016.)
The AAP released their May StatShot statistics on Wednesday morning, starting to catch up though still running a bit behind their traditional schedule. As we explained earlier in the year, it turns out the monthly AAP reports on their own are not consistent indicators of…anything, but the best forward-looking measure — gross print shipments, before returns — was positive in the May report. Adult print shipments of $394 million were up $45 million (or about 13 percent); children’s gross print shipments edged up $4.5 million to $149.5 million. That leaves total gross print of $543.5 million up $49.5 million.
Those gains were balanced out by the continuing decline in digital sales. eBook sales of $85.9 million were down $19.4 million compared to a year ago. At $19.7 million for the month, digital audio is still gaining, though at a more modest level, up from 17.2 million a year ago.
In all, net trade sales for May registered $533.3 million, up from a year ago. When the June report is released we’ll have a better look at the measured trends, though we already know from major publisher reports that broadly speaking, the big companies recorded modest declines in revenues as rising print sales could not make up for declining ebook sales. What you’ll see as the year moves along — particularly starting in September, when we pass the one-year anniversary of Penguin Random House moving back to full agency — is that the print gains will moderate, and the ebook declines will also start to level out.