Creative Industries: Publishing: A new chapter unfolds

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UK industry revenue: pounds 17.5bn

UK employment: 125,182

Forecast growth to 2007: 4-6 per cent

WITH its traditional markets saturated and the dawn of the electronic age presenting new opportunities, the British publishing industry is at a crossroads. The UK market for newspapers, magazines, books and electronic information grew to pounds 17.5bn in 1996 from pounds 11.5 in 1990, an increase in real terms of less than 4 per cent. Levels of employment have also changed little since 1983, due mainly to massive restructuring of the industry over the past 10 years and changes in technology that came about during the 1980s.

Of the three printed market sectors, the magazine industry is today the fastest growing, with revenues rising to pounds 3.7bn in 1996 from pounds 1.9 bn in 1987. The book and newspaper markets have both hardly grown at all since the beginning of the decade, with book sales rising to pounds 2.7bn in 1996 from pounds 2.1bn in 1990, while newspaper sales have edged up to pounds 6.2 bn in 1996 from pounds 4.1 bn in 1987, a rise of just 0.8 per cent in real terms.

Both the book and magazine markets have witnessed a proliferation of new titles over the past 10 years, as publishers strive to retain market share. The number of consumer magazines rose 15 per cent in the period from 1986 to 1996, while the number of business and specialist titles rose 33 per cent. The number of new book titles published rose to 102,000 in 1996, compared with 64,000 in 1990. But while publishers are putting out more and more books, the print runs are shorter and the books are sold at a lower profit margin. In both the magazine and book publishing sectors, the long-term trend is a decline in consumer spending.

But while titles become more specialised, the corporate picture for the publishing sector is one of bigger and bigger conglomerates holding more and more titles. Book publishing in the UK is dominated by a handful of companies: HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation; Penguin, which is owned by Pearson; Dorling Kindersley; Random House; Reed Elsevier; and Hodder Headline. In the newspaper sector, there are 11 national daily and Sunday titles with Mr Murdoch's News International, the Mirror Group and the Telegraph controlling more than half the market. IPC and Emap control 43 of the top 100 consumer magazines in this country while United News and Media, Reed Elsevier and Emap dominate business and trade magazine publishing.

While the UK publishing industry is expected to grow slowly, the move towards bigger and bigger media companies is likely to continue, fuelled by the increase in on-line publishing. "Scale is important to have Microsoft listen to you," said Nigel Stapleton, chairman of Reed Elsevier.