Saturday, October 01, 2005

5K

According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks sales from major booksellers, only 2 percent of the 1.2 million unique titles sold in 2004 had sales of more than 5,000 copies. -- New York Times

Depressing: 2% = 24,000 titles

Really depressing: 98% = 1,176,000 titles

5,000 copies isn't exactly a raging success, either. Let's do some more math. If a novel comes out in hardcover, and sells exactly 5,000 copies (and to keep things simple, has a 5,000 copy first print run and zero returns), sales would be:

5,000 copies X $22.95 cover price = $114,750.00

Let's say the author gets 8% royalties, which would = $9,180.00. Subtract the agent's 15% cut of $1,377.00, and the author is left with $7,803.00.

Hopefully the author didn't sign for a huge advance, or quit the day job.

If a novel comes out in paperback and sells exactly 5,000 copies, things are much worse:

5,000 copies X $6.99 cover price = $34,950.00

6% royalties = $2097.00, subtract the agent's cut of $314.55, and the author is left with $1,782.45 [and if this author also signed for a $5K advance: $1,782.45 - $5,000.00 advance = ($3,217.55).]

What's ominous is Bookscan telling us that 98% of the titles in 2004 didn't even make the 5K mark.

I need an aspirin.

21 comments:

  1. Shit.

    When you finish with those aspirin, send a couple my way, willya? Along with a paper bag.

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  2. ugh.

    Methinks I need to get my butt promoting some more.

    And no aspirin for me thanks, but maybe a pint of Ben and Jerry's to drown those woes.

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  3. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Makes me wonder what the stats are for first publication. For example, all or most Dick Francis novels are in print and would be unique titles for 2004; they've long since earned out their advances. In some markets there isn't much reprinting, but there are some authors who have dozens in print from decades of writing. Maybe those stats are significantly better. They should at least be somewhat better....

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  4. nico-rambling4:49 AM

    I'm afraid I'm not all that shocked by the data. Our bookstores here are flooded with so much, well, crap, that it's nigh on impossible to find a good book.

    I suspect the fantasy and sci fi stuff sells better, as those shelves seem to have fairly steady turnover, but an embarrasing chunk of our bookstores are devoted now to "yoga gear" "baby gear" "cooking" gear and a sea of cheap books mass produced, largely picture books and garbage.

    To be honest, if I wanted to find a book, as in the aforementioned gem of JD ward's, I had to search in a good half a top floor of a three story bookstore, in 5 categories.

    It isn't here. That has to hurt booksellers in canada that a US market release won't typically arrive here for another 3-6 weeks after the release date.

    How does anyone FIND a book they want to buy, is beyond me. But seems they do, here, because I see people walk out with armloads, 2, 3, 6 books at a go.

    Maybe promoting good books and not just the hot lit/genre of the moment and discouraging the whole "milk a trend until it screams for mercy" style of publishing might be a nice idea. It's great to be the first to write that hot chicklit novel but now I find the market's saturated with clones as far as the eye can see.

    ( and no, I wouldn't plan on quitting a day job on one sale, that's just....well, i wouldn't do it. maybe after 10 sales.)

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  5. It sounds to me like Nico and Anon may have hit the nail on the head.

    Taking into account backlists and the slew of "1001 Things You Never Knew About Herpes/Watermelon/The Film 'Godsend'/Those Books Explaining The Reality Behind The Da Vinci Code" along with the volume of shite coming from places like PublishAmerica - all of which together amount for a phenomenal quantity of books - not to mention non-bestsellers like strictly academic texts, I'm not actually that surprised at the figures.

    (And I did quit my day job after one sale. Though to be fair it was more a case of the day job quitting me. But I've not gone looking for another one.) :-)

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  6. How to make a fortune in publishing: figure out a business model that allows both authors and publishers to make money on titles that sell less than 5,000 copies.

    My thinking is that you aren't going to change these statistics significantly, and you aren't going to do a better job of predicting which books fall into the 2%. So how can you make the 98% a profit source rather than a cost center?

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  7. Tam wrote: When you finish with those aspirin, send a couple my way, willya? Along with a paper bag.

    On the bag, barf or hyperventilation?

    Phoenix wrote: ...maybe a pint of Ben and Jerry's to drown those woes.

    There's a flavor they need to invent: Writer Valium.

    Anonymous wrote: Makes me wonder what the stats are for first publication.

    Good point. I think new fiction titles released in the U.S. hover around 195,000 per year now (if someone has the actual stat, please feel free to correct me.)

    Nico-rambling wrote: Maybe promoting good books and not just the hot lit/genre of the moment and discouraging the whole "milk a trend until it screams for mercy" style of publishing might be a nice idea.

    Publishing being what it is, I think there will always be a trend being milked, just as there will always be some tortured downer the literati have continuous orgasms over. We should all renew our vows to promote good books from genuinely struggling authors who don't win the Whitbread, amass acclaim from the snot brigade or otherwise get any decent attention for their fine work.

    I apologize in advance to the intellectuals and academics that statement may piss off.

    John wrote: And I did quit my day job after one sale. Though to be fair it was more a case of the day job quitting me. But I've not gone looking for another one

    May you remain happily self-employed -- and why does that sound so wrong as I read it back?

    Katherine wrote: How to make a fortune in publishing: figure out a business model that allows both authors and publishers to make money on titles that sell less than 5,000 copies.

    I loathe to utter these words, but print on demand might be the only answer.

