Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pie

I hear a lot of talk about the ebook market getting glutted with too many ebooks. Some say the pie is finite (the pie being the amount of money being spent on ebooks) and as more and more ebooks are published, authors will get a smaller slice and earn less and less.

This is so very bullshit I'm not sure where to begin.

First of all, there are billions of paper books on planet earth right now, but there was never any talk about being too many, or worries the paper market was saturated. What a ludicrous concept.

Author: Do you want put publish my new book?

Publisher: I'm sorry, but there are already too many books. We can't print anymore.

Silly, ain't it?

Second, the pie isn't finite. I've heard repeatedly that people who get ereaders read more and buy more than they did with paper. Even if another person was never born, and even if another ereader was never sold, there is still a huge, untapped market for authors.

For the sake of argument, let's say I've reached 10% of those who have ereaders. I've still got a long way before I saturate the market.

But the market is growing. Fast.

When I started self-pubbing on Kindle in 2009, there were 700,000 ebooks available. Now there are over a million. So there have been about 150k added each year.

There are a lot more than 150,000 Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and iPads sold per year. So the ereader market is actually growing faster than ebooks are being published. I would guess there are more ereaders than there are ebook titles, many times over.

The pie is getting bigger. In fact, it is growing faster than new content is being uploaded. That means more and more people are going to be looking for ebooks.

Here's a nonsense representation of what I'm talking about. Keep in mind I suck at math, and my figures aren't accurate. I'm pulling these numbers out of my ass, but I'm doing so to prove a point.

Let's say ebook titles grow by 150k a year, and ereader sales grow by 5 million a year.

In 2011, let's say there are 5 million ereaders, and 1 million ebook titles.

In 2021 there will be 50 million ereaders, and 2.5 million ebook titles.

In 2031 there will be 100 million ereaders, and 4 million ebook titles.

Get the picture? The market is expanding faster than the content is.

On first glance, this doesn't appear to be beneficial to the author. Look at it from a reader's point of view. I'm a Kindle owner. Right now, I have 1 million ebooks to choose from. In 2031, I'll have 4 million ebooks to choose from. One one hand, this is good for Joe the reader, because I have more choices. On the other hand, this seems bad for Joe the author, because of all the competition.

Which begs the follow-up argument I see a lot: "With all of those ebooks available, it will be impossible to find anything, and authors will get lost."

Doesn't the same apply to paper books? Or websites? Or music? Yet people still find things they like. The imdb now has over 1.7 million titles, yet people still can find movies and TV shows to watch.

As long as websites like Amazon make browsing easy, the cream has the potential to rise to the top. You don't have to be a monster bestseller. A hardcore niche group of 10,000 fans can support a writer quite easily. Write two ebooks per year at $2.99, and three shorts at 99 cents, and you're making $50k a year.

But ebooks don't stop selling after a year. They sell forever. And good books will eventually find more than just 10,000 readers. And every new book you write will find new readers along with old fans.

Going back to the 2031 figures, an author will have a much better chance of finding those career-sustaining 10,000 readers when there are 100 million ereaders out there.

In other words, as every day goes by, authors only have to appeal to a smaller percentage of the ereading population.

Which means we won't need to be bestsellers in order to make the same amount of money we're now making by being bestsellers.

Confused? Think of it like this.

Let's call my current slice of the pie 10%, meaning I've sold to 10% of the ereading public--about 500,000 ebooks (out of 5 million potential customers). In 2031, assuming my readership stays flat, I'll earn the same as I am now with a .005% slice of the pie. (500,000 ebooks out of 100 million potential customers.)

Now these numbers assume that I'm only selling one ebook per consumer, not multiple ebooks. If I have fans who buy multiple ebooks, I need fewer fans to make the same amount of money.

These numbers also assume I won't grow my fanbase, or write anymore ebooks. By 2031, I'll have at least forty more novels completed, plus dozens of shorts and novellas.

