Sobering Statistics About The Book Industry

July 3, 2006  

I recently attended the Book Expo of America (BEA) — the annual convention of the book industry. Thousands of new books are on display by hundreds of publishers. As an author, it is daunting to see how many new titles are released each year. In fact, I was given a few statistics that you may find interesting (and shocking).

  • Each year, there are 172,000 new books published in the United States.
  • Of the 172,000, only 1,000 books sell more than 50,000 copies in retail channels
  • Less than 25,000 sell more than 5,000 copies
  • 93% of books published (160,000) sell less than 1,000 copies
  • According to one source, there are also over 200,000 books published in the United Kingdom each year. That’s nearly 400,000 books published each year in just the US and the UK.
  • Sobering statistics for anyone who is (or wants to be) an author.

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    19 Responses to “Sobering Statistics About The Book Industry”

    1. J Caspian on July 4th, 2006 10:33 am

      Sobering? I find the statistics inspirational. Most people these days think in terms of writing “screenplays” – yet the REALLY sobering reality is there are only 100 major films turned out in any given year. I’ll take 170,000 vs. 100 any day of the week, month or year.

    2. Stephen Shapiro on July 4th, 2006 12:54 pm

      Good point. It is more of a “free market” approach to publishing. Anyone can publish. And hopefully the good ones rise above the rest. Unfortunately, sometimes even the greatest of books are never discovered. Less than 15% of books are published by the “big” houses which control most of the shelf space in retail stores. There is a difference between printing books and selling books. Anyone can print a book. This is the opportunity. Selling books (if that’s what you want to do) is a bit more complicated.

    3. Robert Gable on July 7th, 2006 7:18 pm

      Sobering for authors of course but an overwhelming amount of choice for readers. Fortunately, I managed to find and buy Goal-Free Living amidst the deluge. Thanks for effectively writing and selling it, and then blogging about it…

    4. Eolake Stobblehouse on July 20th, 2006 2:40 pm

      … So what’s the GOOD news?

    5. Sharon Woodhouse on July 20th, 2006 7:59 pm

      Mexican cultural commentator and renaissance man, Gabriel Zaid, tells you the good news of all this beautifully (and succinctly!) in
      his 2003 book “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance,” a collection of short essays ( Not only is it inspiring, it will likely change the way you view “too many books” forever after. Enjoy!

    6. Joanne Lozar Glenn on July 21st, 2006 10:38 am

      Stephen, great post. And you asked
      what all this means for those of us who write with the hope (or if you’re a more positive thinker, the intention) of getting published?

      Part of what it means is knowing you have to build a platform from which you can promote your book before it’s published.

      I have a client (a husband-and-wife writing team) doing that right now. They’re writing a book on successfully surviving a brain injury. While I help them get their book proposal in shape (through editing and consulting), they are placing articles in industry publications (for example, brain injury newsletters and Web sites), speaking at brain injury support groups and conferences, and conducting surveys to find out more information about what makes a recovery successful.

      In short, they’re putting themsleves out there, so that when it’s time to publish their book, potential readers and book buyers will recognize their name.

      I applaud them, and am in awe of what they’ve accomplished in just a short amount of time. I wished I’d done that for my first book. Having said that, I intend to follow their example for my next book, as soon as I finish the rough draft and know what I’ve got.

      BTW, I cross posted some of the info you mentioned on my blog ( and linked to yours–hope that’s OK.

    7. Lusidvicel on December 18th, 2006 12:16 pm

      Hello, i love! Let me in, please :)

    8. Douglas Hubbard on July 18th, 2007 6:52 pm

      I found page because I was googling for some basic publishing statistics. I just wrote the book “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business”. Being the measurement-type that I am, I was looking for ways to estimate my sales based on the ranking published on Amazon with each book. Part of that estimation depends on the distribution of sales across the various rankings.

