Well, Yes, I Suppose Smaller Houses Sell Some Books; Or, Why Your Response to BookStats Is Important*
by Judith Appelbaum
It’s hard to reflect sales by independent publishers in industry statistics, even though the number of publishers in this category is huge and growing fast, and even though many independent publishers generate thousands of sales in a year and some have annual revenues in the millions—or tens of millions—of dollars.
These revenues aren’t accurately reflected in conventional tracking systems for a variety of reasons.
• The small and midsized publisher segment is essentially invisible because it’s made up of tens of
thousands of companies scattered all across the country.
• Many smaller publishers don’t surface for the groups that create statistics, because these groups tie to
trade associations that primarily represent other segments of the industry.
• Independent publishers’ sales often occur in channels outside the trade, which the book industry
doesn’t monitor, as well as in book-trade channels, which are routinely tracked but dominated by
the huge houses.
• No one outside the book industry monitors most book sales in “nontraditional” channels either.
• Figures from the federal government’s Census of book publishing, which are widely believed to be
comprehensive, don’t reflect activity by the vast majority of independent publishers.
As a result, when sizable sales by an independent publisher do come to the attention of the industry’s major players, they find it all too tempting to dismiss the numbers as a fluke.
You can fix that.
Just provide data for BookStats, the joint project that the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group designed to develop a new industry statistics model that will “better track transformational shifts in how book content is produced and sold in the age of digital.”
If you’ve already supplied data, that’s great. If you haven’t, please do it now via the link to BookStats at ibpa-online.org or the one at bisg.org.
To the extent that independent publishers—and especially midsized independents—provide data, industry statistics will show that the books people buy aren’t published only by great big houses and a handful of other publishing companies.
If the forthcoming BookStats sales figures accurately show independent publishers’ sales, all sorts of good things might happen. For instance:
• Everyone might know how big the industry actually is.
• The giant houses might come to understand that they’re not as dominant as they thought they were.
• The media might get that message too, and focus more on what independent publishers are doing.
• Successful writers might be more attracted to smaller houses.
•The full array of routes to readers might get the kind of attention that would help publishers of all
sizes reach more customers going forward.
And then there are the sticks that go with these carrots. To the extent that independent publishers—and especially midsized independents—fail to provide data to BookStats, we (and everybody else) won’t be able to see what’s really happening in the book business, where the dynamism is, and which areas are actually growing or poised to grow.
*In fact, it’s so important that we’re reprising the core of the email Florrie sent you recently.
Judith Appelbaum, editor of the Independent, is the author of How to Get Happily Published and the managing director of Sensible Solutions, Inc. She serves on the board of the Book Industry Study Group, co-chairs its Rights Committee, and chairs its Publications Committee.