What They're Buying, What We're Buying: A Look At Publishers’ And Readers’ Book Buying Habits Of 2011

With Publishers Marketplace and Nielsen Bookscan both releasing sales data for 2011, today we are comparing the book buying habits of publishers and readers. Publishers Marketplace tracks the deals that publishers have made with authors for upcoming works. And on the other side of book buying, Nielsen tracks the amount of print book purchases made by consumers. Together these two reports provide an interesting picture of the book industry's immediate past as well as a forecast of what we can expect in 2012 and beyond. 


Stats At A Glance

According to Publishers Marketplace, publishers made more new book deals in 2011 than they did in the previous year. Specifically, over five thousand more deals, which is a 5% increase from 2010. What does this mean for readers? We will be seeing more traditionally published books in the next few years.

In comparison, Nielsen Bookscan reports that print book sales fell by just over 9% in the past year, and undersold 2010 by 66.3 million units. Furthermore, the percentage of books sold in all three of the major print formats (hardcover, trade and mass market) are down across the board. We suspect that the declining numbers of print books sold to readers has to do with both the continuing economic problems facing consumers as well as the increase in e-book sales. 

Adult Fiction Sales

In 2011, the percentage of fiction book deals made by publishers went up by 10% which means readers will soon be seeing an increase in the amount of mystery, romance, science fiction and other adult novels in stores and online. However, when consulting the Nielsen Bookscan numbers, maybe this increase in fiction will not bode well for the publishers. Nielsen reports that adult fiction book sales in traditional print format declined 18% when compared to the previous year. 

Children’s and Young Adult Book Sales

Children’s book deals increased by a little less than 10% in 2011, however, according to Publishers Marketplace, this was the genre where the most six- and seven-figure deals were made. With major money being invested, young readers can expect to see some big time authors and big-time promotional pushes in the future. It's also important to note that the Children’s genre has been growing steadily — the volume of sales in this arena is just about twice what it was back in 2007. Meanwhile, Nielsen reports that Juvenile print book sales declined approximately 5%. Nonetheless, making Nielsen Bookscan list of the top fifteen fiction titles sold in 2011 are not one, but two series of books for young readers. Jeff Kinney’s popular middle grade books, the Wimpy Kid series, raked in a cumulative 3.5 million sales and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games books sold 3.4 million copies. 

Nonfiction Sales

Although nonfiction sales only saw nominal gains in terms of the percentage of new book deals being made, the advances authors are given are growing smaller in nonfiction. That is to say that Publishers Marketplace tracked a marked growth in deals for $250k to $499k, rather than advances of over $500k. However, in terms of buying trends, adult nonfiction is only down 3% overall, which signals a still-healthy interest from readers for these works.  

Numbers That Grew

There was a spike in publishers buying general fiction; deals being made in this genre grew 30 percent compared to 2010. And in terms of our book buying habits, more readers went to the store to get Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, The Help, this year than ever before. A figure which we suspect is the result of the big buzz from the book’s film adaptation.

Numbers That Fell 

Last year, inspirational fiction took the largest hit in terms of stories that publishers aren't buying. Inspirationals had been the third biggest seller in 2010, but now occupies the fifth spot on the list of genres that are selling briskly to publishers.

When it comes to print book buying trends, the most dramatic drop is certainly in mass market paperback, where there were 24% fewer sales — a number which was certainly affected by the rise in cheap e-books (and cheap e-readers) as well as the end of Borders and their subsidiary Waldenbooks, which did a brisk business in paperback reads. 

Surprising Figures

Looking at publishers’ buying habits of the past year, we were shocked to learn that more deals were made in "general" fiction than were made in the category of women’s fiction and romance, Publisher’s Marketplace noted that this was a first since 2007. 

And we’ll end the comparison on this happy note. In 2011, publishers bought two hundred and twenty five works of debut fiction. That figure is more than 6% higher than the number of new debut works publishers bought in 2010, so make room on your shelves for some new authors!

For more Publishing Industry News, click here and be sure to keep your eye on the RT Daily Blog all year long!