Currently Reading:


June 25, 2013 Publishers, Publishing, Sales, Writing 17 Comments

Data dump

By Randy Susan Meyers

Truly, it is easier to find out the average cost of a meal or nail polish (found them both in one try) than it is to find out most statistics on book sales (try Googling “average number of books sold per title” in any iteration and you’ll see what I mean).

I could find that the median writer/author salary was $55,420 per year in 2010, but let’s remember what ‘median’ means.

In a world where with the touch of few button we can find out the coffee drinking habits of the world, why did I spend hours looking for the few stats I could tease out about publishing? (Are there not enough computers for publishers? Do we need a kickstarter campaign to help get these numbers in one place?)

As a lover of the make-believe, this was not my favorite pursuit (oh, that I could have assigned this job to my fact-loving husband) but knowledge is power, so consider this part one of: Just The Stat Facts, Mam. 

Caveat Emptor: What you have below is the work of a curious mind, but not an expert-in-the-field. Corrections welcome!


Ebooks have 20% of the market  

Which means (even to a non-math person like me) paper books have 80% of the market)

Publishers Weekly, with numbers gleaned from BookStats, the Association of American Publishers/Book Industry Study Group, reported: “Sales of hardcovers rose 1.3% in the year, to $5.06 billion, and trade paperback sales increased slightly, up 0.4%, to $4.96 billion. . . . Total e-book sales rose 44.2% in 2012, to $3.04 billion and accounted for 20% of trade revenue”

PW expected a drop in mass-market paperback sales, while “sales of downloadable audio rose 21.8% in 2012, to $240.7 million,” but there was no data on the performance of physical audio.

Self-publishing has tripled in five years: “The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and “e” titles, according to a new analysis of data from Bowker® Books In Print and Bowker® Identifier Services.”

Traditionally published books rose six percent: The number of traditionally published print books rose 6% in 2011, to 347,178, according to preliminary figures released by Bowker.

How many copies do most self-published books sell and what does it cost to self-publish?

According to the New York Times (last August–click link above for article) “most self-published books sell fewer than 100 or 150 copies, many authors and self-publishing company executives say. There are breakout successes, to be sure, and some writers can make money simply by selling their e-books at low prices. Some self-published books attract so much attention that a traditional publishing house eventually picks them up. (Perhaps you’ve heard of the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which began its life as a self-published work?)

Still, a huge majority of self-published books “don’t sell a lot of copies,” said Mark Coker, the founder and chief executive of Smashwords, a no-frills operation that concentrates on self-published e-books. “We make it clear to our authors.”

Finding the number of books, by average, that books published by traditional houses sell seemed close to impossible (but I will keep looking for part 2). The closest stats I could find for average book sales was this: According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

The above did not differentiate eBooks, so this average is truly unclear, but it is a beginning. Before this, I always heard the average title sales (which I take to include all versions) were usually 5,000. But, that is only word of mouth.

Books Published Per Year by Country (according to UNESCO)

Top 15 Countries:

United States (2010) 328,259 (new titles and editions)
United Kingdom (2005) 206,000
China (2010) 189,295 (328,387 total)
Russian Federation (2008) 123,336
Germany (2009) 93,124
Spain (2008) 86,300
India (2004) 82,537 (21,370 in Hindi and 18,752 in English)
Japan (2009) 78,555
Iran (2010) 65,000
France (2010) 63,690 (67,278 total)
South Korea (2011) 44,036
Taiwan (2010) 43,309
Turkey (2011) 43,100
Netherlands (1993) 34,067
Italy (2005) 33,641 (59,743 total)

Click on the hyperlink above for the whole wide world. Very interesting.


In the fall, celebrity title sales usually dip, while titles in the Food, Health and Automotive categories spike during the 4th quarter,” and November is the slowest month for magazine purchases on newsstands.


According to Open Education Database in October 2012, and other sources highlighted below:

The Amazon online bookstore had about 22.6 percent of book sales.

The number of bookstores decreased from 2,400 to 1,900.

Book sales were strongest in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, and San Diego.

Cities with the most bookstores are Seattle, followed closely by San Francisco, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and St. Louis.

There were about 10,200 bookstores in the United States in 2011. Since the numbers below do not add up to anywhere near that number, I can only assume that Open Education Database includes booksellers such as Target, Costco and other big box stores.

Independent books stores were operated in 1900 locations (by 1567 owners) in 2012, according to the American Booksellers Association.

The Barnes and Noble chain has 1363 stores (689 retail stores, and 674 college stores) and are planning to close 20 a year during the next decade.

Books a Million have 250 stores.

Hudson Booksellers has 59 retail outlets.


Writer’s Digest provides a wrap-up. The high number on the list comes from Tina Fey, at 921,856 copies. The low comes courtesy of Paris Hilton’s children’s book, at 2,855 copies.




Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. M.J. Rose says:

    Fascinating and great job. Only diff is that I have read from Bowker that there will be 2 million titles published in 2013 including self pubbed, traditional and back list.

  2. Thank you. Really interesting! But there were no figures for small press publications. I have a non-fiction book with a mid-size, traditional publisher and a novel, Bad Girls, slated for release in July with a small press (NOT self-published). One note here: There has been much talk about supporting our local, indie booksellers which I always try to do. Conversely, there is never talk about independent booksellers supporting indie (small press) authors and their books. It is sometimes a struggle to get booksellers to carry even 5 copies of a book on consignment. What’s the downside for them…NONE! One local bookseller required a payment of $100 for shelf space for five books. I don’t know how to describe this except as some kind of perverse book snobbery. At the very lease, authors that are local to booksellers, in my case Massachusetts, should welcome and support local authors. Its a win-win for everyone.

  3. I can offer some info. from the small and university press angle. And this affects the stat on copies sold. The 5,000 number Randy cites, I’ve always heard was just the average for commercial press books (which will tend to have the most distribution). But for a small press, a book that sells 5,000 would be a big seller.
    Scholarly books often have tiny print runs. They know the sales will be highly specialized, mainly to libraries, and the print book will be expensive, so it will mainly be bought by university research libraries. I heard a presentation by a u. press editor in the humanities, talking to scholars many of whom were hoping to place first book (and get tenure), and the editor stunned them by saying that the first print run might be only 100. (They were crabbing about why the book wouldn’t be publicized/in bookstores, and she was telling them the facts of life.)
    Small press fiction/poetry/nonfiction often have first print runs of 1,000, some 500 or (chapbooks, for instance) 200. These publishers know how hard it is to get sales, which are dependent on author readings. They can’t afford the print run size it would take to satisfy the distribution requirements of Ingram to get in lots of stores (and they get killed on the returns–have seen small presses go under when they tried to expand print runs and wound up with lots of returns). There’s a fascinating interview, with J.A. Taylor, publisher of recently-closed Mud Luscious Press, a small press that as it had some successful books got into a lot of problems it didn’t have the budget/staff/time to handle. It’s long, but really interesting because the interviewer really pushes for facts and numbers:
    Small presses generally use smaller, sometimes regional, distributors, which is one reason that some independent booksellers, who won’t have credit set-ups with those distributors, are reluctant to carry the book, which is the reason for the difficulties the commenter above mentions. A small press author should always know who handles distribution for the press, and be aware of this side of bookselling.
    Could go into more detail…but while I’ve been writing this perhaps others have been posting…

  4. Thank you, Randy, for researching this for us! Not have a math brain myself, it’s nice to see these stats all in one place.

  5. […] out there who is interested, and the statistics show that there are very many indeed. According to Beyond the Margins “self-publishing has tripled in the last five years … growing 287 percent since 2006, and […]

  6. […] Meyers, Randy Susan, Beyond the Margins: Book Facts and Stats, viewed 27 October 2013, […]

  7. […] you still need convincing, check out these self-publishing statistics from 2013 via Beyond the […]

  8. […] Traditionally published books rose six percent: The number of traditionally published print books ro… […]

  9. This is great stuff, and I agree about how ridiculously difficult it is to get a handle on the industry. Here’s my current question: what percentage of the revenue comes from educational and professional publishing? I’ve been at a conference/thinktankish event #altbookstore with some great people like Bethanne Patrick. The focus was entirely on trade publishing and yet when I look at PW list of the world’s biggest publishers, many at the top are educational or scholarly or professional. I’m trying to follow the money and would appreciate any help.

    • I wish there was someplace where I could send you for this! Writing this post took days . . . and searching for the material was a full time job. If you find out, I invite you here to write a guest post for us on the topic!

      • I’ll definitely share it and would like to include your comment in a newsletter I send out to a lot of people in publishing. I’m planning to write about Amazon, to follow up on a previous post that was widely distributed and quoted and led the New York Times to me, and want to talk about the industry in general. Would be glad to email you a copy, and I will link here.

  10. […] were (on a researched guess because stats are hard to find) approximately 2,000,000 books published last year world-wide, including […]

  11. […] the growing numbers of books published by industry leaders, independents and self-publishers. The numbers are enormous and so is the competition for sales. For years made the claim on any book page, […]

Comment on this Article:

Recent Posts

Author Spotlight

Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers
The dark drama of Randy Susan Meyers’ debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, published by St. Martins Press in January 2010, is informed by her years of work with batterers, domestic violence victims, and at-risk youth impacted by family violence. She was raised by books, in Brooklyn, where she could walk to the library daily. Each book she read added to her sense of who she could be in this world. Reading In Cold Blood at too tender an age assured that she’d never stay alone in a country house. Biographies of women like Marie Curie and Elizabeth Blackwell opened doors to another world and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn taught her faith in the future. Each time she read it, she was struck anew by how the author Betty Smith knew so much and dared to write it. Read Full