How well does “legacy publishing” really do…

I’m a big fan and regular reader of Joe Konrath’s blog. Recently he wrote a blog about why authors should forgo finding a publisher and should instead self-publish their work. Given the fact that I own a small publishing company, it may surprise you that I agree with Mr. Konrath that some authors are better off self-publishing. That will be the topic of my next blog. In this blog, I want to focus on his assertion that with a “legacy publisher” (as Joe Konrath calls them) you’ll have only a 1 out of 10 chance at “earning out your advance” – meaning that you have about a 10% chance your book will be successful.

We’ve all seen the statistic that on average a self-published book will only sell 100 copies. This number was arrived at by taking the total number of books sold that were published by iUniverse, Authorhouse, and Xlibris and dividing by the total number of titles for each publisher. This is one of the arguments many in the publishing industry use against self-publishing. Unfortunately, the above data gives only half the picture. An interesting comparison would be how does this measure up to sales by “legacy publishers” who sell their titles through “brick-and-mortar” bookstores? Those statistics are also available:

  • A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies. A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies. (Authors Guild. http://www.authorsguild.org/)
  • Bowker reported that in 2004 there were 275,793 new titles published by “traditional” means (this would exclude self-published books).
  • In 2004, of the 1.2 million titles tracked by Nielsen Bookscan, 950,000 titles sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. (Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006)

That’s right. Even if we assume that all of the books which sold over 1,000 copies in 2004 were new titles that were published by “traditional” publishers (as defined by Bowker), this would mean that less than 10% of the books published that year, or less than 1 in 10, were “successful” (meaning they sold over 5,000 copies), and only about 1 in 5 sold above 1,000 copies. The fact that the average book sells only 500 copies means that, quite frankly, the average book published by a “legacy publisher” doesn’t do much better than the average self-published book.

So should you self-publish? More on that in my next blog.

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5 Comments

Filed under For Authors, Publishing

5 responses to “How well does “legacy publishing” really do…

  1. Elisa Michelle

    I think these are great statistics and something new writers should see before they consider which is best for their career or that particular story.

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