Decreasing Book Sales

Did you know that at a time when more and more books are being produced that overall book sales are dropping? It is true.

decreasing sales

The American book market sold 770 million copies of books in 2009, but in 2014, it only sold 635 million. These figures are from Nielson Book. Given the vast variety of leisure activities available to people, the drop in book sales is not surprising.

eBooks have not increased book sales as some had predicted. Rather, ebook sales have leveled off, and print appears to be the preferred method of reading, at least for the time being. The latest Pew Internet Research found that percentage of American adults who read an ebook was 28% in 2014, up 11% since 2011. Still, that figure is small compared to the percentage who read a print book, 69% in 2014, only slightly fewer than the 71% who reported doing so in the 2011 sample. Americans are far more likely to read a print book than an ebooks.

Did you catch that? 69% of people read a print book last year, while only 28% of people read an ebook. It is remarkable that at a time of massive digital immersion, a majority of people still prefer to consume their reading the old-fashioned way—with a print book.

Print is still incredibly important in the book producing and selling business. Offering your books in both print and digital format is the best way to secure the most sales. Authors and publishers must do all they can to get readers to buy their books in an era of decreasing book sales.

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Learning from the Numbers

The newest figures from book sales (new, not used books) for the first half of 2014 (January to June) were released last week. I find this book sales data interesting and relevant for authors and publishers as you plan your publishing endeavors.

First, Nielson released book sales data for the first six months of 2014. This data is showing that ebook sales are not growing. In fact, it appears that ebook sales have become fairly stagnant between 2013 and 2014. For the first six months of this year, Nielson data shows that:

Book Sales

  • 42% of book purchases were paperback print books
  • 25% of book purchases were hardcover print books
  • 23% of book purchases were ebooks

Basically, these numbers show that hardcover books are still outselling ebooks and paperback books are still outselling ebooks. In fact, print books are outselling ebooks three to one.

If you noticed that these numbers do not add up to 100%, you are astute. I don’t have an answer for why. I am just repeating the information that Publishers Weekly reported. They did not account for the missing 10 percent. Maybe someone at Nielson didn’t do their math right.

This data continues to back up my assertion that your best practice in publishing a book right now is to produce both a print version and a digital version. Making your book available in both formats ensures that you garner the highest number of sales possible.

Second, the Nielson data reported where these books are being purchased. Not surprisingly, online stores (e-tailers) sold 39% of all books. Bookstores chains came in second place, selling 21% of books, while independent bookstores only made 3% of the total book sales. Mass merchandisers made up 8% of book sales, as did book clubs and fairs.

What this data shows is that the top two places for selling books is online bookstores and brick-and-mortar bookstores. In your book marketing efforts, don’t bypass the brick-and-mortar bookstores. Yes, they are difficult to get into, but if you do an author event or booksigning in a couple local stores, this can help you get additional exposure and your foot in the door with bookstores.

Third, this recent Nielson Books and Consumer report showed how consumers learned about the books they decided to purchase. Interestingly, more consumers reported learning about the books they purchased through in-store displays than through word-of-mouth. The report revealed that 12% of book buyers said they learned about the titles they purchased through in-store displays while only 10% of consumers said that they heard about the books they purchased from friends and relatives. Another 8% reported that they discovered the titles they purchased by browsing the website of online retailers.

In real estate, the selling mantra is location, location, location. For selling books, your motto should be discovery, discovery, discovery. We don’t buy products we don’t know exist. Consumers must discover your books. Whether your readers are finding you online, in a bookstore, or through word-of-mouth, they must know about your book to buy it. After all, marketing is the most important part of selling books.

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Print vs. eBook

While ebook sales growth has stalled for the general book market, recent statistics show that ebook sales for Religious books is still growing.

ebook vs print

Faith-based publishers reported significant year-over-year ebook growth for November 2013, although net paperback sales fell by 21% compared with the previous November. Overall, sales of religious ebooks increased nearly 10% last year and now account for 11% of all religious book sales. That’s up from 10% the previous year.

Statistics like this can lead one to believe that if ebooks make up 11% of all religious book sales, then if you have a Christian book, you can expect 11% of your sales to be digital sales. Statistics don’t work that way.

It is difficult to answer the question of “Will my book sell more print or digital copies?” Whether a book sells more digital or print copies is often more a factor of what kind of book you are selling than whether your book is Christian or secular.

For example, the best-selling book in print last year (1.8 million copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan) was Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck. However, that book did not even crack the top 20 chart for consumers buying ebooks via Amazon Kindle. This may be because children’s book still, by and large, sell very few digital copies compared to print copies. On the other hand, romance books lead the sales charts for digital books. So, if you are selling a Christian romance novel, you can expect to sell a higher number of digital copies.

The bottom line is that in today’s book world, anyone who is not offering both the print version of a book as well as the digital version is missing out on potential sales.

With that said, I am pleased to announce that Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace:Third Edition is now available in both print and digital format. You can find the digital version in the Kindle store. It is also available as a PDF download on the book’s website. Now you have your choice of preferred reading: ebook or print.

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