Market Insights – Australia
Australia At A Glance:
- Australia’s population was 25,649,985 people at 31 March 2020, of which 60% is concentrated in the five coastal cities of Sydney (state of New South Wales), Melbourne (Victoria), Brisbane (Queensland), Perth (Western Australia) and Adelaide (South Australia)
Most, but not all, publishers’ and distributors’ offices are located in or near Sydney and Melbourne.
Australian market overview – October 2020 – provided by Think Australian
Despite the disruption that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the Australian book industry this year, overall sales figures are looking surprisingly healthy.
For the first eight months of 2020, adult fiction sales were up 12% in value compared to the same period in 2019, and children’s, YA and educational sales were up 7%, according to data from Nielsen BookScan. Only adult trade nonfiction was lagging slightly, with sales down 1%.
For context, the Australian book market recorded A$1.14 billion in sales in 2019, down 3% on the previous year and following five years of marginal growth. However, it’s important to note that these figures do not include ebooks and audiobooks, as their sales aren’t tracked in Australia in any reliable way.
The cost of Covid
‘In general, sales are well up on last year,’ reports the publishing team at Australia’s largest independent publisher, Allen & Unwin. ‘With so many people in lockdown, books have been an important escape, helping both to entertain people and providing a valuable release from the pressures of living with Covid. Since mid-May, book sales have been trending well above this same time last year, ranging from 5% to 34% higher across the Australian market.’
According to Nielsen BookScan, book sales in Australia surged in the week prior to Australia’s first lockdown in April, increasing by 35% in volume and 10% in value compared to the same period in 2019. While sales dropped to their lowest level for the year as the country entered lockdown, they began to pick up again several weeks later.
‘The good news is that Australians are reading more books so this has benefited the industry on the whole, but some have certainly fared better than others in terms of retail,’ says Hachette Australia and New Zealand CEO Louise Sherwin-Stark.
Sherwin-Stark reports that bookshops in major city centres and some shopping centres have struggled, particularly in Melbourne where a second lockdown was imposed in July, while sales for bookshops in suburban strips and regional towns tended to be up on last year. The major winners have been the online retailers and discount department stores.
The pandemic has also had an unequal impact on publishers. According to a Books+Publishing survey, the major publishers appear to have weathered the fallout from Covid-19 better than many of the smaller publishers, particularly those with titles doing well in discount department stores, chains and online retailers.
In contrast, many of the smaller publishers reported significant declines in sales during the country’s lockdown. A notable exception is Melbourne independent Affirm Press, which chose not to delay any of its titles and published Pip Williams’ debut novel The Dictionary of Lost Words during Australia’s lockdown, to excellent results.
So what are Australians reading?
Escapist fiction, self-help and children’s books, particularly middle-grade.
‘Australians are turning to escapist fiction for a break from the terrible news cycle and re-engaged light readers are turning to well known and loved brands or books that were charting strongly before Covid,’ says Sherwin-Stark. ‘For example, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was well established in the charts from the beginning of the year and sales have grown over the year.’
Allen & Unwin’s publishing team reports that crime fiction (front and backlist) has been particularly popular over the past six months, along with new fiction from ‘well-loved local and international authors … as people are looking for something they know they will enjoy’.
In the absence of browsing opportunities, established brands, titles and authors were the clear winners. ‘Debut literary fiction has been more challenging,’ says Sherwin-Stark. ‘In normal times, our debut authors would be out and about meeting booksellers and readers on publication, and this has just not been possible.’
This retreat to backlist bestsellers is supported by data from Nielsen BookScan, which found that the average highest new entry ranking fell dramatically during the height of Australia’s Covid-19 lockdown, when many bricks-and-mortar bookstores were closed to walk-in customers. From mid-April through to early June, Nielsen found ‘a marked shift’ towards backlist titles, with books such as Normal People (Sally Rooney, Faber), older ‘Bluey’ titles (Puffin), Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe, Magabala), Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate), Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman, HarperCollins), The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo) and The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) all selling strongly.
In nonfiction, Allen & Unwin reports that ‘key titles on positivity, focusing on the good in life, and self-care’ have ‘really taken off’. Serious nonfiction has struggled. ‘No one really wants to read about Covid given how much it is already covered in the media,’ says Sherwin-Stark, although she notes that the Black Lives Matters movement has ‘created a surge of interest in books about racism and how it can be combatted’.
Children’s books have been another clear winner, particularly middle-grade literature, which is enjoying a golden age in Australian publishing. As Allen & Unwin reports, ‘Many popular children’s authors have brought out new books that have been snapped up by parents needing to entertain middle-grade-age children being schooled from home.’
Looking ahead to Christmas, the challenge will be for publishers to find ways to make their new titles stand out in a market crowded by Covid-delayed titles, with books coverage in the mainstream media ever-dwindling. ‘Our publicity teams are working harder than ever before to compete for media attention and the exceptional Christmas line-up from all publishers makes this even more challenging,’ says Sherwin-Stark.
That said, Sherwin-Stark notes that the pandemic has encouraged the industry to get more creative in their promotion. ‘Publishers and bookshops have been incredibly innovative to find ways to connect readers with authors—virtual events are excellent and attracting very large viewing audiences and these events will become a part of our promotional mix permanently.’
Australian bestsellers: Bluey, Barefoot Investor, Boys Swallows Universe
Several Australian bestsellers in 2019 have continued their run into 2020. The bestselling Australian adult fiction and nonfiction titles in 2019, Trent Dalton’s debut novel Boy Swallows Universe and Scott Pape’s guide to household finance The Barefoot Investor, have topped their category charts for the first eight months of 2020. In fact, Pape’s book has spent an impressive three years at the top of the Australian nonfiction bestsellers chart.
But undoubtedly the biggest success story in Australian publishing this year has been the children’s book series ‘Bluey’, based on the popular children’s television program of the same name. Seven of the top 10 Australian books for the first eight months of 2020 were ‘Bluey’ titles with combined sales of over 650,000, while Bluey: The Beach became the first children’s picture book to take home the top prize at the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) this year.
The ‘Bluey’ series (books and TV) will soon be available around the world, with Penguin Random House holding global rights to the titles in all languages excluding Chinese languages.
Australian bestsellers 2019
- The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) 252,380
- The 117-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, Pan) 213,100
- Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate) 177,790
- Bluey: The Beach (Bluey, Puffin) 129,520
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo) 116,500
- Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe, Magabala) 115,270
- Bluey: Fruit Bat (Puffin) 111,230
- Bluey: Time to Play! (Puffin) 106,530
- Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules for Life (Kitty Flanagan, Allen & Unwin) 99,480
- Khaki Town (Judy Nunn, William Heinemann) 68,870
Period covered: 30 December 2018 to 28 December 2019
Australian bestsellers 2020 YTD
- Bluey: Big Backyard (Puffin) 156,880
- Bluey: Time to Play! (Puffin) 116,050
- The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) 90,270
- Bluey: The Beach (Puffin) 83,350
- Boy Swallows Universe (Trent Dalton, Fourth Estate) 81,720
- Bluey: The Creek (Puffin) 80,260
- Bluey: Bob Bilby (Puffin) 79,010
- Phosphorescence (Julia Baird, HarperCollins) 78,430
- Bluey: Fruit Bat (Puffin) 72,510
- Bluey: Easter Fun! (Puffin) 68,160
Period covered: 29 December 2019 to 29 August 2020
© Nielsen BookScan 2020
Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from over 1,500 retailers nationwide
To see a breakdown of the Australian 2020 YTD bestsellers in the adult fiction, nonfiction and children’s categories, click here.
Increase in publishers, drop in titles
In 2019, 5564 different publishing entities in Australia produced 22,634 new titles, according to figures extracted from ISBN records added to Bowker’s Books in Print. This represents a significant increase in the number of publishing entities, which had been hovering around 4000 for the past few years (in 2018 it was 3946).
Despite the increase in publishers, the number of new titles published in 2019 dropped by over 2000 titles (in 2018 it was 24,738), bringing it closer to the levels recorded in 2016–17. These figures include both print and ebook editions, which have different ISBNs.
At the big end of town, 20 publishers produced over 100 titles in 2019, a significant drop from 31 in 2018. Another 115 publishers produced between 20 and 99 titles (up from 103 in 2018) and 115 produced between 11 and 20 titles (119 in 2018). At the smaller end, 2056 publishers produced two to five books and another 2976 produced just one book in 2019. Many of these are likely to be self-publishers, and their numbers are growing—from approximately 3,500 in 2018 to just over 5000 in 2019.
When it comes to formats, print remains the most popular, and has been recording incremental gains over the past few years. In 2019 paperback titles made up over half (54%) of all formats published, and hardback titles made up another 10% (in 2018 it was 50% paperback, 11% hardback).
Ebooks and other digital formats remained stable at 17% and CD/DVD formats, which include MP3 and digital audiobooks, dropped slightly to 9%, down from 10% in 2018 and 15% in 2016–17, suggesting that the boom in audio may have peaked.
A new entrant
In September, Australian publisher Hardie Grant announced the launch of Ultimo Press, a new Sydney-based publishing house to be led by former HarperCollins ANZ CEO James Kellow and ‘backed by’ the broader Hardie Grant business.
Ultimo plans to publish 60 titles a year, in fiction and nonfiction, with the first expected in late 2021. Hardie Grant CEO Sandy Grant said that Ultimo Press will be ‘distinct, independent and free to pursue its ambitions backed by our broader business’, with a ‘modern, exciting, and global trade publishing list’.
The announcement follows the news earlier this year that Hardie Grant had acquired full ownership of the former joint venture Hardie Grant Egmont, creating Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing. The publisher said it plans to expand its current offices in Melbourne and Sydney and ‘add presence in London and San Francisco’.
The Australian Reader
Reading the reader: A survey of Australian reading habits provides insights into contemporary preferences, behaviours and attitudes of Australians towards books and reading. The Australia Council has partnered with Macquarie University on this third and final stage of their three-year research project titled ‘The Australian Book Industry: Authors, Publishers and Readers in a Time of Change.