Of course, a lot of things can happen between now and 2031, and I may be wildly off base on a lot of this. But the fact remains that the pie isn't getting smaller. If you keep writing, and keep self-publishing, chances are you'll eventually find your audience. And you won't have to be in the Kindle Top 100 in order to make a nice living.

And for those not there, remember that cream rises. If you made cream, and it hasn't risen yet: make more cream.


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Mark Asher said...

Different municipalities? Or different branches of the same county system?

Different municipalities. I believe they already had reciprocal lending of physical books among them.

We also have a county-wide library system and a city-wide library system.

It makes sense to pool ebook resources. The ebooks don't need to be at a physical location.

Also, if anyone is interested, the Free Library of Philadelphia has a large ebook collection and anyone can get a $15/yr membership.

It will be interesting to see how library lending of ebooks is accepted by the public. You don't have to visit the libraries. You will never have late fees or lost book fees. Seems like a lot of objections many of us have with using libraries have been answered with ebook lending.

Anonymous said...

"A large library could order 5-10 copies of each of my titles. That's several hundred bucks in my pocket, for just one library."

Libraries don't buy e-Media rights directly from authors or directly from Amazon. They get the rights to loan books out from OverDrive, which in turn gets its rights from publishers that have set up accounts and agreed to various T&C.

Jude Hardin said...

Here’s the page on Amazon that explains Kindle books in public libraries.

Jude Hardin said...

Libraries don't buy e-Media rights directly from authors or directly from Amazon. They get the rights to loan books out from OverDrive, which in turn gets its rights from publishers that have set up accounts and agreed to various T&C.

I went to the Free Library of Philadelphia site, clicked on digital media, and the first thing I saw was Killers Uncut by Jack Kilborn. That's a self-published book, so how did they get that?

Do you have an account with OverDrive, Joe?

Stella Baker said...

I’m a writer and I recently self-published my first book. I’m also a librarian and, yeah, I’ve got the inside story on those library things. Here’s how the ebook selection works in most libraries:


OverDrive, the largest ebook vendor to libraries, makes their catalog of titles available for selection by their library clients. Libraries choose which ebooks to order and OverDrive handles the rest. On Sept. 21 OverDrive went live with the deal they worked with Amazon to include the Kindle format in OverDrive’s catalog. OverDrive is not charging libraries additional money to add the Kindle format choice to already ‘purchased’ ebooks. [Note: we librarians generally think in terms of purchase, not lease, though legally...]Good for library budgets, not so good for patron waiting lines: more potential readers for same single copy.(Kindle owners, of which there are millions, added to the existing group of readers with Nook, Sony, etc.) Of course, libraries can order multiple copies of a book, and some will. Problem is (surprise) extreme budget constraints. Library patrons check out the Kindle ebook at their library’s site (which is powered by OverDrive) but the ebook is delivered by, so Kindle patrons have to also login with their Amazon info. You cannot check out a Kindle library book from the Kindle store; you have to check it out using your library card from your library’s OverDrive-powered site. The delivery of the library Kindle book, however, is the same as if you’d bought it at Amazon. I checked one out, to test it. Works great.

As a self-pubbed writer, how do you get into OverDrive’s catalog? If you’ve pubbed a lot of books and crank new ones out multiple times each year, you can probably get in. However, if you’re like me--one book to my name and a slow writer, it’s unlikely that OverDrive will consider you a “publisher.” If you want to see more, go to and check out the pages on Content Reserve.

@Jude, yes different municipalities or county systems may band together to create a buying consortium. It is commonly done, not just for ebooks but for electronic database subscriptions too. By contracting with OverDrive as a consortium it makes budget dollars go farther and expands the number of titles available to all members’ library patrons. Downside: that longer waiting line thing. Joe obviously has enough titles available and produces enough each year to be seen as a “publisher.” That’s how you get in.

JA Konrath said...

