The answer is simple, art books do not sell many copies. Not counting photography books and “how to” books, the bestselling art book of 2003 was Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, which sold 55,693 copies. In the U.S. only four other art books sold over ten thousand copies, again excluding photography and how to books. The amazing fact, from my point of view, is just how many art books you will find in your average Borders or Barnes & Noble. Of course many end up returned to the publisher. The copies get you in the door to buy The da Vinci Code there rather than in Wal-Mart.
Despite having a much smaller population, the British show a greater interest in art books. The bestselling art book in the U.K., a Titian catalog, topped the 60,000 mark.
From the April 2004 issue of The Art Newspaper, “Big Market but Few Books Bought,” not yet on-line.