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July 26, 2005


S. Kolbe

You can't really apply this to all books, Wal-Mart/Costco won't pick up most books, it is easier for them to sell bestsellers.

Do these numbers include the returns?

Does this mean we can stop looking at the ranking at Amazon!


Quite a quandary regarding Walmart...I wonder whether we really need to have another tier, in this case the writer, subservient to Walmart and its tentacles. Not to mention that I doubt that Walmart would ever deign to carry anything that might be slightly edgy.


How many titles does Walmart sell each year? Since I refuse to shop there I have no idea how large their book section is.

I agree that these may reflect reality for a certain type of book that these superstores carry. But for the vast majority of titles I just don't see Walmart, Price Club, and Target being a major force.

One other question would be how these stores compare on the whole with the total number of books sold each week by the other sellers. Are they selling more books overall that the more traditional bookselling outlets? I wouldn't think so but could be wrong.

I guess for me the question comes down to whether they are a major force in bookselling in general, or only for a very narrow range of books.

Elaine Flinn

Another good reason for labeling pbo writers as being in a 'ghetto' - Wallmart, Costco, Sam's, grocery & drug stores only carry hardcover reprints and/or romance!

David J. Montgomery

From what I've observed, Amazon accounts for around 15% of sales for most books. It's difficult to get hard data on this topic, but that seems to be a fairly solid number.

Not a huge percentage, but still a significant one.

Angela Henry

Walmart has a fairly decent sized book section. I'm a new mystery author (and not a bestselling one) and I've been told that my book, a trade paperback, has been spotted in Walmarts across the country. I have no idea what their criteria is for carrying certain books. I've seen everything from romance and mystery to Christian fiction and children's books in the Walmart in my town. I guess it all depends on were you live.

Naomi Hirahara

Hmmm. Regarding the big-box retailers, I think that it's a little more complex than just the David vs. Goliath analysis. The buyers for these companies seem to be very savvy and find books for each store's target audience. A friend found my debut mystery, a TPO, at a Costco in Orange County. Never found out why and how. I've heard Costco's minimum order is 300. And I believe that the big boxes can't return books--hence the large discount.

I was really shocked when I was looking for info on a favorite writer, Thomas King, a Canadian writer who writes primarily literary books (but yes, one mystery!) and found his book profiled on Costco.com. His book had been out for a good two, three years, yet a Costo buyer was singing his praises and pushing his book. Awesome.

I don't know quite what all of this means, but I think the big-box retailers may offer more diversity in the future. With that said, support your local independent!


I was shocked at the Walmart numbers! The Walmart in my town has a very small book section - 1 side of 1 aisle - and it mostly seems to be Christian fiction, romances, and self help. Based on Angela's comments, maybe that says more about my town in particular than Walmarts in general. I have never bought a book at my local Walmart, but have purchased many, many times from Amazon, mostly because of the selection. Living in a semi-rural area with Walmart as the only store in town (the closest bookstore [Borders] is 30 min. away), online shopping for books is the preferred method for me (or using the public library).


One of the most important things about being a big seller at WalMart for most authors is they are paid significantly less for each book. The royalty rates for books sold at a steep discount (which is why Costco and WalMart can sell them at such low prices) is nowhere near what it is for the same book sold to say..libraries.

I believe the latest figures show WalMart and other box stores such as Costco account for more than half the book sales in the US.

When books are produced, the printer gets paid the same rate whether the book goes to Costco, Powells or Black Orchid here in NYC. The editors and production people in house get paid. The only people who earn significantly lower rates for big sales are the authors and their agents.

Is it made up in volume? I don't know. Is it worth it? I don't know that either.


"Living in a semi-rural area with Walmart as the only store in town (the closest bookstore [Borders] is 30 min. away), online shopping for books is the preferred method for me (or using the public library)."

Not trying to be contentious, but the above just compels me to comment...your Borders seems to be closer to you than just anybody I know...

PJ Parrish

I remember when my publisher found out my books were going into Costco and Walmart. You'd think I'd won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Like it or not, discount clubs like Costcos and Sam's Clubs (Walmart Inc.) are reshaping the economics of publishing. It's hard for publishers to sell a million copies (one benchmark of success) without these outlets. The distributor that services these clubs claims that discount clubs took a whooping 28% of the first print run of Patricia Cornwell's book. It's the same for other heavy hitters like Grisham. Publishers regularly consult the clubs about not only what books to publish but what the covers should look like. And it gets scarier: at Costco, one woman -- Pennie Ianniciello -- selects all the titles for all the stores. A couple of years ago Simon and Schuster was getting ready to put out a new line of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and they actually redesigned the covers after consulting with Ianniciello. These discount clubs stock fewer titles (about 200 titles at any given time compared to your typical B&N superstore at 200,000). And they discount heavily and pull titles off the shelf faster. In case anybody thinks I'm making this up, it's all straight from the Wall Street Journal's front page profile of Pennie Ianniciello (April 2002). I doubt things have changed much...

