Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Sales Shift All Over the Place

The Big Five in publishing accounted for 46% of all e-book sales in 2012.  It is now down to 34%.  E-book sales are sinking industry-wide, falling from a peak of 242 million units in 2013 to 204 million in 2015.  So what does any of this mean for the industry?

The trends are obvious:

·         Print is up.  This past year 17 million more print books were sold vs. 2014, when 636 million printed books were sold – about two for every single American.

·         E-books are losing popularity, primarily when it comes to the Big 5.  The self-publishing and small-press markets are surging by comparison.  The share of e-book sales by self-published authors rose by 50% from 2014.  The share of e-book sales by small presses rose by 17% in the past year.

·         The number of books sold through measured e-book and Nielsen Book Scan print sales is down.  870 million books (ebook or print) were sold in 2014; last year there were 857 million units sold.  But audio-books rose. Books sold to libraries or direct to the consumer were not calculated.

·         The number of indie bookstores is on the rise.  Roughly 3 in 4 books purchased are print books.

The book industry seems to be getting healthier.  You wouldn’t know it from Book Expo however.  Attendance was estimated at being down 20% from last year. The event was in Chicago this time around, after the last six or seven were in New York City.  To cut costs, the New York-based industry didn’t send as many people as usual.  Further, the exhibitors took fewer and smaller spaces, requiring fewer people to man them. 

There were still hundreds and hundreds of official autograph signings and just as many at publisher booths.  The book give-aways draw in bookstores, libraries, and fans from within the publishing community.  But long gone were people who dressed in costumes or gave away non-book items or had a gimmicky event, like taking your photo with a Playboy bunny.

The show was contained to one segment of one floor.  The aisles were too easy to navigate.  Not too long ago they used to be crowded to the point it was challenging to negotiate your way through the throngs.

The bigger publishers used to have booths that took up an entire half-aisle or several aisles.  No one this time had that big of a space, though Workman and Penguin Random House seemed larger than the rest.

But the show is not necessarily reflective of the industry.  It is reflective of how sales take place and why publishing professionals and writers gather in the first place. The show has educational panels and provides networking opportunities. I still love going to BEA but I fear it will get too small too soon.

The book world continues to change, grow and recreate itself.  I still think it needs to do a better job of branding itself, promoting literacy, and making a strong case for why print matters.  We’ll see what new trends develop in the near future but one thing is for sure – great books are in abundance and it’s an exciting though challenging time for writers, publishers, bookstores, and readers alike.

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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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