Saturday, October 07, 2006

Facts About Publishing

A recent National Endowment for the Arts survey reveals that reading is going the way of the cassette tape. Oh, books will be around for a while longer, but it’s probably not a good time to get into the publishing business. According to the NEA, only 47% of adults read any sort of literature at all. Just under 90 million people in the United States did not read a book— any book— in 2002. As a classroom teacher, I can remember being told that when school was over, so was reading.

Today’s average book buyer is a woman, not a young woman. Younger women are more likely to read a magazine or look at the internet when they want to read. Sixty eight percent of book buyers are women. That average book browser will spend eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds scanning the back cover. What is absolutely unfathomable to me is that this same so called average bookbuyer gets to page 18 before she quits. Now maybe I’m just cheap, but I don’t buy many books that I don’t read. And 52% of all books are not sold in bookstores. Instead those buyers get their reading via mail order, online, in discount or warehouse stores, through book clubs, or some other venue.

Book publishing is a weird business in many respects. It’s almost like buying and selling produce, because so many of the products are thrown away. Yep, it’s true. Go strolling down the aisles in your local bricks and mortar bookstore looking at the mass market paperbacks. About half of all of those books will be destroyed, their front covers ripped off to send back to the publisher, indicating that the book was never sold. Customers pay $7.99 for a paperback with tiny print on cheap paper because half of all the ones printed are never sold, so they have to charge twice as much to make up for it.

Despite the shrinking market, more than 150,000 titles are published each year. Bigger publishing houses are bringing out fewer books these days, so 78% of all books published are put out by small publishers or self-publishers. Quite a number of small publishers are using POD, or “print on demand” which makes a lot of sense to me. Books printed via this method are quite similar to conventionally printed books. Often the quality of the printing is better, just as the output from your laser printer is better than a newspaper’s printing. This method isn’t quite as cheap as conventional printing, so each book may cost a couple of dollars more.

Most POD books are trade paperbacks, which are a bit larger than those mass market paperbacks, but far fewer of them will be used to line landfills or make recycled newsprint. Both of my books are produced via this method. If lots of people like my books, then several will be printed. If there is no market for my POD books, or anyone else’s, then they just don’t ever have many copies in print. Indeed, the average self-published book sells seventy-five copies, which means The Gift Horse is well above average, so I can take heart in that.

Sources for this article include Tom and Marilyn Ross’ site, which is on my links in the sidebar, and John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book, which is one of the best books on marketing ever written.

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