Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Me, Hugh Howey, and Legacy John on AuthorEarnings.com

Joe sez: Go and join the fun over at www.authorearnings.com if you want to see Hugh Howey blow the lid off of Amazon author earnings. To say it is a revelation is putting it lightly. 
I've also duplicated the entire report here, with comments by me and my imaginary Big 5 gatekeeper buddy, Legacy John.
Hugh Howey: It’s no great secret that the world of publishing is changing. What is a secret is how much. Is it changing a lot? Has most of the change already happened? What does the future look like?
The problem with these questions is that we don’t have the data that might give us reliable answers. Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures. At most, they comment on the extreme outliers, which is about as useful as sharing yesterday’s lottery numbers [link]. A few individual authors have made their sales data public, but not enough to paint an accurate picture. We’re left with a game of connect-the-dots where only the prime numbers are revealed. What data we do have often comes in the form of surveys, many of which rely on extremely limited sampling methodologies and also questionable analyses [link].
This lack of data has been frustrating. If writing your first novel is the hardest part of becoming an author, figuring out what to do next runs a close second. Manuscripts in hand, some writers today are deciding to forgo six-figure advances in order to self-publish [link]. Are they crazy? Or is signing away lifetime rights to a work in the digital age crazy? It’s hard to know.
Anecdotal evidence and an ever more open community of self-published authors have caused some to suggest that owning one’s rights is more lucrative in the long run than doing a deal with a major publisher. What used to be an easy decision (please, anyone, take my book!) is now one that keeps many aspiring authors awake at night. As someone who has walked away from incredible offers (after agonizing mightily about doing so), I have longed for greater transparency so that up-and-coming authors can make better-informed decisions. I imagine established writers who are considering their next projects share some of these same concerns.
Other entertainment industries tout the earnings of their practitioners. Sports stars, musicians, actors—their salaries are often discussed as a matter of course. This is less true for authors, and it creates unrealistic expectations for those who pursue writing as a career. Now with every writer needing to choose between self-publishing and submitting to traditional publishers, the decision gets even more difficult. We don’t want to screw up before we even get started.
When I faced these decisions, I had to rely on my own sales data and nothing more. Luckily, I had charted my daily sales reports as my works marched from outside the top one million right up to #1 on Amazon. Using these snapshots, I could plot the correlation between rankings and sales. It wasn’t long before dozens of self-published authors were sharing their sales rates at various positions along the lists in order to make author earnings more transparent to others [link] [link]. Gradually, it became possible to closely estimate how much an author was earning simply by looking at where their works ranked on public lists [link].
This data provided one piece of a complex puzzle. The rest of the puzzle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I received an email from an author with advanced coding skills who had created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year [link]. And now we finally have some answers.
When Amazon reports that self-published books make up 25% of the top 100 list, the reaction from many is that these are merely the outliers. We hear that authors stand no chance if they self-publish and that most won’t sell more than a dozen copies in their lifetime if they do. (The same people rarely point out that all bestsellers are outliers and that the vast majority of those who go the traditional route are never published at all.) Well, now we have a large enough sample of data to help glimpse the truth. What emerges is, to my knowledge, the clearest public picture to date of what’s happening in this publishing revolution. It’s a lot to absorb, but I believe there’s much here to learn.
The Value Ratio
I’m going to start with some of the smaller lessons to be gleaned from this data. We’ll conclude this report by looking at author earnings, but I don’t want that bombshell to drown out these equally important observations.
The first thing that jumped out at me when I opened my email was these next two charts, which our data guru had placed side-by-side. What caught my eye was how they seem to be inversely correlated:

On the left, we have a chart showing the average rating of 7,000 bestselling e-books.1 On the right, we have a chart showing the average list price of the same 7,000 e-books. Both charts break the books up into the same five categories. From the left, they are: Indie Published, Small/Medium Publisher, Amazon Published (from imprints like 47North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author.2
It’s interesting to me that the self-published works in this sample have a higher average rating than the e-books from major publishers. There are several reasons why this might be, ranging from the conspiratorial (self-published authors purchase their reviews) to the communal (self-published authors read and favorably rate each-others works) to the familial (it’s friends and family who write these reviews). But the staggering number of reviews involved for most of these books (over a hundred on average across our entire sample) makes each of these highly unlikely. As I’ve seen with my own works—and as I’ve observed when watching other books spread organically—the sales come before the reviews, not after. There are a number of more plausible explanations for the nearly half a star difference in ratings, and one in particular jumped out at me, again from seeing these two charts next to one another.
Note the shortest bar in one graph correlates to the tallest in the other. Is it possible that price impacts a book’s rating? Think about two meals you might have: one is a steak dinner for $10; the other is a steak dinner that costs four times as much. An average experience from both meals could result in a 4-star for the $10 steak but a 1-star for the $40 steak. That’s because overall customer satisfaction is a ratio between value received and amount spent. As someone who reads both self-published and traditionally published works, I can tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two. Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid. If they’re paying twice as much for traditionally published books, which experience will they rate higher? The one with better bang for the buck.
This raises an interesting question: Are publishers losing money in the long run by charging higher prices? Are they decreasing the value/cost ratio and thereby creating lower average ratings for their authors and their products? If so, this might have some influence on long-term sales, and keep in mind that e-books do not go out of print. What if in exchange for immediate profits, publishers are creating poorer ratings for their goods and a poorer experience for their readers? Both effects will hurt a work’s prospects down the road (a road with no end in sight). And since ratings on e-books also apply to the physical edition on Amazon’s product pages, this pricing scheme ends up adversely affecting the very print edition that higher e-book prices are meant to protect [link].
It is common these days to hear that the quality of self-published work is hurting literature in general. I counter this notion with one of my own: Pricing e-books higher than mass market paperbacks used to cost is having an even more deleterious effect on reading habits. Books are not only in competition with each other, they compete with everything else a reader might do with their time. Creating a poor experience is a way to lose readers, not a way to protect a physical edition or a beloved bookstore. And high prices are a quick and easy way to create a poor reading experience, harming everyone.
High prices are also a way to drive customers to other, less expensive books. Rather than serving to protect print editions, publishers are creating a market for self-published works. And harmful price practices is not the only way the Big Five are powering the self-publishing revolution.
Joe Konrath: "And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder. One of the four beasts saying, 'Come and see.' and I saw, and behold a white horse"
Welcome to the Book of Revelations.
The shadow industry of self-publishing now has a tiny bit of light shed on it, and it's blinding.
Many worried about the Tsunami of Crap, bringing down the overall quality of books. I countered that argument in 2011 using common sense. Now here are the facts to back it up.
But how will the industry react to this news? Let's ask Legacy John, an imaginary amalgam of gatekeepers created by me from the nonsense they continually spout.
Legacy John: This data doesn't reflect our own data. Readers are continuing to pay higher prices for what they consider to be premium material, and overall gross is what ultimately matters, not average reviews that are only differentiated by a fraction of a percent.
Readers recognize the imprimatur that comes from our brand, and will pay what we want them to pay. In fact, if we controlled the retail price, we could make them pay even more.
Joe: Uh, LJ. You tried that. It was called the Agency Model. And the DOJ filed suit for collusion. And you lost.
Legacy John: Listen to me! Readers WANT to pay more! Watch and see how the data confirms this.
Joe: Okay, let's watch...
Hugh: Next, we’re going to look at some sales numbers within these genre bestseller lists to see how underserving a high-demand market has resulted in the creation of a brand new supply of books.  
Listening to Reader Demand
The next chart shows the percentage of genre e-books on several Amazon bestseller lists according to how they were published:

The bestseller lists used were Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. All of the subcategories within these three main genres were also included. Why choose these genres? Because they are the most popular with readers. Our data guru ran a spider through overall bestseller lists and found that these three genres accounted for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.3 Future earnings reports will look at all of fiction4, but for now, we started with a simpler data set that captured the vast majority of what readers purchase.
What this chart shows is that indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon. We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing. Among the advice given to aspiring writers, you’ll often hear: “Write in the correct genre.” And here we see the sales-potential of that advice.
Looking back to the price/review comparison and also to the chart above, we can surmise that major publishers would be well-served by publishing far more titles in these genres and also by charging less for them. This is wisdom the indie community knows very well. Publishers must be tuning in, as prices began to decline last year [link], and publishers such as Simon & Schuster have announced new genre imprints [link]. Hopefully this data will help accelerate these trends, for the benefit of both the reader and the newly signed author.
Now take a look at this chart:

Again, daily unit sales are estimated by sales ranking, using publicly shared data from dozens of authors who have logged the correlation between rank and daily purchases (included among those authors are the two involved in this study).5 Some obvious things immediately jump out. The first is that Amazon has an incredible ability to market their own works, which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering it’s their storefront. We see from this and the previous chart that their 4% of titles command an amazing 15% of the sales. That’s impressive. It’s nearly 4 times the average unit sales volume per book. Now look at the Big Five, who with all their marketing efforts and brand recognition actually end up with pretty average per-book sales: a mere 1.2 times the overall average.
The other eye-popper here is that indie authors are outselling the Big Five. That’s the entire Big Five. Combined. Indie and small-press books account for half of the e-book sales in the most popular and bestselling genres on Amazon.
Joe: "Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword."
Legacy John: Why do you keep quoting scripture?
Joe: Because your ass is getting kicked in biblical proportions.
Legacy John: Maybe you and I are reading different data, but this is based on unit sales, not gross sales.
Joe: So?
Legacy John: Since we price our books higher than you do, we make more money than you do. And people are still willing to pay the prices we charge. So who's looking stupid now? If we charged $3.99 for an ebook, we'd be leaving money on the table.
Joe: Whose money?
Legacy John: Come again?
Joe: Whose money would you be leaving on the table?
Legacy John: Our money, of course. We make 75% of net on ebooks. Why would we want to lower prices?
Joe: Because authors are only making 25%, which translates to 12.5% royalties of the Digital List Price you set. Why do you think authors are going to continue accepting 12.5% when they can get 70% by self-pubbing, and also outsell you in units? Your average book price was $7.00, which means $0.88 goes to the author. The average self pubbed book price is $3.25, which means $2.28 goes to the author.
Authors make almost three times as much when they self-publish.
Legacy John: The data is cherry picked. It only counts a few bestsellers.
Joe: The royalties remain the same. On average, self-pubbed books earn authors more money, and with the genre bestsellers they sell more copies than the books you publish. I'd guess the long tail will concur, but we'll know when that data comes out.
Legacy John: Well, we can always lower prices. Then we'll outsell indies and make it up in quantity.
Joe: Do you really think if you lower your prices from $7.00 to $3.25 your sales will triple in volume?
Legacy John: It could happen.
Joe: Then why haven't you done this sooner?
Legacy John: We've lowered prices on select titles.
Joe: And those titles are no doubt included in this data. Know what I think? I think if you lower prices, you'll gain a bit in volume, but not enough to overcome the overall loss of income. On a $3.25 legacy book, the author only earns $0.41.
Legacy John: Why do you keep bringing up how much the author earns?
Joe: Wrong question. The question is, "Why don't you care how much the author earns?"
Legacy John: Look, we do more than simply push a button to publish books. We edit, provide art, proofread…
Joe: Self-pubbed writers can hire professionals to do that. For sunk, fixed costs that don't require giving up royalties for the term of copyright (death plus seventy years.)
Legacy John: We have whole divisions devoted to marketing, advertising, and publicity…
Joe: How do you advertise ebooks?
Legacy John: Excuse me?
Joe: I know you spend a lot of money on Amazon. According to the New Yorker, you have to give Amazon a percentage of your annual gross sales, from 5%-7%. That's what you pay for various Amazon promotions, right?
Self-pubbed authors pay Amazon nothing, and those in KDP Select get Countdown Deals and free days. Amazon-published authors also get these services (email campaigns, Kindle Daily Deal, Gold Box, banner ads, etc.) for free, and A-Pub pays a minimum of 35% royalties off list compared to your 12.5%. Do the promotional fees you pay Amazon come from your royalties, or off the gross so the authors have to bear the expense too?
Legacy John: Huh? I… uh…
Joe: As a self-pubbed author who made $1M last year, I paid about $10k in various promotions. About 1% of my income. Sounds like you're paying quite a bit to sell as well as you're selling. And that doesn't even include all the money you must spend through your marketing, advertising, and publicity divisions that do… what exactly do they do for your average author?
Legacy John: Well, we do print ads.
Joe: Uh-huh. How effective are those?
Legacy John: We're not really sure. And we've never tried to figure it out. 
Joe: Sounds smart.
Legacy John: We also get reviews.
Joe: I have 10,000 reader reviews on Amazon.
Legacy John: And we... we give away galleys and advance reading copies! Yeah! Because print is still 70% - 75% of the business, haven't you heard?
Joe: I've heard. But I've found that data to be lacking because it doesn't account for Amazon and the shadow industry of self-pubbing. 
Legacy John: Well, the data is true. It certainly is. Maybe self-pubbed ebooks cost less, and outsell our ebooks, and earn the author more, but the big money is still in paper.
Joe: Really? Let's look at some more data.
Hugh: Instead of feeling any sort of confirmation bias, my immediate reaction was to reject these findings. Surely they weren’t accurate. And so I complained to our magical data snoop that we were only looking at e-book sales. What percentage of the overall reading market does this represent? Our data guru said this was a question we could easily answer. You won’t believe what he found.
Everything You Know About E-Books is Wrong
The experts? They have no idea. It’s not entirely their fault; it’s just that the data they’re working with is fundamentally flawed.
You may have heard from other reports that e-books account for roughly 25% of overall book sales. But this figure is based only on sales reported by major publishers. E-book distributors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the iBookstore, and Google Play don’t reveal their sales data. That means that self-published e-books are not counted in that 25%.
Neither are small presses, e-only presses, or Amazon’s publishing imprints. This would be like the Cookie Council seeking a report on global cookie sales and polling a handful of Girl Scout troops for the answer—then announcing that 25% of worldwide cookie sales are Thin Mints. But this is wrong. They’re just looking at Girl Scout cookies, and even then only a handful of troops. Every pronouncement about e-book adoption is flawed for the same reason. It’s looking at only a small corner of a much bigger picture. (It’s worth noting that our own report is also limited in that it’s looking only at Amazon—chosen for being the largest book retailer in the world—but we acknowledge and state this limitation, and we plan on releasing broader reports in the future.)
There’s a second and equally important reason to doubt a 25% e-book penetration number: The other 75% of those titles includes textbooks, academic books, cookbooks, children’s books, and all the many categories that are relatively safe from digitization (for now). Print remains healthy in these categories, but these aren’t the books most people think of when they hear that percentage quoted. E-book market share is generally spoken of in the context of the New York Times bestsellers, the novels and non-fiction works that are referred to as “trade” publications. If we look specifically at this trade market, it’s quite likely that e-books already account for more than 50% of current sales (some publishers have intimated as much [link]). Factoring in self-publishing and further limiting the scope to fiction, I’ve seen guesses as high as 70%. But that can’t be possible, right?
I asked our data guru if we could find out. Could we look at the bestseller lists and tally by format? Of course, we would be looking only at Amazon, which might skew toward e-books—but to reiterate, we are looking at the largest bookseller in the world, digital or print. To do a first study of this sort on a smaller distributor would be less than ideal. Still, keep this caveat in mind.
We analyzed the overall Amazon bestseller lists for several categories and used the web spider to grab the text description of format type: paperback, hardback, e-book, or audiobook. This is what we found:


