The State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts

Preface from Jane: I founded and edit a publication for authors, The Hot Sheet, in partnership with Porter Anderson. It’s a 2x/month email newsletter that helps you better understand what’s happening in the publishing industry without having to read a dozen different sites, blogs, or message boards. Find out more about The Hot Sheet.


Over on my Pinterest account, I keep tabs on data, charts, and infographics related to the media industry—and every so often, I reflect on what the most recent stats are telling us. Here are the most interesting charts to me right now.

Decline in US Nonfiction Print Sales

Source: At the most recent Digital Book World, Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen presented a look at print book sales from 2004–2014. This slide in particular focuses on nonfiction categories.

Takeaway: It’s stated right on the slide—the decline in nonfiction print book sales pre-dates ebooks. Meaning: The Internet has slowly been eating away at the market for information delivered through the print book, particularly reference and travel. Probably no surprise there for those inside the industry, but some authors keep pitching nonfiction books as if it were 2007, rather than 2014. On the bright side, Nowell’s presentation showed print sales increases in the categories of religion and cookbooks.

Decline in Fiction Sales

Source: This is from the same Nielsen presentation as the previous chart, only focused on print fiction sales.

Takeaway: Ebooks have affected the print sales market for all fiction categories. The genres most severely affected: fantasy, general fiction, mystery/detective.

However, Nowell took time to point out that—across three of the biggest bestselling authors from 2008–2014—ebook sales have increased their overall sales, rather than cannibalizing sales.

Side note: If you’re curious whether any charts showed growth, rather than a decline, then juvenile sales are way up. Click here to see the full presentation.

KDP Select payments

Source: Foner Books put together this visual based on Amazon KDP Select payments to indie authors for book borrows before and after the debut of Kindle Unlimited, the all-you-can-eat ebook subscription service offered by Amazon.

Takeaway: The last year has hinted that the ebook subscription model is experiencing some strain. This graph shows how Amazon payouts dropped in conjunction with the rollout of Kindle Unlimited, which obviously forced Amazon to change their payments to a pages-read model over summer 2015.

Almost without exception, Big Five (New York) publisher titles are not included in Kindle Unlimited, but some of their titles are included in ebook subscription competitors Oyster and Scribd. Scribd has had to reduce the number of romance titles available (due to the voracious reader demographic of that genre), as well as limit the number of audiobooks a subscriber can borrow under their basic plan.

Scribd and Oyster continue to pay on a full royalty model, meaning authors receive the same royalty for a borrow as they do a sale. Kindle Unlimited also pays on a full royalty model—but not for books available via KDP Select.

More than a few people are asking how long ebook subscription models can pay a full royalty—since greater success in engaging users/subscribers means costs can outpace revenue.

E-Reader Sales

Source: From Statista, this graph shows shipments of e-book readers worldwide from 2008–2012 in millions of units, and offers a forecast until 2016.

Takeaway: Current wisdom is that people are moving to tablets/phones for reading, and that’s where ebooks will be primarily read. People inclined to use e-readers already have one, and the technology isn’t advancing in such a way that people are compelled to buy a new e-reader like they are a new phone or tablet. WSJ’s The Rise of Phone Reading expands on this trend.

Children Reading Ebooks

Source: This is from Nielsen’s deep dive into the children’s market in 2014: children are reading ebooks at a younger age. (Nielsen is about to release a new report this week—follow #kidsbooksummit for reports.)

Takeaway: When you pair this chart with other studies showing that most kids use smart phones and tablets, one wonders when we’ll see corresponding growth in the juvenile ebook market. So far, juvenile ebook sales lag behind adult ebook sales by a significant margin.


The Hot SheetIf you enjoyed this post, I encourage you to take a look at my new publication, The Hot Sheet.

Do you have interesting charts or graphs to share about what’s happening in the publishing industry? Share in the comments.

Over on my Pinterest account, I keep tabs on data, charts, and infographics related to the media industry—and every so often, I reflect on what the most recent stats are telling us. (My last roundup was in March 2014.)

