We are now nine months into the pandemic and one major decision that many publishers contended with was whether to delay the release of new titles that were planned for 2020. Would the pandemic dampen demand for new launches?
The short answer: Yes, it did.
I pulled sales for the top 50 business books launched in 2019 and the top 50 business books launched in 2020. You can see, in the chart below, lower sales in the biggest launches and a gap continuing all the way through the top 50 titles. Only the #1 best selling new release of 2020 would have landed at #10 on the 2019 list. And the top ten books of 2020 had similar sales to the top 20 books in 2019. That gap in the remainder of the top 50 represented a 40 percent drop in sales between 2019 and 2020.
Self-help displayed a similar but slightly different phenomenon. First, Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Stop Apologizing was the runaway hit in 2019, making it an outlier. The top selling self-help book of 2020 will be Jay Shetty’s Think Like A Monk, but it won’t sell as many copies, because it came out later in the year and the sales velocity is slower for Shetty’s book. It’s harder to see because of the scale on this chart, but there is a gap between 2019 sales and 2020 sales and that gap represents a drop of between 25% and 30% in sales.
Here is another angle on the market. As you have seen in our prior research report from July, the business book market as a whole is down roughly 20% since, but all new book launches this year are down 40% to 50%. Self-help is flat with last year and their new launches are down 28%. New launches are down more than the overall market.
Bottom line: If you are launching a business or self-help how-to right now, you need to understand that sales are going to be lower and adjust expectations accordingly.
The Longer View
Now, the other way to look at the data is from a half glass full standpoint.
Books are still selling! The publishing industry has not disappeared!
Let me add the potential silver lining to this cloud.
If you look at business and self-help titles, going all the way back to 2004, you will find every year there are books launched that go on to sell over 200K copies. Every year.
In the chart below I show the year, hardcover releases, paperback releases, and the total number of books. The average is 8 titles. I don’t know why 2006 and 2013 are a little weaker. 2018 and 2019 have less books because most books need three to five years to break that 200k copy mark.
Let me say this one more time: every year, there are new books that have gone on to be highly successful through a variety of political and economic climates over the last 15 years. Like everybody else right now, you are probably going to have to work a little harder, but there will be winners that come out of this year. And next year 🙂
Check out our other 2020 research reports here: