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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nielson's Numbers

I can't believe I have never blundered over this before, but though it is old news, these are such interesting statistics that they bear repeating yet again.

In 2004, Nielson BookScan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the US. And this is what they came up with:

* 950,000 sold less than 99 copies
* Of the rest, 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies
* Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies
* Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies
* Only ten books sold more than a million

The average book in the US sells about 500 copies.

Oh boy. It's enough to give any publisher nightmares -- and aspiring authors much pause to think.

The theory used to be that the ten books that sold 1,000,000+ subsidized the rest. In view of the huge advances made fashionable late last century, is that the way still? My personal opinion is that the mid-list author -- the fellow who earns out his $25,000 advance and goes on to sell 20-30,000 -- might not be rich, but provides the glue that keeps the fabric of the publishing world intact. And the figures point out that he is a very rare bird indeed.


Peter said...

This has nothing to do with Bookscan, but I feel an immature need to reply your observation that I am 'bleak and bitter' about being described as a crime writer. I cannot imagine how you arrived at this impression. I'm on record as saying I couldn't care less about being assigned to a genre.

Chap O'Keefe said...

The disappearance of the mid-list writer is the kind of lament that used to be done so well by Grumpy Old Bookman at his blog, before it went into a state of supension (a "sabbatical") last November.

I don't doubt the astonishing revelation that the average book in the US sells just 500 copies. This has not been uncommon for years in other countries -- e.g. for library fiction in Britain and the Commonwealth. But there you usually have the satisfaction, if not any income, from knowing that most copies of your book are going to be read around a hundred times before they're withdrawn. And naturally, you'd expect the publishers's print-run to be short before you wrote your book.

In the current Hoofprints section at, I pick up some interesting observations on PLR and its importance to writers.

Of course, the US continues to shun PLR schemes and New Zealand's version, the Authors' Fund administered by Creative NZ, has odd features that make it incompatible with other schemes and remove the potential for reciprocal arrangements.

One Australian writer I correspond with makes $13,000 a year from library holdings of his books, which are largely genre westerns similar to my own.

My own Authors' Fund income is received gratefully, but can only be regarded as the "office tea money", though this last year it has grown a bit . . . maybe tea and biscuits!

C. Solimini said...

Thanks, Joan! I've feel much heartened by these statistics, on the heels of my mystery novel's debut. Like most Italian-Americans, I have at least 2,000 relatives, which may very well make Across the River a best-seller in the States!


Joan Druett said...

Great to hear from you, Cheryl -- and very best of luck with your mystery debut. Want to tell us more about it?