On Demand books grow rapidly, while traditional titles shrink

by Bruce Kasanoff on October 13, 2009

While the number of traditional books declined last year, On Demand books showed stunning growth, according to figures from Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information. The statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2008 were compiled from its Books In Print database.

Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2008 decreased by 3.2%, with 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 that were published in 2007.

Despite this decline in traditional book publishing, there was another extraordinary year of growth in the reported number of “On Demand” and short-run books produced in 2008. Bowker projects that 285,394 On Demand books were produced last year, a staggering 132% increase over last year’s final total of 123,276 titles. This is the second consecutive year of triple-digit growth in the On Demand segment, which in 2008 was 462% above levels seen as recently as 2006.

“Our statistics for 2008 benchmark an historic development in the U.S. book publishing industry as we crossed a point last year in which On Demand and short-run books exceeded the number of traditional books entering the marketplace,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publisher services for New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker. “It remains to be seen how this trend will unfold in the coming years before we know if we just experienced a watershed year in the book publishing industry, fueled by the changing dynamics of the marketplace and the proliferation of sophisticated publishing technologies, or an anomaly that caused the major industry trade publishers to retrench.”

“The statistics from last year are not just an indicator that the industry had a decline in new titles coming to the market, but they’re also a reflection of how publishers are getting smarter and more strategic about the specific kinds of books they’re choosing to publish,” explained Gallagher. “If you look beyond the numbers, you begin to see that 2008 was a pivotal year that benchmarks the changing face of publishing.”

Among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were Education and Business, two categories that might suggest publishers were seeking to give consumers more resources for success amidst a very tough job environment. There were 9,510 new education titles introduced in the U.S. in 2008, up 33% from the prior year, and 8,838 new business titles, an increase of 14% over 2007 levels.

By contrast, the big category losers in 2008 were Travel and Fiction, two categories in which publishers clearly saw less demand during a deep recession in the U.S. There were 4,817 new travel books introduced last year, down 15% from the year before, and 47,541 new fiction titles, a drop of 11% from 2007. Moreover, the Religion category dropped again last year, with 14% fewer titles introduced in the U.S., and that once reliable engine of growth for publishers is now well off its peak year of 2004.

According to Gallagher, the Bowker data reveals that the top five categories for U.S. book production in 2008 were:

1. Fiction (47,541 new titles)
2. Juveniles (29,438)
3. Sociology/Economics (24,423)
4. Religion (16,847)
5. Science (13,555)

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