David J. Montgomery

Oh man, I want that job! "Patricia Cornwell? Nope. Barry Eislser? Yep. Robert Parker? Nope. PJ Parrish. Yep. J.A. Konrath. Hmmm..."

I'm drunk just thinking of the power!

Elaine Flinn

Okay, I stand corrected! P.J. is one of the rare and lucky ones-and I couldn't be happier. Well, I could if they'd stock mine!

Jeff Abbott

Did you know you can do signings for these markets?

I once did a signing (for PBOs) at the grand opening of a Target. They set me up across from the cosmetics section. Hilarity ensued when a very nice actor from The Young and the Restless arrived to sign autographs about forty feet away. He played the character of "John Abbott". A few TV fans were momentarily confused as to which Abbott was the famous one (um, not me).

But the amazing thing was how many books Target ordered. Boxes, boxes, boxes. I signed stock for another hour after the 2-hour signing, assured by both the publisher's rep and the Target contact that these books would be shipped to other Targets. I would do another gig like that in a flash, although it was definitely different than signing in a bookstore, where you have a more captive/focused audience. In a store like Target, you have an ongoing stream of passerbys who don't have talking to you on their Target to-do list. But in these cases, a publisher's rep was there to tell people I was an author signings his books as they went by, to introduce me so I didn't have to bray at folks, and remind them that signed paperbacks made great gifts. It's kind like offering cheese samples at the grocery, to be honest, but it was effective.

Also: I was invited to sign PBOs at the opening of a huge HEB (the dominant grocery chain in central/south Texas). The night before the signing I realized this was a serious gig when the publisher's rep had me meet five HEB execs at a super-nice restaurant. I kept thinking: I will need to sell me some serious books tomorrow just so the dinner breaks even. The signing was another multi-hour affair, but again, I was astonished at how many books were moved and how much stock they had for me to sign, to be shared with other stores in the chain.

Finally: I signed PBOs at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. You know, travellers scurrying from gate to baggage claim are not going to stop and chit-chat with a not-famous author. But it was totally worth it: the distributor brought tons of stock to sign and they shipped much of it to the Miami airport and grocery accounts in south Florida. I later got emails from people who found signed copies of that book in non-bookstore venues all around Florida.

All of these were set up by my publisher, by the way, and in all cases I think they helped my sell-through.

Tess Gerritsen

Those percentages look pretty much what I would expect. (I assume those are reported hardcover sales?) Amazon is a very, very small sliver of bestselling title sales. Looking at my own sales figures, I think that Amazon accounts for only 3% of my total hardcover sales for any particular title.

And the clubs (costco, Sam's, BJ's) do indeed make up about a third of a bestselling author's print-run. Getting into Costco, etc., is almost a requirement these days if you want to make it onto the list, esp. since those outlets started reporting to the NY Times. I think that 1/3 of my own sales go out through the clubs.

What's interesting is how few books are actually sold through B&N and Borders, and Waldenbooks sales shrink every year because the total number of their stores keeps decreasing.

The trend? More books sold through clubs, through grocery stores, and through other mass merch. outlets.

What's not clear in the above numbers is the total # of library sales (usually gleaned by sales through Baker and Taylor.) A bestseller will sell 10,000 copies or more just to libraries.

M.J. Rose

A couple of things from reporting on some of this for a newsstory:

Walmart/Costco etc will take non romance PBO's and even edgy books - the decisions really have more to do with the publisher's relationship with the buyers than anything else. It's all about how much real estate and pull the publisher has with the store. Some have much more than others.

Statistcially, Amazon is usually about 5% of sales unless it's a hard to find book.

BUT the most amazing set of stats I came across was how well the books in Walmart/Costco etc sell and how many of them sell through with very very few returns.

The reason why so many people think its working is that unlike a BN or Borders were there are 150,000 titles plus at any one time and tables and tables of coop - there are only about 100 titles at a time offered up at the Costo type stores.

The thinking is - and I did one survey with 150,000 readers last year who confirmed this - the fewer titles being offered makes it easier to peruse the books and make choices.

