The state of publishing in South Africa
Anyone sailing the publishing sea today will be crying: “Here be dragons!” However, opportunities do abound. If newspapers are in disarray, what about the book publishing industry? In the US a third of all publishers are those of newspapers, book publishing represents only a sixth of the market. Are printed books also going to be obsolete soon? Is the malaise affecting print a symptom of people reading less, surfing more or the worsening of their attention spans? How are these changing patterns of consumption changing us – especially the way we express ourselves? In short, just how healthy is book publishing these days?
Terry Morris, MD of Pan Macmillan (SA) admits that “it’s a tough business at the moment as the traditional booksellers face challenges. It does mean we have to expand our network of retailers so there is certainly good business to be had in some sectors of the market. There is an enormous untapped market who don’t buy books, and if we can find ways of getting books to this consumer group at the necessary price and with the right content I do think there are ways to grow the market.” Is the total market growing? “The number of books being sold internationally across print and e-books has grown so more people are buying more books.”
Pan Macmillan has had some great results of late, which Morris says “shows how we can reach new markets”. Frank Chikane’s book Eight Days in September sold over 40 000 print and electronic copies. “It sold nationally in big numbers across urban centres as well as smaller towns and in stores where sales are traditionally very small. Mandy Wiener’s Kill
ing Kebble, released in 2011, sold 75 000 copies across all formats to date. If we can continue to sell these kinds of books, in these numbers across the country we still have a place in the ecosystem,” says Morris.
Morris also aff i rms the problems Amazon’s Jeff Bezos recently zeroed in on – the uncertainty plaguing the business model as it applies to print versus online