They get the rights to loan books out from OverDrive, which in turn gets its rights from publishers that have set up accounts and agreed to various T&C.

Overdrive is where I made the several thousand bucks.

JA Konrath said...

As a self-pubbed writer, how do you get into OverDrive’s catalog?

When they give me the OK, I'll blog about it. Right now they're still at the beginning stages of working with self publishers.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Stella!

Jude Hardin said...

When they give me the OK, I'll blog about it. Right now they're still at the beginning stages of working with self publishers.


Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David L. Shutter said...


Was Pocket-47 a traditional publish or is it POD?

Just curious.

Jude Hardin said...

Was Pocket-47 a traditional publish or is it POD?


Walter Knight said...

I have seen projections that there will be 20 million Kindle readers by this Christmas.

So, when the crazies camp out in front of Walmart on Black Friday, I will be there cheering on the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.

Andrew Ashling said...

I think this post is spot on.

The market is growing in several other ways as well.

Although I would hope my books get classified as pseudo-historical fantasy, the fact is they contain romance of the gay kind. Explicit romance. Which of course makes them erotica, right?

I seem to sell mainly in a niche, to m/m-romance readers, who are mainly married women, often with children. On the whole they are a very thankful and appreciative lot to write for, and I am very grateful to them.

Just a few years ago this market was very small, but now it’s almost exploding. Why? Ebooks can be bought anonymously. You can read them everywhere, also anonymously. You can password protect your device. Ebooks, especially Amazon’s, are available everywhere on earth where they have WiFi. The Internet has made it possible for readers from Poland to Malaysia to talk about their reading experiences, and to recommend books they loved to each other.

A few weeks ago I read a post by an author who was very pleased with the fact that one of her books was going to be translated in Estonian. I’m glad for her. A week later I got an email from an Italian reader who said she had learned English to be able to read my books and those of other writers in my niche. This is the difference. With traditional publishing you have to hope and wait and wait and wait until and if they want to publish your books. Then a few will get translated in one or a few other languages to reach more readers. The sheer volume, diversity of ebooks, and the fact they’re easy to buy, makes readers want to acquire the additional skills to be able to read them.

There is still a huge market out there, especially for authors who write in English. As of yet, the Kindle is not widely adopted in Europe and Asia, but it will be. My guess is within five years. With the prevailing predominance of English in music and movies, reading books in English is not too difficult a challenge for Europeans and Asians.

There is also a growing market for different niches that traditional publishing is simply not equipped to cater for. Or for which they are too incompetent. Or which they find not interesting, because they are not profitable enough.

Too many books? There is no such thing as too many books.

Stephen Leather said...

"I have a 5-year plan to have 20 books available, and to add 4 books per year to that backlist." Wow, where have I been going wrong all these years? A professional writer for 20 years and I'm averaging fewer than two a year. Maybe I'll get shot down in flames here but show me a writer who can produce twenty books in five years and I'll show you a hack who is churning out cr@p. That's the sort of comment which turns readers off self-published (I'm finding it harder and harder to say Indie these days) writers... Even the great John Locke has just shot himself in the foot in a UK newspaper by saying that he wrote one of his books in two weeks..... Quality takes time, it really does.....

Anonymous said...

Quality takes time, it really does.....

No, it really doesn't. Every writer is different. Even Michael Connelly says he best books were written very quickly. Thomas Harris took 10 years to write Hannibal, and a bigger steaming heap of crap cannot be found.

It's all about perception.

Anonymous said...

And really, writing is just a job. You couldn't go to your boss and say, "I really need to 2 years to finish this project." No, you just sit down, do the work, and get it done as quickly and skillfully as possible. Then you cash your check and watch football like everyone else. :D

JA Konrath said...

Quality takes time, it really does.....

Some writers are just fast, Stephen.

I wrote six novels last year. I wrote STIRRED in nine days.

And I'm a slacker compared to someone like Asimov, who wrote five hundred books in his lifetime. I don't believe he was a hack turning out crap.

