The Ultimate Niche Product

Books are the ultimate niche product.

And they’re getting “nichier” every year, according to a number of people I heard and talked to at the Independent Book Publishing Association’s Publishing University 2015.

Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex-Group opened Pub U 2015 with a session examining “How Books Sell.” Breaking out brightly colored bar charts and graphs, he explained that his organization today can identify at least 38 major categories for how readers discover books.

The more categories there are, of course, the smaller the percentage of sales come from any one place. In 2010, 32% of book sales came from stores; in 2014, that number had fallen to 17%.

Finding Fans

Making a point sure to discourage writers dreaming of fame and fortune, Hildick-Smith said his research has shown repeatedly that potential readers rarely recognize an author’s name. Some of the country’s best-selling authors are not recognized by more than a fraction of would-be book buyers. And often, readers don’t even recognize the names of the authors of books they have read.

Paradoxically, fans drive sales, Hildick-Smith noted, showing slide after slide of statistics to bolster his point. Fans of a particular author are 15 times more likely to buy a book; they are willing to pay premium prices, and they consistently rate the books higher on review sites like Amazon.

But it takes time for an author to develop a fan base. Word of mouth and personal recommendations can be a big driver of book sales, but these channels can be very slow to develop.  As a result, they frequently end up affecting only back-copy sales.

Book recommendations and great reviews on sites like Amazon generally take more than six months to deliver. If authors and publishers do not face that reality, they may be missing opportunities by front-loading all their marketing efforts when the book is first released.

Although it’s easier than ever to get into the publishing world, authors and publishers must face the realities of the fractured market if they plan to actually succeed. As Jim Milliot, editorial director of Publishers Weekly, reminded the PubU audience, “It’s always been easier to publish than find readers.”

In my next post, I’ll focus on things I learned from Pub U that can help writers make their search for readers a little easier.

Hear the Experts

Audio recordings of many PubU sessions can be bought at

April 25, 2015

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She worked with me chapter-by-chapter over the course of nearly a year to hone my writing through attention to style, organization, and mechanics. Her close reading and keen eye have been invaluable d… Read more
Dewey W. Hall, California State Polytechnic University

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