Wednesday 26 August 2009

Sales Statistics: iUniverse

On March 17 of this year I posted some self-publishing sales statistics courtesy of Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, and I thought it might be interesting to play around with them a little. I should have been an accountant.

In the article I quoted, Victoria wrote, "According to a 2004 article in Publishers Weekly, only 83 of more than 18,000 iUniverse titles published during that year sold at least 500 copies."

If you have a look at the link she provided you'll find this information about sales figures for iUniverse books in 2004:

18,108: Total number of titles published

14: Number of titles sold through B&N's bricks-and-mortar stores (nationally)

83: Number of titles that sold at least 500 copies

792,814: Number of copies printed

32,445: Number of copies sold of iUniverse's top seller, If I Knew Then by Amy Fisher
So 18,108 different titles were published in 2004 and a total of 792,814 books were printed, which gives a mean average of 43.8 copies printed per title. And as iUniverse relies on print-on-demand technology, and only prints books in direct response to orders, “printed” here is the same as “sold”.

If you take away the 32,445 copies that Amy Fisher's book sold and then do the numbers again, that average number of copies sold per title goes down to 41.9.

If you then consider that 83 of iUniverse’s books sold at least 500 copies, and take those 83 books and their sales out of the equation (for simplicity I’ve assumed that they sold bang-on 500 copies each but several will have sold more, and so reduce this average further), the remainder of the books published—that’s a whole 18,025 titles, or 99.5% of all books that iUniverse publishes—sold an average of 39.9 copies each.

Let’s assume that those books were priced at £10 each (which is a reasonable-ish price for a paperback right now). I don’t know what rate of royalties they’d have earned from iUniverse (anyone?), so can’t make a direct comparison here: but let’s assume that the writers had not self-published their books and had instead been published by a mainstream publisher, with a contract which specified a reasonable-to-generous royalty of 12% of cover price. On that deal they’d make £1.20 per copy sold: so on sales of 40 copies they’d earn a total of just £48 per book published.

I’d like to find out how many of the titles concerned sold under twenty copies: this would at least filter out a lot of the people who used iUniverse to produce books just for friends and family and had no intention of ever seeking sales for them (which is how I’ve used Lulu in the past). Because if I could take those books off the total it would push the averages up a little bit and give us a better idea of the average sales levels that iUniverse authors were achieving when these numbers were collated—but the numbers would still have a long way to go before they equalled the sales figures of the least successful books from a mainstream publisher.


Dan Holloway said...

This is very interesting. As soon as Songs from the Other Side of the Wall hits Amazon, I'll keep you updated with sales on a regulr basis. I very much believe in putting my money where my mouth is, and as I've spent the past 8 months touting the potential of self-publishing, the least I can do is be open about how I manage to do!

Joel Huan said...

Pretty depressing statistics, isn't it? But on the positive note, some of the best sellors in today's market were total rejects years ago. Many went thru the self-published route. Incidently, I posted an article about the persistent Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Also, I think we need to write with a theme that is special, so that it can pop above the milling crowd.
Joel Huan

iamfrightenedtoo said...

i would like to know the same statistics for xlibrius.
i have a few friends who are about to waste hundreds of dollars with that company.
hard to convince people to do it the hard way.

Derek said...

The data is likely distributed over a highly skewed curve. For example, with a total of 18,108 titles, and with 83 titles selling over 500 copies, the distribution might look like this:

0-5 copies 12,525 titles

6-50 copies 5,000 titles

51-500 copies 500 titles

501-5,000 copies 80 titles

> 5,000 copies 3 titles

I also notice that 14 out of the 18,108 were stocked in B&N stores.

That's about 1 in 1,000.

My conclusion: If your book is better than 99% of the other books in its genre, it's worth your while to search for a commercial publisher.

For the remaining 99% you may as well self-publish. At least you'll have something to show off to your friends.

catdownunder said...

Ummm Jane...I think I will stick with the mainstream. If I never get anything published (and I am starting very late in life)then, in my field, it simply is not good enough.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Pretty dismal stats there!

Holly said...

Even assuming those stats have held through to the present (and not dropped due to increasing # of titles), even iUniverse acknowledges that most books never hit 100 copies.

I think there are various reasons to self-publish. If the book is good, sales are going to be dependent on book promotion. Unless you are the rare first author, most "published authors", especially mid-list, have to do be their own publicist.

Any way you publish - from name press through you are making your words available to others.

Jane Smith said...

Dan, my fingers are very tightly crossed for you. I do hope you and your book do well.

Joel Huan wrote, "Many went thru the self-published route." Perhaps not so many as you think: if you read this earlier blog post of mine, you'll see that in the last few years only twenty-nine books have made the transition from self-published to mainstream. Although I agree with you about having to write special books--that's always important.

Iamfrightenedtoo: if you go to the original article from Writer Beware (you might have to do a bit of digging about to find it: Writer Beware is rejigging its website right now and some of the links have changed, but it should still be there) you might well find similar figures. If your friend isn't convinced, get them to read up a bit about the company and perhaps send them over to Absolute Write's "Bewares and Background Checks" forum, where they can ask other writers what their experiences were of the company. It might save them making a very expensive mistake.

Derek: you're right about that curve being somewhat distorted: that's why I'd love to see more detailed figures but for some reason, few companies are willing to publish them. Can't imagine why. You wrote, "My conclusion: If your book is better than 99% of the other books in its genre, it's worth your while to search for a commercial publisher. For the remaining 99% you may as well self-publish. At least you'll have something to show off to your friends." I agree with your first sentence, but not with your second: if the books I've seen on my review site are anything to go by, you might just cause your friends acute embarrassment if you take that route. It might be better to learn more about the craft, write a different, better book, and leave your rejected book safe on your hard drive where it can't jump out and bite you!

Holly wrote, "Unless you are the rare first author, most "published authors", especially mid-list, have to do be their own publicist." You're right to some extent, Holly: authors do have to promote their own books but you imply that those authors are working completely alone. They're not: they're backed up by a sales and distribution force which gets their books into a high proportion of bookshops nationwide, so that when people hear about those books they can go find them, just like that; the books are properly edited and well-designed, so they're desirable and attractive; and there is always some marketing activity and plenty of marketing support, which the self-published writers don't have.

Let's face it, if mainstream publishers only sold an average of 40 copies per title they wouldn't stay in the game for long. Most comercial titles published in the UK probably sell at least 2,000 copies each and in America those figures are much higher: that's a lot more than 40.

Jane Smith said...

Incidentally, if anyone has any more-recent sales statistics for self- and vanity-published books, I'd love to see them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's very difficult to get the companies which publish these books to make such figures public.