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Authors Guild Members Show Importance of Backlist and Back-in-Print Book Sales

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The Authors Guild recently asked its members to share how backlist and back-in-print sales have been important to them. Backlist books include those that were published more than a year or two ago and are no longer treated as “frontlist” by publishers but are still in print. Back-in-print includes any title where the author has gotten rights reverted from the original publisher and reissued the book with another publisher or through self-publishing. Both backlist and back-in-print sales can be an important source of author income.

A total of 392 authors responded to our request, with 266 authors saying that they earned significant income from their backlist and 268 saying that they had brought books back into print. (Many authors responded yes to both questions.)

The median reported income from backlist book sales was $40,000, with 34.6 percent of authors reporting more than $100,000, up to $5,000,000 over the life of the book. The median reported income from back-in-print book sales was $5,000, with 37.0 percent of authors reporting more than $10,000, up to $500,000 (with one author reporting $10,000,000) over the life of the book.

The median percentage of income earned from backlist and back-in-print books combined was 50 percent. More than a third of authors (35.7 percent) reported that most of their income (greater than 80 percent) was from backlist and back-in-print sales. A number of retired authors and authors who did not earn advances in the last year reported that their entire incomes were from such sales.