I know two writers, Michael Newton and Max Allan Collins, who have each written over a hundred novels.

On a very good day, I can write 10k. And I'm pretty sure the majority of them are good, based on the little amount of editing that was needed (from Big 6, professional editors.)

Two a year may be fine, for you. If I don't do double that, plus several shorts and novellas, I was slacking off too much.

Stephen Leather said...

Yeah, what do I know? Just over half a million eBooks sold since last October and three million paperbacks sold world-wide. I should keep my opinions to myself....

Stephen Leather said...

That was to anonymous, not you, Joe! :-)

Stephen Leather said...

@Joe Okay, I've had a rethink (It's 1.15am here in Bangkok and I've been drinking! My birthday. Go me!)

I'd forgotten Asimov, and you're right there are other writers who have written at a fantastic rate. But that's not the norm. You're not the norm, either. You do produce quality writing and at speed. I have upped my ante to two novels a year plus a novella. But I've been writing as a professional for 25 years. You're pretty much the same. What annoys me is when "writers" who were never good enough to get a traditional publishing deal start telling everyone that the key to success is to produce four books a year. I mean, come on.... That's one of the reasons that so much of what the self-published authors are putting on sale is so bad. And it is, most of it is just awful. Good writing, generally, takes time and effort. It's not just a question of banging out the words. Yes you're fast and you make it look effortless, but that's because you've honed your craft. So have I. Anyway, none of that matters, of course. It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing, it's my own performance that matters. I really must learn to turn off my wi-fi more often! Okay, I'm off to bed. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me....

Anonymous said...

Stephen, I said the exact same as Joe but you give me attitude. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

FYI, Joe. My wife just yelled at me for wasting time arguing with people on this blog. My mother warned me about her ;D

Michael said...

The only person you're really in competition with is yourself. I realized during my quest for traditional publication that I had little control over any part of the process. Once I'd done the obvious things, the only thing left was to work on craft. I believe the indie publishing world works the same way. If I write a better book, I'm not going to take away sales from other writers, they're going to read me in addition to their other favorite writers.

I can attribute some of my own success as an indie writer (once hit the top 20 on Kindle), to concentrating most of my efforts on the craft.

JA Konrath said...

My wife just yelled at me for wasting time arguing with people on this blog.

My wife loves it when I argue with people on this blog. It amuses her to the point of laughter.

What annoys me is when "writers" who were never good enough to get a traditional publishing deal start telling everyone that the key to success is to produce four books a year.

There is no doubt a lot of poorly written self-pubbed ebooks, and many of them should have gone through some major rewriting before they went live.

While that does give self-pub a stigma, it doesn't bother me. Crap is eventually outed as crap by reviewers, and sales plummet, which keeps it buried. I'm not effected by it at all.

Selena Kitt said...

Good writing, generally, takes time and effort.

Happy Birthday, Stephen!

Good writing takes both. But the amount of time and the effort differs for every writer. Some slave. Over. Every. Word. (My husband is like this. He also must have a title before he starts working or he can't write anything!) Takes him an hour to write 100 words. But on the other hand, he's an amazing poet - perfect word choice and all. Which I am not. :) And sometimes writing that way yields amazing stuff.

And sometimes writing gangbusters and finishing a novel in a few weeks turns out amazing stuff.

It isn't the amount of time involved, to tell you the truth. It's the writer BEHIND the time and effort - however long or short that is - that counts.

But this high-production system (i.e. the indie or self-publishing movement) does give the advantage to prolific writers. Which legacy publishing never really did. Poor Stephen King had to make up a pen name because his publisher didn't want to "flood" the market with more than a few books in a year.

That world is definitely changing!

Alan Cramer said...