Did the smelling salts work? Are you with us? It turns out that 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books. At the top of the charts, the dominance of e-books is even more extreme. 92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books!
I know, right? Allow that to soak in for a moment, and then let’s look at author earnings. Here, we will see that publishers should cross their fingers and hope that the share of e-book sales increases rather than flattens. Because they are doing quite well on the backs of their authors. Major publishers are taking in record profits [link], but they aren’t the big winners to emerge from this report. Read on. The real story of self-publishing is up next.
Joe: Hmm. That kinda blows your "paper accounts for 75% of sales" theory all to hell.
Legacy John: That doesn't count all paper sales! That data is just looking at Amazon, not B&N or libraries or other places paper books are sold.
Joe: Last year Bowker estimated that online retail accounts for almost half of total book sales, and that 30% of that was ebooks. Now, I don't know where they got their data, because Amazon doesn't reveal it. But according to Hugh's data, of the Top 2500 bestsellers, only 5% sold on Amazon were paper.
I'm no math whiz, but your paper sales must be astronomical outside of Amazon. If that's the case, you certainly have nothing to worry about. Your robust paper industry will no doubt endure forever.
Or at least until B&N closes. I heard they just fired a lot of their Nook engineers. But that probably doesn't mean anything…
Hugh: Writing Doesn’t Pay?
This is a story that has been sensed by many. The clues are all around us, but the full picture proves elusive. It is being told in anecdotes on online forums, in private Facebook groups, at publishing conventions, and in the comment sections of industry articles. Authors are claiming to be making more money now with self-publishing than they made in decades with traditional publishers, often with the same books [link]. I’ve personally heard from nearly a thousand authors who are making hundreds of dollars a month with their self-published works. I know many who are making thousands a month, even a few who are making hundreds of thousands a month. But these extreme outliers interest me far less than the mid-list authors who are now paying a bill or two from their writing.
My interest in this story began the moment I became an outlier. When major media outlets began asking for interviews, my first thought was that they were burying the lead. My life had truly changed months prior, when I’d first started making dribs and drabs here and there. And I knew this was happening for more and more writers every day. But that inspiring story was being buried by headlines about those whose luck was especially outsized (as mine has been).
Before we reveal the next results of our study, keep in mind that self-publishing is not a gold rush. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. There are no short cuts, just a lot of effort and a lot of luck. Those who do well often work ludicrous hours in order to publish several books a year. They do this while working day jobs until they no longer need day jobs. This is also true of the writers earning hundreds or even thousands a month. Please keep this in mind. The beauty of self-publishing is the ownership and control of one’s work. You can price it right, hire the editor and cover artist you want to work with, release as often and in as many genres as you want, give books away, and enjoy a direct relationship with your reader. It isn’t for everyone, but you’re about to see a good reason why more authors might want to consider this as an option.
Here is what our data guru found when he used sales per ranking data5 and applied it to the top 7,000 bestselling genre works on Amazon today:

Looks good for the Big Five, doesn’t it? When it comes to gross dollar sales, they take half the pie. Remember, they only account for a little over a quarter of the unit sales. Also keep in mind that they only have to pay 25% of net revenue to the author. By contrast, self-published authors on Amazon’s platform keep 70% of the total purchase price.6  Let’s now look at revenue from the author’s perspective:

It’s a complete inversion. Indie authors are earning nearly half the total author revenue from genre fiction sales on Amazon. Nearly half. This next chart reveals why:

Blue represents the author. You can clearly see that for Big-Five published works, the publisher makes more than twice what the author makes for the sale of an e-book. Keep in mind that the profit margins for publishers are better on e-books than they are on hardbacks [link]. That means the author gets a smaller cut while the publisher takes a larger share. This, despite the fact that e-books do not require printing, warehousing, or shipping. As a result, self-published authors as a group are making 50% more profit than their traditionally published counterparts, even though their books have only half the gross sales revenue.
Before we move on, take another long look at this chart. Here you find everything that needs to change in the publishing industry. Readers and writers alike should take note.
A quick note on how we calculated author earnings for the Big Five publishers in the above graphs. These numbers are based on estimates of wholesale pricing for e-books (publisher’s net was modeled as 80% of Amazon price). That estimate could be off by 10% either way, but even if we adjusted it to assume a wholesale price of 120% of retail (which would mean Amazon is taking a loss on every traditionally published e-book sold), indie authors would still come out on top. Also interesting is the observation that for the top-selling genres, Amazon is currently making nearly as much profit from indie e-books as from Big Five e-books.7
It’s also worth keeping in mind that this graph ignores the long tail of publishing. We’re just looking at the top 7,000 genre e-books. This represents the most popular offerings from both self-published authors and their traditionally published counterparts, which makes it an extremely fair comparison. Other surveys have compared all self-published works to only those in the traditional route that made it past agents and editors. That is, they compared the top 1% of traditionally published titles to the entirety of self-published works. Looking at bestselling charts avoids that mistake. Here we have 7,000 e-books as they are selling on any given day, which also serves to move the discussion away from misleading outliers and into the more interesting midlist. Now let’s see how Uncle Sam feels about all of this.
Tax Brackets
We’ve seen that self-published authors are earning more money from genre e-books than traditionally published authors. But how much more? The next thing we wanted to do was estimate yearly e-book earnings for all of these authors based on their daily Amazon sales. We ran this report and put each author into one of seven income brackets. The results, again, were startling:

Indie authors outnumber traditionally published authors in every earnings bracket but one, and the difference increases as you leave the highest-paid outliers. But even these extreme outliers are doing better with their self-published works. The scale is difficult to see, but the breakdown of authors earning in the seven figures is: 10 indie authors, 8 Amazon-published authors, and 9 authors published by the Big Five. The much higher royalties and other advantages, such as price, seem to counterbalance the experience and marketing muscle that traditional publishers wield. This is something many have suspected to be true, but which now can be confirmed.
Of course, we still doubted this even after seeing the results. Our first thought was that top self-published authors can put out more than one work a year, while Big Five authors are limited by non-compete clauses and a legacy publishing cycle to a single novel over that same span of time. Indie authors are most likely earning more simply because they have more books for sale. Was this skewing our results? We ran another report to find out, and to our surprise, it turns out that only the handful of extreme earners have this advantage. Most self-published authors are, on average, earning more money on fewer books:

