No one buys books

A fantastically detailed breakdown of the batshit economic reality of the book publishing trade (English language, at least) using testimony from the monopolies trial when Penguin Random House tried to buy Simon & Schuster.

I think I can sum up what I’ve learned like this: The Big Five publishing houses spend most of their money on book advances for big celebrities like Britney Spears and franchise authors like James Patterson and this is the bulk of their business. They also sell a lot of Bibles, repeat best sellers like Lord of the Rings, and children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. These two market categories (celebrity books and repeat bestsellers from the backlist) make up the entirety of the publishing industry and even fund their vanity project: publishing all the rest of the books we think about when we think about book publishing (which make no money at all and typically sell less than 1,000 copies).

The best thing is, most of this was true in the 1990s when I was in bookselling and was probably always the case, though there’s a load of new post-Amazon stuff of course.

I’m fairly convinced the book trade is an example of collective magic, where we’ve willed something into existence that really shouldn’t survive so that people can write books that no-one will read.

(The Elysian)