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  8. PK the Bookeemonster:
    From the name you can guess that I love books. As an outsider (non-writer or otherwise affiliated with the publishing industry), I've read articles and books about the book industry. The decline of publishing isn't that they're publishing fewer books. The problem is oversaturation. There's practically a book for every niche possible yet there is still the expectation of selling a million copies of each and every one. Won't happen. And I don't suggest that they publisher fewer books a year because each book probably satisfies the reading cravings of a few people and somebody was thrilled to see their book in print. Maybe the expectation is what needs to altered.

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  9. Those numbers didn't shock me either, but I publish with an independent publisher. I know there are reasons why I love to write. Good to know it isn't for the money. LOLOL

    When I sold my first book, many co-workers looked at me like I'd won the lottery and wanted to know if I was quiting the day job. The number one question I'm asked is, "How's the book doing?" They want to know how many gazillion copies have sold, how much money I've made, and when I'm chucking the 9-5, hiring a slew of servants and retiring to 'only' write.

    I've given up explaining royalty statements that arrive after a year, the percentage retained for returns, blah blah blah. I now skip the 'numbers' conversation all together and say, "I've received nothing but positive feedback. People seem to really like my book."

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  10. Okay that's just plain depressing.

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  11. And can I say how glad I am that I write what I do when I see those numbers!

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  12. *stares*

    Screw the aspirin. *breaks out the cloves*

    Though, to be honest, I'm not that horribly surprised. Nico has a very good point about the amount of crap that gets published. It's only actually been recently I've been able to go into a bookstore and come out with a fair amount of books... 2002 - 2004, I'd go in bookstores and find nothing, unless I was looking for something specific.

    That said, it might be simply related to style and that what's being published now is more to my taste, but ... *shrugs*

    Will stop rambling now. :P

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  13. Anonymous3:47 PM

    1.2 million seems like an awful lot of books. How many of these are published through iUniverse or PublishAmerica? How many are "Restaurant Guides to Sacramento" or similar books? How many are school text books, or technical manuals, or scholarly treatises?

    In fact, rereading the article, it doesn't even say new releases. How many of those >5k books were released ten years ago and are still in the system but not on very many bookstore shelves because customer demand has crested? If I bought a copy of With A Single Spell (originally published in '89 but reprinted from Wildside in '03) that would come up as one of the 1.2 million unique titles.

    I don't think it's such a scary stat, especially considering the context of the article.

    Harry Connolly

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  14. I'm going to agree with Harry Connolly on this, mainly because it's depressing to think that, if I ever get published, my book will sell so few copies.

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  15. You're bringing me down, but the fact remains: all I need to do is write one Da Vinci Code, and I can quit my day job. It's that simple.

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  16. Corporate Bookslave No More8:50 AM

    As a former Evil Corporate Bookseller, I can say with reasonable certainty that the number of those books that came from iUniverse or PublishAmerica probably isn't statistically significant.

    Even B&N, which owns, I belive, a 40% stake in iUniverse, doesn't stock more than a few of their titles per yet. If you *find* a PublishAmerica title on the shelves, it was either a refused "special order" (and it's amazing how many "authors" use this method of getting their books into the stores), or possibly leftover stock from a local author event.

    As hard as it is to get vanity/subsidy press or POD titles *into* the stores, I'd be pretty shocked if there were enough of them to skew the numbers at all.

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  17. And the Davinci Code is a phenomenon all it's own I think. Like 2 years on the Times hardcover bestseller list. Right now he's got 2 other books on the hardcover list and books on the paperback list (reprints).

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  18. Anonymous5:45 PM

    Former, wouldn't those PA books turn up in the Bookscan numbers if just one person ordered one through Amazon.com?

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  19. So much of our bookstores are glutted with non-book items, I'm not sure it's a bookstore some days.

    I don't worry much about the glut of mass-market-hash ups like the clobbed together "pictures of seafood" or "toilets of italy" cheapbooks.

    Nor do I really concern myself with the trendy bestseller racks, because I just don't know anyone who reads that. They beeline for the good stuff and they will find it.

    If publishers are wailing that they're losing money, they'd do well to stop foisting a million and one kicky, quirky female heroine with neurosis who loves shopping and only wants LOOOOVE chicklit knockoffs.

    I think it might be worse if you write "LIT" as in literature, because there, you are but a minnow in a sea. Horror, sci fi, romance and fantasy at least you've got a shot at being seen and randomly found.

    If I had my way? I'd toss all the trinkets and bags and cookware and yoga mats and Susanne Somers diet wares and baby gear out, with the crapmarket books, and start making it easy for people to find a good book.

    Maddeningly, Chapters canada usually lists ALL it's stock on its website as "not in stock" and none of their stores ( of which I can search 20 or more locally) have books I want in stock, leading me to think "if you're a bookstore, shouldn't you have....BOOKS?"

    PBW, If Angels burn got relocated from Scifi/fantasy/ to horror and then to the top shelf of ROmance where no one can find it, so I moved it to a lower shelf. I don't think they know where to file that one.

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  20. Thanks for the entry. Very insightful. One question... how soon do the number reports start to come in after publication? A year? Six months? A few weeks?
    fs

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  21. Frederick Smith wrote: One question... how soon do the number reports start to come in after publication? A year? Six months? A few weeks?

    It depends on the publisher, and how well the book does. I can usually get some idea on my initial sales numbers within two to three months. I don't subscribe to Bookscan, but I believe they update publishers weekly, and I know some writers have been able to get info on numbers from Ingram (anyone who knows better, please correct me.)

    You also know you're doing okay if you hit a BSL list. My latest release went on sale yesterday, and hit #17 on the Waldenbooks mass market BSL. While that doesn't give me numbers, I know I sold a lot of books in one day. :)

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