Books Stats: Predicting the Future?

It's hard to predict where markets will go or what the next "hottest" trend will be in sales and distribution. To be better informed, though, we can at least look at the most recent trends. Bear in mind that statistics on books sales and formats typically lag 12-24 months behind, so what you'll find below is mostly 2017-2018 data with some first quarter 2019 data as available.

Understanding what is happening in the market will help writers make informed decisions as to potential sales expectations and publishing possibilities. That being said, though, we each have to follow our hearts and particular passions -- not merely sales alone -- in deciding what to write and in what format. (This particular topic is covered in an upcoming blog: The Passionate Writer.)

Below you will find the most recent statistics available for sales generated by e-books, audiobooks and hard copy (print). We'll also cover stats on Indie published books and highest sales generated by specific genres. You'll notice different sources report slightly different statistics, but they're still roughly consistent in their respective estimates.

It's important to stay informed as writers and I hope this will give you some good information in plotting out your writing and publishing goals.

So What's Happening with E-Books?

Regarding e-books, here are some stats from Statista.com

  • Revenue: Revenue generated from e-book sales came it at $771 million (Jan-Sept 2018), which is down from $800 million in the same time period in 2017.
  • Reader Habits - Print vs. E-book: Of book readers surveyed, only 20% said they read more e-books than hard copies and 23% said their consumption was equal between the two formats.
  • Millennial Consumers: Millennials were the highest group of e-book consumers with 34% stating they had read at least one e-book in the last year compared to 15% of those over 65.
  • E-Book Sales: Surprisingly, despite the increase in self-published e-books from 2008-2012, these figures began to fall in 2017 and have not yet recovered.
  • Illegal Downloads: Losses from illegal downloads may partially explain the downward turn in e-books with 2017 data showing 31.5 million books were illegally downloaded at a loss of $315 million. The biggest culprits were those aged 18-29 (41%) and 30-44 (47%). 
  • Price Factor: The most common reason cited for both illegal downloads and legal purchases of e-books was the same: price.
    • Primary reason stated for illegal access of books is that it was cheap or free.
    • Primary reason cited for purchase of e-books over hard copies was the lower cost. 

This is what Good Reader had to say:

  • E-book sales: 
    • Down by 4.5% in the first quarter of 2019.
    • Sales in the first quarter of 2019 were $244 million, which is down by $10 million for the same period in 2018.
  • Four-Year Trend:
    • This decline in e-book sales has been happening for the last four years.
    • Possible causes for the decline: audiobooks (see below).

What's Up with Audio?

Some sources suggest that the rise in audiobook sales indicates the biggest book trend in the past 7 years and the growth of audiobook sales shows no signs of flagging.

Revenue is a Thumbs Up

Good Reader remarked on the rise of audiobooks:

  • While e-book sales are declining, audiobooks are on the rise.
  • In the first three months of 2019, audiobooks rose by 35%.

Audio Publisher's report indicated:

  • Latest survey showed a 24.5% increase in audiobook revenue in 2018.
    • Sales in 2018 came in at $940 million.
    • This continues a 7-year trend of double-digit growth in this market.
    • Digital audio represents 91.4% of sales (as opposed to CD's, etc.).

Growing Audience

The Association of American Publishers provides an annual report call the StatShot that offers a picture of the health of the U. S. publishing industry. It has been considered the gold standard for the past 50 years. 

Association of American Publishers reported in their 2018 StatShot:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans now listen to audiobooks.
    • This is up in 2018 (at 23%) from 2016 (at 15%).
    • In rural areas, listening to audiobooks increased from 10% (2016) to 17% (2018).
  • Target ages of audiobooks:
    • Adults: 91.2% (unchanged from prior years).
    • Sales of adult and young adult titles: both increased by double digits.
    • Children's titles grew more moderately.
  • "Audio first" publications grew by 11.2% in revenue and 37.7% in units.

The Golden Standard of Hard Copy

Hardcopy books as a category include both hardback and paperback.

