The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Dear Miss Snark,

Stolen from POD-DY mouth:

Regarding Neilsen Bookscan's tracked sales of books for 2004 (1.2 million), here are the results:

Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies.
Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
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.
The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies

First, before everyone starts wearing black, reading Sartre, smoking Gaulouise and generally thinking about diving into the gin pail full time, let's remember a few things.

1. Bookscan, despite its name, tracks ISBN numbers not books. The difference is that you can have several different ISBN numbers for ONE title: hardcover, trade paper, mass market, special editions. Calenders have ISBN numbers too. As an author of one title, you could have three, maybe four ISBN numbers sliding over the scanner and ringing up royalties.

2. Bookscan doesn't measure sales at WalMart.

3. Bookscan itself says it only captures about 70% of the hardcover market, and offers no stats on how much of the paper market it captures.

4. Bookscan measures retail sales, which excludes sales to libraries.

5. There is no such animal as the average book.

Go back to tormenting yourself with sentence structure, back story and the death of chicklit. The state of the industry will be there for you to anguish about later.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for saving those who choose to drown themselves in nonsense. I've read about this ad nauseum elsewhere.

Listen people, just write the best damn book you can and leave the statistics to the sports junkies. If you persevere,you will make it.

Inkwolf said...

I wouldn't panic either, but does that include Amazon.com?

Because I do a bit of the buying for a small library, and find Amazon simpler to use than (and probably as inexpensive as) some of the library-oriented vendors who often give you an undetermined, amorphous discount after you've ordered. Amazon has a lot of attractive features, and I'm sure many small libraries have switched over, at least to a degree.

(Yes, news for everyone--libraries really do generally pay the same for a book as you would. There's some sort of odd, pervasive rumor that we get them for next to nothing.)

Of course, we buy through a corporate account there, and I don't know if Bookscan measures those. either.

Harry Connolly said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't these numbers also include books that are ten or twelve (or 70) years old? Several handfuls of readers buying old books by mid-list writers would really pull those averages down.

As a mix of old and new books, those numbers look pretty encouraging to me.

Miss Snark said...

Quite right Mr. C.

Those numbers are for ISBNs period; no distinction in year published.

Bernita said...

I always distrust blanket statistics without context.
Thank you, Miss Snark Dear.

swampytad said...

But I like reading Sartre.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Thank you.

(hugs Miss Snark)

Whoops... sorry. I'm invading personal space here...

*backs away slowly*

Please put the stiletto down...

Thank you. I feel better now.

lauri@nomad said...

Bookscan also doesn't track many independent sales, any sales to specialty markets such as gift stores, museum stores, national parks, etc. etc. Also, I question some of POD-dy Mouth's conclusions about the number of books published and the sales of all books. Not all books are represented by Bookscan figures, since if a publisher doesn't have distribution, their books won't be in Bookscan to begin with. Also, if a book is sold primarily to other markets its Bookscan figures are deceptive. So take these numbers for what (I hope) they are; simply one gauge of the biz.

Linda Adams said...

Does it include book club sales?

S William said...

1.2 million?

That is not right. I know a group of people that combined bought 1.2 million books in 2004.

Hell, anyone remember the Christian book The Purpose Driven Life? That sold about a billion books alone in 2004.

Gerri said...

One thing I noticed is that this list doesn't distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. Many specialty non-fiction book authors would be delighted with 99 sales to non-library sources. The next thing I noticed was that there is no distinction between types of non-fiction or fiction.

Third thing that I noticed is that there's no distinction between the size of presses. Small vs. large press is vital to know. Fourth, there's no discussion of print run sizes for various sized presses.

Basically, these numbers are meaningless. They don't speak to any one category, and because of that, aren't anything to be concerned about. Now, if Bookscan breaks things down more, I'd love to see that.

Anonymous said...

Phew! I wasn't so worried about selling my scribbling as I was about buying Gauloises. The French no longer make them, you know. (The Italians now do.) And what a shame! Nothing consoled my mediocrity more than sulking in a San Francisco cafe, wearing my black leather jacket, drinking bad red wine, and glaring at disapproving Greens while I worked sullenly through a pack of those blue devils, sans filtre.

Rashenbo said...

Thank you for the very uplifting and informative post. It's amazing how writer's can flux with excitement and depression!!! Crazy, ain't we.

Dave Robinson said...

I bet that includes Publish America and others of that ilk too.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Geez. Maybe I'm not such a loser after all. After a couple national tv spots, I was shocked to find out that said book sold only 1700 copies that week. I mean--nobody tells you what to expect. You think that you are going to sell 20,000 books or something. Naive, I know but nobody really talks about numbers. Thanks for the good info. I'm curious from an agent/publisher's perspective, what is considered respectable booksales for a non-fiction/fiction title in a calendar year? If a publisher prints 12,000 copies of a book, do they expect to sell it in a year...two years? Anybody?

Anonymous said...

If a first book with a six figure deal comes out in hardcover and then the next book from the author comes out in paperback does than mean the first book didn't meet expectations? Or is the hardcover a way to announce an author and the plan is to go to paperback to reach a larger audience (because they're cheaper?) Can you assume anything at all from the physical format of a book?

Anonymous said...

Bean couners always find a way to make 1 + 1 = x. But x is a letter, which belongs in a word. That's why I don't do numbers.

--Mrs. Rockwell

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Mrs. Rockwell is right. Sigh. I *think* that a book coming out in paperback after hardcover is a way to reach the masses and shows that the book is successful. If a book in hardcover doesn't sell a lot, I would guess it wouldn't come out in paperback. But I'm no expert.

Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion for slush control -- when the great agent decides NO MORE FICTION!!! or otherwise narrows his/her search strategy, it would save us all time/trouble if he/she could at least update the Great Agency's Website with this news. Especially when the website says to send letter, synopsis, bio, and 50 pages via post for fiction.

When we send away the supposedly required mass of paper and get a little scrap in return that says WE'RE NOT TAKING ANY MORE FICTION we can only think the Great Agency is a den of fiends, or maybe the interns have staged a coup, taped incoherent queries all over the Great Agent's body and sent him/her to Evil Editor's whipping room for discipline...