Following on from our blog post announcing our top twelve best sellers of 2023, we asked Ringwood co-founder and chief executive, Sandy Jamieson, some questions surrounding these sales figures, and what they mean for Ringwood in 2024. 

Q1) Help us make sense of these 2023 sales figures and put them in a national and Ringwood context. For  example, how did they compare with 2022 and previous years, and with the hopes you had at the start of the year?

A1) ‘2023 proved to be a difficult year for almost all small publishers, and many bigger ones, due mainly to two linked factors: the continuing cost of living crisis that affected more and more families, and in particular the dramatic 40% rise in the cost of printing paper which almost eliminated the profit margin on most paperback books. The context of a drastic cost of living crisis led most publishers, including Ringwood, to realise that since books in most cases are more luxury than necessity, it was not possible to pass this specific cost increase onto the customer through increasing book prices. In simple economic law terms, any increase in revenue from the increased sale price would be more than negatively compensated for by the inevitable reduction in demand. Even without putting prices up almost all publishers reported a reduction in the overall level of sales compared with 2022.

In Ringwood’s case this trend was compounded by a year of structural difficulties and changes which meant amongst other things that two planned launches in 2023 had to be deferred to 2024 with a related total loss of the income anticipated from these new books.

Taking both national and specific factors together, the total Ringwood sales across the board were down around 9% in 2023 compared with 2022. Nationally, most publishers reported an increase in ebook sales as a percentage of the total, a bonus as the profit margin on ebooks is now far greater than on paperback sales since the dramatic rise in printing paper costs. Unfortunately, partly due to the structural issues, the planned Ringwood drive on ebook promotion never happened and Ringwood percentage of ebooks sales actually fell in 2023 rather than moving towards the original 40% target.’

Q2) Tell us a little about the individual and genre sales, both the good ones and any disappointments.

A2) ‘The continued dominance of Ruxton: The First Modern Murder was no surprise particularly with its new role as Ringwood’s first audiobook. Indeed, as mentioned in our initial 2023 bestsellers blog post, with a series coming in autumn 2024 for the million-listener podcast Small Town Dicks, and discussions underway for a Netflix miniseries it will take a powerful challenger to knock Ruxton off the top spot for the next two years.

It is no coincidence that the three new paperbacks published in 2023 came 2nd, 3rd and 5th, emphasising the importance of producing quality new titles. It was gratifying that some slow starting sellers like Those Tyrannising Landlords (6th), There’s a Problem with Dad (10th), and Raise Dragon (11th) responded well to renewed efforts to sell them, highlighting the potential to still sell other slow starters. 

In genre terms (many Ringwood books cross more than one genre but for this purpose they have been included in their main category) it was no surprise that once again True Crime was the leading category (1st, 4th, 9th with Bodysnatcher also an honorary member). Contemporary Fiction came second (5th, 6th, 10th) and Historical Fiction came third (3rd, 7th, 11th). 

It was gratifying that two of our autobiographies finished in the top twelve, (2nd and 12th), but the main disappointment was that Crime had only one entry, the relaunched Murder at the Mela in 8th, despite the ongoing Scottish obsession with Crime Fiction.

Amongst the disappointing single book sales was that Ringwood took its eye off the Sheila Garvie ball in 2023, failing to build on the excellent 2022 sales. Likewise, we failed to sell more of two excellent crime books, Clutching at Straws and The Carnelian Tree, and the gripping Irish spy novel The Practice Field, in all cases due to poor marketing effort related to the organisational problems.’

Q3) What are the sales targets and what plans are set for 2024 and what levels of sales can realistically be expected?

A3) ‘Now that the revised structure that emerged from the 2023 difficulties has bedded in, Ringwood is anticipating higher sales in 2024 across all areas.

The paperback sales numbers should be significantly higher with no less than seven new paperbacks to be launched, all of an exceptionally high quality. The Hotel Hokusai has already been launched to excellent initial sales. In the period April to June 2024, Moot and Revenge of the Tyrants, both new books in series by established authors Rob McInroy and Lynda Kristiansen respectively, will be launched along with two very exciting debut novels: Kitten Heels by Maureen Cullen, and Song of the Stag by Rebecca Brown. All four are expected to sell well. After the summer, two further books by very talented new novelists, Remembering the Rowan by Kirsten McQuarrie in September and The Unmaking of Eddie Muir by Angus Roxburgh in October, will be launched with very high expectations of good sales given their excellent quality. Compared to the 2023 total of only two new novels, paperback sales should increase significantly in 2024.

On the Non-Fiction side, the exciting news is that in June Ringwood will be publishing a new Tom Wood True Crime book The World’s End Murders: The Inside Story, a fascinating and very important revision of the full story of these infamous Scottish murders. This will be of great contemporary resonance given the insider insights and updates that Tom has brought to this current retelling. Given the reputation Tom Wood has developed as the author of Ruxton it is expected this new book will be equally successful.

On the eBook side, Ringwood are about to relaunch all its books as eBooks for sales on the Ringwood website, backed up this time by an ongoing campaign of intensive promotion and marketing. This will not only increase overall sales but also bring Ringwood closer to the 40% of all sales target.

Finally, after a 2023 naive and doomed attempt to develop international rights sales and an international distribution system, harsh realism and rising international postal charges have caused Ringwood to move to a more realistic model system of having all Ringwood paperbacks made available outside the UK utilising Print on Demand technology. This should lead to significantly increased international sales compared to the previous system of having to ask overseas buyers to pay up to £16 postage on a £9.99 book which could take up to six weeks to arrive. Print on Demand will allow them to pay about £10-11 for a book that will be printed locally and delivered within days.

So all these factors taken together, along with the continued maintenance of a committed team of twenty plus interns, should mean that the 2024 overall sales figures will be considerably higher than those in 2023.’

Thank you Sandy for offering your insights into these Ringwood sales figures, and sharing some of our aims and upcoming marketing campaigns for 2024. We look forward to our planned book launches and events coming up throughout this year that, alongside Print on Demand and strong marketing plans, will take us even closer to our 2024 target.