This suggests that the earnings discrepancy will grow greater over time, as self-published authors develop deeper catalogs. We hope to answer questions like this as we run reports every quarter to track shifting trends. For now, the full data set for this study has been anonymized by removing the title and author info, and is available for download below this report. By tweaking the values in the yellow areas of the spreadsheet, you are able to play around with the data yourself. Our aim here is complete openness and to invite community discourse. It is also worth remembering that all of our base data comes from publicly perusable bestseller charts, so there’s an added layer of transparency and reproducibility. The information was there all along; grabbing a useful quantity of it simply required someone like my co-author to come along and snag it.
Joe: So remind me again why I should take a legacy deal?
Legacy John: We, uh... we nuture.
Legacy John: This data could be entirely incorrect. We don't know exactly how it was acquired. No one knows how much we're actually making. There are other polls and surveys that show quite the opposite is happening.
Joe: Those polls and surveys don't include Amazon, where many authors, both legacy and self-pubbed, make the majority of their income. By the looks of these numbers, authors are much better off avoiding legacy publishers such as yourself. So I ask you, what do you have to offer authors? I'm guessing your paper sales don't account for much for the majority of authors you have under contract. The services you provide can be hired out for a one-time fee. The massive amounts you pay Amazon for marketing don't seem to have much effect compared to the tiny amounts the average indie author spends on marketing. Your royalties, and contracts, suck wheelbarrows full of ass.
Hugh Howey and his programming guru friend have just turned a bright light on the shadow industry of self-publishing, and revealed that the legacy industry is in Big Fucking Trouble.
 Legacy John: Neener neener neener! My fingers are in my ears and I'm not listening!
Joe: You never did. I've been telling you this shit for years. Does this sound familiar?
Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they're relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here's how:
1. Offer much better royalties to authors.
2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.
3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.
4. Lower ebook prices.
5. Stop futilely fighting piracy. Hint: all such fighting is futile. Piracy can only be made redundant with cost and convenience.
6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalog copy aren't enough. Neither is your imprint's Twitter feed. Especially if your author has more Twitter followers than you do.
That was from a post of mine from 2011. You've had years to figure this out.
Instead you spent those years colluding with each other, screwing authors, and thinking you were the invincible masters of your domain.
Oops.
Hugh: An Easier Choice?
Choosing which way to publish is becoming a difficult choice for the modern author. This choice has only grown more challenging as options have expanded and as conflicting reports have emerged on how much or how little writers can expect to make. Our contention is that many of these reports are flawed, both by the self-selected surveys they employ, the sources for these surveys, and, occasionally, the biases in their interpretation. Our fear is that authors are selling themselves short and making poor decisions based on poor data. That is the main purpose for fighting for earnings transparency: helping aspiring writers choose the path that’s best for them. A secondary goal is to pressure publishers to more fairly distribute a new and lucrative source of income. Operating in lockstep in offering authors only 25% of net is not just unfair but unsustainable, as more and more authors are going to jump to self-publishing.
Of course, self-publishing isn’t for everyone. There is no absolute right or wrong way to publish; the path taken depends entirely on what each author wishes to put into their career and what they hope to get out of it. But as marketing falls more and more to the writer, and as self-published authors close the quality gap by employing freelance editors and skilled cover artists, the earnings comparison in our study suggests a controversial conclusion: Genre writers are financially better off self-publishing, no matter the potential of their manuscripts.
Consider the three rough possibilities for an unpublished work of genre fiction:
The first possibility is that the work isn’t good. The author cannot know this with any certainty, and neither can an editor, agent, or spouse. Only the readers as a great collective truly know. But what we may simplistically, and perhaps cruelly, call a “bad” manuscript stands only a slim chance of getting past an agent and then an editor. To the author, these works are better off self-published on the open market. They will most likely disappear, never to be widely read. But at least they stand a chance. And those who fear that these titles will crowd out other books are ignoring the vast quantities of books published traditionally—or the fact that billions of self-published blogs and websites don’t impede our ability to browse the internet, to find what we are looking for, or to share discovered gems with others.
The second possibility for a manuscript is that it’s merely average. An average manuscript might get lucky and find an agent. It might get lucky a second time and fall into the lap of the right editor at the right publishing house. But probably not. Most average manuscripts don’t get published at all. Those that do sit spine-out on dwindling bookstore shelves for a few months and are then returned to the publisher and go out of print. The author doesn’t earn out the advance and is dropped. The industry is littered with such tales. Our data shows quite conclusively that mid-list titles earn more for self-published authors than they do for the traditionally published. And the advantage grows as the yearly income bracket decreases (that is, as we move away from the outliers). It is also worth noting again that self-published authors are earning more money on fewer titles. Our data supports a truth that I keep running into over and over, however anecdotally: More writers today are paying bills with their craft than at any other time in human history.
The third and final possibility is that the manuscript in question is great. A home run. The kind of story that goes viral. (Some might call these manuscripts “first class,” but designations of class are rather offensive, aren’t they?) When recognized by publishing experts (which is far from a guarantee), these manuscripts are snapped up by agents and go to auction with publishers. They command six- and seven-figure advances. The works are heavily promoted, and if the author is one in a million, they make a career out of their craft and go on to publish a dozen or more bestselling novels in their lifetime. You can practically name all of these contemporary authors without pausing for a breath. We all like to think our manuscript is one of these. And from this hubris comes a fatal decision not to self-publish.
Why is that decision fatal? Our data suggests that even stellar manuscripts are better off self-published. These outlier authors are already doing better via self-publishing, when compared one to one. Now consider that the authors with the greatest draw, the most experience, and possibly the best abilities, are not yet a part of the self-publishing pool. What will our graphs look like once more up-and-coming authors skip straight to self-publishing? What will they look like when self-published authors have a decade or more of experience under their belts? What about when more authors win back the rights to their backlists? Or when top traditionally published authors decide to self-publish, as artists in other fields are doing? [link] [link] [link] What will these graphs look like then? We look forward to finding out.
Joe: I love it that Hugh posed these questions already knowing what the answers will be.
Legacy John: Are the answers that gatekeepers are going to continue to reign?
Joe: I don't think so.
Legacy John: So... what do indie authors pay freelance editors? Do you give them $70k a year, a 401k, an office in Manhattan, and an unlimited expense account?
Joe: No, we don't. But if you send me a two page query letter, detailing your experience, I'll try to respond within 6-12 months. And don't forget that SASE.
Hugh: Final Thoughts
What is presented here is but one snapshot of the publishing revolution as it stands today. That revolution isn’t over. These reports can be run so long as books are ranked. Our hope is that the future brings more transparency, not less. Other artistic endeavors have far greater data at hand, and practitioners of those arts and those who aspire to follow in their footsteps are able to make better-informed decisions. The expectations of these artists and athletes are couched in realism to a degree that the writing profession does not currently enjoy.
Our ambitious goal is to help change that, but we can’t do it alone. And so we hope others will run their own reports and analyze our data. We hope they will share what they find and that this will foster greater discourse. We also hope publishers and distributors will begin sharing their sales figures. We expect many to disagree with our analysis. We expect flaws will be found in our reasoning and our sampling methodologies. Discovering those flaws will lead to better data, and we look forward to that process.
If I had to guess what the future holds, I would say that the world of literature has its brightest days still ahead. That we have come so far in such a short period of time is revealing. We take for granted changes in other mediums—the absence of that tall rack of CDs beside home stereos, the dwindling number of people who watch live TV, that missing thrill of opening a paper envelope full of printed photos. There will be casualties in the publishing industry as the delivery mechanisms for stories undergo change. There already have been casualties. But there are opportunities as well. And right now, the benefits are moving to the reader and the writer. Speaking as both of these, I count this a good thing. I marvel that there are so many who fight for higher prices for consumers and lower pay for authors, all to protect a legacy model. That model needs to change.
Publishers can foster that change by further lowering the prices of their e-books. The record margins they’re currently earning are certainly seductive, but taking advantage of authors is not a sustainable business model. Hollywood studios had to capitulate to their writers when a new digital stream emerged. Publishers will likewise need to pay authors a fair share of the proceeds for e-book sales. 50% of net for every author is a good start. If they do this, they will stop losing quality manuscripts, back catalogs, and top talent. If publishers nurture their authors and work hard to satisfy their customers, they will see those average ratings go up and sales increase. They will see more people spending time with a book rather than on a video game or on the internet. And then the entire publishing industry, as well as those who love to read and those who hope to write for a living, will benefit.
Joe sez:  In 2011 I wrote a blog called The End of the Bestseller. I said:
The Big 6 can't publish ebooks priced low enough to compete with me. They have fancy NY offices, lots of employees with benefits and expense accounts, and a whole industry to support.


With print, they know how to create a bestseller. They buy it.
They buy the real estate. They buy the advertising. They buy the discounts.
But in an ebook world, their money offers no advantage. They can't get more shelf space or a longer shelf life than I can, and they can't discount for less than I can.
The stranglehold NY publishing has had on the US, forcing people to read what they decide to make available, is loosening up. When given a choice, readers will buy books other than those vetted by NY. The Kindle bestseller lists prove this. My sales prove this.
And now, Hugh's data proves this.
If legacy publishers drop their ebook prices, I don't think they'll see a proportional rise in sales to make up for the lower price. Which means legacy publishers, and their authors, will be earning even less. And I doubt publishers will ever do this, because they'd be cannibalizing their paper sales even more, and paper sales are all their only monopoly.
If legacy publishers offer authors higher royalties, they won't be able to support their infrastructure, and authors still won't be earning as much as they do by self-pubbing.
The power has shifted. Gatekeepers aren't in charge anymore. Authors are. And authors can now reap the rewards the gatekeepers used to reap—a higher share of the profits.
No matter how you publish, it's still a lottery. I knew this back before the Kindle came out, and the Kindle didn't change anything. You have to get lucky in order to find readers.
But now there are no barriers to entry. It's a level playing field. You don't need to hope some gatekeeper recognizes your potential, and then hope they do a good job publishing you while they keep your rights forever under terrible contract terms and shitty royalties.
You don't have to let someone else gamble with your money. You can do it yourself. And this data proves that many authors are doing it themselves, and succeeding.
What path you choose is up to you. But one choice gives you full control, and the other takes all of your control away, without—according to these numbers—any benefit at all.
Legacy John: But you don't understand! We've been in business for decades! We know what the readers want! You can't do this without us!
Joe: We just did. 


Addendum Deux

The authorearnings.com website is now up and running again.


Even if you've read the info here, I encourage everyone to visit authorearnings.com and take the Author Survey and sign the Petition.

139 comments:

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Wow, this report is amazing and Joe's commentary had me laughing out loud.

I realized last night that we all still query.

Indies however only query themselves.

"Am I ready?"

William J. Thomas said...

This is just awesome. Thanks for posting it all here Joe, because www.authorearnings.com is down right now. Probably from all the traffic you just sent it!

Joshua James said...

Game changer, big time.

gniz said...

Part of me is a little bit sad that this data came out so soon. I wanted it to come out--I was just hoping for a couple more good years feasting at the table before everyone figured out what I already know.

There is a LOT of money to be made self-publishing ebooks.

And now there's a big spotlight on that fact, and I suppose the shift will be happening a bit sooner, as more authors will see clearly just how big an opportunity they're missing by foregoing publishing their own work.

That said, the advantage us early adopters have is that we know what works, we're innovators, and we continue to find new ways to produce our material.

This is an exciting time and I thank Joe and Hugh and the other big names who've shouted this stuff from the rooftops.

Irwin P. said...

This just ruined Valentine's Day weekend for every Big 5 executive and pretty much any agent who doesn't represent Stephen King, Jodi Piccoult, or Salman Rushdie, because every other Big 5 author is reading this and wondering how to get out of his or her next contract...

If you're right and the Big 5 do go down, Joe, then this report could well be a major tipping point in prompting a large-scale exodus over the next 2-3 years as Big 5 genre authors fulfill their outstanding contracts and bail.

Of course, there are many problems with the report, the biggest one being that it is based on just 2 days worth of sales rankings (January 28 and 29 of 2014), and then those numbers are extrapolated out to yearly earnings and all that.

Still, the sample is large enough that even 2 days of sales is meaningful data, and so the truth can't be very far off.

Great stuff. Can't shake the feeling that we're at the ground floor of something very, very big.

- Irwin P.

Joe Konrath said...

I was just hoping for a couple more good years feasting at the table before everyone figured out what I already know.

I think the feast will continue. Lower ebook prices cross the board means more reading and more hoarding. A customer willing to spend $20 will now buy four ebooks instead of two.

But just as important, authors now have some actual data to show there is ZERO advantage signing a legacy deal in February 2014.

We'll see if publishers change. They probably will, at least a little bit. But will it save them?

I doubt it.

Bill Peschel said...

Does anyone see a need to post Howey's raw data in Xcel spreadsheet format? I renamed it and put it up on my site.

I'll take it down by the end of the day once they get their site back up:

www.planetpeschel.com/Howey-Report.xlsx

Selena Kitt said...

I used to kind of lament never being "chosen" (i.e. vetted) by a traditional publisher, but really, I've been vetted by the public. My readers' approval is more than enough to tell me I'm a "real writer." I do this for a living. And if legacy publishing came calling at this point... I just couldn't take that deal. I would lose far too much money (and far too much control) to make it worthwhile for me.

I'm so happy to see writers finally publishing the books that have been stuffed in drawers, turned down by legacy publishers who thought they were "too ----" too last-year, too racy, too whatever. READERS are doing the vetting now. READERS are deciding what books move them, thrill them, challenge them, entertain them. The influence of both the editor and the agent are waning. Amazon is the new slush pile, but this time it's readers who are making the call.

And that's the way it should be.

Unless you write erotica, anyway. Then you're censored by Amazon, your books are removed, hidden behind filters, etc. Because if Amazon didn't do anything to censor erotica, we'd be in the top 100 consistently. :P And we can't have THAT!

But I'm still happy for the so-called mid-listers who are blowing readers out of the water with AMAZING stories. I've added so many new authors to my "must read" list in the past few years I can't keep up! :)

Chris W. Martinez said...

The third and final possibility is that the manuscript in question is great. A home run. The kind of story that goes viral. (Some might call these manuscripts “first class,” but designations of class are rather offensive, aren’t they?)

Loved this little dig at Donald Maass.

Jamie Maltman said...

Thanks once again Hugh and Joe for everything you guys are doing to get data out to the authors who need it.

And (bow down) to Hugh's data mining friend. As an about-to-self-publish-for-the-first-time author with a background in data mining, this is about the coolest validation possible of my decision.

Looking forward to adding my numbers into the blue columns.

billie said...

Thanks for putting this here - I saw Barry's link on FB and tried for 15 minutes to get to the site. Wow.

Joe Konrath said...

I added it to the blog, Bill. Thanks!

Lisa Grace said...

Thank you to Hugh, Joe, and the unnamed web crawler owner who graciously put the data, report, and analysis together.
I'm grateful that I have a chance to get my books out in the world. I'm one of those building a career by publishing my works and gaining dedicated readers. My publishing on my own also lead to a movie deal.
If you can add in the future:
What about the power of free ebooks? Especially first in a series, or the first from an unknown author.
Thanks again.

Liz said...

Well, I'm exhausted but not so much surprised. Thank you for this as I linger on the ledge of small pubs and ponder going "traditional" or "indie" ….
Liz who now needs a stiff drink

mikeh5856 said...

Very impressive data. Kudos to Hugh and his programmer. Also really appreciated the dig about "class systems."

Joe, thank you for reblogging this article here. I cannot get the original page to load, so I'm guessing this article has created quite a stir! Love it!

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Joe! The only thing more fun than reading the original was reading your comments and your conversation with "Legacy John." Loved it.

Truly, as we pull the curtains back and discover the great and powerful odds (<---- clever, eh?) in favor of self-publishing, we will all be able to make clearer decisions. Information is good, and though no doubt many will poke holes in this, it's a wonderful source of information.

I'm thrilled to be in the ranks of those making money from self-publishing.