Readers report feeling overwhelmed by the thousands of books around them, most of which they've never heard of, and they find chosing a book or two or three, heavily discounted, out of a mere 100 a much more inviting prospect.

Not good news for anyone but the 1200 authors who get in the price clubs, but it was interesting information.

Olen Steinhauer

This is really interesting stuff, Sarah, and turned my obviously misinformed misconceptions upside down. While a glance at their site shows Costco doesn't stock me, Walmart stocks, well, all of my books. Which means it might be nice to ask my publisher how much product they move, if any. I'm not part of any mainstream reading club picks, and not a bestseller by any means, so the real question is: How many physical stores stock my books? Not many, I'd wager--and going by MJ's comments this is no doubt inevitable.

But in the end, the predominance of Walmart makes sense to me. I think of my family, who live in a tiny Texas town where the only real place to get your shopping done is Walmart--it's not a matter of choice. And if they want immediate book-satisfaction, they're not going to wait for Amazon to ship it.

m.j. rose

I just did the math and the thriller writer who send you his/her numbers sold less than 1/2 of 1% via Amazon.

We can all officially stop ever looking at our Amazon numbers as of today.

Also strange is how consistent the numbers were via the bookstores - within 10% - almost the same number each.

Richard Nash

The mix will vary according to publisher, genre, format, and previous sales record. The sales figures depicted above are decidedly anomalous, in that very few books get into Walmart and Costco in the first place.

I would add two other points:
1. The numbers Amazon reports are often just the numbers of what they source directly from the publisher; on average about 40% of their sales come from wholesalers like Bakter & Taylor and Ingram.
2. Sales to WalMart and CostCo are VERY MUCH returnable. In fact their return rates are the highest in the busines, and they return faster than traditional booksellers.
3. Amazon represents about 10% of Soft Skull's sales on average; however that masks wide swings: on some titles Amazon could represnet as much as 60% of sales, on others as little as 0.25%

Richard Nash

Sorry for all my typos, by the way.

I would add that much as my post seeks to restore Amazon to some point of significance as a book retailer, I nevertheless counsel against looking at your Amazon rankings. They swing widely, and tell you very little about actual sales.

Tess Gerritsen

As an addendum to Richard Nash's note, the Amazon rankings are more correlative to your overall hardcover sales than to your paperback sales. Because of the cost of shipping, it doesn't make sense for a reader to order a newly released paperback from Amazon; they could get it a lot cheaper by just going to their local Walmart.

But with price discounts, ordering a brand new hardcover from Amazon doesn't cost you too much more than going to your local independent.

When I check my own rankings, I don't really care about the paperback rankings, but I do care about my hardcover rankings. That's a far better indicator of how the book's doing in all markets.

And I've noticed that when a hardcover makes it onto the NYT list, the Amazon ranking is usually 100 or lower.

Tess Gerritsen

Looking back at the earlier comments, I have to respond to Ms. Snark's. I don't believe the author's royalty payment is any lower for a book sold at Costco than a book sold at B&N. When I receive my royalty statements, it doesn't differentiate where the copies were sold -- it just pays me royalties based on total number sold, be it at WalMart, Costco, or elsewhere.


Talking about Costco...anyone ever do a signing there?
I happened into one at the San Francisco Costco after I picked up a sheet carrot cake for my son's 8th grade party. Surprised, I saw Murder in Bastille, my book near a MH Clark, and a nice little pile it was. Hmmm...still an hour until carpool time, so with cake in cart, I asked the manager if I could sign some books - my head in bookstore mode. Why not he said and pulled up a table by the tires and across the aisle from the DVD's. Upshot was I stood, cake frosting on fingers and smiled at folks in the tire section and stacking DVD's. A woman asked me if I had food samples but when I said I was a local author and pointed to the stack of books she stared in amazement and called her husband over.
Fourteen books sold and thirty five minutes later I tore out of the lot!


Talking about Costco...anyone ever do a signing there?
I happened into one at the San Francisco Costco after I picked up a sheet carrot cake for my son's 8th grade party. Surprised, I saw Murder in Bastille, my book near a MH Clark, and a nice little pile it was. Hmmm...still an hour until carpool time, so with cake in cart, I asked the manager if I could sign some books - my head in bookstore mode. Why not he said and pulled up a table by the tires and across the aisle from the DVD's. Upshot was I stood, cake frosting on fingers and smiled at folks in the tire section and stacking DVD's. A woman asked me if I had food samples but when I said I was a local author and pointed to the stack of books she stared in amazement and called her husband over.
Fourteen books sold and thirty five minutes later I tore out of the lot!

