Publishing in different parts of the world
For a long time, the global publishing industry has been dominated by a small number of countries – those with the greatest buying power. They are mostly located in the western world, but much is changing with new powers beginning to emerge.
Globalisation has had an impact on the publishing industry as surely as it’s impacted in so many other areas. But for an industry long subject to linguistic boundaries as well as national ones, the effects have been far more difficult to predict and, coupled with the growth of digital content, the industry is suffering something of a shakeup.
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Changes to the publishing industry
Changes are coming thick and fast. Often it’s the increasing transition from print media to digital formats that gets the high-profile headlines, but change in the publishing industry is taking many forms. It’s a far more complex and organic process, so to focus on the digital transition risks missing other, equally important, factors.
Previously the global publishing industry has been controlled by companies in North America, Japan, Korea and Europe but, as other countries are developing fast, it’s becoming a much more global business.
The UK remains the biggest exporter of books through its position as a small country serving a large linguistic hinterland; this includes the United States, which remains the largest market. However China’s meteoric growth over recent years is reflected in its appetite for reading matter to the extent that it’s now world’s second largest book market.
Which countries are powerful?
Apart from the USA, which is a well-established market with the largest domestic publishing industry, a number of other countries stand out among the global industry.
China is now, unsurprisingly, the world’s second biggest book market. It’s also the fastest growing, adding an estimated $300 million in sales annually, with its enormous population consuming vast numbers of books in two major languages. As the country moves from industrial to post-industrial at a rapid rate, it’s likely that the publishing industry will grow exponentially over years to come. As a consequence, it’s of little surprise that this country is also the biggest target market for international publishers.
Another eye-opening statistic about China’s book market is that, according to the country’s Statistical Yearbook, almost half of purchases are textbooks. This is surely a reflection on its huge appetite for development and its population’s quest for knowledge, as ever-higher standards of education and wealth are achieved.
Then there’s the UK with its long-established publishing industry and its extensive title production. The UK is a major player in the book export market, and this builds on the international dominance of the English language; an infrequently recognised advantage for the UK industry, but one which is shared by Spain whose exports to Latin America are also extensive.
Publishers in other European countries face obvious problems, but problems that English-speaking commentators might often overlook. After all, how do you stock a full range of literature when there are only 20 million people speaking your language?
Norway distorts the market as a small affluent country, which, of necessity, has to give extensive state support to publishers in order to meet its need for material in its own language. This unavoidable public spending and support also benefits numerous other European countries that don’t benefit from large former empires sharing their language.
Another future powerhouse could well be Turkey. It’s already the 12th biggest market and, according to the country’s culture ministry the number of ISBNs issued has risen from 16,000 in 2002 to 50,000 by 2014. This, presumably, is a consequence of a large and growing population, now benefitting from the lengthening of compulsory education.
Continued consolidation of publishing in the English-speaking world seems a likely prospect over years to come, as the number of books published in English as a percentage of total global consumption continues to fall.
However, declining sales across the western world as a whole will bring further challenges. As increased digitisation of material continues to bite, publishers in the old world could run into difficulties. The contraction has already resulted in a number of western European retailers and publishers collapsing over recent years with surely more to come?
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