Saturday, June 1, 2024

[Link] Yes, People Do Buy Books

Despite viral claims, Americans buy over a billion books a year

By Lincolm Michel

This week fellow Substacker Elle Griffin published “No one buys books,” which looks at quotes and stats from the DOJ vs. PRH (Penguin Random House) trial where the government successfully blocked PRH’s $2.2 billion purchase of Simon & Schuster. Griffin’s article has gone viral for its near apocalyptic portrait of publishing. Much of the overall thrust of Griffin’s article is right: Most people don’t buy many books, sales for most books are lower than many think, and big publishing works on a blockbuster model where a few couple hits—plus perennial backlist sellers—comprise the bulk of sales. But I hope Griffin wouldn’t mind my offering a rebuttal of a few points here. As I think a few things are off.

I was alerted to the article by people rebutting it by sharing my 2022 article about the hard-to-believe claim that 50% of books only sell 12 copies. This claim, and similar ones, go viral pretty regularly despite making no sense. In the comments of my 2022 post, Kristen McLean from BookScan attempted to recreate the viral statistic and couldn’t come close even by restricting sales to frontlist print sales in a calendar year. It seems unclear what the 12 copies claim is referencing at all.

While I think Griffin does great work collecting these quotes, I would offer a word of caution. PRH’s legal strategy was to present publishing as an imperiled, dying industry beset on all sides by threats like Amazon. PRH allegedly even paid high fees to have agents and other industry professionals testify on their behalf. I’m not saying any of the quotes are lies. I’m saying the quotes and statistics are fitting a specific narrative in the context of a legal battle.

First though, let’s step back and look at the biggest question. Do people buy books?

Read the full article:

This article is a response to this one from last Saturday:

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