Today’s Publishing Industry: Q4 Outlook & Tips to Sell Books
September 23, 2022
The pandemic’s spotlight has begun to slowly fade as other global events take its place as a point of focus. With Q4 approaching, how will this year compare to the past three? That’s a question many book industry experts have analyzed over several months to stay adaptable in the wake of unpredictable supply shortages, demand, and distribution challenges.
In our recent webinar panel discussion “The Health of Today’s Publishing Industry”, we heard from some of those experts, bringing in their experience, perspectives, and viewpoints on the future of publishing.
One question touched on the upcoming holiday season, and what publishers should be thinking about going into these next few months as well as starting a new calendar year.
4th Quarter Publishing Outlook & Strategies to Successfully Sell Books
From our ability to observe the industry, we expect a pretty good fall and Q4 holiday season. We think it'll exceed our experience in 2019 but be slightly below the industry's 2021 experience. And if you get NPD or Nielsen information, it concurs with that opinion in terms of order patterns, etc.
What we're learning is the book industry does indeed compete for entertainment discretionary dollars as was seen when the pandemic was at its height. But we expect this competition lost to the book business to be in single digits from a percentage basis. So, in other words, there are going to be a lot of bestsellers and a lot of business in this quarter - it just won't be to the extent it was at the height of the pandemic and the stay-at-home lifestyle.
We also expectcontinued supply chain challengesthat’ll make a difference. Some self-inflicted, like the current threat of a railroad strike, but also some due to vestige supply chain cleanups from the peak of the pandemic.
We expect Q4 is going to lean towards a consumer direct holiday. And why is that? It's not necessarily because consumers will stay at home, but because not all the books are where they should be to support consumers purchasing desire. The supply chain remains challenged, therefore favoring consumer direct and drop-ship sales; the indies did a great job at drop-ship sales and I'm hopeful they'll keep their mojo on that.
Looking beyond Q4, we expect there'll be a shift to editorial and marketing spend from fixed cost spending at publishers, to happen in early 2023, and ultimately that's going to drive more demand for books. I actually think one of the reasons we haven't reverted to the 2019 mean in the book industry is we've become better booksellers and we've become better marketers.
I tend to agree with Phil's overall assessment of where we'll be this holiday season, though I'm going to be a little more optimistic and say maybe we could beat those numbers, but I think it is going to be a good season.
I think for publishers it’s important to really understand that independent bookstores as a channel will be challenged in a unique way that can impact sales.With labor shortages there are a significant number of stores that have seen turnover, meaning they're now looking at a sales staff that may have been there less than six months going into the holiday season.
Therefore, publishers should look to create relationships through their bookseller reps to help increase their book knowledge going into the holidays, and really bring things to their attention directly - which will go a long way.
And then I think addressing some of the inefficiencies to really help going into the final stretch - whether it be utilizing technology and portals that help bookstores process returns and damages and things of that nature. Ingram has a great portal that helps stores in a lot of ways be more efficient, making sure that everybody has the tools and the knowledge about the tools going into this Q4 stretch so we can be as efficient and effective as possible.
I think 2023 is a real proof of concept year [for Zando].We've had some unexpected success in our first year of publishing that I'm incredibly thrilled about, but I've been looking forward to 2023 and thinking about how do we enable our client Gillian Flynn to be the most effective publisher she can be? How do we harness our imprint Get Lifted with John Legend to be as persuasive with readers and leverage the power of booksellers? How do we create a three-legged stool?
At some level we are layering on a new layer of publishing, of marketing complexity. But I'm hoping it'll pay enormous dividends. We're teaching people how to be publishers and we're creating a competency inside our own company to enable them to be publishers.
And at every level (though we're a book publisher and that's the oldest business) we're doing it in the newest way. If we can prove our premise, I think the things we can build from there - the sky's the limit (without throwing the baby out with the bath water). Which is to say, by supporting independent book sellers. By helping to build community - even if it's a robust and massively scaled community on social media - whatever that looks like. There are a lot of great things and I'm hopeful that over the course of 2023, what we've bet on and how we're betting on it will actually work.
As this year comes to a close and we gear up for what's ahead, there are hopeful projections on the horizon as long as publishers stay diligent, adaptable, and innovative.
Phil Ollila is the Chief Commercial and Content Officer of Ingram Content Group LLC. Phil is responsible for Ingram Content Group’s commercial and content businesses. He has played a leadership role in the transformation of Ingram from a traditional wholesale service provider into a fully integrated and relevant solutions company for publishers and channel partners. Phil’s commercial and content business units include wholesale, print on demand, publisher distribution, digital services, and marketing. Phil previously served as Chief Content Officer, Senior Vice President of Ingram Book Group LLC., President of Ingram Publisher Services LLC., and as President of Ingram Library Services LLC. Prior to joining Ingram, Phil spent 12 years with Borders Group in Ann Arbor, Mich. His last position with Borders was Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising. Phil spent 16 years in active and reserve positions with the U. S. Army. He received his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Allison K. Hill is the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, a recent recipient of an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and a longtime bookseller. Allison started her bookselling career at Waterstone's and bookended it as CEO of Vroman's Bookstore and Book Soup in California. She is a former book columnist for Los Angeles Daily News, a former contributor to the HuffPost book section, and a longtime Angeleno who currently resides in New York.
Molly Stern is the founder and CEO of Zando Publishing. Launched in October 2020, Zando is an innovative new publishing house that collaborates with influential people, platforms and institutions to drive awareness for worthy new literary work. Zando’s partners include Lena Waithe, Gillian Flynn, John Legend, Sarah Jessica Parker, Crooked Media, and more. Molly previously led Penguin Random House’s Crown as SVP & Publisher. At Crown, she launched Hogarth, a literary imprint conceived in collaboration with Chatto in the UK, which launched the bestselling, prize-winning work of Sally Rooney, Anthony Marra, Han Kang, and Herman Koch in the US. Over the course of her career, Molly has published numerous literary prize-winners, including winners of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and nonfiction, as well as genre-defining bestsellers such as Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” Ernie Cline’s “Ready Player One,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” and Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.”
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