David J. Montgomery

Speaking of Mary Higgins Clark... she and her daughter did a joint signing last year at a big grocery store not far from me. Supposedly that place sells a TON of books.

Janet Reid

signings at Costco?
Just ask Sue Grafton.
300 people lined up for her one Saturday afternoon in a suburban store outside Portland Oregon. I think it was the M or N book.

She signed their books, chatted personally with everyone, and as she chatted her right hand was signing stock for the store.

600 signatures and more than 300 books out the door in an hour.

The thing that saved us was asking for restaurant mats for the floor so we could stand on the concrete for more than five minutes.

It was an instructive day.

Tess Gerritsen

The thing with Costco, though, is the manager has to know ahead of time to expect you, or you'll run into all sorts of resistance from clerks who are afraid to authorize ANYTHING. It once took me an hour just to locate the manager, and then he demanded to see my ID (even though my photo was on the book), and then he had to call "corporate" to find out if it was okay. And that alone took twenty minutes. It's really hit or miss, depending on who the manager is, whether they'll even let you near the books.

But yes, it's a great place for a stock signing. I've signed a hundred hardcovers at a pop there. And from what I've heard, signed hardcovers sell five times faster than unsigned copies.

Jeanne Ketterer

Who's the author for the figures? Can we ask or not?

I don't think it's really relevant ... just interesting the disparity between Amazon and WalMart/Costco.


m.j. rose

RIchard is of course right about hardcover returns to Costco and Walmart etc but I don't think they return paperbacks.


Hi. I think obsessing about your book's specific Amazon ranking is probably a bad idea. However, I think watching your Amazon ranking RELATIVELY can be a good idea. Like if you're planning a web advertising blitz for your book, checking your Amazon ranking's overall movements before, during and after that blitz will give you at least a little idea of how effective your marketing efforts seem to have been. The web retailer rankings (not just Amazon's) often give pretty instant real-time info about a book's overall sales movements, not necessarily about a book's "exact" sales movements. Instant info like that can be useful in determining where your future marketing efforts should be focused, in determining whether you've been wasting your time in the past. It may be better to wait a few days or weeks rather than months and months for similar information from royalty statements while continuing to unknowingly waste effort, time and money on doing something that actually hasn't been working too well. You can probably evolve your marketing strategy faster if you get faster info on the results of your marketing strategy.

Eh, I've always had mixed feelings about Amazon: some things I like about it; other things I don't. But it seems to be here to stay and popular--so I think people should probably use it to the max if they can!


Alyssa Goodnight

Wow! I'm totally fascinated by all this information and delighted that all of you pros out there are so generous with your personal stories. I'm a self-pubbed author trying to get my foot in the door at some of these alternative venues--so I guess if I make it into Walmart, I'm half-way to success!

Holly Lisle

I can't say what effect having a book land on the shelves of WalMart has, but while my first twenty-some (all fantasy or SF) haven't been there, my last two, LAST GIRL DANCING and MIDNIGHT RAIN, which are both categorized as mainstream suspense, have.

My earliest numbers will come in around December of this year; if I can assess the impact of WalMart sales, I'll pass those numbers on.


Even Hillary does it! I came upon her once signing her book in a Costco around the D.C. area and I believe C-Span carried her signing in a Walmart.

Cheryl St.John

Authors contracts guarantee a percentage of the cover price for each retail copy sold. It makes no difference where it's sold or if it's discounted. The author makes the same amount per copy. The bookstore absorbs the discount.

Buck Batard

Sarah, could you provide a source for the article? I presume it's some publishing magazine, but it would also be nice to know whose book and what the name of the title is that they are talking about.

I suspect there wouldn't be such a large disparity in other titles but there's no way to tell with the limited info in what you blogged.

Morris Rosenthal


It's an interesting look at a specific book, but there's nothing secret about the sales outlets for mainstream trade books, nor Amazon's share of that business, which is over 10% in the US and growing faster than anybody else's. I do a yearly write up of the main book retailers, including census data, at


It doesn't include the mass merchandiser numbers because they don't break them out in their annual reports or to the trade organizations, to them books are just more merchandise. But as several people in this thread have pointed out, supermarkets and Walmarts they sell an incredibly narrow range of books, bestsellers, home improvement, romance. That's not to diminish the dollar volume of those books in the overall publishing economy, but it's only meaningful for a tiny subset of authors and publishers.

Jeb Archer

What people dont realise is that green homes and buildings are not only worth more (resale value) but are creating more reveneu as well. Higher occupancy rates paired with higher rental premiums equals more money in VC's pockets.

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