Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Will We Ever See 1 Billion Print Books Sold?

The book industry reports print book sales are on the rise for the fourth consecutive year, but the increase barely kept up with the rate of population growth.  Will we ever see a year where print book sales cross the billion-book mark?

In 2017, according to outlets (online and bricks) that use NPD Book Scan, (believed to account for 80-85% of all sales), the number of print books sold rose 1.9% above 2016 totals.  This means that 687.2 million total print units were sold – or only an average of two per every man, woman and child.

Mass market paperbacks continue to be in decline but trade paperbacks and hardcover books are up steadily over the past few years.  But the biggest gain, percentagewise, comes from board books.  They are up by 33% from 2014.

That’s great news, because board books go to the newest, youngest readers.  If these kids, can get hooked on physical books and gain entry to literacy early on, there is hope for the book industry.

But I had to wonder, what would it take to increase print book sales by 50% - which would only come out to Americans buying three books for the year.

Sure there are competing formats for books, including streaming audiobooks and e-books. There are also competing forms of entertainment and information providers, including plays, movies, television, music, pro sports, video games – and free things like net surfing, social media, blogs, and webinars.

There was not one book that sold at least a million print copies in the United States in 2017.  This means no book was purchased by more than a third of one percent of the 321 million Americans.  That’s nuts.

Millions of people will follow Kim Kardashian’s fat ass on television and tens of millions more will follow her on Instagram but far fewer are cracking open a book.  What this tells us is that Americans don’t read a lot of books and of the books they read, there’s a lack of consensus as to what should be bought and read.  

We now must redefine what makes for a popular book.  Heck a “bestseller” can be a book that sold 50 copies in an hour on Amazon, or, according to Publishers Weekly, a book that sold only a couple of thousand copies in a week via reporting stores.  What happened to the blockbuster book?

Even the scathing Trump presidency tear-down book, Fire and Fury, for all of the press it is receiving, had only sold 30,000 copies the first three days.  For all of the ink it received – and for the significance of its contents – shouldn’t it hit sales of a million soon?

We are a distracted society, one that doesn’t always prioritize books over other sources of content.  We are also a nation on a budget.  If one can get free content or cheap information, he or she may choose that over a new book.  The less expensive e-book, libraries, and easier access to trading books online all challenge print book sales.

But competition and cost aside, can’t we do better than this?  Can’t we find a way to inspire people to buy and read print books?

It starts with parents and how they raise their kids.  I failed to transfer my love of baseball and watching professional sports to my children, but I have made sure to instill the love of paper books into their inquiring minds.  They join me on trips to bookstores and we encourage them to go to the library, but it’s not easy.  They spend far more time on a device than a book.  

At ages 10 and 13 they have minds of their own, growing up in a digitally distracting era.

At the current rate of annual growth of about 13 million print units, it would take several more decades to hit the one billion print book mark.  I hope educators, parents, and community leaders find a way to encourage people to buy and read more print books.  

Our culture needs this more than it realizes.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. 

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