London Book Fair and the Publishing Trends in 2018 and 2019

When I first entered the London Book Fair, I got a mixed feeling of excitement and stress. The place was huge, and there were so many exciting things to see that I felt overwhelmed at first. After making sense of the Olympia (and that took me most of the first day), I started to enjoy everything that the Fair had to offer both as a Publishing student and as a reader.

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London Book Fair as seen from the first floor

Even though I spent most of my time in the Fair stuck in the Literary Translation Centre, listening to many inspiring translators and publishers about the day-to-day business of bringing books from all over the world to the UK, I had time to rush to the first floor of the Olympia and listen to one of the most interesting talks of the Fair, and this article will be about that particular talk, which I think is very interesting for both students and publishers as it is about something that, whether we like it or not, we have to deal with: sales and trends!

The talk I am referring to was officially called “Publishing Trends in 2018”, and it was brilliantly conducted by Hazel Kenyon, Director of Book Research for UK & Ireland for Nielsen BookScan, which is globally the top data-management company for the Publishing world. In Kenyon’s talk we were able to have an insight at the most successful books, author and genres during 2018, which was very helpful to analyse trends, and to also predict what might be popular in the future.

When it comes to Translation, we were able to see that the market is growing and that the main languages translated to English are French and Scandinavian languages like Norwegian and Swedish. Of course, this is a category that is very backlist-driven specially for the French titles (many classics are still popular from the French Literature like Madame Bovary, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Misérables, among many others). When you take Classics out of the equation, we can see that there is a predominance in Scandinavian titles, especially Norwegian titles. This information was particularly interesting to us on a personal level as we are researching Translation as our Dissertation topic.

For Literary titles, it is interesting to see the success of both Sally Rooney’s novels Conversations with Friends and Normal People due to the fact that their success is very London-centric, whereas for example Why Mummy Swears sales are evenly spread throughout the country. There also has been an increase of popularity in psychological thrillers and a decrease in crime thrillers, with very successful titles like A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window.

For trade non-fiction books, in 2018 the genre has been thriving and this phenomenon has impacted many different subjects (such as History, Politics, Military, etc.). The autobiography genre has also improved due to the success of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I found particularly interesting to find out that there are books that do not fall directly into the autobiography section but that it can be very also very successful, like books by David Attenborough or Stephen Hawking, which are both about their lives but also teaches you things about their disciplines (Nature, Biology, Science, etc.).

One of the most interesting parts of the talk was the one related to Childrens’ Books as this is always an exciting one, I think having a look at what children want to purchase is interesting in the sense that it gives us a good idea of the world we live in and the world we are aiming for. In this case, the future looks bright as there is a great increase and success in inspirational books like Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks or Great Women that Change the World. This shows that kids are very interested in the world they live in, in what they can do to improve it, and in finding inspiration in History or biographies from artists, actors, etc., which is obviously great. But also, kids want to have fun and enjoy and feel relaxed, so therefore books like That’s Not My Dinosaur or The Wonkey Donkey are very popular. There seems to be a growth in popularity for unicorns which was interesting to see.

Last but not least, we got the YA fiction, which is not doing so great these days, after many years of great series successes like The Hunger Games or standalone novels like the ones written by John Green. One of the things that the speaker highlighted and that I had never thought of was that maybe the price was an obstacle for certain teenagers, and that maybe we would need to think about lowering the prices for these books as it might not make much sense to sell them at the same price than books for adults.

Looking forward to 2019, Hazel Kenyon suspected that the year will be dominated by more psychological thrillers, inspiring books for children (and more unicorns!), books about mindfulness and also cookery books, specially vegetarians which were doing great in 2018. Since this talk was in February, it is interesting to see if this trend is actually happening as we are getting closer to the summer. Having a look at The Bookseller’s Top 10 today, we can see that the number 1 title is a cookery book, so it seems that they were right in their assumption, but they were also right in predicting that there would be thrillers as we can see several (Pieces of Her, Past Tense), and also the rise of romance due to E L James’ new novel The Mister. The motivational, self-care book is also there with Mrs Hinch’s Hinch Yourself Happy. Not many unicorns in sight, though.

All in all, London Book Fair was a great experience and it was very inspiring and encouraging to be in this talk on Trends in 2018, and to see that most of the things that they were predicting are happening in this year, which obviously gives publishers security to see that they are going in the right direction when it comes to consumers’ needs.

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