Good News: Religious Book Sales Are Strong

What is trending?

This is a common question no matter what industry you are in. Book publishing is not different. Publishers and authors often want to know what is hot and what is not.

There are a number of ways to find out what is trending. You can:

1. Follow Bestseller Lists.

Looking at bestseller lists is a great way to find out what books are currently in demand and selling well. There are a number of bestseller lists including those hosted by the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, Smashwords, and ECPA. Keep in mind, however, that just because a topic is popular today does not predict that the same topic will sell well next year. Trends change.

2. Review Book Sales Statistics

Both NDP BookScan and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) track book sales. Publishers can subscribe to these reports. For those on a budget, each company makes a summary of their findings available to the public.

Which Books Are Selling

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) recently released its analysis of book sales for 2018. Here is what they found:

  • Nonfiction books, both Adult and Children’s and Young Adult, experienced the largest percentage revenue growth for publishers over the past five years. Adult nonfiction revenues grew 22.8 percent and Children’s and Young Adult nonfiction revenues grew 38.5 percent from 2014 to 2018. Unit sales for Adult nonfiction and Children’s and Young Adult nonfiction grew 20.9 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively, over the same five-year period.
  • Publisher revenue for adult fiction was flat (0.4 percent) at $4.40 billion in 2018, while Children’s and Young Adult fiction grew slightly (1.6 percent) to $3.72 billion.
  • Religious presses’ revenue grew 14.7 percent in 2018 to $1.22 billion with 75.7 percent of that revenue coming from print formats.
  • Downloaded audio remained the fastest growing format, with 28.7 percent year-over-year revenue growth from 2017 to 2018 and 181.8 percent revenue growth over the past five years.
  • eBook sales were down 5.2% from 2017.

The good news is that Religious books are selling well. This report did not break down specifically what type of religious titles are selling well. However, NDP BookScan, recently presented this information in a webinar. BookScan reported that sales of Autobiographies and Biographies are growing, as well as sales of Self-Help books (think Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis).

Book Formats

Popular Book Formats

There has been a lot of talk about the growth of audiobooks—and sales in this category are growing. Yet, audiobooks only make up about 15% of total book sales, while print books comprise almost half of all book sales. Here is the breakdown:

  • 45% of publishers’ sales were in trade print formats.
  • 24% were ebooks.
  • 13% were downloaded audio.
  • 2% were physical audio or a different format.

Words of Wisdom

I believe that Christian authors and publishers should be governed less by which books are trending and more by what God is calling you to write and publish. Knowing what is popular can help inform your marketing efforts. But, if you are publishing for the Glory of God, then what he is leading you to put into print is more important than what statistics report is selling well.

Related Posts:
Five Christian Book Publishing Trends for 2019
The Importance of Following Trends
New Record: One Million Self-Published Books

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Photo courtesy of geralt.

Five Christian Book Publishing Trends for 2019

With a new year around the corner, I thought that I would share five trends I see for those involved in writing and publishing Christian books.

These are not predictions. They are trends that I have been a witness to. Trends tell us where we need to adjust our behaviors to stay effective.

Christian book publishing trends 2019

1. Christian brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to shrink in number and size.

In 2017, after declaring bankruptcy, Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of their brick-and-mortar locations. This closure affected the whole book publishing industry. Publishers and distributors lost thousands and thousands of dollars, causing a few to shutter their doors and others to consolidate.

Fifteen of these Family Christian locations were purchased by the CEO of Harrison House. The stores were renamed Empowered Life Christian Books & Gifts. After one year of business, all 15 of these stores were closed this year (2018). Unable to make enough profit to sustain operation, millions of invested dollars were lost.

The decline of Christian bookstores continues. CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, has also been struggling. In an effort to keep their international retail show open, CBA partnered with investor Ed Roush, who poured one million dollars into the summer trade show. After the show, Roush cleaned house at CBA to save money, leaving only a skeletal crew. Since summer, CBA has been very quiet and has not released any new issues of their monthly Christian MARKET magazine of their Christian MARKET Weekly e-newsletter.

In response to these upsets in the Christian book-selling industry, Munce, a marketing service group for independent Christian retailers, recently formed a new trade association, Christian Retail Association. In addition, they are restructuring their Christian Product Expo (CPE) into a national and international show.

Brick-and-mortar retail across America is struggling. Business Insider reports that retailers are filing for bankruptcy at record-high rates this year. These retailer stores include Toys R Us, Claire’s, and Sears. No winds of revitalization appear to be blowing for Christian bookstores. Thus, the trend for shrinking numbers of Christian bookstores will continue.

2. Independent publishing of Christian books will continue to grow.

According to Bowker, the ISBN agency, the number of self-published titles has grown by 156% over the past five years to just over one million books self-published in 2017. There are no signs of this trend slowing. Amazon is publishing the lion’s share of these books, having published over 750,000 titles through CreateSpace in 2017. And if you are not already aware, CreateSpace is being folded into Amazon Direct Kindle Publishing.

