This has been an interesting discussion. The problem I see with motorbooks is that we all sit here and bitch without really considering what the market is. Of course WE all want motorsport books, but the rest of the world really doesn't care.
The market for almost all motorsports books is from 2000 to 5000 copies unless its about Fangio, Senna or perhaps, Moss. Serious historical subjects just don't sell and the previously mentioned "front-end" cost of publishing makes making a buck, pound or yen very tough. Levy's 30,000 sales figure was partially achieved by Bert himself who shamelessly sets up shop at several different venues during any motorsport weekend he attends. I don't think most authors would undertake the travel expense that Bert does to be where potential buyers are. I know I wouldn't.
Having stated the 2000 to 5000 number, of course there are exceptions. Tom Burnside's American Racing sold almost 50,000 copies, but the price/value equation was incredibly attractive (think the book was 29.95, for a beautiful hard-bound coffee table presentation), so much so that the publisher went broke! Randy Riggs new 50th Anniversary Corvette book will sell over 50,000, but certainly we agree that the anniversary and American Icon status of the 'Vette makes this an unusual situation. I, for one, certainly can't get mad at the publishers for printing 2000 copies of a book that is probably still going to be remaindered (put on sale). While I don't want to get into specific book sales, I can tell you that most of the books that show up on favorite lists on this forum only sold 2000 copies when new. As pointed out earlier in this thread, even the 2000 print run books are showing up on the sale lists very shortly after being produced.
In America, we have an unusual situation where the primary publisher of motoring literature is also the prime distributor. This is good in that they're cranking out ove 300 titles a year (think this must include stuff like calendars) but it results in a situation where the large publishing chains only go to them for transportation titles that are actually stocked. It's hard for the smaller publishers to get their titles into stores and in front of the general public.
Print on demand is the obvious answer. There are still problems to solve such as photo reproduction, but I'm sure these matters will be smoothed out in the not-too-distant future. Certainly the advantages to the author are profound. Check with them directly, but I believe that Veloce Press http://www.velocepress.com
offers a pretty incredible deal of splitting the sales revenues with the author. I know of one author who has made more from the limited reprint sales thru Veloce Press than he did on the entire first run of his book.
As I've said before, best-selling authors skim the high points of history. It's the ink-stained wretches like us who get down in the trenches and provide the detail of a single human's life or a short period of history. With few exceptions, you ain't going to make any money doin' it, but it has
Warning: It's going to get worse before it gets better. The best stuff is going to continue come out in expensive small print runs until print on demand is perfected.