Before Christmas, a publishing industry insider shared with me a statistic that has had me shaking my head in disbelief ever since. She said that, as compared to five years ago when a new or emerging Australian author of fiction might expect to sell about 2000 copies of their book, that figure had now dropped to about 500 copies.
500 copies? Are you kidding me? Why would anyone work away on a book for two years, pouring everything they have into it, to sell only 500 copies? It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Except that if you’re a writer like me, there is nothing else you’d rather do. But it would obviously be very difficult to support yourself on the proceeds of 500 books.
And this figure certainly isn’t based on a thorough analysis of sales statistics, but it’s based on all the feedback this person had been getting from talking to people in the industry. And as she’s a pretty well respected and knowledgeable lady, I expect that, no matter how depressing it might be, she’s probably right.
Did 1500 books simply vanish?
But that leads me to ask the inevitable question – what has happened to those 1500 extra copies that a new or emerging author might have sold just four or five years ago? Have they just vanished? I’d like to say that they are all being made up in ebook sales but no one seems to believe that this is the case. Some of them are, but not even half. Readers have simply stopped reading novels, it seems. But what are they doing instead?
What are we doing instead of reading?
Are we reading less books? Are we reading something else instead of books? What’s wrong with books? I’ve asked a few people these questions. One answer that seems to pop up is that, whereas once upon a time people might sit down on the sofa with a good book after finishing dinner and putting the kids to bed, these same people now curl up with an iPad and spend an hour or so on Facebook, Twitter, online shopping etc.
Yes, this does sound a little like me. I use my evenings to do ‘admin’, rather than writing – admin being a kind of euphemism for writing blog posts, updating websites, posting Facebook statuses etc. But then I go to bed and read a book for a while. Do other people still do this?
Maybe not. The common answer to that question is that people are too tired when they get into bed and that books make them fall asleep. This is not good news for a writer.
The reason I most often get from the students I teach at university when I ask them why they want to do a writing course even though they are especially proud of the fact that they don’t read is that books just take too long. Watching movies is better. Because then you don’t have to think too much. More bad news for a writer, especially one who likes to write books that make people think.
Apart from those reasons, I’m stuck. I don’t know why people are buying so many less novels than they used to buy. Are they buying more novels from international authors and less from Australian authors? Are they buying different kinds of books – Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals perhaps?
What do you think? Do you buy as many novels as you used to? If you don’t, what do you do with the time you used to spend on reading?