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Of course there are many answers to the question of how fast major publishers move their books after publication, but I am looking for something like the truism I once heard on the radio and cannot fully remember.

It was something like: Books capture 80% of their ultimate sales within the first six weeks after publication. Does anyone know of industry data on this?

Certainly e-books and print-on-demand don't have the same sales-vs-time curve, but I am looking for the experience of the major publishers and the books that are displayed most prominently on bookstore shelves.

Thank you!

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    I don't have any statistics, but it must surely vary between books. I bet many more copies of the Iliad were sold in 2014 than were sold the year it was published. A textbook publisher once told me that textbooks tend to sell slowly at first but can produce steady sales for many years. Your statement might well be true of most light novels. Etc. – Jay May 15 '15 at 14:08
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Your point about the first weeks of sales are right, especially due to the promotional blitz, TV/radio/blog interviews, early-release reviews, New York Times bestseller list (a big thing in some public libraries), etc. It's similar to some blockbuster films that make a ton of cash the first weekend and then more reviews come out or the hype just settles down.

Here's an insightful quote:

"First-week sales typically account for about 30 percent of the total, thanks to the publicity blitzes that accompany publishers’ biggest releases."

— "Sales of Hillary Clinton’s New Memoir Drop Sharply in 2nd Week" (4th paragraph)

  • This is very helpful -- thank you. I'll wait a little bit longer before accepting you answer, in the hopes that someone can come up with an actual graph! :-) – Iron Pillow May 19 '15 at 4:39
  • Glad to help :) -- there are several 'marketing/increasing your book sales' books that may have similar numbers or statistics. But it just seems that these numbers vary so much since they depend on the topic, the author, the publisher, the budget, etc. So finding a graph may be tricky to find! – CraigM May 20 '15 at 6:53
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My mother in law is published, and based on her experience, I don't think most authors find out unless they start making best seller lists. Best seller lists are defined by first week sales, not to buyer's, but to stores. My understanding is that the metrics aren't really available to most authors (or they weren't five years ago). So a week by week break down is only going to come from the publishers.

It does make sense from a mental exercise position that most books in both the old and new models would sell more up front with the advertising. In the old you'd have more copies and it would be on the new releases shelf. In the new, algorithms would push it until they had determined it was stale.

But that likely only holds for the average. The success stories can't possibly work that way as they tend to have longer lifecycles of sales and multiple printings.

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