Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Glimpse into the (not so) Lucrative Business of Academic Publishing

In what may turn out to be an annual tradition (see here for last year's edition), I unveil some of the realities of the financial side of academic publishing.  My dissertation director at Boston University was good friends with Thomas Kuhn, who (at least in the mid-90's) held the record for the most sales of a book that had been published on a university press--The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press) which at the time had sold something like 7 million copies worldwide.  That is so many standard deviations from the norm that I'm not sure that there is a number for it.  By contrast, Richard Swinburne (who is something of a philosophical superstar) told me that his best selling book, The Existence of God (Oxford University Press) had sold something like 12,000 copies.

So, the end of April is when Routledge Publishers (not a university press, but an academic publisher nonetheless) reconciles its accounts for the previous calendar year with its authors.  That is the press that Christian Thought is published on, so I get a statement about how many books were sold, and how much money they'll send me for the hours of labor that went into it.  Starting in June I registered the book on a nifty website (somewhat misleadingly called "novelrank") that tracks sales on Amazon.  Amazon is notoriously stingy with their sales figures, but they update books' rankings every hour.  This website figured out a way to determine how many of your books have sold, by tracking these rankings.  The best ranking on Amazon that Christian Thought has gotten to since June is 26,487.  That was last August and September when about 50 were sold.  In June through December, 87 were sold on Amazon.com and another 38 on amazon's UK site.  So anyway, I was curious to see how that would relate to total sales.

According to the reckoning of the good folks at Routledge, there were 47 copies of the electronic book sold at an average price of 36.38 GBP (Routledge is from London, so everything is in pounds); that seems a little expensive since the Kindle version is usually going for just over $30.  But hey, I'll take it.  There were 11 hardbacks sold at an average price of 52.12 GBP.  There were 465 paperbacks sold at an average price of 18.93 GBP.  That makes for a total of 523 books sold in 2011.  My co-author and I split 10% royalties on the electronic and paperback versions, and we split 7.5% on the hardbacks.  If you do all the math and convert the GBP to USD, you'll end up with a payday in the high three figures.  That's nothing to sneeze at, and it's certainly enough to take my family out to dinner at a restaurant with menus and waitstaff.  But we're not exactly buying a condo in Del Bocca Vista.

I'm anxious to see how the sales numbers go this year.  Will they continue to decline (sales figures in 2010 were 772)?  Or will they gain steam with textbook adoptions?  We completed all the work for a companion website (which can be found here) that looks pretty snazzy, and the Routledge people said they'd do another round of marketing for it as a textbook.  It would be nice to see several large universities adopt it, or perhaps it could become the official historical theology textbook of major league baseball.


D.C. Cramer said...

Sounds like pretty good sales and a pretty good contract to me. Maybe I can get my "big university" to pick it up. Or at least I can see about using it in three years from now when I teach the Christian Heritage course, which usually runs 30-75 students per class.

J. B. Stump said...

Are you looking for a commission?

FarmerLenny said...

I was amazed when I first saw the sales numbers for books on the New York Times Best Sellers list. It doesn't take that many books sold to become a bestseller. If you can condense your annual sales figure into the span of a week and then convince everyone you know to buy a copy, you could be right up there next to James Patterson...or whoever he has writing his next book.