Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Australian Book Market: A brief economic outline

What research there is on the Australian book industry has been conducted comparatively recently. From 2000-2004, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) assessed the industry as part of the Book Industry Assistance Package given by the current Federal Government as compensation for the imposition of the GST on books. Data in this blog entry comes from the ABS.

The net sales value of the book market in Australia was $1,560.6 million in 2003-04, a slight decline from $1,578.6 million in 2002-03. In 2003-04, there were 234 businesses identified as book publishers and a further 10 identified as major contributors. In 2002-03, the overall operating profit (income, less expenses of $1,487.7 million and a reduction in inventories of $2.5 million) for the industry was $88.4 million (5.6%), but, even with a decrease in net sales value, 2003-04 proved a better year than the previous one with the overall operating profit rising to $152.1 million (9.7%) as expenses were lower at $1,404.4 million and reduction in inventories was $4.2 million. In 2003-04, 133 of 244 publishers were involved mainly in publishing books of general content while 111 were involved mainly with publishing educational books (including professional and reference books).

Just on 60% of the books sold in Australia originate in Australia accounting for sales in 2003-04 of $811.9 million. This is a vast change from 1960, when 75% of the books sold in Australia were imported, and 1980, when 63% of the books sold in Australia were imported.

However, the change in ownership of publishers has been insidiously the other way. Very few Australian companies feature on the list of the Top 20 publishers. However, it is interesting to note that the structure of the industry hasn’t changed much in over 20 years. In 1982, there were 200 active publishers in Australia, compared with 234 in 2003-04. In 1982, no publishers had a turnover of more than $40 million, and only 20% had a turnover of more than $2 million. The majority had a turnover of less than $1 million. This pattern was pretty much unaltered in 2003-04. While there are no publicly available figures on the turnover of most Australian publishing companies because they don't have to report to Australian authorities or are privately owned, it is possible to gauge their size through their reported activities and the annual reports of their overseas owners. As well the ABS has reported (the only year it has done so) that in 2000-01, the 20 largest book publishers in terms of income earned an average of $52 million each, while the remaining book publishers earned an average of $2 million. Overall the 228 businesses involved in book publishing in that year earned an average of $6 million each.

These facts need to be placed in a global context. For example, the international operations of Harcourt Education (purchased by Pearson in 2007), which include Australia, had an operating profit of A$69.6 million for the six months ended June 2004, the 2004 world-wide revenue for McGraw-Hill in 2004 was A$3,050 million with an operating profit of A$432 million, and the 2003 world-wide revenue for Random House (part of privately owned, German Bertelsmann) was A$2,940 million. In other words, the Australian market is a very small part of global publishing, and the global activities of some of the larger publishers operating in Australia are larger than the entire Australian market.

Closer examination of the Australian market reveals that 77% ($1,198.3 million) of the 2003-04 total income for publishers and other major contributors was generated by the 20 largest (in terms of income) book publishers. These 20 publishers were equally as significant in sales, selling 78% ($1,057.8 million) of the value of total book sales and 76% (97.7 million) of all books sold, but their profit margin was lower than that for the overall industry at 9.5% in 2003-04 while it was 12.7% for the other publishers. Mind you, that's not a bad return!

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