Revenue Trends for Print

Good Reader commented on traditional print industry:

  • The downturn in e-books has one advantage: it is good for traditional print sales.
  • Hardcover book sales were up 7.8%, bringing in $594 million in the first quarter of 2019.
  • Paperback sales were up 3.1% ($553.6 million).
  • Revenues for trade books in general have increased by 5.7%, bringing in $1.6 billion. This includes bookstores, online retailers, wholesalers and direct-to-consumer markets.

Revenue Comparison Across Formats

The most recent StatShot of Association of American Publishers indicated:

  • Of the 1.8 billion books sold in the U.S. in 2018, formats included:
    • Paperback: 36.9% of sales
    • Hardback: 22.3% of sales
    • E-book: 13% of sales
    • Downloaded audio: 5.6% of sales
  • Considered another way in terms of percent of total revenue:
    • Paperback: 32.7% of total revenue
    • Hardback: 36.8% of total revenue
    • E-book: 12.4% of total revenue
    • Downloaded audio: 7% of total revenue

Readership Format

  • Regarding readership format (StatShot 2018):
    • Print copy only: 39%
    • Digital only: 7%
    • Both: 29%
    • Overall reading: 72% of U.S. adults said they read a book (any format).
    • Overall audiobooks: Nearly 20% said they listen to audiobooks.

What One Click Retail had to say:

  • Amazon sold 4.3 billion more in hard copy books than e-books in 2016.

A Word on Self-Publishing

Historically, self-publishing was marginalized. However, as more accessible printing options came online as well as the option of Digital Publishing, self-published books appear to be here to stay.

According to Statista.com:

  • 1.68 million Indie books were published in 2018:
    • 1.55 million print books.
    • 130,000 e-books

From Smashwords, one of the largest distributors of Indie books:

  • On their platform alone (2018), they published 507,000 e-books from 142,000 authors.
  • This is up 7.5% (472,100) from the previous year.

From One Click Retail:

  • As of 2016, 60% of e-books on Kindle are by Indie publishers.

Genre Magic

Want to know what genres are selling the best? You might be surprised at how non-fiction sales are booming. According to Association of American Publishers:

Growth in Non-Fiction

  • As of June 2019, adult non-fiction has grown by 22.8% over last five years.
  • Young adult non-fiction has grown even more with a 40% increase in the same time period.

Non-Fiction: Print

  • The top five bestselling categories for print books on Amazon for non-fiction include:
    • #1 Memoirs and Biographies
    • #2 Self-Help
    • #3 Religion and Spirituality
    • #4 Health, Fitness and Dieting
    • #5 Politics and Social Science

Non-Fiction: E-Books

  • The most popular e-books categories for non-fiction include:
    • #1 Religion and Spirituality
    • #2 Memoirs and Biographies
    • #3 Business and Money
    • #4 Self-Help
    • #5 Cookbooks and Food

Fiction: E-Books (from Statista.com):

  • The most popular genres for fiction e-books were:
    • #1 Literature
    • #2 Fiction
    • #3 Romance

Fiction: Audiobook: (from Audio Publisher's report)

  • Most popular genres for audiobooks:
    • #1 General Fiction
    • #2 Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense
    • #3 Science Fiction/Fantasy

Non-Fiction: Audiobooks (from Audio Publisher's report)

  • While fiction leads in audiobooks, non-fiction was a close second at 32.7% of unit sales. Best selling categories included:
    • #1 General Non-Fiction
    • #2 History/Biography/Memoir
    • #3 Self-Help

Revenue Across Categories

So, what sub-genres make the most money? Book Ad Report indicated revenues by genre to include:

  • #1 Romantic and Erotica (1.44 billion)
  • #2 Crime and Mystery (728.2 million)
  • #3 Religious/Inspirational (720 million)
  • #4 Science Fiction and Fantasy (590.2million)
  • #5 Children and Young Adult (160 million)
  • #6 Horror (79.6 million)

Take-Home Message About Format and Genre

Taken together, these stats suggests that non-fiction dominates hard copy while fiction dominates e-book and audio book sales. That being said, though, there's clearly plenty of fiction in hard copy and plenty of non-fiction as e-books.

 

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