Book Market Overview Authors - Statistics & Facts

by Thomas Herold

Statista offers some remarkable statistics & facts about the U.S. book publishing market, which gives you some interesting insights.

The revenue from the global book publishing market is forecast to slightly increase in the coming years, growing from around 113 billion U.S. dollars in 2015 to about 123 billion U.S. dollars by 2020.

Projections for the book publishing industry in the U.S. are optimistic. Revenue from this industry in the U.S. is projected to reach nearly 44 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, a significant increase from 2016. About 2.7 billion books were sold in the U.S. in 2015, a figure that has remained fairly consistent in the last few years.

E-books have been gaining pace in the book industry in the U.S. About 73 percent of publishers and authors had published their books digitally in the U.S. in 2015, and nearly 80 percent stated planning to publish e-books in 2016. Despite the rising popularity of e-books in the U.S. among publishers, forecasts show that the number of e-books readers is expected to slightly drop in the coming years. In 2015, there were 92.64 million people reading e-books in the country. By 2021, this figure is projected to drop to 88.45 million.

Audiobooks Gain Popularity

I love listening to books when I drive, or even sometimes to chill out in the evening. Somehow it takes less attention than reading a book. By the way, publishing an audiobook is easier than you think.

Audiobooks, which first gained popularity in the consumer market in the cassette tape and CD era, are back in the digital media era. The number of audiobooks published in the U.S. increased dramatically in the last few years, going from about 7,200 published titles in 2011 to more than 35,500 published titles in 2015. Self-help/spirituality audiobooks are particularly popular in the U.S., as 35 percent of audiobook listeners in the U.S. stated preferring this audiobook genre.

Despite the rise of digital book formats, printed books still have their space in the market. Unit sales of published books in the U.S. saw a decline from 2008 until 2012, reaching the lowest figure of the last decade that year. After 2012, sales of printed books started to gain momentum, and have slightly increased up until 2015. Sales figures aside, published books are still the preferred format of 65 percent of book readers in the U.S.

How Do People Read?

About 73 percent of book readers in the U.S. said they read books in any format. The average American aged 18 to 49 reads 12 books per year, while the average number of books read by 65 or older Americans is slightly higher – a total of 13 books per year. Some 23 percent of respondents in a 2017 survey stated that they read print books and e-books equally, while 20 percent said that they read more e-books.

Mystery, thriller and crime genre is the leading book genre in the U.S., as nearly half of American consumers prefer this genre. About 33 percent of them stated history was their favorite book genre, and 31 percent of Americans said biographies and memoir was their preferred type of book.

What Do People Read?

During a survey, 27 percent of respondents stated they had read a romance in the year leading up to the study. The most popular genre was mystery, thriller and crime books, which 47 percent of respondents had admitted to reading in the past year.

A similar trend can be seen amongst e-book readers, as 50 percent of respondents in a recent survey stated that mystery/thriller books were their favorite genre of e-books. The genre which has experienced the most significant sales growth in the last few years is the romantic comedy genre, which has recorded sales growth of 357 percent.

Book Genres That Make the Most Money

Based on the facts above this is also where the most money flows.

  1. Romance/Erotica – $1.44 billion – From the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and the number of novels written by people like Danielle Steele, there’s no surprise that romance and erotica are #1.
  2. Crime/Mystery – $728.2 million – There’s nothing like the thrill from a mystery novel. The suspense is intriguing enough that it keeps you on board. It’s all about the build-up, the surprises, even the letdowns. Crime and mystery stories are so wild and fascinating, but also seem plausible.
  3. Religious/Inspirational – $720 million – Things may be going great but you may need a little push. Everyone can use some inspiration. From how-to books, holy texts, and even memoirs, inspirational and religious texts.
  4. Science Fiction/Fantasy – $590.2 million – Dragons, elves, witches, robots, the possibilities are endless. We love escaping into a fictional land. There’s nothing that people can’t achieve through magic or extraordinary circumstances in this genre.
  5. Horror – $79.6 million – Horror has earned its place on this list. If you think of Stephen King and the ways his work has been adapted to screen, or old horrors like Dracula and Frankenstein, there are endless stories that people love.

Please understand that the data above reflects the whole book market and not just the Kindle market.

