The Statistics of Publishing

Fellow journalist Chris Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and the author of The Long Tail, a best-selling book on the economics of entertainment. According to Anderson, there’s untapped potential in the vast number of books and other media that sell relatively few copies, representing the so-called “long tail” of the sales curve.

In a recent article in industry trade journal Publishers Weekly, Anderson wrote: “Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen BookScan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.”

And as if those statistics weren’t staggering enough, Anderson continued: “Today, there are about 32 million unique titles in America’s collective libraries. Only about two million of them—6%—are in print. Perhaps another 20%, mostly the oldest books, are in the public domain and legally free and clear to be scanned and put online. The rest—nearly three quarters of the knowledge, culture and history that lies in books—remains “out of print” but still under copyright.”