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Friday, July 21, 2006

Some SOBERING statistics

The following was posted by one of my publishers on their authors' loop. I do not read PW and therefore cannot verify that's where they're from. But it sure does say something about the market, or more specifically an author's potential to earn a living, if these figures are accurate.

Note: the info in brackets was added by moi.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From Publishers Weekly, some sobering statistics:

In 2004, Nielsen Bookscan tracked sales of 1.2 million books [CLARIFYING: INDIVIDUAL TITLES]in the US.

Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 (yes, ninety-nine)
copies each.
[DOING THE MATH HERE, THAT'S JUST SHY OF 80% OF PUBLISHED TITLES SELL FEWER THAN 99 COPIES. ACK! WE'RE NOT JUST TALKING SELF-PUBBED HERE, PEOPLE.]

Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. [THIS IS ANOTHER 16.7%, THEREFORE ADDING THE ABOVE TO THIS FIGURE, 96.7 % OF *ALL* TITLES PUBLISHED IN THE U.S. SELL BETWEEN 0 AND 1000 COPIES!!! OMG. I HAD NO IDEA.]

Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies. [2% OF ALL PUBLISHED BOOKS SELL MORE THAN 5K COPIES. I'M SPEECHLESS...]

Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies. [THESE FIGURES DON'T SURPRISE ME AS MUCH AS THE ABOVE.]

Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each. [CAN YOU NAME THEM? I'D GUESS DAVINCI CODE'S IN THERE. HARRY POTTER. MAYBE A NORA TITLE. WHO ELSE?]

THE AVERAGE BOOK IN THE US SELLS ABOUT 500 COPIES. [ACK!!!! HOW DO PUBLISHERS STAY IN BUSINESS?]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Okay, so now looking at these numbers, what do they mean? And how do we interpret them?

Yes, it can be argued that these figures include all genres, including non-fiction, so to say these numbers give an accurate picture of the romance genre may not be fair.

BUT if romance is truly a large portion of published fiction (what does RWA say? It's roughly 40% of fiction?), it's mathematically impossible for all the romance books to fit within that top 3% that sells 5k copies and more, along with the biographies written by ex-presidents, as well as timely diet books and novels by the Nora Roberts, Steven Kings and Dan Browns, etc.. No, it's still more likely that a good percentage of romance novels fall into that larger number, the 97%.

Something to consider, however, is the fact that these figures include a GREAT many older titles. If there are roughly 120,000 new titles published every year, then you're looking at books that could be as old as ten years. Having so many older titles in the mix is sure to bring down the "curve" or skew the figures, I'm sure. Then again, if all new books sold over 5k copies, then that number should be 120,000, not 25,000. Maybe the percentage of new books that sell over 5k is low, but it may not be the 2% the figures above might suggest at first glance. But at the HIGHEST, it could only be 25,000/120,000 or 20%, and we know that isn't accurate either because it's assuming every one of those 25,000 titles are "new". The reality is it has to be some figure in between 2 and 20%.

I'm sure publishers know what that number is, but I don't.

On another site, I read that 70% of all books published do NOT earn out their advance. OMG. And a book that sells over 5000 copies (I'm assuming that's taking into account returns) is considered "successful".

I've just had a MAJOR reality check. With my first NY published book about to release, I'm hoping I'll be in that top 2 (or whatever that figure really is)%. I'm REALLY hoping.

No matter how I look at it, the math isn't on my side.

Wow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Okay, I'm editing this post to add some new information I've found.

1. Bookscan does not track *all* sales, such as those generated through publishers' sites.

2. I located a site that stated that adult fiction constitutes roughly 14% of all books published in a year.

That's a very small percentage.

Using the 120,000 figure, that means roughly 17,000 new fiction titles are published each year.

Then, look at how many of those are romance. According to RWA, there were not quite 2300 romance novels released in 2004. That's a VERY small percentage of the 1.2 MILLION titles Bookscan tracked in 2004. It's statistically possible that EVERY ONE of those titles sold over 5,000 copies. It's probably not likely, but it is still possible.

Bottom line: While at first glance, these figures are shocking, we're not really learning much from them. They're too vague, include old books as well as new, and include non fiction as well as fiction.

However, they do give an author a vague idea of the market as a whole as well as a general measure by which they can assess their book's "success".

Numbers. It's interesting how they can look one way one minute and then under more careful scrutiny, look entirely different the next.

Thoughts anyone?

posted by Tawny Taylor at 8:21 PM |

8 Comments:

Commented by Blogger Karen:


Those numbers do sound shocking, mostly the number of books that sell less than 1000 copies. It blows my mind that any book can't that is published by a major publisher can't find a market of even 1000 people.

Those numbers do take the glow right off the industry, that's for sure!

Good luck with the new release - and good luck with being in that top 2%!


10:20 PM 
Commented by Blogger Nonny:


Are these figures of books with ISBNs or is there some other qualifier? Cause if it's just ISBNs, that includes a lot of self-published and POD books which sell for shit. (As a general rule of thumb.) Once you figure in the non-fiction and such as well, it doesn't look so bad, IMO.

Romance as a general rule does not make big bestseller status like Dan Brown or JK Rowling. At the same point, sales are steady -- probably more so than in other genres. Romance readers in some ways are a breed unto themselves -- and it's a lot easier for a romance reader to pick up a book on a whim at the grocery store than it is for a SFF reader.

I dunno, though. I don't think the statistics are really conclusive. It's pretty well known that there's a lot of books that don't do well -- but there's not much point in worrying about it. Write the best you can and do whatever promo you can manage ... and ask Lady Luck for the rest. ;)


12:22 AM 
Commented by Blogger Kristen Painter:


I tend to ignore such statistics - call me a pollyanna - but I never believe the bad stuff will apply to me or my friends.

Look at how many writers are out there trying to break in and consider how few will make it (you hear these kinds of conversations all the time on RWA loops and conferences). Well, you've already beaten those odds. Why not these too?


8:28 AM 
Commented by Blogger Jen:


My head is spinning!!! I knew it was tough. Especially watching an author with Harlequin release in June and pulled off the Walmart shelf only three weeks later. You wonder how in the world anyone could sell more copies other than to their friends.
I wonder where the epublishing fits in.


9:36 AM 
Commented by Blogger Zinnia:


I don't put a lot of stock in such figures. One bookstore might not do that great, whereas another one's business booms. Even well known authors have flop books. Tess Gerritsen told me through an email that her novel GRAVITY almost ended her career. What's odd is that it's my favorite book from her that I've read so far!

Nah, I think those numbers are way off. Too many varying factors to be accurate, imho.


1:34 PM 
Commented by Blogger Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan:


I've come to the conclusion that most statistics can't be trusted. They're skewed to support whatever point the statistician or reporter is trying to make. Unless you know exactly how the numbers are figured out, it probably all amounts to bupkus.

I'm not trying to blow sunshine up anyone's butt, but publishing is a business with an awful lot of mouths to feed. They have to be making a profit somewhere, and I can't see how they all could rely on the mega-sellers like Brown and Rowling and Roberts to carry the struggling mid-listers. I think the bottom line is books are big business, though the least of the profits go the authors.


2:43 PM 
Commented by Blogger Jen:


I did my part today, Tawny. I went and bought one of your titles at Borders today. They had three of them. Cool!
It's tough to find Divas though. They rotate off the shelves so quickly.


4:21 PM 
Commented by Blogger Tawny Taylor:


Thanks for the insight! And Jen, you're a sweetie :)


8:45 AM 

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