Karen Woodward said...

Thanks Joe, this is mind-blowing!

Love your blogs.

(BTW, someone might have mentioned this already, but Hugh Howey has a new post up on his blog. His new blog, authorearnings.com, just went down because of all the traffic! Blogger has it's upside. :-)

Dr. Debra Holland said...

Thanks, for posting this, Joe! Awesome information. My question would be if there's any way to include hybrid authors. For example, I'm both self-published and an Amazon author. Many other are self-published and traditionally published. Or even all three.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Apropos of the question of how much Amazon is getting from sales of ebooks based on publisher (something Steve Zacharius suggested self-publishers should worry about, because as long as traditional publishers are Amazon's cash cow, they might do something mean to us and cut our percentages), I did my own mini-analysis of the top 50 bestselling ebooks on Amazon. My results are strikingly similar to Hugh's, although my data set was much smaller and I had to fudge a little on the "list price" number (but so did Hugh). I also only looked at self-published and traditionally published books because the number of books in the other categories was too small to be meaningful.

Here's the link if you're interested: http://bit.ly/1el2RNe

At a minimum, I think the numbers I came up with put to rest the notion that self-publishers should worry that we're a drain on Amazon's bottom line.

Joshua James said...

Hugh's regular site seems to be down as well...

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

Really appreciate this, Joe. Thanks.

I've shared the link everywhere I can think of -- to your blog, rather than Howey's, so I don't add to the tsunami there.

I'm also proudly indie published and an inch or two away from going full time. Last year I tripled my indie income, and outstripped the sum total of any legacy publishing income I have earned -- ever -- by a factor of two.

You can't argue with that.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Amazing stuff, Hugh and Joe. Thanks for the stats. After years of struggling and being told I'm chasing a fools errand with self publishing it's gratifying to get those remittance statements from Amazon every month. I'm making real money (70%)doing what I love to do. It doesn't get any better than this.

Adrian said...

I'd be interested in seeing what kind of difference it would make to include data from other markets, like B&N. At about 60%, Amazon accounts for the majority of my sales, but it certainly not the only significant source.

Hugh Howey said...

Jackie said:

"Apropos of the question of how much Amazon is getting from sales of ebooks based on publisher (something Steve Zacharius suggested self-publishers should worry about, because as long as traditional publishers are Amazon's cash cow, they might do something mean to us and cut our percentages), I did my own mini-analysis of the top 50 bestselling ebooks on Amazon. My results are strikingly similar to Hugh's, although my data set was much smaller and I had to fudge a little on the "list price" number (but so did Hugh). I also only looked at self-published and traditionally published books because the number of books in the other categories was too small to be meaningful.

Here's the link if you're interested: http://bit.ly/1el2RNe

At a minimum, I think the numbers I came up with put to rest the notion that self-publishers should worry that we're a drain on Amazon's bottom line."

Exactly. Amazon is making as much from us as from the Big 5 combined. Maybe that's settle some of the fear-mongering.

Judith Briles said...

Excellent support info for those of us who have boldy left NY for the Indie world and loudly tell others that the savvy author needs/must learn the biz of publishing than do it.

Andy H said...

superb...this is the kind of stuff that really shines a light on whats happening....standing ovation to you guys for taking the time to present this,..along with the comments.... bravo

Aleatha Romig said...

Amazing data...incredibly entertaining with the commentary. I'm proud to be Indie!

Alan Tucker said...

Simply outstanding, Hugh, Joe, and the anonymous programmer. I think we've all known this data was out there, we just weren't smart enough to figure out how to extract it.

Maass was right when he said that we need to write good books. Absolutely. But he's dead wrong in thinking that he and his friends are the only ones qualified to decide what's good and what isn't.

Greg Strandberg said...

Great reporting! This will certainly be one I come back to look at later.

David Darracott said...

As usual, this blog generates so many comments, we almost forget Joe's original post by the time we get to the end of the responses. To return to the issue of why none of these industry sympathizers will challenge Joe's views directly, how about this answer? They are New Yorkers at heart, and like many of that city, they believe they reside and thrive at the center of the universe. How can someone from the mud puddle life of Chicago, some putz like Joe, understand their industry better than they understand it themselves? These people owe their existence as known entities to their presence at the heart of the publishing industry. They go to parties to to seen by others in publishing. They only show up at conferences to demonstrate how they rule the realm. They have expensive apartments and favorite restaurants to support. As Joe has mentioned before, why does their business model require them to maintain wildly expensive Manhattan office space. Logically, it doesn't, but emotionally they can't separate themselves from the mindset of being at the center of the universe.

I used to grill fellow writers at conferences to explain how EXACTLY they connected with their agent and publisher. Again and again, they ducked the inquiry until finally admitting their personal connection to New York was the key factor. So and so at a party, or an acquaintance in New York, or connected family members knew so and so in publishing which greased the skids. This industry has been New York centric so long it can't envision itself as being any different. This at least partially explains the ridiculous contracts and terms they impose on writers who lack clout. The winner in New York is the one who scalps the other guy as cleanly as possible, no matter how exploitative or abusive the practice.

A. G. Moye said...

Great article telling me something I already suspected with data to support it and it made me laugh!

Joshua James said...

Sites are still down, incredibly.

AD Starrling said...

Thank you both for an astounding, eye-opening post. I will be sharing this with everyone I know!

AD Starrling

Susan said...

Stunning.

Thank you so much for everything you and Hugh do to get the word out and dispel the myths surrounding self-publishing vs. legacy publishing!

I had a faint sense of this when looking at my numbers and the number of indies in the top 100 bestsellers and top couple of thousand books in my genre (romance).

You confirmed it.

Alan Spade said...

Great data. I knew for at least two years AAP figures were utterly skewed, and indie fiction was representing at least 50% of ebook sales in fiction genres as SF, Fantasy, Mystery/thrillers, romance/erotica.

If trad pub authors contest those figures, I hope they will lead serious and transparent, open-sourced research on these matters. James Patterson should have enough money to hire his own guru.

Kevin Riley said...

Thanks for sharing. I posted my own numbers last month (http://drivelingon.blogspot.com/2014/01/sharing-numbers.html) and they are not inspiring at all, but then again I only have one novel and one novella out. Still, knowing that there are many indie authors making good money is quite encouraging.

Price McNaughton said...

This was a great post! I have to say, it has come at a perfect time for me. When I began writing, I didn't even think of trying to get published. Family members urged me to "at least put it on amazon" and I ended up doing so. I was instantly hooked. I loved being able to work with my cover artist and at my own pace. Then it happened. I had the opportunity to sit in on an agent pitch session during a conference. I was interested to see what it would be like and I signed up. The day before the event, I was told I had to present something to participate. I scrambled around and found the beginning of a kids book I was working on and presented it. I received a request for the full manuscript and have been thinking about what I should do ever since. I would like to know where the new hybrid publishers might fall in this graph? It's something I've just recently heard about and am very interested in.

Alan Spade said...

I'm talking in number of units, by the way.

Jan Moran said...

Great data! Very enlightening for all authors, whether traditional, indie, or hybrid. Good to know where you stand and what the options are. The road ahead looks interesting, indeed!

Beverley Kendall said...

Not surprising, this information. Got a chance to go on the site before it crashed and signed the petition and filled out the survey.

Not welcome information to publishers at all, I'm sure. But this is the reason more are becoming vocal about self-publishing (their dislike of). More and more authors will decide to take this route. It just makes more sense for genre fiction authors.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I find the data mind blowing, but pretty much in line with what I assumed was true. Nice to have that gut feeling validated.

Great work Hugh. And thanks, Joe, for making me laugh.

JL Bryan said...

Thanks, this was very educational!

I'm one of those midlist indies - I quit my day job more than two years ago, I make a decent living on my novels, and nobody's ever heard of me. I agree with Hugh - that's the biggest change of all, so many writers able to make a fine living now without having to sell millions of books.

Jessie Donovan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tamara Leigh said...

Wow, thank you for posting this, Joe. I've been happy with my move from traditional to indie, but this makes it all the more exciting :)

Jessie Donovan said...

In a way, I'm glad that Hugh's site crashed, because that tells me that a lot of people are trying to get their hands on this information (we've been starved for it!).

I made the decision in late 2012 to self-publish, putting my first book out late in 2013. A lot of people tried to scare me away from going indie, but I'm just glad that my rational brain took in all the information I'd read and make the best choice! The only thing traditional publishing can do for me is print books, but as I suspected, that's not as big of a deal for romance.

I love data, so I look forward to the updates! And hopefully we can hear some more BS from "Legacy John" again in the future. ;)

Joe Konrath said...

Nice to have that gut feeling validated.

No kidding. I've been saying this would happen since 2009.

Five years is a long time to beat a drum...

Laure Reminick said...

Almost always, the middle man raises prices and reduces profitability. Look at health care -- and the stranglehold of insurance companies and the like.

The big publishers have been middle men, granted that by limited access to publishing technology. They've had to pay the salaries of all their people. And took it all from the talent -- the authors.

I believe this middle man situation is about to go south, in a big way.

Thank you Hugh and Joe and the data mining hero for your selfless journalism -- the best I've seen in a long time!

Rob Cornell said...

I wonder how legacy apologists will respond to this.

More denial, I'm sure.

Barry Eisler said...

So, the most penetrating, groundbreaking, explosive article about publishing in memory. And it came from... a publisher? An agent? An industry analyst?

A writer. And, not coincidentally, a self-published writer.

Cheri Lasota said...

Amazing data. Sharing this among my peeps. And will share it at our upcoming IndieRecon.org conference as well. The more people who know about this the better. Every author needs to be informed. And if they don't want to look at this data, they might as well throw in the towel.

In 2013, I learned that I need data to plan my next career moves. I need to find out where my sales are and figure out what's working and what's not. This data is another wealth of knowledge to cull from and use. Thank you.

I do believe this is going to cause a fundamental shift in this industry. Reminds me how powerful social media is!

Jude Hardin said...

Great post!

Just one small correction:

and A-Pub pays a minimum of 35% royalties off list compared to your 12.5%.

I think you meant 35% of net from AP. But because Amazon Publishing doesn’t have to discount to itself, 35% of net from AP is equal to 70% of net from other publishers.

That’s right. If you’re with a Big 5 publisher, your contract would have to say that you’ll get 70% of net on ebook royalties for it to equal what AP is paying at a minimum.

Example: AP usually sells their "$9.99" ebooks for $4.99. The author gets 35% of that $4.99 (the net proceeds), which equals $1.75. If a Big 5 publisher sells an ebook for $4.99, that ebook is discounted to Amazon by 50%, so the publisher gets $2.50 (the net proceeds), and the author’s royalty has to come from that.

$1.75 = 70% of $2.50.

How many Big 5 authors get anything remotely close to 70% of net?

Hint: none.

And of course if an author self-publishes, he or she would get twice that amount—$3.50 on a $4.99 ebook.

So Big 5 publishers would have to pay authors 140% of net to equal what they’re getting by self-publishing.

I doubt that most authors have a clue how much they’re really losing by signing a traditional book contract.

And even if publishers up the ebook royalties to 50% of net, as Hugh suggests as a starting point, authors will be getting far less than they could be getting by self-publishing or going with an Amazon imprint.

Maybe, with all this new data from Hugh, many more authors will realize that a traditional deal that includes ebook rights just isn't worth it unless there's a life-changing advance involved.

Brett Battles said...

What I find interesting is that Hugh's data is just from a couple of days (if I'm reading that correctly.) It's an extremely fascinating slice, but I'm willing to bet the reality is even more eye opening—if that's even possible. In 2013 I made more as an indie author than I ever made from all my traditional publishing advances combined, and my last contract was a nice deal. And since I had, I believe, only one book in the top 7000 during the sample days, I think there's a good chance my reality could have been underestimated. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

The bottom line is, authors who have never been offered a trad contract and mid-list authors who have been dumped by their publishers (like me) don't have to fade away because no one will put our work out there. We can now control our destiny.

2011 was my "I'm mad as hell and i'm not going to take it any more" moment. There's no question those yelling the words will continue to grow in number!

JC Hemphill said...

I have a few questions regarding the data:

1) If the goal is to show the fundamental change in publishing, why only dissect Amazon/ebook data. I get they're a huge slice of sales, but when looking at data, we need to look at all data, not just a large portion. How would these pie charts shift if sales from bricks-and-mortar were added in and other online retailers who sell paper books but not e-books or used books sales?

Which leads to:
2) Looking at a chart like, say, number of titles in ebook bestseller list. Why only look at a portion--genre? Why look at 70% of the best seller list when you can look at 100%? Would the chart change? I'm just not seeing a reason for excluding certain data and mining other. I'm also not saying it would change, I'm just curious if there is a reason.

