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Yet more fun facts: who is the world’s bestselling author?

world's bestselling authorChances are, any book that you might write will never make you the world’s bestselling author. Sales for most books written today are pathetically low. As I noted in an earlier post, the average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling fewer than 250 copies per year and fewer than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. And very few titles are big sellers. Only 62 of 1,000 business books released in 2009 sold more than 5,000 copies, according to an analysis by the Codex Group (New York Times, March 31, 2010).

So, what about fiction? Well, somewhat more works of fiction are sold in the US than nonfiction. With greater competition, it might be fair to estimate that the average novel would sell even fewer copies than the average nonfiction book. But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, and say that fiction sells twice or three times as well as nonfiction. That would result in the average work of fiction selling a few hundred copies. If you’ve written a novel, that might not make you feel any better.

And you might find what follows to be completely depressing.

A list of the “Top 10 Bestselling Authors of All Time” informs us that Will Shakespeare tops the list with a total of between two and four billion copies of his work having been sold over the centuries. That probably makes Will the world’s bestselling author. However, the British mystery writer Agatha Christie is in the same league, credited with a total between those two numbers as well.

Third on the list is British romance author Barbara Cartland with between 500 million and one billion sales, followed by Danielle Steele, Harold Robbins, Georges Simenon, Sidney Sheldon, Enid Blyton, Dr. Seuss, and, finally, J. K. Rowling. The author of the Harry Potter series has sold only a paltry number by comparison, somewhere between 350 million and 450 million.

You might take this last list with that proverbial grain of salt. All the authors on this list are either English, American, or French. Surely, there are Chinese writers who would qualify for the top 10! Maybe Japanese or Russians, too.

For more facts about books and publishing, go to The 10 awful truths about book publishing. And if you are in fact a writer, you might be interested in How to sell books in today’s market.

 

More fun facts: how many books are there, really?

how many books In a guest post here on October 4, 2016 (“10 awful truths about book publishing”), publisher Steven Piersanti remarked on the huge numbers of books being published today. Here’s what he wrote:

According to the latest Bowker Report (September 7, 2016), more than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an incredible increase of 375% since 2010. And the number of traditionally published books had climbed to over 300,000 by 2013, according to the latest Bowker figures (August 5, 2014). The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available through many sources.

But Steve’s article referred only to books that were recently published and in the English language. Taking another look at the piece, I began to wonder how many books have been published in the whole world, in every language.

Well, Google has an answer to that, of course! As of August 5, 2010, that number stood at 129,864,880. Staggering, isn’t it? (Actually, I’ve seen an estimate published elsewhere, though I can’t remember where, that the total number of titles published since Gutenberg’s press started operating is 150 million.)

As you’re probably aware, Google Books has been scanning books in enormous numbers for many years now, as have many libraries. Google reported in October 2015 that the total number of titles scanned was over 25 million. The company intends to scan all 130,000,00!

If you’re thinking of writing a book, you might keep these numbers in mind. Getting anybody’s attention with a book these days is a tall order. And don’t expect your book to be a bestseller. So few of them are!

This is the second of four recent posts here highlighting “fun facts” about books, authors, readers, and publishers. Previously, I posted Fun facts about books, authors, and readers. You’ll also find Yet more fun facts: who is the world’s bestselling author? and Even more fun facts: which authors have written the most books?

 

Fun facts about books, authors, and readers

Fun factsA recent newsletter from the Author’s Guild pointed me toward a fascinating infographic by Brendan Brown entitled “Which Country Reads the Most?” The article was full of fun facts, including many surprises for me. Here, for example, are a few particulars about books and publishing around the world:

  • The five countries that read the most are India, Thailand, China, the Philippines, and Egypt. India tops the list with the average person reading 10.7 hours per week. The USA is far down the list at 5.7 hours per week, well below the global average of 6.5 hours per week.
  • The five bestselling books worldwide are Don Quixote (500 million copies!), Xinhua Zidian (400 million), A Tale of Two Cities (200 million), The Lord of the Rings (150 million), and Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (107 million).
  • Four-fifths (80%) of Britons had read a book in the last year, putting them ahead of the Germans (79%), the French (73%), and far ahead of the Italians (56%).
  • Book publishing is the largest media and entertainment industry, with an estimated total value of $151 billion per year. Film and entertainment are second at $133 billion. Music is at $50 billion.