Australian market overview – February 2019 – provided by Think Australian
For the past few years the Australian retail book market has been posting marginal growth (‘flat is the new up’ is a common catch-cry).
In 2018, Nielsen BookScan reported that 61.1 million trade and academic books, worth $1.18 billion, were sold in Australia, with like-for-like growth up 1.3% in volume and 1.4% in value on the previous year. These figures do not include ebooks and audiobooks, as their sales aren’t tracked in Australia in any reliable way.
It is estimated that ebook sales make up around 15-20% of the market in Australia, although this can vary greatly between genres. Similar to other English-language markets, ebook sales appear to have plateaued in recent years—at least within traditional trade publishing. Meanwhile, audiobooks continue to grow in popularity, with more Australian publishers converting their lists to meet the current demand.
The top 10 bestsellers in Australia in 2018 were a mix of local and international titles. The top-selling title for the second year running was Australian author Scott Pape’s guide to household finance, The Barefoot Investor (Wiley). Other local titles to make the top 10 were Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s junior fiction The 104-Storey Treehouse (Pan), Liane Moriarty’s adult fiction Nine Perfect Strangers (Macmillan), Scott Pape’s follow-up book The Barefoot Investor for Families (HarperCollins) and Heather Morris’ historical fiction The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Echo).
Top 10 bestsellers in Australia in 2018
- The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, Wiley) 524,096 copies
- The 104-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan) 268,376
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson, Macmillan) 227,522
- Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty, Macmillan) 214,145
- The Barefoot Investor for Families (Scott Pape, HarperCollins) 168,761
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo) 144,618
- The Meltdown: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) 143,215
- Past Tense: Jack Reacher (Lee Child, Bantam) 121,970
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman, HarperCollins) 111,240
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jordan B Peterson, Allen Lane) 106,301
© Nielsen BookScan 2019
Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from over 1,500 retailers nationwide
With the adult colouring book boom behind us, one of the biggest trends in the Australian book market has been the growth of personal development titles—in particular, practical advice on personal finance, relationships, health and self-improvement. According to Nielsen BookScan, the personal development category was up by over 80% in 2017 and is now worth close to $40 million. The runaway success has been The Barefoot Investor by Australian finance writer and commentator Scott Pape. First published in November 2016, The Barefoot Investor holds the record for the top-selling nonfiction title since Nielsen began tracking Australian book sales in December 2002, with nearly one million Australians owning a copy.
The other big trend in the Australian book market has been the success—both locally and internationally—of Australian crime fiction. While Australia has a strong history in crime writing—think bestselling, prize-winning authors such as Peter Temple and Michael Robotham—a new crop of (mostly) debut authors has lit up the scene, including Jane Harper (The Dry, Force of Nature, Pan), Sarah Bailey (The Dark Lake, A&U), Emma Viskic (Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, Echo), Chris Hammer (Scrublands, A&U) and Christian White (The Nowhere Child, Affirm). Their titles have become bestsellers locally, as well as selling into multiple overseas territories and attracting the attention of film and TV producers.
Book numbers up slightly, growth in mid-sized publishers
In 2017, 4078 different publishing entities in Australia produced 22,832 new titles, according to figures extracted from ISBN records added to Bowker’s Books in Print. While the number of publishing entities was down from 4247 in 2016, the number of new titles rose slightly from 22,144. These figures include both print and ebook editions, which have different ISBNs.
At the big end of town, 28 publishers produced over 100 titles in 2017. This figure has remained relatively stable over the past few years. Another 100 publishers produced between 20 and 99 titles (up from 91 the previous year) and 96 produced between 11 and 20 titles (up from 91). At the smaller end, 1371 publishers produced two to five books and another 2264 publishers produced just one book in 2017. Many of these are likely to be self-publishers.
When it comes to formats, print continues to dominate the market. Paperback titles made up half of all formats published in 2017 and hardback titles made up another 10%. Both formats were up by a couple of percentage points from 2016.
Ebooks and other digital formats made up 18%, down from 23% in 2016 and a market high of 29% in 2013. It is possible there was a spike in digital formats in 2013 as a number of publishers began to release ebook editions of their backlist titles.
CD/DVD formats maintained a 15% share in 2017 after increasing steadily from a low of 4% in 2013. This category includes MP3 and digital audiobooks.
Legislation and politics
The end of 2017 saw the arrival of Amazon’s Australian store, with its first local fulfillment centre opening several months earlier. The company also launched its Prime subscription service in Australia in 2018. These inroads into the Australian market have been met with wariness by local booksellers whose businesses have been threatened by the online retailer’s growing monopoly.
After several years of lobbying from local booksellers, the Australian government introduced a 10% goods and services tax (GST) on low-value goods purchased from online overseas retailers in mid-2018. Previously, online imports under A$1000 were exempt from the GST, which meant that most books purchased from retailers such as Amazon were tax-free.
Amazon initially responded to the change by blocking Australian consumers from purchasing items from its international websites, with local shoppers redirected to the company’s less comprehensive Australian site. However, the company has since reversed its decision and confirmed it will collect GST on overseas purchases.