Over the five years leading up to 2020, the book publishing industry has experienced decreasing revenue as its products are increasingly replaced by digital substitutes. Although education and scholarly markets have achieved healthy growth, that growth has been largely offset by losses in the sales of trade books.
Industry operators are expected to continue to struggle over the next five years, even as the rest of the economy recovers from the coronavirus. Although the educational segment has been partially supporting the industry, it struggles with the digital challenges that have beset other conventional media over the past decade. This was further accelerated by the need for schools to adapt to remote learning due to social-distancing requirements. E-book sales are expected to rebound from their slump, which will sustain industry profit, but will continue to generate less per-unit revenue.
While this may seem disheartening, how has the coronavirus affected industry professionals, not all of whom work with book publishers? Chasidy Rae Sisk, a NAIWE member and business writer, said:
“2020 made me realize I had not been treating my writing as a business. With my primary client cutting back drastically, it forced me to start marketing and diversify my client base a bit.”
We have heard these kinds of statements from numerous NAIWE members. 2020 forced industry professionals to take their businesses more seriously and increase their marketing efforts.
Unexpected and significant loss of work can have detrimental effects, but some people chose to use the free time positively, by expanding their genres and improving their skills. Rochelle Broder-Singer, a NAIWE member and journalism and business writer and editor, said:
“Because I had a lot less work during the first three quarters, I expanded my marketing and also said yes to projects I may not have considered in the past. Because of this, I have edited two nonfiction books, with a third in progress. I have also been able to break into the world of technology, which I’ve always wanted to do. I am writing regular in-depth blogs for one software company and helping with a variety of communications needs for another.”
While losing work from a client is not ideal, diversifying your client base is always ideal and can prevent significant losses in the future, as can be seen in a comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, NAIWE’s Networking Expert.
“One of the few bright spots of 2020 was that my editorial business remained stable and even added some new clients and projects. Only one client had to cut back on projects for me, and only for a month in the spring—that is a retail business, and most of their member shops had to close due to the pandemic for anything from a month to the remainder of the year. The owner helped those businesses ramp up their online presence, so there was work for me after that first month. His project is one of my smallest in terms of income, so it wasn’t a major issue on my end, although it did serve as a good reminder of the value of having more than one client and income stream.”
Jake Poinier, NAIWE’s Freelance Expert, had a similar experience:
“This year was a testimony to the power of diversifying clients and industries. My largest-revenue client in 2019 (an ad agency that I was copywriting for) had major budget cuts in Feb./March with their own clients and hasn’t really recovered. (We’re still in touch, but it may be a while before they’re busy enough to need me.) On the positive side, several other long-term clients ended up ramping up the number of projects I was working on, since their industries were not negatively affected by the pandemic. I also added a few new clients through referrals.
“The net effect is that my revenues were slightly up this year, even with the disappearance of 2019’s biggest client—which is definitely NOT what the situation looked like as of springtime. So, in addition to diversification, it’s a comment on staying positive and capitalizing on opportunities when they arise. Like the old stock market saying, ‘There’s always a bull market somewhere.’”
As with many aspects of life, attitude is key. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” And that has been proven correct time and time again, including during this past year. As another NAIWE member said:
“In the best of times, there are always people who struggle, and in the worst of times, there are always people who thrive. I have come to witness, believe, and experience that the difference is attitude, about recognizing what you can control, and what you can’t—not stressing about the latter. It’s about making peace with what is and deliberately choosing to live in a mindset of appreciation, reframing through a lens of optimism, and finding things every day to appreciate—because there is always an abundance of good to be found, if you open your eyes to it.”