6 August 2016 – By Paige Nick (This column first appeared in The Good Book Appreciation Society August Newsletter)
Ever wonder how many books get sold in SA every year? What SA publishing looks like from the inside? How many books the average South African author sells?
I’ve spent a lot of time this week, with the help of some publishing insiders, taking a closer look at the numbers for a piece for The Good Book Appreciation Society August Newsletter. (The Good Book Appreciation Society is a secret book club on Facebook with almost 6000 members – to join simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook.)
Pour yourself a drink, this is going to hurt like hell:
There were 10.5 million books sold in South Africa in 2015*.
Sounds good right?
Not really. 80% of that was non-fiction sales; text books, sports books, self-help, memoirs, cook books, the Kardashians telling all – again, adult colouring-in books, religious books, kids books, Zapiro’s Xmas special etc.
Adult fiction only makes up 2.5* million of the 10.5 mil – that’s 20%. And only a FRACTION of those sales come from SA fiction. The rest are internationals; your JK Rowlings, Lee Childs, John Grisham, Gillian Flynn et al.
SA fiction sold 525 000* books last year. BUT here’s the zinger,
450 000* of those were Afrikaans novels. We only sold 75 000* English novels.
And this is where we get to the sad part of the story. Your average SA novelist writing in English, only sells 600 – 1000 copies of a novel in it’s lifetime. This in a country with a population of more than 55 million people** (**2013).
The cherry on top: according to Nielsens, there were only 2 traditionally published South African English novels that sold more than 2000 copies in 2015 (There were 3 in 2014). Any guesses which those were?
So please, give something local a shot next time you’re buying. It’s not life and death, but it kind of is.
What’s the last local novel you bought?
* results courtesy of Nielsen Bookscan. Nielsen measures book sales at mainstream retail outlets.
NOTE: Nielsen does not include independent book stores and we estimate that independents sell a further 30% of local fiction.
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With thanks to Steve Connolly, Louise Grantham, Ben Williams, Jeremy Boraine and Lood Du Plessis for your valuable input.