Invisible book sales

book sales
Books sold at unusual venues like outdoor fairs often go unreported.
Photo by Maridav, iStockphoto

There’s a problem with “best seller lists” that people in the industry talk about amongst themselves, but I’m not sure whether the general public is aware of it.

Vast numbers of book sales don’t get counted by the compilers of those lists, mainly because the books are published by those outside the Big Six Formidable Five, and also because a lot of those sales don’t happen through regular retail channels.

The Independent Book Publishers Association surveyed its 3,000 members and found that although sales are their sales are sizable, they’re not ranked among “best seller” lists because small presses often sell through unusual venues. Here’s a shortlist of the places small presses sell books:

  • Department of State and other military institutions
  • Trade shows, craft shows, art fairs, conventions
  • State and regional fairs
  • Zoo and museum gift shops
  • Colleges and other schools
  • National Park and Monument gift shops
  • Local shops and art galleries
  • Enthusiast clubs and websites
  • Civic organizations
  • Libraries
  • iBookstore

That’s right, sales at Apple’s iBookstore don’t count. Until very recently, nobody but Amazon was counting e-book sales at all.

Authors also sell a lot of their own books themselves from the back of the room after speaking engagements or other personal appearances.

None of these sales count, as far as the New York Times or other “best seller” lists are concerned. That’s a problem. It perpetuates the belief that the Formidable Five is all there is, when in fact small presses “are the industry’s healthiest and fastest-growing segment.”

According to IBPA, the largest indie publishers—those with annual revenue of $500,000 to $5 million—have a net sales growth rate that’s five times that of the megapublishers. Those kind of numbers should not be invisible.

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  1. Wow, that is really amazing. I was reading, though, is what usually happens is those little indies making all the money will get bought up by the Big Six. So they keep disappearing into Consolidation. Then it stands to reason that THEIR numbers swell the NYT bestseller list.

    It’s a hopeful sign for indies, though.

    1. That does seem to have happened a lot, but new indies always crop up to take the place of those consumed by the beast. I wonder how long it will be before some of these megapublishers collapse under their own weight. It’s my hope that IBPA and other indie publishing alliances will keep drawing attention to how big a piece of the market they have. It’s a shame that they haven’t gotten credit for what they’ve done.

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