So what's the average number of books sold?

Publishers Marketplace had an interesting article about the average number of books sold by most POD publsihers like AuthorHouse or Iuniverse. The number is around 200 or less--with most of these being books bought by friends, relatives, etc. Okay. I buy that. No arguements here.

But what's the average number of books bought by readers from a standard 'traditional' publisher? I know a lot of traditional paperback houses print roughly 2000 to 2,500 for a first printing run. But do the sell that many? Does an average sold run mean 2,000 books sold? Especially for fiction.

I suspect there are a hell of a lot of warehouses bursting at the seams with books lying around--books from traditional houses incapable of being sold.

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Comment by Neil Nyren on March 19, 2009 at 7:20am
That's what I'm saying. I might think, for instance, that two are them are small-but-build, two of them have particular hooks or connections that merit pushing out more, and one of them has bestseller potential. The goals for each would be different. That doesn't mean we'd meet all those goals, of course. The accounts would have something to say about that, and we'd revise our first printings up or down accordingly.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on March 19, 2009 at 6:23am

Let's see your imprint is going to publish five unknown writers this year. You're saying the first-run for each is going to be different? That they're not going to fall in within a plus/minus of a certain range?
Comment by Neil Nyren on March 19, 2009 at 6:16am
Thanks, B.R. And regarding the original question, there's no such thing as an "average" number of books bought by readers, just as there's no average advance or average print run. It depends entirely on the individual book.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on March 19, 2009 at 4:47am
Ah, Neil!

I've been wondering when you'd jump in on this leaking boat and make a comment! Good to hear from you, buddy!
Comment by Neil Nyren on March 19, 2009 at 4:36am
He remainders them.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on March 19, 2009 at 4:32am

'been thinking about your comments. Especially the one where you said, "There is NO reason for a warehouse to hold on to books that aren't selling . . . not when they can send them back to the publishers and get their money back."

Aren't you, in a back-handed way, saying that books not sold are setting somewhere in a warehouse? What does a publisher do with several hundred copies of an unsold book?
Comment by Clair Dickson on March 18, 2009 at 12:48pm
Editorial ass talks a bit about this. It's really going to depend on the author. My understanding is that Editorial Ass is talking about sales-- royalties are almost all affected by returns. The publisher will sometimes hold a portion of the royalties to cover returns-- which are those books that aren't sold. There is NO reason for a warehouse to hold on to books that aren't selling... not when they can send them back to the publisher and get their money back. So, no, there really aren't going to be warehouses full of books. That's why returns are such a big issue in the publisher world right now (everyone but bookstores dislikes returns.)

The biggest indicator of whether or not the first print run SOLD is whether or not there's a second run. If there are few returns or if there are orders still coming in after the first run sold out, the publisher will put out another run. If the books are sitting in warehouses, the bookstores won't order more, thus no addition print runs.
Comment by Dana King on March 18, 2009 at 11:54am
I wonder if a more revealing answer might come from asking "what is the median number of books sold?" Some POD or really small publishers might sell just a handful of copies of a less than stellar book; John Grisham might sell a million. The more relevant number might be the point at which the same number of titles sell more than, and less than.
Comment by John McFetridge on March 18, 2009 at 10:33am
Library sales may make up most of the difference between POD and traditional publishers, although I'm thinking of hardcovers here and I'm not sure about paperback originals.

The rest of it Is like a lottery. While POD and traditional publishers probably sell about the same amount of copies of first novels, every year traditional publishers break out a couple of authors into very big sales and POD publishers haven't done that as much yet. So for those 1 or 2 or 3 authors that break out it's a big difference. For the rest of us, not much difference at all.

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