Most Competitive Kindle Category Rankings

TCK Publishing did a great research on the Kindle market. Which categories can give you the most sales possible on Amazon Kindle? Here are the first 10 of the list. You will find the complete list of 100 entries on their website.

  1. Romance -> Contemporary
  2. Literature & Fiction -> Contemporary Fiction -> Women
  3. Romance -> New Adult & College
  4. Literature & Fiction -> Contemporary Fiction -> Romance
  5. Literature & Fiction -> Women -> Romance
  6. Literature & Fiction -> Genre Fiction -> Coming of Age
  7. Romance -> Mystery & Suspense -> Suspense
  8. Science Fiction & Fantasy -> Fantasy -> Paranormal & Urban
  9. Literature & Fiction -> Genre Fiction -> Erotica
  10. Literature & Fiction -> Women -> Mystery, Thriller & Suspense -> Women Sleuths

You might have noticed that the list is dominated by fiction categories. There are only 12 non-fiction categories out of the Top 100 most competitive categories on Amazon Kindle, and the Top 21 are all fiction!

The #1 most competitive nonfiction list is Biographies & Memoirs -> Memoirs, which is dominated by celebrity memoirs like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

What you might also notice if you start browsing these categories on Amazon is that many of the top books in these competitive categories are by self-published and independently published authors. The big publishers aren’t dominating like they used to.

Least Competitive Kindle Category Rankings

TCK Publishing also published a list of the 100 least competitive categories. Here they go with just showing you the first 10. If you want to see the complete list of 100 please visit their website.

  1. Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy
  2. Nonfiction -> Business & Money -> Taxation -> Corporate
  3. Business & Money -> Taxation -> Corporate
  4. Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy
  5. Professional & Technical -> Engineering -> Civil -> Hydrology
  6. Nonfiction -> Professional & Technical -> Engineering -> Civil -> Hydrology
  7. Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Weights & Measures
  8. Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Weights & Measures
  9. Nonfiction -> Crafts, Hobbies & Home -> How-to & Home Improvements -> Masonry
  10. Crafts, Hobbies & Home -> How-to & Home Improvements -> Masonry

One big thing you can learn from this list is that most of the least competitive bestseller lists on Amazon are for nonfiction. The only fiction categories on this list are children’s ebooks. Children’s ebooks are a very tiny market compared to major fiction genres like romance, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, suspense, mystery, etc.

What People Read Depends on Their Age

While it is mostly believed that book reading is a vanishing pastime, particularly among Millennials, surveys among consumers in the U.S. have shown the opposite. The share of book readers in the U.S. has varied from 72 percent to 79 percent between 2011 and 2016.

In regards to the age of book readers in the country, a 2016 survey shows about 80 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 29 had read at least one book in the previous 12 months, the highest share amongst all age groups. About 73 percent of the respondents aged between 30 to 49 years old said they read at least one book in the last 12 months.

The share among respondents between 50 and 64 years old stood at 70 percent, whereas 67 percent of respondents aged 65 plus stated reading a book during the time measured. In terms of education level, book readers in the U.S. are more likely to have a college degree, or at least some college education – 86 percent and 81 percent respectively.

Women in the U.S. read slightly more than men; 68 percent of male respondents started reading at least one book in the previous 12 months, against 77 percent of female respondents that said the same.

Despite the rise of digital platforms and the rising popularity of e-reading devices such as Kindle, Kobo, and others, printed books still remain the most popular book format in the U.S., as 65 percent of Americans stated a preference for printed books in 2016.

E-books were consumed by 28 percent of respondents in 2016, whereas audio books were listened by 14 percent of the respondents. Millennials accounted for the largest share of printed book readers in the U.S. – 72 percent as of 2016.

People Shift Away From Kindle Devices

Devices such as Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are all suffering from a rapid drop off in sales, yet readers are still buying and reading e-books more than ever. In 2010, Amazon’s Kindle accounted for 62.8 percent of all e-reader shipments worldwide.

This number has dropped since then as other readers are available, however, the major reason is the shift away from Kindle to other devices like mobile phones and tablets.

One of the main problems is that devices have failed to develop in any major technical form since their introduction in 2008. If you own a Kindle from 2009, you will know that it is almost exactly the same as the current model. In fact, I believe my old Kindle is better, as it came with audio, which has been removed from later models.