For authors and publishers, the increasing numbers of books published each year means increased competition for readers’ time and money. As the competition continues to grow, the effort it will take to convince readers that your book is the one to spend their money on will continue to become more difficult.

After all, research shows that having too many choices has a negative effect on customer satisfaction. People become stressed out when presented with too many choices. They can also become paralyzed and simply not be able to make a decision. In her book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar recounts a study that discovered that when offered a small assortment of jams (6) to choose from, 30% of customers who tasted a sample made a purchase. However, when presented with a large assortment of jams (24), only 3% of customers who sampled the purchased a jar. While choice is appealing, too many choices can be debilitating, which means that more persuasion will be needed to sell your books.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA)

As the competition for readers’ attention increases, the importance of belonging to a publishing association like Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) grows. Associations provide cutting-edge information and resources to help you be successful. Those authors and publishers who stay abreast of trends and changes in both publishing and marketing will be the most effective and successful.

3. There will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed books.

For years, self-publishing has had a bad rap. Readers have complained about the poor writing, grammar, and spelling errors in self-published books. While the quality of self-published books has improved overall, there are still those authors who just want to publish, that they don’t take the time to have their books properly edited and designed. These bad apples threaten to ruin the whole batch.

The number of self-publishing services that have cropped up to take advantage of authors wanting to be published has not helped this issue. Many of these self-publishing services are just after the money they can earn for publishing the book. They get their money up front from the author to produce the book. As a result, they don’t care about the quality of the book or how many copies the book sells.

As it has now become affordable for just about anyone to publish a book, I can guarantee that there will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed self-published books. One of the best ways that you can help your book stand out above the competition is to ensure that your writing is compelling, your book has been professionally edited, and the cover and interior are professionally designed. Doing these three things will greatly improve your ability to sell your book.

reading trends4. The external competition for readers’ time and money will continue to increase.

The reading rates in American have not increased since 2012. One recent study by the National Endowment for Arts found that reading for pleasure actually fell slightly between 2012 and 2017.  With so much competing for people’s time and attention, reading seems to fall by the wayside.

In addition to all the things that compete for our attention in our time-strapped lives—television, moves, YouTube videos, social media, and numerous other activities—concentrating on long form reading is becoming a problem. Professor Gloria Mark of the Department of Informatics at the University of California says email, social media, notifications and countless other digital distractions are eroding our ability to concentrate on individual tasks in the 21st Century. I have heard personally had numerous individuals tell me that they have lost their ability to concentrate to read books.

Due to this increased competition, authors will be forced to spend more time building a platform and cultivating readers for their books. Today, with so many reading choices, there is no guarantee that people will read a book just because it exists. Instead, authors must now develop trust with a reading audience so that they can sell their books.

5. The sales of audiobooks will continue to grow.

Audiobook sales have grown steadily over the past couple years. This trend will continue to grow. With Smartphones, the growth of digitally downloaded audiobooks is booming. Downloadable audiobook sales grew about 30% from 2016 to 2017. That was the fifth straight year of double-digit growth for downloadable audiobooks.

This trend shows no signs of slowing. As more competes for our attention, people are turning to audiobooks for entertainment and self-improvement. With audiobooks, individuals can multi-task—workout and listen, drive and listen, clean house and listen, etc.

While a couple services help independent authors produce audiobooks at a reasonable price—ACX and Findaway Voices—it is important to note that currently, audiobooks only make up 4% of all book sales (including print and ebooks). Audiobooks are going to continue to grow. However, simply producing an audiobook will not guarantee more sales. Unless your book is already selling well in print or ebook format, I suggest you not take the plunge.

Related Posts:
New Record: One Million Self-Published Books
Why Christian Bookstores Are In Decline
Is Reading in Trouble?

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New Record: One Million Self-Published Books

Over one million books (both print and ebooks) were self-published in the United States in 2017! This is an increase of 28% from 2016, where 879,587 books were self-published.

These figures come from Bowker, the agency that issues ISBN numbers. Each year, the agency releases a report showing how many ISBNs were assigned to each self-publishing platform or company. Since 2012, CreateSpace has led the pack. Bowker’s report reveals that in 2017, the number of ISBNs assigned to CreateSpace grew 50% from 500,000 in 2016 to 750,000 in 2017.

one million self publishing books

Did you catch that? Independent authors published three-quarters of a million books via CreateSpace last year!

This means that the competition for eyeballs for your books keeps growing. Remember, the reading rate has held steady since about 2012 while the number of self-published books has grown by an average of 21% each year.

Unlike the number of books published, the reading population has not grown 156% since 2012. This means more and more books are competing for reader’s attention—yours included.

It is no longer enough to just publish a book. In today’s book publishing and reading climate, you must be more than an author. You have to become a marketer to effectively sell your book.