Posted in Publishing Industry and tagged , , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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27 Comments on "The State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts"

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[…] Take a look at 5 charts that reflect current trends in the book publishing industry, and what they mean for authors.  […]

Anthony Pacheco

The Nielson/AAP et. al. numbers are dubious. My favorite charts relate to author earnings, based on data crawlers, rather than broken ISBN reporting. http://authorearnings.com/report/september-2015-author-earnings-report/

Marcy McKay

I so appreciate how you crunch the numbers for us, then present them in PLAIN ENGLISH. That’s not my gift at all, so I’m especially grateful. Congrats on The Hot Sheet.

jason makansi

Have you “corrected” for general effects from the harsh recession in the first two graphs? Especially with non fiction, it appears sales may be recovering consistent w the general economy but lagging which could be normal for discretionary spending.

Terrence OBrien

Re the Koll/KU payot graph. Why does the X-axis intersect the Y-axis at appx $1.50? Why was $1.50 chosen rather than zero?

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[…] Friedman on Jane FriedmanThe State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts “Over on my Pinterest account, I keep tabs on data, charts, and infographics related to the media […]

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[…] The State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts | Jane Friedman […]

Erran
I don’t know if my brain is on a mini-vacay that my entire person couldn’t manage this summer, but I am confused by the following: “Takeaway: It’s stated right on the slide—the decline in nonfiction print book sales pre-dates ebooks.” I take the above to mean that the sales decline of print nonfiction books was occurring *before* the advent/popularity of ebooks. In other words, the decline couldn’t be attributed to the Internet if nonfiction titles weren’t even available as ebooks yet. Right? “Meaning: The Internet has slowly been eating away at the market for information delivered through the print book,… Read more »
Thad McIlroy
Hi Jane: Beware the prevailing wisdom on the decline of ereaders. PocketBook, a leading manufacturer of E Ink e-readers report the 2014 world market growth rate was 20% (http://www.pocketbook-int.com/us/news/global-market-e-readers-increased-20). E-ink, in its last annual report (http://www.mzcan.com/taiwan/8069/irwebsite/index.php?mod=annual) notes “E Ink continues to be optimistic about the eReader market going into 2015 with the market size [new device sales] expected to continue to be in the range of 12-15 million units as reported by market research firms such as IHS.” Yes, there is movement toward smartphone reading, but it’s still a small % of smartphone users (in Western countries; Asia is a… Read more »
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[…] Friedman shows us The state of the publishing industry in five charts. It’s not a very pretty picture. Faithful friends of print should perhaps not take the chart […]

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[…] are some graphs showing recent developments in the US publishing industry, and interpretations […]

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[…] Jane Friedman collected five infographics that illustrate the current health of the publishing industry. […]

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[…] be opening its second brick and mortar store in 2016. There are faint glimmers of light out there (more bookstores opened last year than closed, ebook sales are down) but it’s still tough out […]

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[…] grow and have already captured more than $3 billion of the book sales market – more and more kids are reading ebooks […]

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[…] to grow and have already captured more than $3 billion of the book sales market – more and more kids are reading ebooks […]

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[…] to grow and have already captured more than $3 billion of the book sales market – more and more kids are reading ebooks […]

B Free

I wonder to what degree the lag for kids ebooks is due to the kindle unlimited plan – or other platforms such as Razkids. Kids can read a lot more if they are into it. And the “all you can eat” model seems more appropriate than buying individual books. Especially if they are going through 2 or 3 books a week.

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[…] State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts […]

Carl Pachea

Great article! I’ve been curious about this subject, and I found the Foner Books analysis interesting. I also like the studies done by Hugh Howey and Ben Hinson in this field, they really go into alot of detail. Check out this article Ben Hinson wrote on his Hickam’s Dictum website on the impact POD and eBooks are having on the publishing industry: http://bit.ly/29DKh5I, it goes into some detail on international markets as well.

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[…] Anyways, This article was also very informative on the actual trends of the book industry. Though we like to think that print books are safe, digital books till are becoming increasingly popular. Instead of ignoring this fact, it’s time to prepare for it. […]

Chris Stevenson

Thanks, Jane. A very informative guide.

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