Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Word on Market Share

When I talk about market share in the book publishing industry—or, more specifically, with regard to national accounts—what I'm referring to is the market segmentation observed in the sales figures of any given title. For example, The Time-Traveling Vampire's Daughter might sell 1,000 copies: 200 (20%) at National Account A, 350 (35%) at National Account B, 300 (30%) at Online Retailer A, &c. (The data are always expressed as percentages.) Market share analysis allows both the publisher and the individual retailers to view how sales are distributed throughout the marketplace and to address any discrepancies or opportunities that may emerge from that analysis.

Market share analysis is a handy tool for a couple of reasons. First, it allows publishers to discuss competitors' sales figures with an account without giving away confidential point-of-sale information (e.g., "your life-to-date market share for this title is only 16.2%, compared with Competitor A's 22.8%"). To be clear, I'm not using "Competitor A" in my usual tongue-in-cheek way; we actually don't reveal the names of the competitors whose sales data we're citing, simply because the account in question clearly has access to their own sales data and could reverse engineer the competitor's sales data from those numbers if they were so inclined. (For example, if I were to tell Barnes & Noble that Borders had 20% market share against their 15% for a given title, Barnes & Noble could simply look up the number of copies they sold of that title and calculate how many Borders must have sold.)

Second, market share analysis provides context for the discussion of a title's sales record. Saying "Chain A sold 4,282 copies of Boy Wizard and the Impossible Task" at a publisher meeting or telling Chain A that they sold 1,421 copies of Comp Title One during a sales call isn't very effective if you don't provide any data that illustrate the size of the overall market. Those numbers might be great if they constitute 30% market share, but disastrous if they work out to 4%. You get the idea.

Third, trends in market share allow publishers to see how various accounts are selling (either overall or by format, genre, &c) over any given interval of time. Is National Account A losing market share to National Account B overall? What about just hardcovers? Are both A and B staying roughly even, but losing proportional amounts of market share to Wholesale Club C? Is this largely due to a few titles or an entire format (e.g. mass market paperbacks)? The list goes on.

What does this mean for you, gentle authors? Well, not a lot, to be honest—market share discussions are much more salient for publishers and retailers than they are for individual authors. That said, it might be helpful for you during the publication process to think about how and where your book might be sold: do you see it as a grassroots-type literary epic that will take hold by word-of-mouth and primarily sell at independent bookstores? A mass market paperback paranormal romance that will sell thousands in the $8 rack at Walmart? A cyberthriller that will take off on Amazon? There's a different sales model for each, and the way the market divides those sales helps determine how your book will do and how your career as an author will evolve.


  1. Thanks again for another informative glimpse inside the publishing world.
    Christi Corbett

  2. Am I a nerd for loving all the numbers talk in this post? It's actually quite refreshing to read this blog as a compliment to all the thoughts on style and writing, and so forth. The technical side of my brain thanks you for waking it up this morning. :)

  3. I wish I was like Lydia. I'm so right-brained I was going cross-eyed from the numbers and analysis-speak.

    But upon giving it a second chance, thanks for breaking this down and explaining another piece of the process!

  4. As much as it pains my right brain to admit it, I actually understood this. Thanks for the comprehensible report.

    You're good at explaining the often confusing world of publishing.

  5. Hey Eric,

    My eyes went crossed for a while there, but now I'm back to, relative, normal I have emerged with a question that has been bugging me since, well, teatime :

    Puffin UK launched a book today (Left Hand of God) - I know because they Tweeted me (and the world) about it - why was ASDA selling it for £8 by teatime?

    Does it make me a bad person that I bought it? The Tweet did a good job!

  6. The sales and market share part of publishing makes sense to me. I just wish it were easier to find out about how my book is doing.

    It's fine to know that shows my ranking ... but that is among their titles. It is very encouraging, but it doesn't give the whole picture. I have also kept on eye on where my book is ranked on and Again without some frame of reference, it is hard to know what the rankings mean. Also, the rankings (on anyway) are updated hourly. Twice, my book has been in their Top 50 selling in Mysteries, but a couple of hours later the ranking is much lower. Sigh.

    It's also hard to know early on about market share and sales because of the whole "n consignment" business model. Yes, many retailers have ordered my book... but how many might come back in 10 weeks (none I hope!!)

    Cheers, Jill

  7. The technical side of my brain thanks you for waking it up this morning.

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