And here are a few things I didn’t know about books, publishing, and readers in the USA:

  • The United States makes up 30% of the global publishing market. China is second at 10%, followed by Germany (9%) and Japan (7%).
  • 27% of US adults didn’t read a single book in the last 12 months. The American average is 12 books per year.
  • Nearly 40% of Americans read print books exclusively. Just 6% read digital-only books.
  • The number of ebook readers in the US is expected to stagnate at 90 million within the next five years.

In footnotes to the infographic, Brown cites a long list of sources for this information, including The Guardian, the Smithsonian, and USA Today. The sources seem credible to me.

You might also be interested in Good news for book publishers—and readers of books!

 

10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing

book publishingSome years ago my friend and publisher Steven Piersanti, founder and president of San Francisco’s Berrett-Koehler Publishers, wrote an article entitled “10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing.” He has updated the piece from time to time with the latest data. Here’s the most recent version, dated September 26, 2016.

By Steven Piersanti

1.  The number of books being published every year has exploded.

According to the latest Bowker Report (September 7, 2016), more than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an incredible increase of 375% since 2010. And the number of traditionally published books had climbed to over 300,000 by 2013 according to the latest Bowker figures (August 5, 2014). The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available through many sources. Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely over-saturated.

2.     Book industry sales are stagnant, despite the explosion of books published.

U.S. publishing industry sales peaked in 2007 and have either fallen or been flat in subsequent years, according to reports of the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Similarly, despite a 2.5% increase in 2015, U.S. bookstore sales are down 37% from their peak in 2007, according to the Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2016).

3.     Despite the growth of e-book sales, overall book sales are still shrinking.

After skyrocketing from 2008 to 2012, e-book sales leveled off in 2013 and have fallen more than 10% since then, according to the AAP StatShot Annual 2015. Unfortunately, the decline of print sales outpaced the growth of e-book sales, even from 2008 to 2012. The total book publishing pie is not growing—the peak sales year was in 2007—yet it is being divided among ever more hundreds of thousands of print and digital books.

4.     Average book sales are shockingly small—and falling fast.

Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 256 million print copies were sold in 2013 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 1, 2016). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.

5.     A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.

For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.

6.     It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books.

Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each book is competing with more than thirteen million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.

7.     Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.

Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

8.     Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers.

Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

9.     No other industry has so many new product introductions.

Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $50,000 to $150,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these new product introduction expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

10.  The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil.

The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition, churning of new technologies, and rapid growth of other media lead to constant turmoil in bookselling and publishing (such as the disappearance over the past decade of over 500 independent bookstores and the Borders bookstore chain). Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

Strategies for Responding to “The 10 Awful Truths”

1. The game is now pass-along sales.

2. Events/immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.

3. Leverage the authors’ and publishers’ communities.

4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.

5. Master new digital channels for sales, marketing, and community building.

6. Build books around a big new idea.

7. Front-load the main ideas in books and keep books short.

 

June 14, 2016

More than you ever wanted to know about the history of paper

paperA review of Paper: Paging Through History, by Mark Kurlansky

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Often history can be usefully viewed through the lens of a single product. For example, Harvard professor Sven Beckert’s powerful book, Empire of Cotton: A Global History, illuminates the early centuries in the history of capitalism by tracing the growth of the textile industry from its origins in Europe’s mercantile revolution to the present day. Mark Kurlansky’s story of Paper: Paging Through History, is less successful. Beckert views the history of cotton as a key to understanding the emergence of capitalism and imperialism, and his argument is compelling. Kurlansky drills down into the endless details of how paper is produced. In the end, he relates more than you ever wanted to know about paper.

