Business Books by the Numbers—Part II

In the last post I gave some perspective on how big the business category is vs. other non-fiction categories, like art or self-help. Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the publishing industry as a whole.

In the “old days” of say, the late 1980’s and 1990s, I would explain to some authors that there were “55,000 books published each year in the U.S., and less than a quarter of those ever make it into a bookstore.” (That was a canned speech I used to give to irrationally exuberant authors so they would know what they were up against). This number included the kitchen sink of books (including Teaming a Product and a Global Market: A Canadian Marconi Company Success Story—Library of Flight Series); every title imaginable, including those self-published books that you might find advertised in the back of specialty publications like “Gun and Ammo” magazine

Somewhere along the line, say, around the year 2000, we learned that the 55,000 number was a low-ball figure. The actual number of books published each year was a whopping 175,000 books (and you can imagine what percentage of those make it into your local bookstore).

Now comes news that even the 175,000 book number is way low. According to Publisher’s Weekly, the actual number is closer to 300,000 books published annually in the U.S. How many of those are business books? Probably more than 10,000, and once again, that figure includes all self-published works (see, of which, only a fraction ever darken the doorstep of a bookstore (especially the coveted airport booksores, most of which can’t handle more than a hundred or two business titles).

This explains, at least in part, why it is so difficult to create a break-out book business book. There is so much noise and din and books that slice the pie so narrowly, that it takes something pretty spectacular to rise above it all. That’s why the top tier business book imprints publish fewer books than many other publishers. By focusing all of their marketing and publicity resources on say, just 2-4 books per month, top tier imprints can maximize the chances that those books will garner the attention they so desperately need to distinguish themselves in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. 


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