John Grisham has been steadily producing best sellers since he published “The Firm” in 1991. The seven million copies plus a film adaptation (starring Tom Cruz) are standard operating procedures for Grisham: no fewer than 8 of his other best sellers have also been translated to the silver screen.
Is there a secret behind this success? Grisham told Slate Magazine the following about his target audience: “First of all, she’s female, because two-thirds of all books are bought by women. She’s going to buy it during the Christmas season, because 35% of all books are sold during the Christmas season. I would guess she is going to be over 40, because they buy more books than under 40. And that kind of narrows it down. That’s probably my typical reader.”
Recent research shows that Grisham knows whereof he speaks. About 75% of Americans over the age of 18 read at least one book in the last year (that is up from 45% in 2008). Most of those books were hardcovers, although about 25% read an e-book and 14% listened to an audiobook. The majority of readers are women – the numbers vary, but it appears that almost 60% are females, the average age being over 40.
These numbers suggest that certain authors know how to tap in successfully to the demographics; but overall demographics in the book industry present a confounding picture. Independent bookstores are definitely growing: since 2009 the number is up 27%. Sales at these independents are up 10% in the last year. Additionally, we are seeing more books printed now more than ever before; last year over one million titles were issued.
On the other hand, some numbers are not very encouraging. This explosion of growth of new books is not being absorbed by the marketplace. Generating only $50,000-$150,000 in sales, the average book produces tiny margins for the industry. Given the growth of new titles and the shrinking sales of each title, book publishing is basically in a never ending state of flux.
While authors like John Grisham will always command huge royalties, the sad truth is writing and selling books is not as profitable as it was in the past.
Grisham’s larger point is right on the money: there has never been a time when authors need to understand their markets and promote their books more assiduously. In order to save money, publishers have drastically cut marketing costs, leaving it up to the authors to push their own products. Joanne Kraft said it best: “Not all marketing people are writers, but all writers must learn to be marketers.”
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