authors beware: 80% of books sell less than 100 copies

pile of books

Most published books sell few copies.  According to BookScan data:

79 percent of all new books sold in the United States in 2004 sold fewer than 99 copies, with 16.91 percent of all books selling between 100 and 999 copies.[1]

In 2004, BookScan covered about 70% of all U.S. book sales.[2]  The book industry today, like other industries marketing symbolic works, is based on hugely popular blockbusters.  Most authors, even authors of published books, earn nothing for all their work.

Books that sell less than 100 copies are not a waste.  An author may have enjoyed writing a book.  A few readers may value the book greatly. Of course, authors, like everyone else, need some way to support themselves.  A book that sells less than 100 copies is not likely in itself to provide significant financial benefit to the author.  A reasonable strategy for such books is to make them freely available to everyone on the Internet.  On the Internet, such books potentially can remain economically accessible to billions of persons forever.  Together they can greatly enrich the public landscape of human creativity and knowledge.

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Read more:


[1] Greco, Rodríguez & Wharton (2007) p. 212.

[2] Id.

[image] pile of Nordic books.  Thanks to Johannes Jansson and Wikipedia.


Greco, Albert N., Clara E.  Rodríguez and Robert M.  Wharton. 2007. The culture and commerce of publishing in the 21st century. Stanford, Calif., Stanford Business Books.

2 thoughts on “authors beware: 80% of books sell less than 100 copies”

  1. You wrote: “A reasonable strategy for such books is to make them freely available to everyone on the Internet.”

    By making a book freely available, how does the author benefit financially. When it comes to chances of getting found on the Internet, without proper marketing, people do not stand any chance at all. I recently published a post on my personal website that compared Macs with Windows PCs. Out of curiosity, I decided to do a search on Google to see how well that posts ranks when you search for the exact words in the post’s headline. After looking through the first three pages of the search engines’ results, I gave up. I was searching for the exact terms, and without any marketing, it failed to show up anywhere. What are the chances that a post or a book that is aimed at a general audience would show up anywhere? In my opinion, none. Keeping that book online would only prove a financial drain on the author.


    1. I don’t think Google highlights the best content. More generally, marketing is essential to selling books. But authors have reasons for writing besides benefiting financially, such as writing is intellectually stimulating and fun. But if you want to make money from writing, you have to study search-engine optimization and various other types of marketing. Even then, you’re not likely to get a good return from your investment in time and money. If you want to make money, you’re better off doing something other than writing.

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