I have been asked many times over my radio career — and even more since I retired — when I would write a book about my experiences. “You could just do a collection of stories from your website,” these well-intentioned people often tell me.
My answer is always that undertaking such an endeavor is extremely unlikely for many reasons, and one of them was reinforced the other day when I saw a Twitter thread by April Henry. She had been monitoring the antitrust case against the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, where it was revealed that “out of 58,000 trade titles published per year, half of those titles sell fewer than one dozen books. LESS THAN ONE DOZEN.”
She added these statistics:
- 90% of titles sell fewer than 2,000 units.
- about 98% of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.
There are likely numerous explanations for these depressingly low numbers, but I’m not really surprised.
I’ve mentioned before that when my father retired from teaching, he wrote non-fiction books for young adults about the Statue of Liberty, drugs in sports, France, the Mafia, alcohol consumption, and a few others. There were ten in all, and they each sold well enough to get him a contract to do the next one, but none was what anyone would label a bestseller. For several years, he got royalty checks from the publishers, and they continued to go to my mother after his death. But again, they were pretty small — certainly not large enough to support both of them if they didn’t have pensions and social security.
My own experience in this area came several years ago when I released a page-a-day Harris Challenge desk calendar, re-using material I’d created for the most popular feature of my radio show. I self-published, made deals with retail outlets to carry the product, and promoted it endlessly on the air. In the first year, it was a modest success, but in the second year, I ended up with more of them in my garage than on the public’s desks. In neither instance did I make anything more than a tiny profit, so I never did a third edition.
I also know of several other successful radio personalities who devoted large amounts of time to compiling their own life stories in print. They thought their audiences would gobble them up, only to be quite disappointed by the results. It sucks to work hard on something and then discover there isn’t as large a market for it as you believe.
I have no delusions about my popularity, and recognize that it has dropped considerably compared to the height of my career. Frankly, I have no idea how many people read this blog or follow me on Twitter. After a lifetime of creating content for radio, television, newspapers, and online, I’m satisfied to do it solely for myself, on my own terms, on this site — and have no desire to push into yet another content platform to find out how many of you there are.
Particularly if it’s less than a dozen.