What is a Backlist?

Did you know that many of the most well-known novels—even your favorites—are considered backlist titles? Everything from the Harry Potter series to Catcher in the Rye and The Handmaid’s Tale are backlist titles in the publishing industry.

A backlist is a publisher’s list of older books that are still in print, but have been on sale for more than a year. The backlist is the opposite of the frontlist, which is a publisher’s list of newly published book titles. Books often become a part of the backlist because there is limited shelf space in stores, which is usually designated for frontlist titles that a publisher is marketing extensively. Because the period in which a book title goes from frontlist to backlist is so short, most of a publisher’s title catalog consists of backlist books.

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

All hope is not lost for a book when it becomes a backlist title. In fact, publishers rely on backlist titles to bring in steady revenue because, though the books may be older, they are still generating sales.

Publishers can focus their marketing on selling frontlist books while accumulating revenue from the trusty backlist titles. However, publishers also market backlist titles to generate more excitement and sales. Because backlist titles are available as e-books, their unit sales increase, which translates into more revenue for publishers.

Backlist titles also play an increasingly significant role in the revival of independent bookstores. Unlike major bookstore chains (who carry few backlist titles) and Amazon (which allows third-party sellers to make revenue off backlist titles), some independent bookstores buy in bulk from the publisher and sell a store full of backlist titles. This creates revenue for both parties and creates a direct connection with customers.

Titles such as Milk and Honey and Wonder, which have been best-sellers for at least three years, are still outselling some frontlist titles. This trend shows how valuable backlist titles are to the market. The availability of backlist titles improves the publishing market because the frontlist titles have to compete with them. Between e-books, Amazon, and independent bookstores, backlist titles have found a place in the market and will continue to compete with frontlist titles for best-seller status.

Next time you pick up one of your favorite books, remember it’s not just important to you, but also to the entire publishing industry. And when you want an older book, check out your local independent bookstore or buy from the publisher—you’ll be helping more than just yourself when picking up a backlist title!

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