There's an old story in publishing about the science fiction writer whose book sold out its 4,000 copy print run in the first six months, and then promptly went out of print. When the poor author complained to his publisher, he was told that 4,000 copies wasn't enough to send the book back for a second printing.
Publishers try to project sales when they determine print runs. Dan Brown's new book had an initial print run, according to the New York Times, of five million copies. Its first week, sales were around two million, so the publisher went back to print for 600,000 more copies. However, the second week sales dropped by nearly fifty per cent. Oops. It's not very likely that The Lost Symbol will go out of print, but those numbers are making publishers nervous.
For Audrey Niffenegger, the author of the wonderful novel The Time Traveler's Wife, the numbers are mindblowingly larger than the figures a midlist author like me deals with, but she faces her own problems. The advance for Her Fearful Symmetry was a neat five mil. Sales the first week, though, were only twenty-three thousand. Ouch.
Again, Niffenegger is definitely not going OP any time soon, but these stories are telling. The recession has hit publishing hard, and it hasn't subsided yet. According to the Times, everyone's hoping the Christmas sales will be robust. Me, too. The scale is spectacularly different, but when my November release from Fairwood Press comes out, I hope everyone who's ever heard my name will just have to have their own copy, and give others for gifts!
The whole article on the state of the business is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/books/08book.html?hpw And I'd like to note how nice it is to see the magnificent independent, Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, often referenced in reports like this.