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No, Most Books Don't Sell Only a Dozen Copies

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the complexities and misconceptions around publishing statistics, particularly the claim that 50% of books published sell fewer than 12 copies. It examines the various factors that contribute to the confusion, such as the definition of "book," "published," and "sold," as well as the limitations of data sources like BookScan. The article argues that while it is true that the majority of traditionally published books sell relatively few copies, the statistics are often misinterpreted or taken out of context.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Complexities of Publishing Statistics

1. What are some of the factors that contribute to the confusion around publishing statistics?

  • The definition of "book" can vary, as it encompasses not just novels and memoirs, but also cookbooks, puzzle books, and other types of publications.
  • The term "published" can refer to newly released books (frontlist) or any book that exists in any format, including reissues and books that are no longer actively sold.
  • "Sales" data is often based on BookScan, which only tracks about 75% of retail sales and does not include ebooks, audiobooks, or sales through other channels like author websites or libraries.
  • There are differences between lifetime sales, first-year sales, and sales in a random calendar year, which can lead to misleading statistics.

2. Why are statistics like "most books sell fewer than 99 copies" or "50% of books sell fewer than 12 copies" problematic?

  • These statistics often depend on the specific criteria used, such as whether they are counting one year's sales or lifetime sales, frontlist or backlist titles, and the types of publishers and formats included.
  • A book that was a bestseller in the past but now only sells a few copies per year could be counted in the "fewer than 99 copies" statistic, even though it was previously successful.
  • The 50% claim of books selling fewer than 12 copies is unclear in terms of what it is actually measuring, and publishing professionals have expressed skepticism about its accuracy.

[02] The Realities of the Publishing Industry

1. What is the general trend in terms of book sales?

  • Most traditionally published novels that appear in bookstores and are reviewed in the media tend to sell several hundred to a few thousand copies across formats.
  • A small percentage of books are blockbusters that sell millions of copies, while the vast majority sell relatively few copies.
  • Publishers often have difficulty predicting which books will be successful, making it a "throw-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" industry.

2. What data did the BookScan analyst provide to clarify the situation?

  • The analyst looked at frontlist titles from the top 10 publishers in the U.S. trade market, and found that:
    • 15% of those books sold fewer than 12 copies
    • 66% sold less than 1,000 copies
    • Less than 2% sold more than 50,000 copies
  • This suggests that while a significant portion of books sell relatively few copies, the 50% claim is likely an exaggeration.
  • The analyst also noted that the data does not include sales through other channels like author websites, ebooks, and library lending, which can be important for some authors and publishers.
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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