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10 Stats You Didn’t Know About the Publishing Industry

I love trivia. Don’t you? It’s fun to know random facts and statistics. The best part is, not only will little-known stats win you the mother lode in Trivial Pursuit or a free round at the local BBQ joint’s trivia night, but it has the potential–when it’s specific and useful information–to help you navigate an industry well.

When a successful professional enters a new company, the first thing he/she has to do is learn the industry. The same should stand true for authors. If you’re new to the book world, make learning the publishing industry a real priority.

Only with industry information under our belts can we market well and win sales. This is true in the world of retail, in food service, in tech… and it’s true in publishing.

Only with industry information under our belts can we market well and win sales. Click To Tweet

Here are ten statistics about the book world to get you started. Each represents a tiny snapshot into a much larger trend and data pool.

1- More than 50% of all traditionally published book sales of any format in the US now happen on Amazon.com. (Author Earnings, May 2016)

2- Audio book downloads increased by 38.1 percent in 2015. (CNBC, 2016)

3- The Big Five Publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) now account for less than a quarter of all ebook purchases on Amazon. Indies are closing in on 45%. (Author Earnings, Feb 2016)

4- The top-selling books of all time are the Quran and the Bible (KJV), selling an estimated 3 billion and 2.5 million copies, respectively. Other top-sellers across time include Don Quixote (500 million), the Harry Potter series (450 million), and A Tale of Two Cities (200 million). (The Stylist, 2014)

5- In January of this year, 11 out of the top 35 books on Amazon were adult coloring books. Of those 11, 5 were published by indie authors. (Author Earnings, Feb 2016)

6- The average price of a Big Five ebook was $10.31 in January 2016. It had dropped to $8.67 by May 2016. (Author Earnings, May 2016)

7- The highest-paid author of 2016 is James Patterson, earning $95 million pre-tax. Others in the “highest-paid authors” camp include J.K. Rowling and children’s book writer Jeff Kinney. (Forbes, 2016)

8- Less than 50% of unit sales of print bestsellers in January 2016 were published by a Big Five Publisher. (Author Earnings, Feb 2016)

9- Indie authors earn close to 40% of total ebook dollars going to authors. (Publisher’s Weekly, 2014)

10- Fewer than 700 Big Five authors who debuted in the last 10 years currently earn $25,000 a year or more on Amazon—from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and ebook editions combined. (Author Earnings, May 2016)

So, now you’re ready for publishing trivia… and perhaps you know a little bit more about this wild world.

Seriously, though, industry information is key for success. If you’re serious about learning the biz, I suggest you follow or subscribe to Author Earnings, Publisher’s Weekly, and Jane Friedman’s blog. There are tons of great resources out there, but these are a nice start. I’m curious, for those of you who do follow the biz, what resources do you seek out and read regularly?



  • Thanks for the newsletter suggestions! Just signed up for Publisher’s Weekly.
    There is a lot I don’t know about indie publishing, even though I recently filed for a DBA.
    I appreciate your emails. They are truly helpful!

    Jennifer Waddle
    Author and Speaker

  • Danny Conn

    A point should be clarified regarding the best-selling books of all time. The Stylist statistic specifically lists one translation (KJV) as selling 2.5 billion. It would be more accurate to include all translations for the past 2000 years, not just 400 years worth of one English translation, albeit, the most popular English translation. Guinness Book of World Records estimates 5 billion Bibles have been sold.