Cost of living crisis’ impact on publishing industry – authors lose out

Cost of living crisis’ impact on publishing industry – authors lose out

by Suswati Basu
1 comment
Are authors faring the worst in the publishing industry amid a cost of living crisis?

The publishing industry, like many others, is grappling with the challenges posed by the ongoing cost of living crisis and inflationary pressures. Authors, publishers, and bookstores are facing significant changes in their operations as they navigate the increasing costs associated with publishing and distribution. From printing expenses to marketing strategies, the crisis has had a profound impact on the industry’s dynamics. Surprisingly, however, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for everyone, even though writers have been bearing the brunt of it.

A remarkable turn in costs and the resurgence of indie bookstores

Jock Brocas, a globally published author, notes a remarkable increase in costs across the board. However, amid these challenges, the Deadly Departed author observes the resurgence of smaller independent bookstores, showcasing a shift in the industry’s landscape. Sales from independent bookshops reached a 10-year high in 2022, according to a leading industry body. The pandemic-induced lifestyle changes led to increased reading and bookshop visits.

Read: Authors’ mental health and publishing: navigating an emotional journey

The Booksellers Association (which represents independent, chain and non-traditional booksellers across the UK and Ireland) released the figures as part of its annual membership survey, which revealed that the number of independent bookshops in BA membership at the end of 2022 grew to 1072 shops, up from 1027 in 2021, and the lowest point of 867 in 2016.

Brocas, who is also editor-in-chief of the Paranormal Daily News, believes that it isn’t the end of audio either as some may feel, adding that he sees “a parallel now between audio and in print.” Yet, he expresses concern over the use of AI to write books, which could negatively impact the industry, and more specifically the authors, who have felt not enough has been done to protect their copyright.

“Cost of living increases and inflation have affected the entire publication pipeline. Books cost more to print, which means we have to advise authors to set a higher price point for their books, because we still want them to receive a solid return on sales. It’s also meant that we have to be mindful of all our expenses, because we still want to provide an excellent experience for our authors without raising costs.”

Dr Nick Courtright, CEO at Atmosphere Press

At the same time, Dr. Nick Courtright, CEO at Atmosphere Press, states how the cost of living crisis has affected all aspects of the publishing business. From finding authors to printing costs and pricing strategies, the inflationary crisis has necessitated innovative solutions to maintain excellence in their services. Dr Courtright told us at How To Be Books that “it’s led to us having to be more creative about less cost-intensive methods of creating value” and that as a result, “we’ll be better for it in the long run”.

Authors facing uphill battles

Award-winning author Rosie Tomkins voiced her concerns about the cost of living crisis making books seem like a luxury rather than a necessity ahead of publishing her second book Let Nature Be Your Compass. Speaking to us, the founder of leadership coaching group N-Stinctive said books are seen as “nice to have but not essential”. Hence publishers have had to cut back on marketing budgets, relying more on social media than traditional methods like book readings and signings, and therefore it’s become an “uphill struggle”.

Read: BookTok: please don’t let TikTok publishing lower the bar

Eloise Allexia, author of “But Are You Alive?” and psychotherapist, also points out that the cost of living crisis impacts the process of writing a book, affecting long-term projects and the need for diversified income streams. The 31-year-old writer from London added that writing “as a full time job can be pretty challenging in any economic circumstances”, but of course, it has been exacerbated during this period, with spiralling rent and energy bills.

“Authors will know that books tend to be very long-term projects, and there’s a lot of work that goes into the process of the book that is not directly compensated […] All of this is made harder in the cost of living crisis, and especially with mortgage rate rises and other rises in price for basic necessities.”

Eloise Allexia, Author of “But Are You Alive?”

Award-winning playwright David Scott Hay highlights the challenges faced by authors in expanding readership and making profits in the face of rising costs and expenses. The author of [NSFW] and The Fountain said part of the problem is the lack of direct communication with readers, which tends to happen through conferences – but that also costs a hefty sum. He added: “Airline prices have nearly doubled; gas fluctuates so much it’s hard to budget ahead of time.” Meanwhile, the focus on promoting books on social media “is a waste of time and money”, as it rarely translates to sales. On top of everything else, the screenwriter feels indie bookstores’ reluctance to carry small press authors adds further complexity to the situation.

“It’s probably the easiest time in history to to get published (thanks Amazon), and also the hardest time to get paid (thanks, Amazon!)”

David Scott Hay, Author of [NSFW]

Mobile libraries at risk and price hikes

The cost of living crisis is not limited to the publishing industry alone. Devon’s mobile library services are at risk of closure due to perceived cost-inefficiency. Prominent figures like Stephen Fry and Michael Rosen have endorsed a campaign to save these vital services, stressing their importance to rural communities. Rosen told BBC Radio Devon: If you start taking books away from people, which is what this is, you’re depriving them of access to all these things we value and cherish.”

In response to rising costs, publishers are also exploring cost-cutting measures like printing on cheaper paper and publishing fewer titles. However, with the long-term effects of paper and energy cost hikes and Brexit, book prices are likely to increase.

Read: AI open letter: authors including Margaret Atwood urge companies to honour copyright

In the 1990s, the Net Book Agreement’s collapse in the UK led to the elimination of fixed prices for book titles, distinguishing it from countries like France and Germany, where such regulations still exist. Consequently, books in the UK can now be subject to discounts, including substantial ones. However, this shift, along with the high costs of materials and production, has resulted in slim profit margins for many publishers. Valerie Brandes, founder of Jacaranda Books Arts Music, told The Guardian consumer book prices could rise by 10 to 20% across all formats.

Success stories in publishing amid cost of living crisis

While many struggle, some publishers have thrived. Bloomsbury Publishing, renowned for the Harry Potter series, saw a substantial increase in revenue and profits. The sales of children’s books were boosted by hit titles, showcasing the resilience of the industry even in difficult times. Even their CEO, Nigel Newton, eluded to the fact that the permanence of books has increasingly become more alluring as everything appears to be on a subscription basis.

“A paperback is much cheaper than even a one-month subscription to many services.”

Nigel Newton, CEO OF Bloomsbury Publishing

The cost of living crisis and inflationary pressures have undoubtedly impacted the publishing industry, with authors, publishers, and bookstores facing various challenges. The rise in costs for printing, distribution, and marketing has forced the industry to adapt and innovate. While some have found success through creativity and resilience, there are concerns about the long-term effects on book pricing and accessibility. As the industry continues to evolve, finding sustainable solutions will be critical to weathering the storm and preserving the love of literature for generations to come. However, there is no question that little government support has been given to writers during this period of time and to arts as a whole, as funds continue to be slashed. Authors have been treated as an afterthought in this crisis, and it’s not like they can go on strike.

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