How many books get sold in SA every year?

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.


© Paige Nick and A Million Miles from Normal and The Good Book Appreciation Society, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paige Nick and www.amillionmilesfromnormal and The Good Book Appreciation Society, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. ie: please get in touch with me if you wish to use this content.

3 responses to “How many books get sold in SA every year?”

  1. Sad numbers. I wonder how many people use e-readers and if that would show up anywhere? Since I bought my first Kindle (about 6 years ago) I haven’t bought any paper books. I mostly read fiction and I do read SA fiction, but sometimes the kindle versions are extremely expensive. So I wait and they will get cheaper so I can afford to download them.

  2. […] That’s it, that’s all… That’s what authors use to pay the rent, buy groceries and shoes and help support themselves while they get started working on the next book. And remember, most books take anything from 6 months to ten years to write, sell, craft and publish. So amortize +-R10 per copy over that time, and see what monthly salary you get. (The average fiction title only sells about 600 copies. Obvs non-fic like this, much more.) […]

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