Thursday, January 7, 2016

Will There Be A 2016 Blockbuster Book?

The top selling book in America in 2015 was Harper Lee’s sequel to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set A Watchman, with 1.6 million copies.  The book almost didn’t see the light of day, having been in storage after it was rejected for publication some 55 years ago.  The next two best sellers, a Dr. Seuss book on pets, also something dug up out of a closet after it was created a half-century ago, and another sequel to 50 Shades of Gray, begin to form a pattern in the industry:

1.      Sequels and series sell like hotcakes.
2.      Successful books come from successful authors.
3.      Pre-pub hype builds enormous sales.

On the other hand, they may be the exception to the rule.  Not every book by every previously best-selling author becomes a hit.  Nor does every sequel or series do well.  But it’s obvious in the movie industry that the sequel-series formula works.  Look at what’s in theaters now – Star Wars 7, Rocky 7 James Bond 24 – all doing well.

Still, it’s hard to say what the reading public will buy.  Literary agents, authors, and acquisition editors at publishers guess all of the time as to what will sell and by how much.  Who can predict which books are to take off this year?

Even when you look at the most successful titles for this past year, what can be concluded about what sells?  A book on racism, another on pets, and another on erotic sex.  Is there any pattern here?  Not really.

Now let’s look at something else.  There are 320 million Americans.  The top-selling book was only purchased by a half of one percent of the nation’s residents.  Those are not exactly Super Bowl numbers.  If only a half percentage point bought the next iPhone or Adele album, those products would be considered abject failures.  But in the book industry, such a sum reigns supreme.

It always boggles my mind that wildly successful books only touch a fraction of the potential pool of book-buying readers.  If you can start to sell over a million copies, why not tens of millions?  Are readers’ tastes so different that they can’t embrace even one title as a nation?

Okay, maybe people get the book from a friend or library, so now the readership of a book is several times its sales numbers.  But even if 10 people read each sold copy, that’s still accounting for less than 2% of the country.  Something is missing from this equation, but I’m not sure I have a solution.  But the problem is worth probing.

Here are some reasons why we don’t see greater sales for a singular book:

1.      We don’t read the same book because we have so many choices and options to choose from.  There are thousands of new books hitting the market daily and people are reading different books at different times.

2.      Shrinking book review pages in magazines and newspapers mean that less attention is being paid to books.

3.      In addition to new books coming out, the backlist of the world is huge – well into the millions -- so again, lots of competition for eyes on one book.

4.      Non-book competition for one’s pocketbook and attention is fierce -- streaming content, free blogs, podcasts, social media, magazines, newspapers, TV, theater, movies, video games, sports and busy lives limit one’s book-reading time.

But it still boggles my mind that even with all of the hype behind the top selling books – and the presumed positive word of mouth – sales on specific bestsellers should be higher.  Look at movies.  There are always movies that bring in good bank but there are also some mega-blockbusters that are so dominant that it’s hard to find many people who haven’t seen a particular movie.  Look at Star Wars – it more than doubles its nearest competition.  Adele did the same thing with her album.  I want to see a book soar and leave everyone else in the dust.

2016 Book Marketing & Book Publicity Toolkit

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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