Really, they're all the same question, I guess...
3) When looking at author earnings, why only ebooks? I get the industry is changing, but why exclude all other data? Those are book sales too.

It would be like a traditional publisher making a chart that only analyzed sales at bricks-and-mortar, then throwing up some graphs 'proving' that the industry isn't changing because X% of all book sales (in b&m) are printed and Y% is from the big 5.

I ask because I'm honestly interested. This isn't some defense of the old ways or anything. But for me to make a completely unbiased opinion, I feel a need to see more complete data, and so I'm simply asking if it is available. As is, I'm seeing the 'leading question' of data gathering here. Maybe I'm wrong.

SM Barrett said...

Absolute Write had a thread started to discuss this - it was shut down after seven replies because the moderator didn't feel the OP replied quickly enough and "everyone" had problems with the math.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=285238&highlight=hugh+howey

JC Hemphill said...

Yeah, that comment by slhuang kinda summed it up--good points to be made, but the data, and therefore the conclusions, isn't scientifically accurate. In the end, good points are sullied by poor reasoning . . . As I'm seeing it. But, like I said, I might be missing something and would love someone to give me some solid answer. We saw a lot of that kind of 'proof' around election time in America and it was very frustrating.

Debbie Flint said...

OMG so illuminating. Superb statistics. Thank you thank you thank you.
I just changed the stars I'm shooting for.

Anonymous said...

"Not scientifically accurate."
Did you even read the article? If you did you'd have answers to your questions. And of course it isn't 'scientifically accurate', and they said so, and hope to improve it soon. So your conclusion is to totally disregard everything it reveals? Nice work.

JC Hemphill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JC Hemphill said...

Not at all Anonymous. I'm not disregarding the entire thing (nor did I say I was). I am 'questioning' some of the farther reaching conclusions that don't appear to have any proven basis. Really what I'm doing is asking for more information. To me, it's an extremely reasonable practice when making a decision. And I'm trying to be as gentle about it as possible. In understand this can become an emotional topic for people.

I'm also not the only person to ask these questions.

Joe Konrath said...

So your conclusion is to totally disregard everything it reveals? Nice work.

Absolute Write? Try Absolute Wrong.

The data is what it is. Where's the bad math? Where's the incorrect conclusions?

K. Rowe said...

Great and very in depth post. My brain was kinda hurting.

But since I entered the game in 2010, I've seen my royalties go from $2-5/mo to over $300/mo. Yes, it took 10 novels and a lot of hard work to get there, and I know that in the coming years, I should be able to double or triple my income as more folks realize Indie published books aren't crap.

I have an editor, cover artists, and loads of software so I can format and do covers on my own. As long as Indies take pride in our work, we will eventually rule the market!

Ann Christy said...

Since I had one book in the top 7000 for around four months in 2013, I'm hoping mine got added in there.

The only difference is that I price my books (since I'm a new and untried author) at .99 or 1.99 depending on length. So, I get 35%.

Even with that, I still made more than the contract offered me in a month or two than their advance would have covered and after that, it would have been all loss.

Right about now, considering how much traffic the raw data site has had, there are a whole lot of NYC laundry services that are receiving very large quantities of extremely nasty underwear to wash and fold. And I'm cackling.

I can't wait to see what they say to this. It's burning up the internet and they will have to respond. Have to.

Barry Eisler said...

Oh yeah, one other entity (not a publisher, not an agent, not an industry analyst) that didn't produce this report. The Authors Guild didn't produce this report. Shocking, I know.

PETER GRIFFIN said...

Great post Joe, thanks for it. The one big downside of self-publishing, it seems to me, is how prolific you have to be to keep up your earning potential as a writer. In traditional publishing, you may do a book every 12 - 18 months. The most successful self-published authors can do four or five, with fan fiction, Kindle singles and short stories along the way. This surely has to have an impact on quality. I love Stephen King, but one new novel a year is enough for me. I don't want his quality to suffer because he feels compelled to knock out three books a year (which he is no doubt capable of).

jnfr said...

Joe said:

>> The data is what it is. Where's the bad math? Where's the incorrect conclusions?

Just as in your other post, Joe, begging people to fisk you if they think you are wrong, I'll be surprised if we see analysis-heavy responses. They will say it's wrong, but not show their work. I think.

So glad Hugh is being completely transparent about this, and putting all the data out there for analysis.

Such great work documenting Amazon's shadow industry. Can't wait to see what comes next.

sujata massey said...

Hi Joe and Hugh--very provocative article. Now the question I'd love to see you address in an article is whether self-published literary and historical fiction authors are doing better with ebook profits than those who are traditionally published. Any data? Thanks--and keep up the great work!

Joe Konrath said...

This interview between Hugh and Porter Anderson shows why he is the perfect spokesperson for this revolution.

http://janefriedman.com/2014/02/11/organized-advocacy-writers-authorearnings-com/

Jude Hardin said...

I love Stephen King, but one new novel a year is enough for me. I don't want his quality to suffer because he feels compelled to knock out three books a year (which he is no doubt capable of).

Funny you should mention King as an example. He has always produced way more fiction every year than his publisher was typically willing to release, so for a while he was forced to write under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

Speed doesn't necessarily equal dreck, and slow doesn't necessarily equal quality. Another one of those myths propagated by the people formerly in power.

JC Hemphill said...

I tried to show some of my work in my op . . . :( No love . . . there's a lot more, too, but I wanted to keep it from getting too convoluted with a rant of imperfections, so I kept it to a few broad basics.

In all seriousness, the data contained within is great--it's certainly more than what most anybody else can supply and it shows real intelligence in the way it was collected. But I fear more importance is assigned to it than it deserves. (as is the case with so-ooo many easily digestible graphs.)

In the end, what this is a 'possible' look at specifically publishing ebooks specifically through Amazon (with some exceptions). Which is great, great info, and thanks to everyone who worked to get it! But I fail to see how it is a state of the publishing industry on a whole or any kind of proof or punch at traditional publishing. As I see it.

Again, no insult is intended. I have nothing but respect for the industry and authors involved. But I also kinda cringe when I see people making hardline opinions based on something so loose.

I genuinely hope for a 'work-showing' response, sans the snarky comments of course. :) I'm not here to challenge, but to discuss.

Great, thought provoking article!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

The one big downside of self-publishing, it seems to me, is how prolific you have to be to keep up your earning potential as a writer. In traditional publishing, you may do a book every 12 - 18 months.

This was meant tongue in cheek, right?

For most authors in traditional publishing writing a book every 12-18 months gives them *maybe* a $10,000-$15,000 advance, plus royalties, if they manage to earn out.

That $10-15K is spread out over a couple years. Not quite what you'd think of as earning potential.



jnfr said...

I'll make a short response, JC, about what I think it represents.

If I understand correctly, Amazon constitutes about 70% of book sales overall. That's huge. It's not the whole industry but it's most of it.

And also, we've never had a look into the heart of Amazon's book sales before, because Amazon doesn't share that information. So anything that gives us insight into what Amazon's sales distribution is like is hugely useful information for writers.

And last, because Amazon is where most authors publishing themselves have most of their sales. So that matters to all of us. Though Hugh says they'll cover more in the future. I look forward to that.

Edward G. Talbot said...

First, the data kind of speaks for itself. You can draw plenty of conclusions from samples this size, just as you can from other polls which are non-normally distributed. I certainly can understand JC's skepticism, but I still haven't seen him say "which" conclusion is not justified. Please point to a specific conclusion (meaning quoting someone) which is not justified. I am sure such conclusions have been made in the hours since this post went live, but both Howey's post and Konrath's are devoid of them as far as I can tell.

Second, to follow up on what Brett Battles said, for about six months from 2011 into 2012, I had two thrillers that floated around between 3000 and 8000. At that time, it took somewhere between 15 and 20 sales a day to stay in the top 5000. That's over $10K per year as long as you are charging at least $2.99, so Brett's point is well taken about making good income with a number of books ranked less than 7000.

Anonymous said...

A few comments:

1. You note that high-priced books may to reviews with fewer stars and low-priced books may lead to reviews with more stars. But this can be read another way (one equally lacking any firm causality). Reviews don't expect as much from lower-priced books, so when something is good they're pleasantly surprised and give it more stars than they might have for a higher-priced books. Similarly, paying a lot for a book you don't like may lead to greater disappointment and fewer stars.

2. What if you run the numbers and chop off the top 100 books? That would get rid of the very good sellers, the outliers, and leave the more average titles. It won't change your percentages much, but I think it will be a more honest look at the market in general. Let's face it: 99.9% of authors live on the long tail.

3. How many individual titles are you counting? It's one thing to say that the big 5 publishers take up a certain percentage of the market, but how many sales per title are they getting versus say indie publishers? In other words, if the big 5 have 100 titles selling x that equals 10,000 indie titles x/100. I think sales per title is a more telling measure than overall sales volume. The mob may rule, but that doesn't mean it rules efficiently.

4. I really like the author earnings idea because that's what the game's all about.

vtdubief said...

Here's a huge hug of gratitude from me!

I turned down a traditional publishing offer for a book I'm working on last summer(baby sleep, super un-sexy). I've been drowning in self-doubt about that decision ever since. Worse everybody who hears that I turned it down to self-publish gives me the "pity face." Which feeds into the well of self-doubt. It's a whole vicious cycle.

I know there are no guarantees and this data doesn't specifically represent my book category. But I can't tell you how much this has helped solidify my confidence in my decision. Honestly. I'm so grateful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. It makes for a fascinating read and the added comments were hilarious!

As someone else pointed out, it's worth mentioning what many Traditionally published authors earn on their EBooks sales is NET and some of us are on as little as 15-20%. Yes, we can weigh that against print sales, but I know from my royalty statements over the last couple of years they are in decline and now they've been pulled from bricks and mortar outlets in my biggest marketplace, I have to ask myself just how long I can survive on a modest advance while waiting what can be two to three years for a book to earn out.

I think many of the big publishers are currently playing catch-up and failing miserably. Author trust is declining rapidly as a result. This kind of data empowers them. Mid-list authors can look at their declining royalties with a Trad publisher, do the math to figure out how many copies they need to sell per month to make a good income and, like me, are realizing something is very, very wrong.

Like many others, I simply want to make enough to pay my bills. But with more than twenty books on the market Internationally, I'm barely scraping by. With that at the forefront of my mind and this kind of data at my fingertips, is it any wonder I'm planning to self-pub this year?

Joe Konrath said...

Like many others, I simply want to make enough to pay my bills.

Agreed.

No one owes writers a living. But having numbers that show more possibilities at making a living than anyone every thought possible is a huge coup.

The readers are out there. The money is out there. And legacy publishers aren't needed. In fact, they're parasites, feeding off our royalties.

I'm waiting for someone to take this data and figure out how much money those legacy authors would have made at the same price-points and unit sales if they'd self-pubbed.

Ouch. Can you say "money left on the table"?

David L. Shutter said...

Wondering how long we'll have to wait for the Legacy dismissal and disparagement of this report to begin.

But I'm thinking a lot of folks best served by the old system will spend the next few days trying to ignore it.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for someone to take this data and figure out how much money those legacy authors would have made at the same price-points and unit sales if they'd self-pubbed.

I suspect I'll be very depressed if that data ever sees the light of day.

One of the things which has irritated me most from the very beginning of my career are the royalties which are held back (for up to eighteen months!) against 'returns'. Having worked on the other side of the counter in retail, I know how sale or return works and it sure as hell doesn't allow the retailer to hang on to returns for eighteen months. With a catalogue which changes monthly, even with six months for returns to be calculated, that's an entire year the publisher is earning interest from my money. And the royalty statements may as well be written in Ancient Egyptian.

The lack of transparency is ridiculous.

Mel said...

I just contacted a youth literary festival co-ordinator her in North Queensland about two new middle grade novels I have coming out in April...the woman told me to get a publisher or an agent if I wanted to be part of the festival...I guess I don't want to be part of it after all:))

JC Hemphill said...

Thanks for the responses guys!

To address Edward G. Talbot - the main problem I have is that the data is indicative of the industry when such a small part of the industry is included in the data. Coupled with the fact that certain data sets are removed for unexplained reasons, I become naturally skeptical. Why omit 30% of the bestsellers and only look at genre? (2nd graph) There is likely a good answer, but the cynic in me only sees 'well, maybe that 30% makes the data look worse'.