Paper is only the half of it

Kurlansky opens his story by relating the development of imagery and language tens of thousands of years in the past, which only manifested as writing some five or six thousand years ago in the Middle East. Paper came much later, first in China, where it was normally used to wrap packages, then in the Muslim world and, finally, in Europe. Until the 13th century, when paper mills first appeared outside Muslim Spain (in Italy), books and other written documents in Europe were written on parchment (scraped and treated animal skin) or vellum (specially prepared calfskin). In fact, both were still in wide use in the Western world in the eighteenth century: the official version of the Declaration of Independence was inscribed on parchment. Paper came to be produced in enormous quantities only with the emergence of publishing in the 15th century following Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction of movable type, which vastly sped up the printing presses then in limited use. As Wikipedia notes, “by 1500, 1000 printing presses were in operation throughout Western Europe and had produced 8 million books.”

Kurlansky devotes considerable space to the artistic uses of paper — for calligraphy in China and Japan, for such arts as origami, and in its many custom-made versions for use by graphic artists. The names of many famous artists crop up in the story.

About the author

Mark Kurlansky has written sixteen books of nonfiction, of which Paper is the most recent. The most notable of his previous efforts are Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and Salt: A World History. He has also written nine other books.

 

 

Rogue spies on the loose

rogue spiesA review of The Accident, by Chris Pavone

@@@ (3 out of 5)

An author’s second novel is all too frequently a disappointment. This one was.

Chris Pavone gained widespread attention with his first novel, The Expats, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and became an international bestseller. I liked it a lot when I read it last year. My review is here.

The Accident resembles The Expats in several important ways: in the clever use of flashbacks to break up the chronological account, in the intelligent characters operating at the upper reaches of American society, and in the colorful locales where the action takes place. Unfortunately, the jumbled chronology was confusing, and the story became predictable after awhile. This is a thriller that didn’t quite thrill.

A wealthy media mogul, rogue spies, and the publishing industry

The conceit around which The Accident is built is that somebody anonymous (known as “the author”) has written a devastating expose of an American media mogul. The book hangs on the author’s account of an accident in which the now-famous man was involved as a college student. As we learn fairly quickly, the media mogul has also engaged in questionable and probably illegal activities in Europe in collusion with a rogue CIA agent. When the book’s manuscript turns up, without warning, on the desk of a top-level New York literary agent, the action begins at a rapid pace. The story follows the course of the manuscript as copies change hands from coast to coast — and further “accidents” befall those who read it. Enough said.

About the author

Chris Pavone has written three novels and one nonfiction book. The Accident is the second of his novels. Pavone is a veteran of the publishing industry, which hogs center stage in the book.

 

 

How to sell books in today’s market

selling books

This is NOT how books are sold in 2014.

You’ve heard all the bad news about book sales: with more and more titles available, and the world’s attention drifting from the printed page to the tiny screen, nobody but a handful of best-selling authors is selling much of anything these days, no matter how good it is.

As writers, our competition today aren’t just the few similar books others have written on the same topic or in the same genre but the many millions of titles in print, every one of them available at the touch of a key. Google calculates that a total of 130 million books have been published in the history of Planet Earth — and that about 10 to 15 percent of them are in print today. At least two million new books are published each year.

So, is all this cause for despair? Of course not! Hope is alive. Berrett-Koehler founder and editor Steven Piersanti offers up seven ideas to help authors respond to this daunting reality. I’ll expand on them here:

1. The game is now pass-along sales.

Once upon a time, people who worked in bookstores actually sold a lot of books. Some still do. But most books today are sold through word-of-mouth recommendations and, in the case of nonfiction books, bulk orders by companies, nonprofits, or agencies for distribution to employees.

2. Events and immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.

Advertising? Forget it. Your name isn’t Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. And if you’ve hired a PR firm in the last couple of years to help you get out the word about your new book, chances are you’ll find it difficult to draw a straight line from the money you spent on publicity and the sales of your book. Reviews help, especially ones in The New York Times Book Review. But, for nonfiction books at least, most sales come about as the result of speaking engagements and high-profile interviews — or direct contact with readers.

