BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Speaking of books ...

So, yesterday I put up a review of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and in the midst of that I went off on a bit of digression into the little-suspected realities of publishing. As I've no doubt mentioned, I ran my own publishing company, Eschaton Books, for a decade ('93-'04), and, as a small press, was constantly frustrated by our numbers not getting to where I thought they should be. Frankly, I thought that my "business model" was embarrassingly low, so low, in fact, that I was hesitant to share it with my authors. My intent was to sell 10,000 copies of each new title ... which is, after all just 200 copies per state. Would you guess that 200 per state was a ridiculously HUGE goal? Me neither. So I was aggravated that we weren't making those numbers. In the years since I've been out of that business, I've read a number of things with these amazingly small numbers, and I was wanting a source to refer to for the figures I was throwing around in that review. In poking around in Google, I found this post from a few years back in Cheryl Swanson's blog. Here's the amazing numbers she's presenting there:
A few years ago, Bookscan tracked sales of 1.2 million books in the United States.
Of those 1.2 million, only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies. Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.
If you work through all the numbers, (I did and double-checked, so don’t bother) you’ll discover something horrifying.
The average new book in the United States sells about 500 copies. (Yep. Only 500. ...)
Only 2% of the 1,200,000 books sold even 5,000 copies, and here I was thinking that twice that was an extraordinarily modest goal. It still boggles my mind, though. I was just looking to move two hundred copies on average per state. This would mean, say, in Ohio, selling TEN copies in each of the top 20 cities, which run from 47,000 or so up to 787,000 plus several million extra in the "metro area" ... but even in the smallest city, is it "pie in the sky, by and by" to sell ten copies? I guess so, by these numbers. In the least populous state, Wyoming, 200 copies over a population of 563,626 would be making a sale to fewer than 4 people in 10,000 ... and in the most populous state, California, that would mean making a sale to just over 5 people in a million. Nationwide, the idea of selling 10,000 copies would mean making a sale to just over 3 people per hundred thousand ... but that represents a target that's twice as good as the performance of the top 2% of books published!

Yet, I've had people suggest to me that I should get back into publishing.

The fact that the average sales for a book coming out is just 500 means a) half of the books don't even sell that many copies, and b) I should probably feel better about our sales, as I believe we moved more than that on everything but my poetry.

I wonder if the move to e-books and digital publishing is changing the math here. I've ranted before on the economies of that field (somebody's making a ton of money, and I doubt it's the authors), since all the "hard costs" of publishing, the printing, the shipping, the storage, the delivery, go "poof!" and all you're left with is the developmental, editorial, and promotional costs plus royalties. At Eschaton, for a $10 cover-price book, 66% went to distribution chain (distributor => wholesaler => retailer ... also costs that are largely not in play), and 34% had to cover everything else. I figure that 20% of the total went to hard costs, so everything else came out of 14% of cover price ... which is why I go nuts when I see e-books priced at anything over 25% of the print edition!

Anyway ... felt like passing along this stuff as it still amazes me.


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