      I only need a few data points to estimate this “sales distribution curve” for books, but two of your stats seemed possibly inconsistent or perhaps just overlapping. You said that 160k books will sell less than 1000. That means 12k books will sell more than 1000. But you said that less than 25k books sell more than 5000. This can also be true, but it doesn’t tell us any more. We already know from the previous statement that only 12,000 sell more than a 1000 so much less than that seel more than 5000. Was there an error or are these just redundant statements?
      Douglas Hubbard

    9. Stephen Shapiro on July 18th, 2007 9:38 pm


      Yes, now that you mention it, there seems to be a bit of an inconsistency. I believe the reason has to do with retail vs non-retail sales, but that is only a guess.

      Regardless, I’m not sure that these figures relate to rankings. rankings seem to be as follows:

      10,000+ Estimate between 1 – 10 copies being sold per week.

      1,000+ Estimate between 10 – 100 copies being sold per week.

      100+ Estimate between 100 – 200 copies being sold per week.

      10+ Estimate between 200 – 1000 copies being sold per week.

      Under 10 Estimate over 1,000 copies per week

      I have seen these figures on several websites, including

      Thanks for stopping by and all the best with your book! Hope if is one of the 1,000 that sells LOTS.

    10. Douglas Hubbard on July 19th, 2007 7:52 am

      Thanks for the quick response. The relationship between the numbers you provide and Amazon rankings can be estimated with what is called “rank order” statistics. I don’t get into that much math in the book, since it is written for managers. But I do take a lot of the more elaborate methods in statistics and boil them down to some simple charts and tables.
      Thanks for your support and keep up the good work with the site!
      Douglas Hubbard

    11. Suzi Pomerantz on September 14th, 2007 10:49 pm

      Dear Stephen,

      Great site. I was quite pleased to see your statistics, because I just recently learned my book sold more than 1000 copies in its first 9 months out on the market. I was online looking for a baseline point of comparison (thinking that this number was really nothing to write home about) and I was thrilled to find your numbers!

      I wanted to let you (and Douglas Hubbard) know about a resource that I’ve found very helpful for tracking my title in terms of its sales on Amazon as well as B&N. charts your sales for you and can give you daily updates via e-mail.

      Best of luck with your books! If you want to check mine out you can go to anytime.

      Thank you,

    12. How to Publish a Book in 2 Weeks for $200 | Stephen Shapiro on Innovation, Creativity, Goals & Performance on June 1st, 2008 5:00 pm

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    13. Rachel Caine on June 11th, 2008 9:45 am

      Thanks for posting these statistics. I’ve been in the (fiction) business for many years, and I’m on my 26th book, but I’ve been struggling under these statistics for most of my career. (And I definitely did not start out rich and/or famous.)

      However, I can say that I really am one of those happy few who’s selling through to the larger marketplace, and have been since about 2004.

      That being said, you can’t necessarily rely on “as goes Amazon, so goes the world …” In fiction publishing, at least, there is still a dramatic divide between the number of books sold from brick-and-mortar stores vs. Amazon. Last figures I saw put it at about a 70/30 split, with Amazon being the 30 … and this discrepancy gets larger as your sales increase, because when people can go to the bookstores to reliably find you, or grab it off the shelves at Wal-mart and airports, Amazon sales actually reduce somewhat.

      I wish you the best with your projects!

      – Rachel

    14. Stephen Shapiro on June 11th, 2008 12:42 pm

      Rachel, Congrats on 26 books! That’s amazing. As I understand it, there is now more pressure on successful fiction (especially crime) authors to pump out new books. Some are being asked to write at least one every year.

      And I totally agree about Amazon. My latest book is not even sold on Amazon. I only sell it in bulk to my clients. And I use it as a powerful marketing tool – which was its original purpose. I was never suggesting that Amazon is the way to success. I definitely don’t believe that to be true.

      This is why I am suggesting a traditional publisher for your first book, if you can make it happen.

      All the best!

    15. Lynne Polelle on September 15th, 2009 9:08 pm

      This site has some of the most interesting and useful information on publishing I’ve seen. I am trying to gather more information about fiction publishing (novels) in America, and specifically, marketing to Book Clubs which are proliferating around the country.

      Can anybody help me with this?

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