Book Sales

Industry Update for Authors During the Pandemic

[A variation of today’s post was sent to our clients last week, but by request I was asked to update it and make these thoughts available to everyone.]
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I hope this note finds you well among this global scourge which has affected us and our loved ones. As you hunker in your bunker for awhile, you may have wondered about the state of the publishing industry.

Editorial

For now things have been fairly normal on the editorial side. Once publishers got their people working remotely, if they weren’t already, there have been considerable results. For example, our agency has secured 19 new contracts in the last three weeks, including a film-rights deal. We hope there are more to come. That is quite encouraging. I told one editor during a conference call, “Please remind management that stopping work today will have a negative effect on sales in 2022 because we are all acquiring for the future!”

However, a few publishers have begun, out of necessity, instituting some austerity measures. These have taken a variety of forms: hiring freezes, four-day work weeks, furloughed workers in selected departments, layoffs in some areas, or temporary salary cuts (both volunteer and mandated). But behind the scenes, there is a general sense of business as usual. The biggest initial disruption was having to set up an entire company to work remotely. For one publisher it took four working days to get everyone situated with the right equipment and secure access to the company server. And then to set a regular video-conferencing schedule after deciding which platform would work best.

If you are a publisher and wish to share your situation, please do so in the comments below.

Printing and Production

As of this writing, most printing companies are considered essential businesses, so that part of the production process has stayed steady. I know of a new print order that was done at a printer just a couple days ago. At the same time, Quad, a large printing company, unexpectedly closed its doors on March 31, which has sent some publishers scrambling. But Quad had been in financial trouble since a planned buyout fell through late last year.

Book Sales

There are immediate concerns as they relate to sales. With bookstores shuttering these past weeks, much has had to go online. (Remember that ebooks were already online.) It is interesting to note that the Christian market already endured the shuttering of the Cokesbury chain, the Family Christian chain, and the Lifeway chain. This means publishers previously pivoted in their sales efforts away from a heavy reliance on brick and mortar stores. Plus their marketing departments had moved a huge part of their work into digital media.

NPD Bookscan is the industry’s sole data-gathering tool for print sales. Its information relies on reports from retail outlets. It is not an exhaustive picture of all print sales, but it is data that can be compared week by week. Unfortunately, last week saw a 9% drop in print sales in the U.S. Baked into that number was an increase of 13% in juvenile book sales. This means the adult categories were hit hard. Adult fiction was down 21% and adult nonfiction down 16.8%. Of all the adult categories, however, religion saw the lowest decrease of only 5%.

Remember, this is data for one week of sales. It will fluctuate, and it is only print sales for reporting outlets, not ebooks and not for stores or online stores that don’t report. But it does portend the potential for a rough April for print book sales with physical stores having to close their doors.

With physical stores being unavailable for walk-ins, robust book sales will be problematic in the short term and challenging down the road. Think of it this way: If a store is unable to reopen, they would return as much of their inventory as possible, or just declare bankruptcy and let the invoices remain unpaid, which would be treated as a return by the publisher. We saw this in our industry when Family Christian Stores went bankrupt twice in a short period of time. Don’t forget that, in general, publishers and authors weathered those difficult events. This is an important lesson to remember. Try not to let short-term circumstances define your reactions, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.

Online Bookstores

Amazon.com is a default for many seeking the physical printed book. But don’t forget other alternatives like Lifeway.com, Christianbook.com, Mardel.com, Parable.com, and BakerBookHouse.com. Plus your local store may still be shipping from its location! Give them a call or check their website.

There are also bn.com (Barnes & Noble), bamm.com (Books A Million), Bookshop.org (*in beta testing* is a network of independent general-market bookstores that might serve your local community’s bookstore), and even Walmart.com has a robust online book selection. If you don’t know where your local store is located or its website, go to Indiebound.com for a directory of general-market stores; or go to getitlocaltoday.com for access to more than 3,000 Christian bookstores in the U.S.

My listing of online store options is not exhaustive by any means, but the point is that there are many places where you can still buy books.

Some of your local stores have curbside pickup and still take your orders. (Our local Barnes & Noble provides this service in their parking lot for online orders. They will send an email when the order is ready.)

One more thing to note. Ingram Distributors (which has Spring Arbor as one of its subsidiaries) is still shipping books to stores as before. They supply brick-and-mortar stores and online stores to fulfill those deep backlist titles via special orders. This means the supply chain from publisher to major distributors to retail outlets is intact.

When Writing Your Book

One editorial note to consider when you are writing your next book, whether fiction (if a contemporary setting) or nonfiction, be careful of overusing this current crisis in your story or your anecdotes. The concepts on your mind are fresh. But remember the same thing happened after 9/11. The books that leaned too far into that experience felt dated within a couple years. It will take some creative thinking on your part if you feel led to write about this crisis. Mostly because the books written today will not see the marketplace for quite some time. By then there may be another issue of some nature (hopefully not this widespread) that may be in the headlines.

One More Thing

It is a strange time for us all, around the globe. We are apart and yet together in common disruption. And yet we share a risen Lord who conquered sin through his death and who then conquered death through his resurrection. It is no longer we who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in us. Therefore, we have eternal certainty in any and every outcome in the physical realm.

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by Steve Laube


We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.

HAH!

Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

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Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

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