Market Update on Business Book Publishing – March 20, 2020

Last edit: March 24, 2020

Information about book publishing is often hard to come by for authors.

To combat that, I wanted to share a few things we at Bard Press are seeing right now.

1. Sales are down

We saw a 7.5% sales drop in the business and self-help categories, looking at the top 10,000 titles as tracked by NPDecisionKey. I heard the overall book market is down 10% this week.

The Top 50 was hit harder. Almost every title in the Top 50 for business books sold less this week. The total sales for that group was down 20%

The top of the list got hit the hardest. Two week ago, the #1 title was selling 10K copies a week. This week, the #1 title is selling under 6K copies.

2. Books are still launching

In the overall market, there are books launching with success: Untamed by Glennon Doyle, Get Out of Your Own Way by Dave Hollis, and a strong second week from Carrie Underwood’s Find Your Path.

Publishers, like movie studios, have also been pushing launches later into the year. Many books were scheduled to publish early in the year to avoid the fall presidential elections in the U.S.

Interesting side note: Movie studios are launching movies into early digital release, as movie theaters close around the country. NBC Universal released The Invisible Man along with two other movies and Pixar released Unbound. They are offering the movies at $19.99 rentals.

3. There are some big shifts in categories

We have noticed the Amazon Rank of some of our titles has been increasing (i.e. #5000 vs #1000). We always remember that Amazon Rank is a relative measurement compared to other products on the website.

Well, if you have been looking at the Top 100 Books on Amazon you can get a sense of shift in categories. With schools being closed and families staying home, children’s books dominate the list right now.

Update (March 23rd) : NPDecisionKey reports sales grew 38% for titles in juvenile non-fiction education, reference, and language print books. Leading topics include “math, language arts, puzzles, sticker books, word games, geometry, study aids, and coloring books.”

4. Retail is being hit hard

The outlets selling books are being impacted in different ways.

Amazon announced this week they are prioritizing household goods and medical supplies for the next three weeks, in an effort to help customers get the products they need. They told their suppliers to expect smaller orders and that it likely didn’t not represent actual demand on their website.

Physical stores are being severely impacted with closings taking place all over the country in reaction to government declarations. Stores from The Strand in New York City to Powell’s in my hometown of Portland have shut their doors but are still taking online orders. Barnes & Noble has been closing stores as needed and running others on reduced hours.

Airport bookstores, an important segment for business books, is down. We are seeing sales of our titles down 50%, which roughly matches the decrease in airlines bookings that has been reported in the news.

The combined effect across retail outlets is going to have a negative impact on book sales in the short term.

Open questions…

Some things I am wondering about:

  • Will we see a shift in the kinds of business books being read? Remote by 37Signals (a book about the company’s remote working efforts) and Shift by the folks at Keller Williams (a title about how real estate agents adjust to economic downturns) are both sold out on Amazon.
  • Have digital ebooks and audiobooks sold more copies this month because of availability and quarantining?
  • How much more will sales drop in business books? In the depths of the 2008 crisis, sales were off 50% from normal levels.

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