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Some Startling Book Facts

If you've been writing (or reading) for a while, you probably are aware that things have been changing in the publishing industry. I knew it, but was unaware of how BIG some of those changes are. Here are a few surprising book facts, collected by author Jerry Borrowman. (Thanks, Jerry.)

Book Publishing - Some Startling Numbers

From The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing by Steven Piersanti, President, Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2009): Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast. Combine the explosion of new books with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. Here's the reality of the book industry:

• In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.

• Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.

• Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.

• The average book in America sells about 500 copies" (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006).

And average sales have since fallen more since these figures. According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

The average publisher will only print 1,000 copies of a book. They do this because the average book will sell an average of 400 or 500 copies.

When a publisher takes on a new title, it is a real gamble. Publishers are gambling that the books they take on will generate sales of 1,000 copies, and on rare occasions, they can hope for a book to sell a full 5,000 copies.

The book that sells 100,000 or one million copies is extremely rare. With more than 100,000 books being printed every year, fewer than one percent of those books will see sales in the range of 5,000 or more copies. Every publisher has hopes that one of the 1,000 books every year that will sell at least 5,000 copies is one of the books sold through their publishing house. These are the books that will help the publisher to make a real profit this year.


Yikes! For those of us who write, the potential for a strong audience seems to be dropping day by day, and yet there are opportunities. We just have to find them.