How to Build Profits with Your Backlist

November 2001
by David Cole

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After a few years of producing a steady stream of titles, life as a publisher in some ways gets easier. Not only have you learned the ropes, but (I hope) you also have a revenue stream from your backlist–the books you published last year and the year before and the year before that. Better still, because the initial costs–editorial, design, pre-press production, marketing–of backlist titles have already been paid, your profit margins on these books are better than when they were new.

Because these books seem to sell themselves long after your initial marketing push, should you concentrate on your new and forthcoming books and simply ignore the backlist? When you ask the question this way, the obvious answer is “No.” Nevertheless, though their financial lives depend on backlist sales, publishers vary greatly in their backlist marketing efforts.

What’s reasonable? What’s optimal? What should you do?

Set Realistic Goals for the Backlist

About a year ago, Publishers Weekly ran an article on backlist sales in which they surveyed executives from some of the largest publishers and imprints. These folks gave estimates of backlist sales as a percentage of total sales that ranged from 25% (Hyperion) at the low end to 75% (Modern Library) and 80% (Sterling) at the high end.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all solution, my own experience in observing a great many publishers suggests that it’s ext…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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