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Director’s Desk:
Book Sales Figures Today & Tomorrow

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According to an e-mail I just received from the market research firm Ipsos-NPD, book sales in 2001 were up 2% and bookstores and “value” channels fared the best.

Ipsos-NPD bases its report on a survey of 12,000 households that are supposed to represent the population nationwide. That survey found that consumers spent $12.8 billion on print books in 2001 and that books purchased for adults (people 18 or older) accounted for more than two-thirds of all books bought. Books purchased for children under 14 accounted for 29% of the total, and the 14- to 17-year-old market was responsible for 2%. With the Harry Potter phenomenon, I think that last figure is a little on the low side.

Where and how do people purchase books? According to this survey, 32.8% of book purchases occur at bookstores; 23.8% are made via book clubs, mail order, and/or book fairs; 9% through mass merchandisers; 7.8% through discount/variety stores; 5.5% on the Internet; 5.7% at warehouse clubs; 3% at food/drug stores; 2.2% at used bookstores; and 9.3% at “other.”

The interesting numbers here, I think, are for the Internet (just 5.5% is hard to believe) and for the used bookstores (2.2%). Now if Amazon.com continues to resell used books right next to our frontlist titles, I think that both these numbers will change. And I find it amazing that the Internet hasn’t had as much an impact on the industry as we all assumed. It’s still the bookstore that reigns supreme, with the book clubs and similar direct-to-consumer channels coming second.

 

0ÌPòEThe Used Book Debate

The topic of reselling used books at Amazon is getting hotter and hotter, and there seems to be no simple solution. Yes, we could decide not to sell our titles on Amazon.com if they continue the process, but who would we really be hurting by doing that?

Used books have been sold for years–at swap meets, from stores specializing in the sale of used books, at garage sales, etc. The difference with Amazon.com is the ease of purchase. It’s like visiting a traditional bookstore and finding the latest John Grisham selling for $24.95 right next to a slightly used version of the exact same book for $11.95.

In an article titled “Secondhand Prose” in TheWashington Post on April 22, 2002, Jonathan Yardley writes, “Writers want to be paid a fair rate for their work, but they also want to be read.” Mr. Yardley takes a very shortsighted view of the world of publishing. He feels that there is no problem if the used book is sold along with the new one as long as the author gets read. What he fails to note is that neither the writer nor the publisher gets paid for resold titles and that advances are traditionally based on the number of anticipated sales.

Let’s look at some scenarios to see how the current used-book situation might really play out. Say that a publisher anticipates the sale of 20,000 copies of a title priced at $24.95. After giving away at least 55% to get the title into bookstore chains (and we all know that the publisher may well have to give away more), the publisher will net $11.23 per copy and, with royalties based on net, the author might then be paid $1.12 for each title sold. So if the publisher actually sells all 20,000 copies of this title, the author’s royalty will be $22,400.

Now let’s take another look at this same scene, played out to an extreme, I admit.

The publisher prints 20,000 copies of the title priced at $24.95. The frontlist sale of this book is 10,000; the used book sale is 10,000. The publisher and author have reached the same number of readers, but the author will net $11,230 and the publisher will have 10,000 copies gathering dust. Yes, the author is being read by 20,000 people, but I assume that the author has bills to pay, just as the publisher has. And while those 10,000 copies in the warehouse may or may not ever be sold, the publisher’s expenses for printing the book, publicizing it, advertising, etc., etc., etc., haven’t decreased one bit.

Mr. Yardley goes on to say, “There’s more to book-selling than money.” Any of us who participate in the world of publishing agree 100% with that statement. In fact, most of us didn’t enter this profession to earn huge amounts of money. We love books. We love authors. We love being providers of information that the public may even want. We also like having enough revenue to be able to support taking a chance on new authors. While used books always have been sold, they have never competed directly with our frontlist titles or been so easy to buy. This is the concern that most of us have with Amazon.com.

 

What’s Really Happening Here

The textbook industry is prepared for resale of books. That’s why a textbook that could have sold for $25-$30 sells for $80-$100. The average publisher does not want to be forced into following this pattern.

While I support Mr. Yardley’s statement about there being more than money involved in bookselling, I think the industry has to focus on the penalties we will all pay if the practice of selling used books directly against new books continues.

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