3. To maximize sales, leverage the authors’ and publishers’ communities.

People who know you — or at least are familiar with your work through professional or other channels — are substantially more likely to buy your book than the average person on the street. Similarly, if your publisher nurtures a community of people who receive its catalog and are inclined to give its new titles the benefit of the doubt, they may buy your book even if they’re unfamiliar with you.

4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.

If you’ve built a reputation within your profession, or you’ve gained a measure of fame (or notoriety) as a rockstar or through some other means, then you should think of yourself as a brand. Similarly, if lots of people are familiar with the method or approach you’ve used and its name has become familiar to them (even if your own name is largely unknown), then you may own a brand, anyway. As anyone familiar with retail business — as either a merchandiser or a customer — knows very well, brands sell. Make the most of yours.

5. Master new digital channels for sales, marketing, and community building.

You may think Twitter is for twits — but cast aside that misperception if you’re an author in search of a wider market. Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon.com, Goodreads, and other social media channels — even, up to a point, Facebook — can be effective means to build your brand, promote your books, and build your personal following. But don’t make the mistake of using these channels as simple broadcast outlets: they’re sophisticated businesses, and there’s a steep learning curve to traverse before you can hope to use them to sell books.

6. Build books around a big new idea.

This may not apply if you’ve written a collection of poems or a novel, but it’s great advice to follow if you’re writing just about any kind of nonfiction book. Long gone are the days when readers will tolerate the leisurely exposition of an author’s worldview. Books crammed with ideas, even if the ideas are interrelated, tend to receive short shrift from readers these days. The most successful nonfiction books in these overstimulated times are those that lay out one big idea, explore its sources or implications, and then call it quits. Guess what? Readers aren’t likely to remember more than that one idea, anyway.

7. Front-load the main ideas in books, and keep books short.

If love of language is one of the reasons you’ve become a writer, you would be well advised to stifle the urge to wax poetic in any nonfiction book. Get to the point — fast. Make sure that any readers who pick up your book can tell — from the title, the subtitle, the jacket copy, and the preface or introduction — exactly what it is they’ll find between the covers. Unfortunately, even for the minority of those browsers who go on to purchase a copy, that may well be the extent of their reading, anyway. It’s probably best to accept the fact at the outset that, as Steve Piersanti routinely tells writers, “Nobody’s going to read your book.”

 

 

Which industry introduces the most new products?

another new product is introducedObvious, isn’t it?

No other industry introduces so many new products every year. Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, prices, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $50,000 to $150,000 in sales, which needs to cover all these new-product-introduction expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything else limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

My friend — also my editor and publisher — Steve Piersanti, who founded and runs Berrett-Koehler Publishers, has been tracking sales and other key publishing industry data for many years and frequently updating it. This is from his most recent report. 

What’s the future of publishing?

publishingBusiness as usual is no longer possible. Not in publishing, anyway.

The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil. The industry’s margins are thin. The business is highly complex. New technologies constantly appear, morph, and disappear, only to be followed by yet newer technologies. Meanwhile, other media proliferate, some of them growing at a rapid rate. All this leads to constant upheaval in bookselling and publishing. Witness the bankruptcy of Borders, the shrinkage in the number of independent bookstores, continuous disruption from Amazon, and the explosion in self-publishing. Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

My friend — also my editor and publisher — Steve Piersanti, who founded and runs Berrett-Koehler Publishers, has been tracking sales and other key publishing industry data for many years and frequently updating it. This is adapted from his most recent report. 

Do publishers market books?

book-marketing-oprah-285x300Sadly, the answer to the question in this title is, for the most part, no.

Most book marketing today is done by authors, not publishers. Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive — usually many pages — section on the author’s marketing platform and what she or he will do to publicize and market the book. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

My friend — also my editor and publisher — Steve Piersanti, who founded and runs Berrett-Koehler Publishers, has been tracking sales and other key publishing industry data for many years and frequently updating it. This is from his most recent report.