Surprising Facts About Publishing Today

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I eavesdropped on Digital Book World’s 2016 conference on publishing today (by following the hashtag #DBW16 on Twitter) and found much fascinating and useful information for writers. The first overarching point, reinforced by @dataguy (the numbers guy behind the site called Author Earnings), is implicit in the conference itself. Started seven years ago, by Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company, it emphasizes the data that the Big Five publishers tend to ignore. (Think of it as the Moneyball of publishing— stats and numbers are used to make decisions, not intuition or “gut feelings.”) So bear in mind that most of the people who paid to attend were from mainstream publishing. They got an earful.

Surprising Fact #1

The most quoted stats on book publishing today (the AAP) does not include up to 50% of sales!

This was mentioned by @dataguy, who was pointing out that AAP does not count Amazon’s sales of direct ebooks. What this means to you is: don’t focus so much on what The New York Times or other papers say about industry trends. They actually don’t know!

Surprising Fact #2

One category, Adult Coloring Books, accounts for the gain in print sales in publishing in 2015.

Mentioned by Michael Cader, it was to illustrate (no pun intended!) the point that one small quirky sales blip (the kind that come and go) can be turned into a meme that is not based in reality. So the big story you may have heard this year about physical books rebounding, while ebooks are stabilizing, is actually not correct.

Surprising Fact #3

Indies (both self-published authors and independent publishers) are better at taking advantage of deals and self-promotion on Amazon. They change their prices more and more quickly.

Mentioned by @dataguy, who has the stats to back it up. This was his biggest point for the industry—he wanted them to be willing to be less rigid about pricing. The takeaway for you, the author, is that you may be able to do better on your own than with a traditional publisher, particularly if you write fiction.

unit-sales-trend-from Dataguy

Surprising Fact #4

Amazon sells 1,064,000 ebooks a day.

Another fact from @dataguy, who is actually doing the counting with real numbers from real authors. The takeaway here is that this is just an enormous number, and it’s probably a mistake to ignore Amazon.

Surprising Fact #5

The biggest failure of the Big Five publishers is not helping authors with their digital footprint.

Mentioned by Mike Shatzkin. This is something I agree with. It’s the single biggest issue I see authors struggle with (and, not incidentally, try to help remedy in my own business helping authors).

Surprising Fact #6

50% of book sales (estimated as probable by Rand Fishkin) happen online, and more are influenced by online markets.

What this means to you, the author, is that you must have an online presence.

Surprising Fact #7

The hottest category right now in terms of sales is Digital Audio, which increased from $16.3 million to $213 million

Mentioned by Michael Cader. What this means for you, the author, is that you may want to record your book and sell it as an audio book!

Surprising Fact #8

Children prefer physical books.

This came up in the “I’m a Librarian—Ask Me Anything” panel, and was agreed upon by all the panelists. “Kids love having the ability to touch them.” Donna Rasmussen, literacy advocate and teacher, pointed out. So even though ebooks are here to stay, it looks like books will always have a role, too.


What’s the large takeaway here for authors about publishing today? It’s clear to me that the information now available online can help authors find out more about their readers, and connect with them more easily than ever before. And authors need to take responsibility for getting online (either on their own or with help) and start connecting to their readers.

If you want to find out more, here’s the link to the Digital Book World site with wrap-up articles about all the presentations, and links to all the speakers.

If you want to know more about @dataguy’s data, here is a link to download the slides to his entire presentation (WARNING: formulas and charts ahead!):