The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

In February, Publishers Weekly released data indicating that print book sales dropped 4 percent in 2017. The early-warning doomsdayers are looking skywards and believing they see an asteroid making its way towards the book publishing world. Perhaps. Although I don’t believe so. What I do believe, though, is that we’ve entered a new paradigm for book sales, particularly for sales of scholarly books.

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Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

If we consider recent data, it quickly becomes apparent that what was once true is no longer. Sales of individual titles are just not the same as they were five or ten years ago. The reasons for the drop are myriad, of course, and have been discussed over and over. To list just a few, libraries no longer purchase as many books, new types of courses that use non-traditional materials emerged, there’s a perceived aversion to print books from both students and younger scholars (although I’m not truly buying that one), and, of course, there’s the internet. And so on. Regardless of the foundational reasons, the reality is that what we all thought to be our baseline for sales on any given type of scholarly book has changed.

My study of books published in the last twenty-four months shows a drop of between ten and twenty percent in expected first-year sales (XFS) over books published in the previous twenty-four months. It’s a relatively small sample size, but it’s still indicative in a way, and will cause us to evaluate how best to approach sales projections in the next couple of years. What this little bit of analysis doesn’t show, is the three-year projected sales (or beyond). I’ll look at trends there in a coming blog post, but my hope is that we can overcome the drop in XFS over the longer haul through focused marketing and new techniques and technologies.

This reality check isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, we’d all love sales to be ticking upwards at the same rate as they fall, but that isn’t happening. But the end of the (book publishing) world isn’t yet here and I have cause for optimism. These new real numbers will, if anything, push us to find efficiencies across the Press, and to look for the very best of all projects that have the biggest upside and show an XFS of n+25% (or some other wonderfully optimistic number). We’ll be forced to innovate, finding new and creative (and inexpensive or collaborative) platforms to use to help us boost sales. To borrow an oft-used phrase of a few years ago, we’re going to have to “git ‘r done.”

Having reworked the marketing team over the past six months, hired three new people, and developed a nascent marketing strategic plan, we’re well positioned to face the threat of diminishing sales. Our invigorated team is constantly brainstorming and experimenting. We’ve even invited our colleagues to sit in on open marketing meetings to see how we’re attempting to meet our challenges. New technology, integrated marketing approaches, and an openness to ideas from outside are all ways in which we will address the drop in sales of print books. We refuse to stick our heads in the sand like marketing ostriches. And though it’s no use pretending sales are what they were five years ago, it’s also not an excuse for sitting back and waiting for the asteroid to come crashing from the sky.

 

Related article on the topic: “Three experts share publisher expectations for 2018”

Recommended watch:

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the Marketing Director at Cornell University Press. He has the crazy idea that we’re here to sell books. You can follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

History and Its Fragments

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macro-XRF technology in action

Nearly twenty years ago, in a bookbinding workshop, my instructor revealed two trade secrets that pushed my fascination with books into obsession: 1) in rare cases, personal notes–including love letters–have been found nestled under the endpapers of old books, and 2) if you expose the spines of books made during the rise of printing, you’re likely to find they’re lined with scraps from the bindery floor–fragments of pages from other books. Continue reading “History and Its Fragments”

History and Its Fragments

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)

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When I was little, maybe six years old, I’m guessing, my mum read Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World to me. It changed my life. It’s still my favorite book of all time, even now so many years later. I read it for myself a couple of years later and it’s just about the only book I return to every now and then to read again. This book led me down a path that eventually saw me become a book marketer. Between then and now, my love of books grew every year. Now, I’ve spent the past thirteen years publishing, marketing, and selling books, and in some small way, Danny, the Champion of the World is the reason. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)

Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access

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“Libraries are innately subversive institutions born of the radical notion that every single member of society deserves free, high quality access to knowledge and culture.”—Dr. Matt Finch

Libraries are indeed a radical idea. Rather than purchase a book, I can simply go to my public library and borrow it for no fee whatsoever. Free books for everyone! Apart from the single purchase of a book by the library, it is a collective slap in the face to free-market capitalism. Some conservative voices in the nineteenth century, in fact, strongly attacked libraries for being “socialist continuation schools” that created a culture of dependency for those who could not pay market value for the books they wanted. And some continue to argue this even now. Continue reading “Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access”

Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow

Creativity

Recently, we spent two and a half hours in a marketing meeting. Yes, that’s right, 150 minutes. We spent that time brainstorming, discussing, agreeing and disagreeing, planning, posing problems and finding solutions, and much more. We didn’t go into the meeting with a plan to spend that amount of time, it just organically occurred, and it was worth every minute. What we didn’t do in that time was our usual work. We disrupted our workflow, and the marketing team (and by extension the rest of the Press) is better as a result. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow

Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing

As we celebrate another new year at the press, we’re excited to introduce our three newest team members: Carmen Torrado Gonzalez, Jennifer Savran Kelly, and Ellen Murphy. To kick off your 2018 reading list, we asked each of them to share the top book or books that influenced their desire to enter the publishing field. Continue reading “Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing”

Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing

Big Media!

How about a brief recap of the big media hits we enjoyed in 2017? Yes? Ok, then.

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Peter Conners’s Cornell ’77 hit all the right notes for maximum media exposure – perfect timing with the 40th anniversary, an eager audience of fans, and a serendipitous collaboration with Rhino. All of these factors, along with great teamwork at CUP, resulted in remarkable mainstream coverage in Rolling Stone, Spin, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Review of Books, Relix, Vice/Noisey, All About Jazz, and, of course, High Times.

Our other major Cornell-related title this year, Forever Faithful, made the media rounds on a more local circuit, but hit all the media mainstays – the Cornell Alumni Magazine, the Cornell Chronicle, and the Ithaca Journal. Most notably was the month-long serialization of the book in the Ithaca Journal. A feature on the book was on the front page on September 29th, and excerpts were printed on the front page of the sports section on September 29th, October 6th, October 10th, October 13th, October 17th, October 20th, and October 24th. They even made a short video on the book which we’ve included on the book’s webpage.

Other highlights include New York Times articles on Marisa Scheinfeld’s The Borscht Belt and Goodier and Pastorello’s Women Will Vote as well as an op-ed from Fran Quigley; J. C. Sharman’s The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management being reviewed in The Economist and The Financial Times; Mark de Rond’s excerpt in The Times (UK) magazine; Brandon Keim’s appearance on NPR’s Science Friday; Quartz’s feature on Fran Quigley’s Prescription for the People; Alex Posecznick and Charles Dorn in Inside Higher Ed; profiles on Felia Allum and Mark de Rond in Times Higher Education; and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution being reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

Big Media!

About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type

Every author strives to find the perfect words to tell their story, but does it matter what the words look like?

From books and documentaries on the subject of typography, to blogs declaring their love of the art form, to Saturday Night Live’s satiric thriller about one graphic designer’s great typographic failure, a vast amount of attention has been dedicated to the importance of well-designed letters.

So why the big deal? Continue reading “About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type”

About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type

Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book

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Mapping the directions of John Cleese’s Escher-like mind. Drawing by Julia Smith.

By Dean Smith

In the fall of 2015, Cornell University Press hosted a folk concert in our offices at Sage House with author and Cornell history professor Richard Polenberg to celebrate Hear My Sad Story, his new book about the true stories of folk songs like “Casey Jones,” “Stagger Lee,” and “John Henry.” Sixty people showed up for the free event. Folk music enthusiasts jammed the foyer and sat knee-to-knee on the staircase all the way to the second floor. Polenberg played four songs on his acoustic guitar and the crowd sang along with him—a magical Ithaca moment—as the sunlight shafted in from all sides after a cold rain.

After the concert, I noticed three women at the top of the second-floor steps. We’d roped off access to the offices on the second and third floors. I asked if they wanted a tour of what had been Cornell benefactor Henry Sage’s mansion and the university infirmary for most of the twentieth century. I showed them our carved oak bats and owls, stained glass windows, and fireplace tile sequences featuring fairy tales such as Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin. Our managing editor’s fireplace is adorned with Arthurian characters such as Lady Guinevere and Sir Lancelot.

At the end of the tour, one of the women, Gerri Jones, told me that Professor John Cleese would like a place like this. At first, I didn’t think I heard her right. Continue reading “Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book”

Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book