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How Would A TikTok Ban Affect Buoyant Print Sales? The Self-Publishing News Podcast With Dan Holloway

How Would a TikTok Ban Affect Buoyant Print Sales? The Self-Publishing News Podcast with Dan Holloway

In this episode of ALLi‘s Self-Publishing News, Dan Holloway explores the potential impacts of a TikTok ban on print book sales, particularly in the romance and fantasy genres. He also highlights the recent sale of a first edition of Tolkien’s The Hobbit for £31,000, discusses the latest print and eBook sales figures, and addresses the controversy surrounding OpenAI’s use of a voice resembling Scarlett Johansson.

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On the Self-Publishing News podcast, @agnieszkasshoes explores the potential impacts of a TikTok ban on print book sales, particularly in the romance and fantasy genres. Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet, and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, He competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.

Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: TikTok Ban

Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to another Self-Publishing News from a very wet and non-summery Oxford, where we've just had the May Spring, as it is called, bank holiday, not that you would know it, where I managed to celebrate by doing what I love doing best on bank holidays, and spending a lot of time running a very long way through the muddy hills.

Now I'm back and delighted to share some of the news with you. I want to start by giving a huge shoutout to Howard, who has very generously spent much of his afternoon today, or actually his morning, my afternoon, telling me how to fix my sound levels. I am a total tech numpty, I believe, is the technical phrase. So, if this sounds a little clearer than normal, we have only Howard to thank, who really does have the patience of a saint, as well as being a fabulous podcast editor and, of course, writer and editor. So, thank you to Howard.

The Hobbit First Edition Sells for £31,000

First of all, here's some news that didn't actually make it to the column this week. It didn't quite feel like it was something that made a whole column's worth of news, but nonetheless, and especially here in Oxford, it is big news, and that is the news of the sale of the first edition of Tolkien's, the Hobbit, a book that many of us will be very familiar with, that will have started our reading journey, started our writing journey, and will still play a fond part in our writer's backstory.

Obviously, particularly a big thing here in Oxford, where Tolkien spent so much of his life. A first edition of The Hobbit, there were only 1500 ever printed, this was not only a beautifully preserved copy, but it was a copy that had personal annotation by Tolkien, and apparently the word Dodgson, which referred to Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as, of course, Lewis Carroll, though I don't know if there's anyone else who has the same association when they see just the word Dodgson written.

I will let you ponder that for a moment before revealing that when I hear that I cannot help but think of the opening scenes of Jurassic Park, where the guy from the tech company has sold the embryos and he goes to meet the dodgy lawyer and the dodgy lawyer's name is Dodgson, and he shouts out Dodgson, Dodgson, we've got a Dodgson. So anyway, Jurassic Park and The Hobbit combining their first edition of The Hobbit sold in Oxfordshire, it made £31,000 pounds, which is a large figure. It's a large figure for a print book.

Print Book Figures for Q1 of 2024 Show Decrease in Sales but Romantasy Still Dominates

That leads us as a perfect segue into the story that I wanted to start with, which is the sales of print books. So, sales figures have been largely a thing in the news of late. That's because we've just had first quarter figures for the year.

We'll look in a moment at the digital sales, but interesting to see sales of print books last year. In the first quarter, they showed a year-on-year decrease, a small decrease of 4%, but what's really interesting is how those figures are made up.

In particular, the top selling print books are very much heavily dominated in terms of adult fiction by titles that are romance titles and fantasy titles, and a good number of those are portmanteau-ified into that seemingly favorite word of the year, romantasy.

They include, obviously, Rebecca Yarros's Fourth Wing, which has been everywhere on all the lists in the last year, and some that have been more perennial favorites. So, the earlier titles, two of them from Sarah J Maas.

What is really interesting is obviously, as I have said before, there are going to be many indie imitators and people following in the trends that have been set there. It's a great sign of what might sell, but it's also interesting because, of course, print books have become very heavily reliant on social media, they're associated with communities like BookTok and BookTube where there is a big thing about holding a physical copy of a book in front of a camera, flicking through the pages, people seeing your bookshelves behind you, people seeing you turn the pages of books.

