Sports & Recreation Books

Sports & Recreation BooksIt’s that time of year when begin to think about the great outdoors. It is fitting, therefore, that our first category analysis is of what most of the trade calls Sports & Recreation (Barnes & Noble’s corresponding category is “Sports & Adventure”).

In view of the inherent drama of so much sports writing, one would think that the category is one of the better performing ones. According to Simba Information’s Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2006, however, Sports & Recreation was ranked 18th out of the 19 categories tracked by projected 2006 revenues.

Using figures originally compiled by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) from their annual survey of members, Simba estimates that Sports & Recreation generated $140 million dollars, an increase of 2.19% over previous years. The category accounted for 2.6% of all dollars spent in the consumer book market. From 2002 through the end of 2006, dollars spent on Sports & Recreation titles increased by 15.23%. And the top five publishers in this category generated 65% of the revenues.

According to Bowker’s Books In Print database, there are 55,728 Sports & Recreation books in print. In 2006, 4,435 new Sports & Recreation titles and editions were published in the U.S. The category accounted for just under 3% of all new titles and editions published in all categories in 2006.

The figures are preliminary, so one should expect that the total will increase another 10% before Bowker stops counting. Even with the additional 443 new titles, the final 2006 total will be about 2% less than the 4,991 new titles published in 2005. The graph below illustrates the number of new titles and editions classified by Bowker as Sports & Recreation and published in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006:


The number of new titles and editions published in the category increased every year from 2000-2005. That Sports & Recreation could hold its own during the post-9/11 “serious” non-fiction boomlet is impressive. Even with the expected 2% dip in 2006, the total is a 40% increase over the 3,483 reported back in 2000. Furthermore, some 67% of the new titles in this category were published as non-mass market paperbacks.

In 2006, 22 Sports & Recreation titles published as new hardcovers appeared on at least one of the major bestseller lists tracked by Bowker. This is down from the 28 new Sports titles that made the lists in 2005, but it is still 1.28% more than the percentage for all new hardcovers published in 2006 that made an appearance on any list. There were 311 Sports & Recreation titles reviewed by one of the major review organizations tracked by Bowker. This is down from the 450 reviewed in 2005 and 3% less than the percentage of all new hardcovers published and reviewed in 2006.

While Bowker has not yet released separate 2006 figures for the largest trade publishers, we can get a good idea of what the Sports & Recreation category looked like for the twelve houses that account for the lion’s share of trade revenues in this country. In 2005, according to Bowker, the Big Twelve (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Holtzbrinck Publishers, Hyperion, Wiley, Scholastic, etc.) published 641 new titles and editions classified as Sports & Recreation, accounting for 12.84% of total output in the category.

The average suggested retail price of new Sports & Recreation titles published by the largest trade houses in 2005 were $27.09 for adult hardcovers, $16.20 for adult trade paperbacks, and $8.56 for mass market editions. Hardcovers in this category were priced 5% less than adult non-fiction hardcovers in general, while titles published as mass market editions were priced more than 15% higher than the average adult mass market release.

Looking under the hood at the most popular team and individual sports, we find, not surprisingly, that baseball is still king. With its rich history, sacred pantheon of heroes and records, and endless statistics, baseball should remain the anchor of the category for the foreseeable future. Football continues to be very strong, and could one day supplant baseball in literary output as it did in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. Long term, though, the sports to watch are soccer—which has grown almost five-fold in the last ten years—motor racing—which has more than doubled—and poker, which has increased almost ten-fold. Below is a table charting the growth of the major team and individual sports over the last twenty years, compiled from Bowker’s Books In Print database:

Books Published About Major Team & Individual Sports: 1985-2006

1985 1995 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Baseball 116 310 436 474 506 555 459
Basketball 27 160 202 190 202 207 204
Football 81 164 204 305 366 409 361
Golf 60 174 215 211 285 235 167
Hockey 13 50 87 123 86 78 69
Motor Sports 21 94 185 216 238 224 192
Poker 7 11 27 50 59 100 109
Soccer 16 47 144 173 150 135 192
Tennis 36 42 45 45 60 50 39

So, what’s hot in Sports & Recreation these days? It depends on where you look. Each bestseller list collects, measures, and outputs their sales data differently. As of this writing, there are no sports titles on the 150-title list compiled by USA Today. While there are also no sports titles on the NY Times bestseller lists published in the print edition of the newspaper, there are a couple of baseball books on its expanded 35-title nonfiction hardcover list published on the web: Opening Day, the story of Jackie Robinson’s historic 1947 season by Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Eig, and Big Papi, a memoir by David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox slugger.

On both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, the number one Sports & Recreation title is something called Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden. This primer for “essential boyhood skills” was a huge hit in the UK, and has been adapted for American audiences. Placing in the top three on both lists is Hate Mail from Cheerleaders and Other Adventures from the Life of Reilly, by Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly. In all, five of the top twelve bestselling sports titles on Amazon and six of the top ten on Barnes & Noble were baseball books.


Tags: , , ,

How To Publish A Best Selling Book

Subscribe To Beneath The Cover's Blog

Join the many publishers and authors who already get their updates sent straight to their inbox. Enter your email address below:


  1. Push the Key » Blog Archive » Get me some Peanuts and Booksell Stats - June 7, 2007

    […] my analysis of Sports & Recreation books, I noted that baseball was still the most written about sport in America. Who, then, are the […]

  2. Industry Sales | Push the Key - June 18, 2007

    […] Speaking of sales, Friday May 18th the Wall Street Journal ran a piece (subscription required) by Jeff Trachtenberg on The Dangerous Book for Boys, a title I said to watch in my category analysis of Sports & Recreation […]

  3. Everyone’s Favorite Game | Push the Key - June 18, 2007

    […] my category analysis of Sports & Recreation books, one of the thinks I looked at was the trends in books published about major team and […]

Leave a Reply