The state of the book market

Via David V. Stewart comes this information on the current state of the book market, presumably fiction and presumably mostly in the United States. However, I think non-fiction is in much the same condition.

I like to keep on eye out for this kind of thing, because I don’t know of any truly comprehensive, longitudinal data set on book sales over time. So I have to piece things together from disparate data sources and attempt to model a coherent whole in my mind.

Let’s take a look at what I’ve got:

This picture comes from Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, crowing about his mother’s book sales. Rowe says this is Bookscan data:

It covers approximately 85% of trade print books sold in the U.S., through direct reporting from all major retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, independent bookstores, and many others

From context, I also think those are weekly numbers, but that is an inference. I also think these don’t include ebooks, although Bookscan does advertise a service that counts ebook sales.

I got this image from JD Cowan, for the year 2016. It is unclear the time period it covers. This might be daily averages. The data comes from the now defunct website Author Earnings, which used a webcrawler to assemble a big data set covering 1 million titles on Amazon in 2016.

The really interesting one is daily sales versus the Amazon ranking, which allows for mental calibration with the Bookscan print data from Mike Rowe.

As an order of magnitude thing, you can see that somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 ebooks a day is what it takes to be in the Amazon top ten, which is actually pretty close to the Bookscan numbers for non-fiction.

You can also see that 9/10 of the ebooks in the dataset sold less than one copy per day. Whether we talking about print or ebooks, success tends to follow a power-law distribution. That holds whether you measure in terms of sales or dollars.

Something I think about often, but I don’t quite have yet, is how all this stacks up over decades. I’ve made some attempts to compare and contrast total sales in the lifetime of famous authors, but the data is lacking.