Don’t expect someone to do the work for you. There are numerous people and companies out there willing to take a large amount of money from you with the promise of promoting your book. Sadly, most of these services render little result.

If you are an independent author, then I encourage you to embrace the idea that you are not just an author, but you must also be a marketer. It’s really not that difficult. A little education goes a long way.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) exists for just that reason—to provide information and tools for success in publishing to small publishers and independent authors. CSPA has numerous educational tools, as well as affordable cooperative marketing programs, to give you the information you need to market your books effectively.

For just $90 for a year-long membership with CSPA, you will have access to numerous on-demand seminars and a monthly newsletter all packed with marketing information. CSPA Members also have access to a Book Launch Marketing Checklist and a List of Radio and Podcast Media interviewing authors.

You can become a Member today and receive Membership through December 2019 on CSPA’s website. Once you join, you will have access to the numerous educational videos, reference guides, and checklist to help you become a better marketer to find more eyeballs for your books.

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Your Book: A Needle in a Haystack
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Photo courtesy of Laura Kapfer.

What Do Books and Music Have in Common?

When was the last time you purchased a music CD in a physical store?

Over the past decade, the music industry has undergone a huge shift. Consider the following:

  • Sales of CDs have declined while sales of MP3 music downloads purchased via the Internet have increased. Digital music sales overtook physical format sales in 2015.
  • Music streaming has become big business. Music subscription services allowing individuals to listen to their choice of music for a low monthly fee saw a 60 percent growth in 2017.
  • Indie music talent is growing. Artists are ditching the big label name records and attempting to break through to fame via streaming platforms.

When was the last time you purchased a print book in a brick-and-mortar store?

The book publishing industry is following the same movement as the music industry. Think about these trends:

  • Sales of print books in physical bookstores has greatly declined. The vast majority of books are now purchased on the Internet.
  • Sales of ebooks have stalled out to around 25 percent of book purchases, yet book subscription services continue to thrive—think Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, and Bookmate.
  • Indie authors are growing. Many authors are ditching the big publishing companies and publishing their works independently, taking them directly to consumers.

The big announcement in the news that recently caught my attention was:

With the popularity of digital music surging, Best Buy is officially pulling the plug on music CDs, and another retail giant (Target) may soon join them. Although CDs remain a relatively popular format worldwide, sales in the U.S. dropped more than 18% last year, prompting Best Buy to drop the format entirely. The retailer will stop selling CDs and pull them from shelves on July 1. Although Best Buy used to be the top music seller in the U.S., nowadays its CD sales generate a relatively low $40 million per year.

Most mass merchandise stores have already shrunk their book and music sections. Now some big box stores are dropping their CD sales. Since book industry trends appear to be following music industry trends, how long until these stores also drop their book sales?

Yes, print book sales are still strong, but don’t let that fool you. We are now in a digital era. Moving forward, the trend for the book industry is that a higher percentage of revenue from books will come via audiobooks, ebooks and subscription services.

Subscription services are on the rise. Audiobook streaming services are beginning to pop up—think Audible and StoryTel. Serialized books via apps will also grow—think Radish and Tapas. As publishers and authors, embracing digital in the coming years will be required to stay relevant.

Related Posts:
Publishing is Big Business
The eBook Subscription Model is Still Alive
Christian Retail is Struggling

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The Importance of Following Trends

Electric cars are catching on. Solar power continues to grow in popularity. Ponchos have come and gone. The number of people taking a cruise is increasing. Trends: they are everywhere.

The book industry also has trends: trends in book topics, trends in book cover design, trends in interior design and layout, and trends in marketing and book promotion.
As an author or publisher producing books, being aware of book industry trends is important. Awareness of these trends serves two purposes:

  1. It keeps your books from looking out-of-date, old-fashioned, or self-published.
  2. It helps you stay on top of the best book marketing techniques to help you generate more exposure and sales.

I watch the trends in the book publishing industry. Trends such as:

  • Using the blank pages at the end of a book to promote other books or services of the author.
  • Including the author’s Facebook page, blog, or Twitter feed in the author bio.

Whenever possible I incorporate these useful ideas into my books and encourage other authors and publishers to do so also.

available as an ebook logo

A new trend I recently have seen occurring is the addition of a little icon to the back cover of a book (near the EAN barcode) letting the reader know that the book is also available as an ebook (see graphic above). I think this is a really smart marketing move.

First of all, not every book is available as an ebook. Letting a reader know the book is available as an ebook is a nice courtesy. It can also trigger those buyers who prefer ebooks to purchase the digital version of a print book they discover by capturing the consumer right then and there. Additionally, about 60% of Goodreads users report they read in both formats. Many purchase both print and digital copies of a book they are reading, switching between the two formats depending on their location. In other words, by using an “available as an ebook” icon on a print book, publishers are reaching both print and digital readers.

If you are publishing a new book, I encourage you to let readers know that the book is available as an ebook by posting a notice on the back cover of the book. It costs you nothing and helps you reach both print and digital readers.

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