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How Much Money Do Most Authors Make? And Other Provocative Industry Stats

May 17, 2006

cash.jpgAny statistician will tell you that 50 percent of statistics are incorrect. Of that, 20 percent are pulled from thin air. In the spirit of using random numbers to analyze a complex industry, I’ve compiled a list of important statistics from many different sources. With these little nuggets, you will be able to impress all your friends at the library, just do so quietly.

  • 78 percent of titles published come from small/self publishers. —PMA
  • Advances from major publishers generally fall into one of two categories: $2,000 to $20,000 or $100,000 plus. But the six-figure advance is an endangered species in today’s market (especially for first-time unknown authors). —Greenleaf Book Group
  • POD books sell 150 to 175 copies on average. —New York Times, March 1, 2004
  • The industry average return rate is 35 percent. —Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2005
  • Barnes & Noble bookstores generally carry 60,000 to 200,000 titles at one time per store.
  • Bookstore co-op promotions typically range in cost from $5,000 to $30,000.
  • According to preliminary estimates from R.R. Bowker, title output fell 9.5 percent in 2005 to 172,000 new titles and editions. —Publishers Weekly
  • There are six large publishers (in New York), 300–400 medium-sized publishers, and 86,000 small/self-publishers. —Dan Poynter
  • According to R.R. Bowker, there are 2.8 million books in print.
  • Saurage Research reported that for every one book sold online, eight are sold in traditional bookstores.
  • 59 percent of customers plan to purchase a specific book when entering a bookstore, according to the Book Industry Study Group.
  • On average, a bookstore browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover of a book. —Greenleaf Book Group
  • 8,000–11,000 new publishing companies are established each year. —ISBN.org
  • About 50,000 titles are published each year in Canada. —bookwire.com
  • In 2002, 73,000 smaller and newer publishers grossed $29.4 billion. —PMA
  • In 2002, five large New York publishers had U.S. sales of $4.102 billion and worldwide sales of $5.68 billion. —Publishers Weekly, June 16, 2003
  • 2002 sales of Christian books and products through all channels were just under $4.2 billion, up from $4 billion in 2000. $2.4 billion sold through Christian retail outlets, $1.1 billion through general retail, and $725 million through direct-to-consumer ministry channels. —Christian Booksellers Association reported in Publishers Weekly
  • A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies. —Authors Guild
  • The top ten U.S. cities by dollar volume of book sales and number of bookstores are Los Angeles-Long Beach, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, San Jose, and San Diego. —Christian Science Monitor
  • Entertainment content is the largest U.S. export. —Wall Street Journal
  • Global piracy losses to the U.S. book publishers were estimated at $650.8 million in 2001. —International Intellectual Property Alliance
  • Of the top 50 books, fiction outsells nonfiction about 60 percent to 40 percent. Fiction peaks in July at 70 percent, but nonfiction reaches almost 50 percent in December. —USA Today
  • Of the authors surveyed by Business Week, 96 percent said they realized a significant positive impact on their businesses from writing a book and would recommend the practice. —Businessweek.com

The most important thing to take away from this is that the book industry is a competitive one. To have a shot, a book must be well written, well packaged, well distributed, and well marketed. Above all, the book needs an audience and that audience must want the book. If you’re looking for more provocative industry revelations, subscribe to the Big Bad Book Blog’s RSS feed. To find more book industry stats, we recommend Dan Poynter’s stats page and BISG.org.

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