Print-on-Demand Self-Publishing Statistics
The average printed book from a print-on-demand self-publishing service sells fewer than 200 copies, mostly to “pocket” markets surrounding the author–friends, family, local retailers who can be persuaded to place an order–and to the author him/herself.
POD services’ own statistics support these low sales figures. AuthorHouse’s 2010 online Fact Sheet revealed that it had signed up more than 40,000 authors, and issued more than 60,000 titles. According to a January 2009 article in the New York Times, AuthorHouse reported selling more than 2.5 million books in 2008–which sounds like a lot, but averages out to around 41 sales per title.
iUniverse’s 2005 Facts and Figures sheet, which Writer Beware has seen, reported that the company published 22,265 titles through the end of that year, with sales of 3.7 million: an average of 166 sales per title. Obviously some titles can boast better sales (Amy Fisher’s If I Knew Then sold over 32,000 copies)–but not many. In a 2008 article in the New York Times, iUniverse’s VP, Susan Driscoll, admitted that most iUniverse authors sell fewer than 200 books.
As of 2004, stats for Xlibris were similar. According to a Wall Street Journal article, 85% of its books had sold fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3%–or 352 in all–had sold more than 500 copies. Things looked up in 2007: according to Xlibris’s own internal reports, obtained by Writer Beware, 4% of its titles had sold more than 1,000 copies. However, the averages still aren’t good. As of mid-2007, Xlibris had 23,000 authors and had published 23,500 titles, with total sales of over 3 million–around 127 sales per title.
Once independent companies, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Canada-based Trafford Publishing are now all owned by Author Solutions Inc. In the January 2009 New York Times article referenced above, Kevin Weiss, Author Solutions’ CEO, put the average sales of titles from any of the company’s brands at around 150.
Lulu.com, one of the most popular and cost-effective of the POD services, and still independent despite the apparent trend toward consolidation, is explicit about its long tail business model. In a 2007 interview, its founder, Bob Young, identified the company’s goal: “A publishing house dreams of having 10 authors selling a million books each. Lulu wants a million authors selling 100 books each.” He also admits that the average Lulu “print run” is fewer than 2 copies.