In a market study from 2015, Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014 when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

The rise of the smartphone has had a major social, political and cultural impact. It has changed the way people reach their friends, obtain data and media, and share their lives. Fully 68% of adults now have a smartphone, nearly double the share that Pew Research Center measured in its first survey on smartphone ownership in mid-2011. At that point, 35% of adults had smartphones.

Close to Half of Americans own a Tablet

The share of Americans who own a tablet computer has risen tenfold since 2010. Today, 45% of U.S. adults own a tablet – a substantial increase since the Pew Research Center began measuring tablet ownership in 2010. Then, only 4% of adults in the U.S. were tablet owners. Ownership, however, is statistically the same as it was in 2014.

The Use of Desktop or Laptop Computers

Ownership of traditional computers has remained stable. Some 73% of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer. This figure has fluctuated a bit in Pew Research findings over the years, but the 2015 finding is roughly similar to computer ownership levels of a decade ago – though slightly down from a high in 2012 when 80% of Americans said they had a desktop or laptop.

Sales of Audiobooks Are Soaring

One medium that bridges the gap between the traditional book market and new forms of technology is the audiobook. Sales revenues have soared in this area, more than doubling between 2010 and 2016. This growing demand for audiobooks can be seen in the fact that the number of audiobook titles published in the United States has grown from approximately 6,200 to over 50,00 in the same time frame.

One of the major selling points of audiobooks is the capacity for on-the-go listening, allowing consumers to listen to their favorite books in the car, on the commute to work, or while on a run. However, some 52 percent of consumers also listen to audiobooks on a desktop or laptop, suggesting that there is also a big demand for audiobooks in the home.

According to a survey, 57 percent of respondents browse through a library or a library’s website to find information about new audiobooks and 56 percent of consumers consult their local bookstores. Whilst some claim that audiobooks and e-books may spell the end for conventional book-stores and libraries, it seems that they are, in fact, contributing to their growth. In 2017, approximately 68 million audiobooks were borrowed from libraries and schools in the United States, along with 155 million e-books.

However, whilst the evidence suggests that audiobooks are increasing in popularity in the United States, the reality is that conventional print books still remain the most popular way to read a book.

In the past, audiobooks gained popularity in the cassette tape and CD formats but more recently a shift into the digital media territory has been detected. Downloadable audiobooks can be beneficial for both producers and users as they do not require large production costs, storage inventory, physical packaging, or transportation.

The primary market for audiobooks is found in well-educated adults who have a preference for books over television. Among those surveyed in the United States in January 2014, 21 percent of college graduates claimed to have listened to an audiobook in the past 12 months, as opposed to only 10 percent who have a high school education or less.

As of 2013 however, the audiobook was by no means dominating the book industry in the United States. In 2013, only 14 percent of respondents surveyed stated listening to an audiobook at least once in the past 12 months, whereas 69 percent claimed to have read at least one print book.

The convenience of audiobooks allows its users to multi-task, ideal for an ever increasingly on-the-go lifestyle. In 2012, the political commentator Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy” and “Killing Lincoln” which are books known for their riveting narratives of historical assassinations proved most popular with audiobook consumers as they topped the audiobook charts, selling 58,101 units and 52,696 units respectively.

Leading Audiobook Genres in the United States in 2017

Leading audiobook genres in the United States in 2017, by units sold (in millions).

  1. Literature & Fiction 2.75
  2. Fiction & Literature 2.18
  3. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense 1.6
  4. Science Fiction & Fantasy 1.38
  5. Romance 1.33
  6. Business & Money 1
  7. Children’s Books 0.97
  8. Biographies & Memoirs 0.96
  9. Mysteries & Thrillers 0.85
  10. Fantasy 0.76

The takeaway from this Book Market Overview

While print books are still leading the way, audiobook consumption is rising steadily. Currently, every fifth reading person in the US listens to audiobooks. Smartphones are and will continue to be the most used device for reading ebooks and listening to audiobooks.

Publish in all three formats to give your books the best chance of being read. Give readers the choice of versions, so they can buy your book in the form they prefer. Use the simple setup option on Amazon to turn your ebook into a Paperback or Hardcover version. Because of the initial setup costs, the Paperback version offers you a better revenue – based on the number of sales – than the Hardcover version.

Also, you may not know that you can now publish your book in audio form on Audible, which is owned by Amazon, for zero upfront cost! A revenue sharing model makes this possible.