Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lonely Planet, Travel Books, and the "Much Larger Discussion About Nonfiction in General"

First, the news from a well-known travel guide publisher.

Lonely Planet value down 50 million pounds. (The Bookseller, 7/17/2012)

Excerpt: The value of Lonely Planet has been estimated at £50m less than the sum paid by the BBC five years ago. The valuation comes as the travel guide publisher transitions into digital, where sales are up 200%. 

In its annual review for 2011-12, BBC Worldwide said it valued Lonely Planet at £85m, after buying a 75% stake in the company in 2007 for £88.1m, with its total investment upping to £130.2m when founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler sold their stakes in February last year.


Lonely Planet said its e-books had been “a big growth area,” with revenue up over 200% year on year and 260 titles now available. It added that over 700,000 people were now registered to and the website now received over half a billion page views, reaching a monthly average of 11.3m unique users (up 35.8% on last year). Downloads of Lonely Planet iPhone apps have reached 10m.

Then an observation from a Irish publishing consultant and strategist.

Travel Book Sales: This Has To Be The Internet. (Eoin Purcell's Blog, 6/4/2010)

Excerpt:   It seems to me that internet research is easily replacing much of what travel books did well. This goes to the heart of the challenged posed by both the internet and Google’s Book Search as I discussed here. Simply put, the internet reduces the demand for new titles especially in areas of non-fiction where information can be found online.  [Emphasis added.]

Which brings to me a related thought shared by Don Litzer in the string of posts related to "What to keep in and what to leave out".  

I would suggest, however, that this discussion about adult reference may actually foreshadow a much larger discussion about nonfiction in general. As I work through my annual weeding list right now, I can't help but think about how much shorter the general shelf life of all nonfiction is, with the web and other electronic resources as competition. Even a book on birdhouse building seems to get dowdier faster. This extends, then, into the shrinking availability on books relating to practical subjects. Try to find, say, three recent titles on taxidermy without taking a flyer on a self-published label.  [Emphasis added.]

By their nature, travel books, i.e., the annual guides, have always had a short shelf life. Now I'm wondering if we have we reached the point where only the most popular travel destinations have any shelf life at all.

While I was at Middleton, I kept close track of circulation by Dewey range.  (See the table at the end of this post.  Many of you are probably aware that I can occasionally be obsessive-compulsive when it comes to statistics.)

By the end of 2007, my last full year as Director, the number of nonfiction subject areas showing a decline in circulation was increasing apace.  More than anecdotally, I attributed this to the growing preference for looking up information online instead of in books.  A print reference collection?  Meh!

At least a year before my retirement, we eliminated two ranges of shelving.  Half of what remained was local information:  directories, histories (including transcripts of oral histories), various community studies, school district documents, etc.

The reference collection has since been further reduced and the lone shelf range you see in the photo removed.  What remains in reference is now shelved in the same range as back issues of magazines, another area where we drastically cut our holdings.

From 2008

One thing I miss in my "retirement" is the ability to track the changes from the inside as to how libraries provide service.

Which leads me to ask a few questions, just to get the ball rolling:

  • What subject areas of your nonfiction print collection are experiencing a serious decline in circulation?
  • What subject areas are holding their own?
  • What subject areas have actually shown an increase in circulation?

Anyone.....ahem.....want to talk about quantitative standards?

One final observation.  It is very interesting to note that sales of adult hardcover books held their own in 2011, although the Galley Cat post I read last month doesn't provide a fiction/nonfiction breakdown.  It's probably no surprise that mass-market paperbacks took a big hit.

Note:  The column headings in the table below should be self-explanatory, for the most part.
  • "Non-MID books" are books owned by other LINK libraries that were checked out at Middleton.  
  • The circulation numbers in columns 3, 4, and 5 are for 2007/2006.

Hat tip to Don Litzer for the inspiration for this post.


J DeB said...

Quantitative standards have been re-shelved in the "fiction" collection. Seriously, though--they will need to be talked about, and the problem of pegging "standards" for future years on prior collection sizes was certainly on the radar.

In the 5th edition of the WI Standards, this paragraph was added to the section in Ch. 3 explaining quantitative standards:

"Planners should also consider demographic and social factors that may affect the application of these quantitative standards in particular situations. For
instance, the distribution of compact discs from the settlement of the music industry price fixing lawsuit in 2003 may have had a disproportionate affect on
the standard for audio recordings per capita. At the same time, the growing trend to listen to music in MP3 or other digital formats may affect the demand for compact discs and instead increase demand for electronic resources. Similarly,
the first part of the past decade saw a considerable increase in DVDs to meet demand, but more recent marketplace changes to video-on-demand or streaming media have softened the demand for DVDs. Librarians and planners should consider changes in the community and the library marketplace that may affect the quantitative standards published in this edition."

Anonymous said...

In our library Nonfiction goes out during the school year based on the project topic assigned by the various teachers. But for school projects the three main check-out are for wildlife, history, and poetry.

As for the average patron who checks out a title based on their own interests these are the subjects that go out frequently: Computers basic usage and programming; Gradening; Home Brewing; Cookbooks for health issues; and Eastern Religions.

An odd assortment to say the least.

Also when a book is mention on WPR we have an increase in that title or titles of a similar theme.