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Small and Independent Publishers: An Analysis of Sales Data

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During the fall and winter of 2003, we worked with PMA on a study of small and independent book publishers designed to determine net publishers’ revenues and units for 2002 for selected companies in this segment of our industry, which is estimated to consist of approximately 80,000 firms.

The goals of the study were to:

1. Collect statistically reliable data on the breadth and depth of small and independent publishing operations in the United States because they constitute a vitally important but underexamined sector of the book industry

2. Determine net revenue and unit data in specific categories for a subset of this sector, with a view toward incorporating sales by smaller publishers in Book Industry TRENDS, the annual volume of statistics we have been compiling for five years for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG)

We began by preparing a draft questionnaire with instructions, definitions, and a deadline. The instruction sheet said that all submitted questionnaires would remain confidential and that only aggregated data would be made public.

These documents were reviewed and revised by BISG and PMA.

In late November 2003, PMA sent an e-mail to members with the instruction and questionnaire documents as attachments. All PMA members were asked to complete and send questionnaires directly to our office via fax or e-mail attachment by December 30, 2003.

Rounding Up Responses

We received 233 questionnaires, an impressive 6.13 percent response rate for a self-selected sample.

AfSYSYdiscussions with BISG and PMA, we decided also to collect questionnaires from a smaller, random sample of 100 PMA members who had not yet submitted them to see whether the self-selected sample was representative.

A simple random sample is, of course, a well-established statistical method, and it allowed us to select a group of 100 publishers so that the probability of selecting a publishing company in the total membership of PMA was the same for each and every company; and the chance of selecting one firm was independent of whether some other firm was selected.

By early February 2004, we had received 11 new usable questionnaires for a response rate of 11 percent, again an impressive rate, although a low absolute number.

Overall, we received a total of 244 questionnaires, for a 6.42 percent response rate. Since this was the first national study of net publishers’ revenues and units in specific book categories from small and independent book publishers, we were satisfied with the response rate and the results, and we proceeded to analyze the data we had collected.

The Findings

The small and independent publishers in the study were exceptionally active in a cluster of book categories. Their adult trade paperbacks generated the largest sales dollar volume, with $42.5 million in net publishers’ revenues. Their adult trade cloth books ($15.3 million) and professional and reference paperback books ($12.4 million) were second and third.

Reporting publishers also exhibited high levels of business activity in a number of other book categories, especially professional and reference cloth books ($7.3 million), direct response cloth books ($6.7 million), elhi cloth ($3.2 million), elhi paperback textbooks ($1.6 million), college paperback textbooks ($2.2 million), and juvenile trade paperbacks ($1.5 million).

Overall, total net publishers’ revenues for the 244 reporting companies for the year 2002 were $97,544,613.

Publishers’ unit totals mirrored the revenue tallies. Adult trade paperbacks hovered near 7.1 million units. Professional and reference paperback books also posted strong results (1.4 million).

Overall, total publishers’ units for 2002 for these 244 companies were 12,382,213.

While these book publishers reported data in 16 distinct book categories, some also listed useful information on subjects such as subsidiary and foreign rights sales that did not fit neatly under TRENDS rubrics. We aggregated these totals; they appear in the “Other” category in the tables below.

Table 1. Net Revenues and Net Units, 2002


Book Category Net Dollars Net Units


Adult trade, cloth 15,322,013 1,318,510

Adult trade, paperback 42,512,137 7,124,753

Juvenile trade, cloth 687,814 135,228

Juvenile trade, paperback 1,451,965 240,313

Religious books, cloth 200 40

Religious books, paperback 135,788 23,362

Book clubs, cloth 142,652 23,534

Book clubs, paperback 567,311 142,250

Direct response books, cloth 6,682,738 400,546

Mail order books, paperback 2,893,976 440,423

Professional and reference books, cloth 7,345,455 186,383

Professional and reference books, paperback 12,408,790 1,432,808

Elhi textbooks, cloth 3,170,583 242,082

Elhi textbooks, paperback 1,639,107 496,822

College textbooks, cloth 227,842 5,519

College textbooks, paperback 2,178,983 135,002

Other 177,140 34,638

Total 97,544,613 12,382,213


In terms of percentages for both dollars and units, adult trade paperbacks again led the list, accounting for 43.58 percent of all revenues and 57.54 percent of all units. Reporting publishers were active in all 16 TRENDS fields, however, as well as the “Other” category. Adult trade cloth accounted for 15.71 percent of revenues and 10.65 percent of units. Professional and reference paperbacks, which accounted for 12.72 percent of revenues and 11.57 percent of units, were also among the top producers.

Areas where these small and independent publishers were not very active included religious books, book clubs, and juvenile and college clothbound books.

Table 2. Percentage of Net Revenues and Net Units, 2002


Book Category Net Dollars Net Units

% of Total % of Total


Adult trade, cloth 15.71 10.65

Adult trade, paperback 43.58 57.54

Juvenile trade, cloth 0.71 1.09

Juvenile trade, paperback 1.49 1.94

Religious books, cloth 0.0002 0.0003

Religious books, paperback 0.14 0.19

Book clubs, cloth 0.15 0.19

Book clubs, paperback 0.58 1.15

Direct response books, cloth 6.85 3.23

Mail order books, paperback 2.97 3.56

Professional and reference books, cloth 7.53 1.51

Professional and reference books, paperbacks 12.72 11.57

Elhi textbooks, cloth 3.25 1.96

Elhi textbooks, paperbacks 1.68 4.01

College textbooks, cloth 0.23 0.04

College textbooks, paperbacks 2.23 1.09

Other 0.18 0.28


Note: All percentages were rounded off, so totals may not add up to 100%.

The next steps

Small and independent publishers are an exceptionally active component of the book business in the United States but also a component that is generally hidden.

Very few small and independent publishers are included among the companies that submit monthly or annual data to major trade organizations. And the U.S. Department of Commerce’s various Census studies track only 2,800 book publishing firms, while Bowker’s figures for 2002 showed 73,000 “small” publishers–not counting people who publish via POD companies–with 1 to 10 active ISBNs, and 11,887 “medium”-sized publishers with 11 to 199 active ISBNs, along with 1,804 “large” and “very large” publishers with 200 or more active ISBNs.

Although we are not yet in a position to extrapolate from the figures we have collected for hundreds of publishers to the full universe of tens of thousands, we intend to keep collecting data from this segment and hope to integrate these findings with the findings from other TRENDS data sources in the future.

This article is adapted with permission from the report on the 2003 BISG/PMA study of small and independent publishers that appears in Book Industry TRENDS 2004. © 2004 by Book Industry Study Group, Inc. To learn more about BISG, visit www.bisg.org.

Robert M. Wharton is a professor and department chair of management sciences at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration. He has published widely in the area of statistical forecasting.

Albert N. Greco is a professor of communications and media management at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration. He is the author or editor of seven books, including The Book Publishing Industry and Media Economics: Theory and Practice.

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