According to a quick google search, e-book sales account for less than 30% of all book sales, so in actuality, we seem to be talking about less than a third of the industry in these graphs. Even less when you consider that 30% is reduced when we only discuss Amazon. What I see is a look into ebook sales on Amazon--which is very valuable--but not the industry of bookselling.

If the point is that e-book sales on Amazon favor self-publishing, then I see that point. But more is implied that I'm not seeing.

As far as Amazon representing 70% of all book sales, I can't seem to find anything to support that. What I've found is significantly less. Anyone know where that info is from?

I want to point out that I'm what sales people sometimes call an 'investigator'. I'm somebody who hasn't come across the experiences/info needed to form a hardline opinion. When I question something, it isn't to take sides, it's to better understand something. I do it whether I'm buying a car, learning about a new scientific theory, joining a religion, or just about any major thing like where I want to direct my novelist's efforts. So I more than appreciate these responses.

Celia said...

Ha! After 'the post that shall not be named' by Maass and this information, it's been a bad few days for Legacy John :) Proudly flying the indie flag!

David said...

JC, from what I'm seeing in the report (and an interview with Hugh after this report was published), the answer to your questions is generally "We're working on it."

It seems that despite whatever program they're using, there's still a good deal of manual effort involved in compiling data. Reportedly the next run will have 25,000 titles, and they're going to do B&N as well.

There's this quote from the report as well, directly addressing one of your questions:

"Why choose these genres? Because they are the most popular with readers. Our data guru ran a spider through overall bestseller lists and found that these three genres accounted for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.3 Future earnings reports will look at all of fiction4, but for now, we started with a simpler data set that captured the vast majority of what readers purchase."

Those footnotes 3 and 4 add a little color, too.

It's fair to be cautious and skeptical about extrapolating from this sample to a broader sample, but it doesn't appear that there's any reason to be suspicious of data being deliberately withheld. It's just a process of getting it all.

Chris W. Martinez said...

Somewhat OT, but in response to a few comments here—as a new indie author (one novel and two short stories so far), is there a certain minimum output I'll need to gain substantial traction in terms of readership and sales?

I'm not talking about getting rich or even being able to quit my day job; I just mean having a decent supplementary income and a reasonably sized, loyal readership—call it low-to-mid "midlist" level.

The reason I ask is because I'm not only a somewhat slow, deliberate writer (I write genre, but with literary characteristics and a heavy emphasis on craft), but I also have a full-time job and a 10-month-old boy. I can't see myself writing more than one novel or novella a year, with a few short stories thrown in. Do I have a chance at anything more than pocket change?

Don't get me wrong—as I said in my recent guest post here, I love writing so much that I intend to continue doing it regardless. I'm just trying to get a sense of what my expectations should be. I don't have the time or the writing speed to crank titles out at many indies' rates.

Edward G. Talbot said...

JC:

the main problem I have is that the data is indicative of the industry when such a small part of the industry is included in the data. Coupled with the fact that certain data sets are removed for unexplained reasons, I become naturally skeptical.

Fair enough, but WHAT are you skeptical of? he's providing the data in the spreadsheet.If you suspect that the other 30% of the books sold tell such a different picture, you could probably spend an hour or less looking at the rankings of other categories and get a good idea. Alternatively, you could assume sort of a worst case scenario, let's say that out of the other 30% of the books sold on Amazon, only 10% are ebooks. See how that impacts your conclusions. I am pretty certain that the conclusion is exactly the one Hugh made - that for most non-fiction and some less popular categories, paper still accounts for a majority of sales. I don't see how it changes any of his other conclusions, though.


If the point is that e-book sales on Amazon favor self-publishing, then I see that point. But more is implied that I'm not seeing.

What exactly is implied? This is where I think people are pushing back on your observations. Tell us exactly what observations In Konrath's post or on Howey's blog are implying what you're talking about. They're definitely saying that this data is indicative that the numbers we're getting from tradpub aren't telling the full story. They're saying that what Konrath has been saying for years, that things are changing massively and most genre authors are likely making less money with tradpub than they could be going indie (most, not all). These numbers aren't the whole story, true, but they add a nice chunk of weight to those assertions.

As far as Amazon representing 70% of all book sales, I can't seem to find anything to support that.

Who said that? I didn't see that anywhere. Do a search for "70" on Howey's article and you won't find him saying that. Howey said that ebooks (all outlets) may represent as much as 70% of sales in genre fiction. Perhaps a commenter did and I missed it. Publisher's weekly estimated it at 30% last fall. That probably did not take into account the sort of indie sales that this data shows, but no one has suggested that it's in fact 70%.

I want to point out that I'm what sales people sometimes call an 'investigator'. I'm somebody who hasn't come across the experiences/info needed to form a hardline opinion. When I question something, it isn't to take sides, it's to better understand something. I do it whether I'm buying a car, learning about a new scientific theory, joining a religion, or just about any major thing like where I want to direct my novelist's efforts. So I more than appreciate these responses.
Absolutely. I am a serious skeptic myself. I definitely see some places in the data where it's tempting to make conclusions and there data just isn't there. But the question I ask is not "what might be wrong with this" but "what can I learn/take away from this. " When someone provides you with raw data, charts and a detailed written analysis, just saying "I'm skeptical" is insufficient. It's hard to answer vague questions when such specifics are on offer. I do appreciate you trying to follow up with more specific ones. I would encourage you not to make the mistake of reading more into Howey's post than he actually says. He has so many specifics and so much data that doing that may blind you to the real takeaways of information we haven't had before in one place like this.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Joe:
I'm waiting for someone to take this data and figure out how much money those legacy authors would have made at the same price-points and unit sales if they'd self-pubbed

Actually those aren't hard numbers to come by at all. Here's the top line number - Big 5 authors left about $321,000 per day on the table. That's the most conservative number - the more realistic number is over $400,000 per day. Obviously that number by itself doesn't make for firm conclusions - how much would they have lost by not being in Walmart and Target, etc. But it's a couple million dollars a week or 100 million a year that authors in just those genres would need to have made in other outlets above what they could have made in other outlets as indies.

Breaking it down, daily unit sales from the Big 5 were 161,297. Gross dollar sales were $1,080,878. Author Revenue was assumed to be $216,176 - obviously you have PAttersons and Grishams and Kings who make more, so we should grant that this number is a low estimate. But it's pretty unlikely that total author revenue exceeded $300,000 per day.

About $34,500 of the total Tradpub revenue was for the 129 titles selling under $2.99. There were about 275 titles selling for over $9.99 for a total of just over $300,000 of the gross sales. So we could assume that authors would have made 30% as an indie on about $335,000 of the revenue or about $100,000. On the other $745,000 of revenue, authors would have earned 70% as an indie, or about $521,000.

So as indie authors, they would have made about $621,000 per day instead of $300,000 per day or a difference of $321,000 per day. As mentioned, that $300,000 was probably generous given the relatively small share of the kindle list owned by tradpub authors who are likely to have sweetheart deals. And assuming that all those books above $9.99 wouldn't have lowered their price to $9.99 if they were indies is ridiculous. If we assume the price was lowered and gross sales of those titles went down from $335,000 to maybe $275,000 and obtained 70% commissions, it's over $90,000 in extra revenue to authors. So probably the real number authors lost is more like over $405,000 a day.

Just because I'm curious, maybe tomorrow I'll use the raw data to figure out some counts on how much each tradpub title gave up (the raw data is anonymized so I can't do it by author). Probably won't take any more time than it took to write this post ;)

Edward G. Talbot said...

One other follow-up - it's worth noting that each of those tradpub titles would have required an author to obtain editing and cover. That's 1800+ titles. Now authors have all sorts of arrangements with editors and cover artists, but probably 1800 books would be 7 figures for the editing and cover. It's very difficult to figure out how to position that against the $300-400K per day lost income number. We don't know how many days the books were making money. Some books probably all year, others maybe only for a month. To figure that out, we'd really need at least 8 months of data or possibly one week each quarter during a year.

jnfr said...

I was the one who said that I'd heard that Amazon was about 70% of the book market. I'll try to find something to back that up tomorrow, since I don't have numbers at hand to point you to.

JC Hemphill said...

Edward, to answer your request for specific lines:

"What this chart shows is that indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon. We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing."

The first line nullifies the following lines. From what I see, no, we can't clearly see that. Based on available data, regardless of detail, all that can accurately be surmised is that Amazon's clientele purchases more genre than non-genre when discussing the top 100 books sold on Amazon. That data says nothing about the industry as a whole or what the Big 5 is meeting (or needs to meet). I'm not saying that isn't true, but I also don't see any evidence that it is.

A few paragraphs down: "We see from this and the previous chart that their 4% of titles command an amazing 15% of the sales. That’s impressive. It’s nearly 4 times the average unit sales volume per book. Now look at the Big Five, who with all their marketing efforts and brand recognition actually end up with pretty average per-book sales: a mere 1.2 times the overall average."

What this means is that targeted advertising does work, which is the same thing the Big 5 does. The point seems to be that since Amazon can control advertising, that the Big 5 have somehow failed. When all I see is Amazon's advertising working on Amazon's website. Well, yeah, of course.

In many places, conclusions are drawn from Amazon statistics (constituting a certain % of all books sold, we're still not sure, but I'm thinking around 25% from what I've read) and then applied as lessons to the Big 5 on the whole. That assumes that Amazon economics alone command the industry of book publishing--this is highly erroneous, unless, of course, Amazon really does control 70% of the market as JNFR said.

Anyway, that's some of the stuff that stuck out at me from the intro--it goes on and gets more complex from there. A lot of stuff I like. But then some of the overlaying ideas I find troubling, as quoted above.

This has got me thinking. How hard would it be to combine other available stats? Surely there is something else. How does the NYTimes compile its best seller list? There must be other sales numbers available for other markets than Amazon that could easily be added, giving an even more complete picture. Not complaining they haven't done that already, it's more of a suggestion--I believe them when they say this is a start and they plan to expand. Might be a logical next step.

Data Guy said...

So many great questions. We all want to see answers to them.

You're all recruited. Pick the dataset apart. Find the flaws. Find the insights that only you can.

We can't wait to learn what you find.

Amazon data was easy because it was all public. But it's not a complete picture of the industry. We're working on the rest of that picture now. Some data is harder to get at than others. But we're committed to getting you that data and sharing it.

We agonized about anonymizing authors, book titles, and publishers. It wasn't ideal. But in the end, respect for author privacy--and that of publishers--won out.

There's more data coming soon. Stay tuned...

Brian O'Raleigh said...

This is a great article. Bastille Day for the writers of the world. I'm reducing my E-books on Amazon Kindle from $4.50 to 3.99. Forget about cap in hand, hoping some junior office person will fing my work appealing. Let the people decide. Viva la guerre, viva la Revolution! Brian O'Raleigh

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

How many agents does it take to change a light bulb? 6.66 because each one gets 15% of the job. Hmmm, that 6.66 is reminiscent of something else. How many trad publishers does it take to change a light bulb? Who knows, because none of them are aware that that the light is no longer shining in their direction.

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archangel said...

Always interesting to see what hugh says as he tries out different ways of publishing. And youre right Gniz, I thought it was a 'best kept secret' too. lol

Anonymous said...

"I was just hoping for a couple more good years feasting at the table before everyone figured out what I already know."

I agree with Joe. The feasting will indeed continue: The more authors producing more ebooks, the better. When readers/consumers see the abundance of ebooks available, it makes the market bigger and better for all authors. I really believe that self-publishing and ebooks is truly revolutionary for both authors and readers. If one is a prolific, competent and educated author (for both fiction and nonfiction), there is nothing to fear with a growing ebook market. The fact that the the market is expanding should be viewed as encouraging to those who want to make a living at this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone talking about how when some publishers have recently been lowering prices (without even consulting with authors) to try to compete with self pub, they are leaving authors to eat all the cost of the discount, so that authors income is suddenly and dramatically a lot less (many simply aren't seeing the huge jump in sales)

And when they complain to the publisher about it they are not it's permanent and not changing (basically to shut up.)

So want to know what the result of that is? All those authors that are suddenly being screwed by the drop in prices are talking about how they won't EVER be submitting to that publisher again and are gong to be self publishing....so doing that and expecting authors to eat the cost so you can compete with self publishing is really speeding up the exodus away to self publishing and shooting themselves in the foot, that is assuming they don't just think there is always a steady stream of wannabes to replace all the people leaving.

Anonymous said...

This is starting to feel like watching a glacier slowly plunge into the sea...

Edward G. Talbot said...

Howey said:
What this chart shows is that indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon. We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing.

