I only have figures for 2005 but they won’t have changed to any great extent. In that year 63 per cent of Britons aged 12 to 74 bought any kind of book, with 34 per cent buying fiction, and only 1% bought a poetry book. Previous research has shown that of that 1%, only around 5% will have been books by living writers, 95% of the poetry books sold in our bookshops being the poetry classics. A research report from 1998 showed then that the top 5% of buyers – 2.5% of the population – bought 28% of books, by value. The average bookshop stocks 96,000 different titles (which compares with 20,000 different “product lines” in a Tesco superstore), but only 5000 of those titles account for 53% of all sales; 23% of titles sell 100 copies or more, and these account for 94% of all retail book sales revenue. Most publishers publish books in order to make proﬁts on their investment, but only 1 in 10 books is successful – so that’s the commercial pattern, not the less “successful” non-profit poetry press one!
Here are some figures from the Publishers Association. 787 million books were sold in 2005 and 756 million books in 2004. BookScan figures (sales tracked through bookshops) for 2004 show 459,075 poetry books were sold. So poetry accounted for 0.06% of all book sales in that year: only one in every 10,000 books sold is a poetry book. In 2004 there were only 5172 different poetry titles listed by Bookscan. 751 of those were anthologies and 4421 were collections. Is that too many? If so, in whose terms? Every book has its particular readership, however small or specialised or locally based.
80% of the total poetry sales in 2004 were made by 227 titles (52 anthologies and 175 collections). The top 10 books accounted for 22% of all sales (2 anthologies and 8 collections). However, 3721 books listed sold less than 10 copies through the bookshops. 1978 books sold no copies at all through the bookshops. There were 639 different imprints listed which publish poetry, but over half the sales were made by Faber, Bloodaxe, Penguin and Picador. The rest of the publishers accounted for the other half but with only 28 imprints achieving at least 1% of the sales.
- Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books, in the comment stream at the Magma Poetry blog. Read the whole thing here. Thanks to Don Share for pointing it out.