It's become part of the unboxing trend, my book haul trend, and it's become part of a series of aesthetics. So, I've talked a lot about dark academia here, that's a trend I'm particularly interested in. Even at 50 something, it appeals to me, it certainly would have appealed to me a huge amount when I was the age of the people that are getting interested in it now.

All these things, in particular, there is a focus around TikTok so that makes it a doubly interesting scene to watch; this strength of print in these genres that are based around social media.

Obviously, with the issues around the future of TikTok and people queuing up to buy TikTok from ByteDance and help it avoid the fate of a US ban and whether or not that is going to happen, it feels like this is an area where there is a huge amount up in the air.

Official Figures Show eBook Sales Declining, But Forget to Account for Indie Authors

Possibly less up in the air, eBooks, which it feels strange to talk about eBooks as being a more established landscape than print books. But at the moment, and in particular, with genres like young adult romance, fantasy, thrillers, it feels like it's a landscape we know about, it remains remarkably consistent, there are doom mongers saying that sales are not doing as well as they might.

Obviously, there, there is an ongoing sort of needle or beef between Mark Williams of the New Publishing Standard and Marcus Dole, the publishing doyen who said that the eBooks will never make more than 20% of the market figure, and Mark Williams loves trolling him by pointing out that they are doing considerably better than that.

That brings us to the other set of first quarter figures, which is the first quarter figures reported by the Association of American Publishers, showing that eBooks showed a decline in the first half of the year, and that's a decline of 0.5 of a percent, or the first quarter, sorry. 0.5 of a percent decline to a figure of around 255 million U.S. dollars for U.S. sales.

Williams likes to point out, quite rightly, that this excludes a huge number of books that are selling perfectly well, thank you, and books that aren't indeed selling, but are nonetheless being read and being paid for. $152 million dollars was paid out by Kindle Unlimited in that period, which is a 10% rise on the previous year, and there are also all the books that are published directly through Amazon. So, that's the books that we might publish, they have an ASIN, they don't necessarily have an ISBN.

So, this is all the indie titles out there that Williams estimates are doing at least as much business in sales as is being paid to Kindle Unlimited authors.

So, that figure of 255 million is half or less of the total sales of eBooks, and that obviously is an interesting contrast to print where the figures, they're not going to be 100% accurate, but they are nonetheless going to be more accurate because most print books will have an ISBN, so most of them will show up in the official figures in a way that the eBooks, they just don't.

So, eBooks, the headline story from the official figures is that they are declining slowly. The underlying figure is clearly that they are doing very well. Payments from eBooks are up as is reading of eBooks, and that seems like a really nice sort of Aristotelian unity of stories about facts and figures.

OpenAI Withdraws ChatGPT Voice After Claims They Stole It

I'll end with another piece of news that didn't even make the news because there was so much interesting facts and figures going on that directly apply to us. Of course, it's another AI story. So, there was actually no AI in the news this week. How do you figure that? Absolutely extraordinary.

But the AI news that had everyone twitching at the start of the week was, of course, about that ChatGPT 4o launch that I covered last time, and the fact that the voice that was used to represent ChatGPT during that presentation bore a remarkable resemblance to the actor Scarlett Johansson, who had apparently said in no uncertain terms that she didn't want her voice to be used for AI.

Nonetheless, ChatGPT's parent company, OpenAI, decided to go ahead and produce a voice that sounded as it did, which allegedly is one that sounds a lot like Scarlett Johansson.

They say it absolutely wasn't, but they have nonetheless, in totally unconnected news, decided to withdraw that voice from circulation, and draw what conclusions you may.

But clearly the debate about AI is not going away.

Next week, I am sure that we will have things to say about AI and Facebook, because obviously this is where things are going now. People are starting to get messages from Facebook talking about the use of your outputs on Facebook in training AI, and authors and other creatives getting very worried about this. Some of them coming up with really great templates to tell Facebook to go and, for want of a better phrase, do one.

I will say more about that next week, and in the meanwhile, I look forward very much to speaking to you then, and it's goodbye from me. Thank you.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/

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