Jane Friedman

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


If 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.