JC said:
The first line nullifies the following lines. From what I see, no, we can't clearly see that. Based on available data, regardless of detail, all that can accurately be surmised is that Amazon's clientele purchases more genre than non-genre when discussing the top 100 books sold on Amazon. That data says nothing about the industry as a whole or what the Big 5 is meeting (or needs to meet).

I re-read that section. Given that the raw data is there in the spreadsheet, I would assume that that chart reflects ALL the data he collected, thousands of books. Not just the top 100. But it would be easy enough for you to look at the spreadsheet and figure it out in a few minutes if you have doubts about whether the chart reflects all the data or not. I have no such doubts so I wouldn't bother to take the time.

So while I think the word "Dominate" is a bit strong, everything else is pretty much accurate if it's based on the full set of data. And he didn't say anything about the "industry as a whole" or even specifically anything beyond this chart applying to Amazon. You could infer that, but he didn't.

Howey wrote:
We see from this and the previous chart that their 4% of titles command an amazing 15% of the sales. That’s impressive. It’s nearly 4 times the average unit sales volume per book. Now look at the Big Five, who with all their marketing efforts and brand recognition actually end up with pretty average per-book sales: a mere 1.2 times the overall average.

JC wrote:
What this means is that targeted advertising does work, which is the same thing the Big 5 does. The point seems to be that since Amazon can control advertising, that the Big 5 have somehow failed. When all I see is Amazon's advertising working on Amazon's website. Well, yeah, of course.

Did Howey say they have failed? You said that, not him. He said that despite the known fact that they do a lot of marketing designed to build author (and to a lesser extent imprint) brands, on Amazon they don't seem to have accomplished much separation. This is pretty much a direct response to the Big 5 and agents claiming that the value they add with marketing and brand building is one of the major things they offer.

JC wrote:
In many places, conclusions are drawn from Amazon statistics and then applied as lessons to the Big 5 on the whole.

And yet, you've failed to provide any examples of that here. Neither example you gave fits this description. With all due respect, why should I take your word for it that these conclusions were made when I don't see them and you're not providing examples?

Jeff Bach said...

The silence from the traditional publishing world is deafening. I thought a few courageous traditional souls would weight in with some sort of FUD or argument supporting the traditional way.....where is that Shatzkin guy.....the silence is deafening......

Anonymous said...

Hugh, thanks for the report. Absolutely fascinating and possibly a wake-up call for me. When I started with Kindle in 2007, my books were all $4.95 and sold very well. I've never adjusted the prices since and my sales have steadily been declining in the last few years. Now I see that the average price is of the top 7000 indie books is about $3.00. Even Amazon's own publications are under $4.00. In hindsight, I might have priced myself out of the market without even knowing it.

I'm going to drop my prices and see if I can get my visibility back. Maybe I'm not dead in the water yet.

Thanks again, RJ Jagger

adan said...

Fantastic revelatory info - thank you!

So many good points, and as an inpending participant in two new subscription services, Scribd and Oyster (books sent, awaiting listing) - I find most of the info as promising for subscriptions also for me as a reader and an author.

“Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid.”

The profit model for the author, as per the article, seems to be a key component.

And as the latter element, "readers...how much they paid" becomes somewhat fixed, I think this will intensify.

“…those who fear that these titles will crowd out other books are ignoring the vast quantities of books published traditionally—or the fact that billions of self-published blogs and websites don’t impede our ability to browse the internet, to find what we are looking for, or to share discovered gems with others.” -

I think this also addresses fears many have (and I've had) that subscription services would flood our digital reading piles.

And with browsing allowed to be economically possible for a reader, more discoverability, for what a reader would like to read, also becomes possible.

“If I had to guess what the future holds, I would say that the world of literature has its brightest days still ahead…There will be casualties in the publishing industry as the delivery mechanisms for stories undergo change…But there are opportunities as well. And right now, the benefits are moving to the reader and the writer.”

Couldn't agree more. Though I don't sell much, at least vs what I hear so many others make, I make more than when I couldn't have anything out for people to find or try.

“Hollywood studios had to capitulate to their writers when a new digital stream emerged.”

And I think this will be the key for subscription services, and goes back to the inital possible / probable reason self-publishing is working.

Industry innovator, no, actually almost literally, creator - Amazon, and now others, pay us a decent fair amount to create new content. It's much what Henry Ford about a hundred years ago - paid his workers enough to have the money to buy the things they made. An idea evidently still being faught against today.

What a great article. Will become a standard starting point for truth for self-publishing.

Which really, once I think about it, is small business enterprise at its best.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

There are updates over at Author Earnings.

http://authorearnings.com/updates/

JC Hemphill said...

Edward--

With the first quote, he says: "We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing."

I said:
"From what I see, no, we can't clearly see that. Based on available data, regardless of detail, all that can accurately be surmised is that Amazon's clientele purchases more genre than non-genre when discussing the top 100 books sold on Amazon."

Top 1,000, top 100, it doesn't make a difference. That number has nothing to do with my point. Howey derives from Amazon sales that traditional publishers are failing to meet demand. That's incomplete logic. How in the world can a portion of the Amazon data prove or disprove what gaps the Big 5 fills or should fill. The only thing it proves is what I wrote (substituting 100 for 1,000, of course). Also, every market has its purpose and Howey has just assigned his own to the Big 5. It comes across (though he doesn't say this outright) like he expects them to follow his idea of a business model. This applies directly to what I said about snatching Amazon data and applying it on a too-large scale. Again, the spreadsheet is not even close to the point and cannot help clear these matters up--the breakdown in-between data sets is my issue.

It certainly doesn't appear to come from an analyst, but a writer. Which is fine, but these holes do exist, and maybe as a result of that.

The second quote: Come on! ;) Read it and tell me what he's saying. Because if he isn't saying what I think, then what was the point? He is saying that there is a difference and for a reason--what is that difference and why bring it up? No, he doesn't come right out and say nanana-boo-boo (although he does in that mock interview with the Big 5), Amazon has better marketing, but he is driving home a clear point. Perhaps you don't see it, I don't know, but it's right there. "Who with all their marketing…" He is talking about Amazon sales in relation to the Big 5's marketing scheme, when most of their marketing efforts aren't directed toward advertising on Amazon, which is the only place any of this is referring to. So showing that Amazon controls the marketing of their own website shows nothing about the Big 5's marketing.

As for the last part, I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Every call for further specifics, I supply them. You may not think them valid, but they are.

Thanks for trying, though! This is one complex subject that requires a ton of knowledge on data, the way markets interact with one another, the roll of businesses and meeting market trends/niches, and running massive economies and businesses, it just gets . . . mind-boggling! I mean, the stuff I've brought up is only scratching the surface and I'm having this difficult of a time explaining what those basics are?. . . yesh!

I'd be more than happy to supply more quotes, but at this point, with the first two being unresolved, along with the questions I brought up in my op, it seems premature to confuse things with more surfaces to look at--if that makes sense.

JC Hemphill said...

Edward--

With the first quote, he says: "We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing."

I said:
"From what I see, no, we can't clearly see that. Based on available data, regardless of detail, all that can accurately be surmised is that Amazon's clientele purchases more genre than non-genre when discussing the top 100 books sold on Amazon."

Top 1,000, top 100, it doesn't make a difference. That number has nothing to do with my point. Howey derives from Amazon sales that traditional publishers are failing to meet demand. That's incomplete logic. How in the world can a portion of the Amazon data prove or disprove what gaps the Big 5 fills or should fill. The only thing it proves is what I wrote (substituting 100 for 1,000, of course). Also, every market has its purpose and Howey has just assigned his own to the Big 5. It comes across (though he doesn't say this outright) like he expects them to follow his idea of a business model. This applies directly to what I said about snatching Amazon data and applying it on a too-large scale. Again, the spreadsheet is not even close to the point and cannot help clear these matters up--the breakdown in-between data sets is my issue.

It certainly doesn't appear to come from an analyst, but a writer. Which is fine, but these holes do exist, and maybe as a result of that.

The second quote: Come on! ;) Read it and tell me what he's saying. Because if he isn't saying what I think, then what was the point? He is saying that there is a difference and for a reason--what is that difference and why bring it up? No, he doesn't come right out and say nanana-boo-boo (although he does in that mock interview with the Big 5), Amazon has better marketing, but he is driving home a clear point. Perhaps you don't see it, I don't know, but it's right there. "Who with all their marketing…" He is talking about Amazon sales in relation to the Big 5's marketing scheme, when most of their marketing efforts aren't directed toward advertising on Amazon, which is the only place any of this is referring to. So showing that Amazon controls the marketing of their own website shows nothing about the Big 5's marketing.

As for the last part, I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Every call for further specifics, I supply them. You may not think them valid, but they are.

Thanks for trying, though! This is one complex subject that requires a ton of knowledge on data, the way markets interact with one another, the roll of businesses and meeting market trends/niches, and running massive economies and businesses, it just gets . . . mind-boggling! I mean, the stuff I've brought up is only scratching the surface and I'm having this difficult of a time explaining what those basics are?. . . yesh!

I'd be more than happy to supply more quotes, but at this point, with the first two being unresolved, along with the questions I brought up in my op, it seems premature to confuse things with more surfaces to look at--if that makes sense.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

I almost tipped myself over in my chair giggling at this. Wonderful!!

Alan Spade said...

I can understand JC Hemphill's point, about this data being somewhate skewed in favor of indie publishing, because of the emphasis of the genre Mystery/thriller Science Fiction/Fantasy Romance, and of Amazon's ebook market.

Yet, the authors who mostly frequent Joe's blog write on those genres, so it's perfectly relevant for us.

Amazon is also very much relevant, because many authors earn a living only by puting their ebooks through Amazon.

So yes, for us authors, it is groundbreaking info, and not to be underestimated at any cost.

What hasn't been enough commented, in my opinion, is the incredible "86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books". It means, if I understand clearly, that ebooks are overselling paper on Amazon: when you have 10 books sold on Amazon, nearly 9 are sold as an ebook, and only 1 or two as a book.

It's clearly a revolution, even if Amazon just weighs 30% of the overall market of books. Paper has really become subsidiary.

Of course, we cannot deduce from such a study the Big 5 are nearly dead. We can deduce if the authors act logically (which they don't seem always prone to do, for prestige reasons, because of social circles and social pressure), Big 5 in these domains of fiction are on a virtual success, and should fall very loudly in the years to come.

They have other assets, though, Amazon doesn't represent all of the market, far from it. But it's likely the Big 5 importance in fiction will shrink more and more with each year.

Edward G. Talbot said...


With the first quote, he says: "We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing."

"From what I see, no, we can't clearly see that. Based on available data, regardless of detail, all that can accurately be surmised is that Amazon's clientele purchases more genre than non-genre when discussing the top 100 books sold on Amazon."

Top 1,000, top 100, it doesn't make a difference. That number has nothing to do with my point. Howey derives from Amazon sales that traditional publishers are failing to meet demand. That's incomplete logic. How in the world can a portion of the Amazon data prove or disprove what gaps the Big 5 fills or should fill. The only thing it proves is what I wrote (substituting 100 for 1,000, of course). Also, every market has its purpose and Howey has just assigned his own to the Big 5. It comes across (though he doesn't say this outright) like he expects them to follow his idea of a business model. This applies directly to what I said about snatching Amazon data and applying it on a too-large scale. Again, the spreadsheet is not even close to the point and cannot help clear these matters up--the breakdown in-between data sets is my issue.


That quote you cite from him was preceded by this sentence "What this chart shows is that indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon." Read in that context, he is talking about Amazon, not the entire industry. Which is pretty much what he is doing almost the whole post. You seem to be the one trying to draw more general conclusions from this, not most everyone else. You said, "Also, every market has its purpose and Howey has just assigned his own to the Big 5. It comes across (though he doesn't say this outright) like he expects them to follow his idea of a business model." If he doesn't say something outright, then as an analyst, you should not be assigning your own interpretation of what he "meant."

The second quote: Come on! ;) Read it and tell me what he's saying. Because if he isn't saying what I think, then what was the point?. . .
This is Howey's quote:
We see from this and the previous chart that their 4% of titles command an amazing 15% of the sales. That’s impressive. It’s nearly 4 times the average unit sales volume per book. Now look at the Big Five, who with all their marketing efforts and brand recognition actually end up with pretty average per-book sales: a mere 1.2 times the overall average.

I told you what I saw as the difference and the reason in my previous answer. You don't agree that was the reason, fair enough, but if we're trying to glean his motivation, we've strayed a hell of a long way from the sort of objective analysis you seem to be seeking.

I am going to have to demur from answering this line of discussion any further. Not because you did anythying wrong but because it's pointless. Every single point you've made throughout this thread seems to me as if you're reading more into it than he's saying. You quite understandably don't agree with that assessment, but there's nowhere to go from here. My answer to all your concerns is to read what he actually said not what you think he said. You and I would probably still disagree on what he actually said, which again leaves us nowhere to go.

Amber L Argyle said...

I make more in a day than in an entire month when my book was traditionally published. I don't foresee my US ebook rights ever being up for sale. Legacy publishing can buy my print rights. That's where they're strong and I'm not.

Barry Knister said...

Keys to success = luck, yes. Hard work, of course. But people keep neglecting to include the third key element--mastery of, or easy access to someone with mastery of current technology and social media. Younger writers have the advantage in this regard, having grown up with what's required. This means technique related to technology, not technique as related to the craft of storytelling is every bit as important as luck or hard work.

Archangel said...

I noticed yesterday in 'publisher's weakly' that one big pub is trying to emulate broadcast and indie speed of releasing several volumes in short order instead of a year or more apart.

Publishers Weekly breathlessly reported that so and so's book just pub'd will be followed, oh my, by another book by same author in May !

Zounds!

My sense is big pub are watching what readers want, as laid out nearly daily online in blogs by indie pubs and are copycatting. Instead of leading, they appear to be following.

We may see more of this. Time will tell.

JC Hemphill said...

"I am going to have to demur from answering this line of discussion any further. Not because you did anythying wrong but because it's pointless. Every single point you've made throughout this thread seems to me as if you're reading more into it than he's saying. You quite understandably don't agree with that assessment, but there's nowhere to go from here. My answer to all your concerns is to read what he actually said not what you think he said. You and I would probably still disagree on what he actually said, which again leaves us nowhere to go."

I couldn't agree more--this seems to be a matter where points being made aren't fully understood and wrong conclusions, not from the article, but from our responses to each other, are continually being drawn. That inevitably leads to repeating the same things in slightly different ways over and over as we're already seeing.
And there are absolutely no hard feelings. In fact, I'm greatly appreciative of you taking the time. You didn't have to. So thanks! The first few responses I received from others were much more typical--angsty.

---------

If growing this concept is a true goal, then questioning it and finding way it needs improvement is an essential part. If nobody points out holes, or even looks for them, then it won't improve. If this data were set in a more serious context, like, say, scientific/historical/economic findings, one of the very first steps would be a peer review, with the intention of people poking holes, followed by publishing for further peer reviews. That concept is stated within this discussion--take the data and find your own answer. Great stuff! But that must also apply to the analysis presented here; we must question Howey or we're just fanboys slobbering for someone to tell us how to think. (Not to say that is anyone here, but to highlight why I think this salient.)

It's extra important to scrutinize when it's the only/main source available to the general public. People will and are (all over the place, currently) using this to form solid opinions. Look at the comments here and on Facebook! This is a massive game-changer! Only I'm not sure it is. I'm sure it's great data and I'm sure it's important, but there is a certain level of propaganda associated with something like this. We can't pretend there isn't a whole history behind it. The author spends ample time defending past assertions through the mock interview and using that as a passive-aggresive way to sway opinion. My question is: Is this propaganda meant to supplement the war on the Big 5/ego, or is it meant to reveal truth?

Honestly, my guess is it's a bit of both. But instead of just assuming that and moving on, I'm asking questions. Because I don't know everything. I'm kinda hoping someone will say "Howey can claim this impact on the Big 5 because he also knows about this bit of info that doesn't happen to be in the article. Add those two things and you have a solid theory."

JC Hemphill said...

Ah, I think Alan Spade might've given me that bit of missing info. It connects to what I said early on and makes sense. If this blog post is meant for looking at genre vs. others on Amazon, then it does that. If the point is to prove other publishers sell better on Amazon than the Big 5, then it does that, too.

But my problem is it gets so involved with mocking the Big 5 and discussing past discussion that go well beyond Amazon. It's merged with real data and serves to sum up Amazon data in a way that is meant to prove these past assertions that are in no way represented in said data. The examples of this are ample.

When analyzing data, we need to look at it from an analysts POV--cold, hard numbers. But when discussing the analysis of data, as we are here, it isn't so simple. Words aren't the same as numbers. We can't pretend there aren't emotions and agendas and just common forgetting/missing stuff. Nobody's perfect, after all. We have to look at the intentions and the history associated with those words. And in this, I see a merging of hard data and a resolve to prove the Big 5 unneeded. (I think that is actually stated in the article--that the Big 5 is obsolete or something like that.) When taken objectively, this article drifts in and out from fact to opinion quiet often.

Libbie Hawker said...

I believe an "Oh snap" is in order.

Dominic Adler said...

Hat-tip added to my blog - thanks for this awesome piece of work.

http://dominicadler.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/a-hat-tip-to-hugh-howey-and-joe-konrath.html

Pale Rambler said...

Best thing about numbers is they don't lie. And the more you break them down, the more telling they are, particularly when the goal is to learn what they are willing to tell you instead of matching them to what you want to believe.

Fran Veal said...

Another home run, Joe! I chose to Indie publish after reading your blog two and a half years ago, and I've never looked back. Today, both of my novels are in their top 100's, and I couldn't be more pleased. Am I making a living at writing yet? No, but the operative word here is yet.

Thanks for keeping us informed!

Michael J. Sullivan said...

A truly incredible job. This will be blowing the lid of the house for days, weeks, and maybe even years to come. Just a truly game changing job.

Alan Spade said...

Another thing mentioned on the comments of authorearnings.com, and rightly so, is that's just one day of data. A day of January. On december, we can guess they would have been more hardcover and paperbacks sold.

Just a guess, though. One year of data would be great.

Alan Spade said...

"there would", sorry.

JC Hemphill said...

Good point, Alan. Also, there are outliers to consider. Normally, you wouldn't bother including the top, say, 20 best sellers because they vary so greatly from the median and therefore skew percentages and incomes greatly. Authors like Hugh and Joe are aberrations and in no way indicative of the common author or the market of availability. Guys like Stephen King and Murakami are also outliers.
I'm sure future graphs will take that into consideration--I eagerly await the development of this project.

Alan Spade said...

Yes, I think Hugh take that into consideration.

Also, they can be a wide difference between #1 and #2 kindle ebooks in term of sales.

We can have an estimation of the sales thanks to the reporting of authors, but the estimation would be much more precise is authors at the top would reveal how much they sell exactly on a given day. They are indies at the top reporting, but rather seldomly, I think.

Sammie Justesen said...

As a small publisher and an author, this info fascinating and helpful. We deal with Amazon every day and now I have a better understanding of the entire industry. Thank you both for the time you spent preparing and sharing this report!

davidjmobrien said...

as an author who just got his first manuscript accepted after many years trying, by a small ebook publisher, this has been a great revelation to me - all the worrying whether my novels were good enough, and hoping some editor would tell be so. I plan to self-publish all my genre work from now on.

gniz said...

The funny thing about this report and the accompanying data is that many of us writing and publishing ebooks already knew (or very much suspected) this must be the case.

I'm a skeptic at heart so I have no issue with someone trying to poke holes in the data or the conclusions.

But for someone who's inside this industry, publishing and making money and seeing the rankings throughout dozens and dozens of books (my own books mind you), this stuff is actually quite believable and not at all as strange as you might think.

What's shocking is that someone found the hard evidence and is showing it to the world.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how the response to all this is to......take away advances?!! To offer no advertising. To tell you you will get a "dedicated promotional assistant" who turns out to be someone who just emails you "hey have you made your Facebook page yet?" "hey how come your not selling more, you should really do some stuff." and that person gets paid for that! Or it's an intern who gets paid nothing and actually knows nothing (a hell of a lot less than authors know about promo)

Meanwhile you publishers can't offer an advance, or offer a $200 advance, you offer no advertising. You put the worst, possible crappy meta data on the books so they don't sell. (Um here's a clue when you're allowed to put a book into several different catagories slapping ONE on each book means it will come to the attention of a lot fewer customers on Amazon.
And you want to offer 20% of NET for digital book sales.
Lower the cost of ebooks to "compete with self publishing" and then make authors eat the ENTIRE cost of the discount.
ummmm...please give us a reason to publish with you. I'm serious...do some stuff different from what you are doing.

And when successful hybrid authors say to them "hey this is something you could do that could increase sales that I've been doing with my self publishing, the publishers often say "not interested shut up."

And the worst....not even paying on time.....

But I think they just think there is a never ending flood of wannabes to turn to so they don't have to get any better.

Anna Jacobs said...

My sales are mainly in the UK, and are pretty decent, so Amazon.com analyses are fairly irrelevant. Is anyone doing an analysis of UK rankings/earning, etc?

I enjoy your column and thank you for shining a light upon the darkness

Frances Grimble said...

Could you do a similar report for nonfiction?

Mary Connealy said...

I tried to post earlier but don't see it. I'll try again.
Sorry if this is a lame question everyone else knows the answer to.
I've got several friends who are what I consider indy published but I think the ones I'm best acquainted with all went with Kindle Direct Publishing.
So you have those two broken apart in these graphs.
Aren't they the same? I mean I know Kindle is strictly Amazon but what is Indy then? Create Space? Or what exactly?
And what are the pros and cons?
If you've gone through all this before can you post a link to that blog post?

Anonymous said...

@ Mary Connealy

Indie/Self publishing is through KDP/Createspace. The Amazon publishing in this data are Amazon imprints like 47 North.

KDP isn't a publisher, it essentially allows you to upload your ebook for Amazon to sell as a retailer. And although they term the portion of the sale price you receive as 'royalties' it isn't, it's the list price minus Amazons retail fee.

Mary Connealy said...

Thanks.

JC Hemphill said...

Alan--

Looking at the worksheet he supplied--man, is it missing everything we'd need to do a self-analysis!--he did include outliers. He talks early in the post about how talking about outliers is frustrating and inaccurate, but then he goes straight into doing just that.

teresa funke said...


As a writer's coach and a successful indie author since 2002, much of what was revealed here came as no surprise to me, and the comments made in the interview were the same old arguments I've seen brought out over and over, which is by no means a criticism. But it's nice to finally see some data to back up what many of us have known for some time. Because pie charts are not only fascinating, they offer "statistical proof" to those who are swayed by nothing less.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

There is a new update discussing print.

http://authorearnings.com/what-writers-leave-on-the-table/

Anonymous said...

Hey, Joe: Mike Shatzkin has put up a post that might interest you.

Among other things, he says writers may not be good at certain aspects of publishing (like selecting covers) and, "advising a writer to self-publish without considering these things is like telling somebody who’s a good cook that they might as well just open a restaurant."

Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

One more:

Watching the reactions of the traditional establishment to the Indies reminds me of a quotation I love, from Mahatma Gandhi:

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Are we at the point where they're fighting?

Ben Ohmart said...

amazon is your publisher. It's not self-publishing on Kindle.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm are publishers really concerned about authors moving to indie? Maybe a little bit, but I suspect they are still convinced that there is an endless stream of clueless wannabes to replace all their great authors leaving. However I can think of one so called "small press" that was an impressive power house in 2007. Now when I read one of their books the quality has fallen, a lot of their novels by new authors are suddenly loaded up with back story in the first chapter.

Ty Roth said...

Mind-blowing! After receiving a six-figure contract for a two-book deal and being dumped by my legacy publisher and my agent after my well-reviewed and award-winning first novel didn't come close to earning out, I recently decided to go the independent route. Since then, I have felt more energized and liberated as a writer than at any previous moment. This post only cements my choice to take control of my own publishing future. Thank You!

Fideli Publishing said...

First of all, I love your work Mr. Howey! I feel like I "knew you when" because I found your books before all the hoopla started and have always been vocal fan (I've read all your books and will continue to do so).

As a reader, I make a conscious effort to read 95% indie/self-published works, which means I'm essentially boycotting the big 5. I think I read maybe 1 big 5-published book a year out of the 275-300 titles I plow through. I love the fact that the mainstream publishing industry no longer gets to decide what is out there for me to read. Maybe I'm not the only one out there who feels this way?

I think the traditionalists will continue to look down their noses, condemning the self-published category as less-than and trying to push the idea that only "traditionally" published books are worthy. They will refuse to admit defeat, even as their reign ends and another begins.

Yes, there is cringe-worthy stuff out there. I think that's the price we pay for such an open system, but there are also books like Wool out there just waiting to be discovered. This is sort of like the Wild West-era of publishing, and it's great to be a part of it!

Shelley said...

I simply love this article...Thanks for posting it...I love the bantering back and forth...

eBooks totally rock!!!...Self publishing as you say, give us control an an opportunity to be heard...

WAHM Shelley... :)