Doesn't that violate amazon's agreement with the distributor. My understanding the library can only loan out as many books as they purchase. so if one copy is sold there will be a waiting list in twenty libraries for that one copy. Amazon already allows consumer lending of ebooks, but if you put DRM on the book the borrowers can't just go and make a bunch of copies. I assume it will be the same deal with libraries. Amazon still wants their cut, I don't think they are setting up a charity, so means more money for indie authors.

David L. Shutter said...


Quality vs. quantity is always an issue, and a line you have to tread carefully on. You can waste your writing life (or the last ten years in my case!) revising and re-writing and revising into something completely different and then out of disgust start a screenplay on something even more completely different and then, when you're drunk, decide it's brilliant if you...ugh.

I think if you could have been in the rooms with all the uber prolific writers you'll see several things: mastery of craft (or at least genre), disciplined, habitual writing and clear vision ie: knowing exactly where their story or series is going.

If you can regularly produce 5-10k words a day then those 80-100k novels will come and go rather quickly...and when you only need weeks of revision vs. months before going out then you get your 4-5 novels a year.

if you're comfy inside those parameters, and with your finished products, go for it. Don't spend time revising something just because its completion timeline makes you feel you need to. Make that assesment based on a works own merit.

Rob Cornell said...

Ah, the tired old myth of slow writing equals better writing. There are so very many examples of this as false, I wonder why it continues to come up. Of course, if I start naming names, I'll be dismissed because "those writers are special exceptions, and you could never be one of them." But I'll throw out a few for fun:

Lawrence Block
Ray Bradbury
John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath took 5 months and only slight editing)
Janet Evanovich
Stephen King
Dean Wesley Smith (100 novels to his name)
JA Konrath (of course)
John Locke (you might think he sucks, but enough people like him to make him rich--and since when did any of us become the ultimate judge of quality?)
William Wallace Cook
John Creasey
Georges Simenon
Donald Westlake
John D. MacDonald
Ross MacDonald
Amanda Hocking
Robert W. Walker
Earl Stanley Gardner (Parry Mason anyone?)
Sheila Kelly (w/ various pseudonyms)
Holly Lisle
Dean Koontz
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Jack Bickham
Dwight Swain
Harlan Ellison

Okay, I'm getting tired. I could type here forever. If you ask me, looking at that list of writers, one could draw the conclusion that writing faster (or writing more, as many prolific writers simply spend more time writing than necessarily writing faster) is actually better for the writing.

But what do I know? All I have is a short list of minor writers who produced great heaping gobs of words during their lifetime. I certainly wouldn't want to walk in their unsuccessful shoes. And I've only been writing "unprofessionally" for twenty years. I don't have a legacy deal or a journalism gig, so my experience can't count.

:) Sorry, the sarcasm sometimes takes over.

wannabuy said...

I love the 'Tsunami of crap' arguments burying the chance of income... But Joe's math is good. Readership is growing faster than authored works.

I think the 2nd post in this comment section should be required reading. There is opportunity as never before for authors.

I've read out my favorite big6 authors. The silly 'one book a year' rule killed their incomes. Now when I find an excellent new author, I can buy out their collection.

My reading had been cut back as I just wasn't finding enough worth reading.

It is a great time for readers too. :)


Joshua Simcox said...

I'm late chiming in, but a big thanks to Joe and Rob for shooting down Stephen's theory with a list of many highly prolific authors that few would consider "hacks".

And let's not forget the wonderfully gifted Christopher Golden, an absolute writing machine that can pump out a fantastic new novel as quickly as I can pour a bowl of cereal.

Also, love or hate him, the late Richard Laymon also deserves a mention. He churned out dozens of novels in his lifetime, and while some fans may argue that the quality of those novels is inconsistent, his books were game-changers in the horror genre.

These (and many other similarly prolific authors) were/are far from hacks. They're craftsman.

--Joshua Simcox

Marcus Speh said...

I very much enjoy your posts, and especially your number games...though in this last one, it's the CREAM at the end (and on the top) that I'm after. I'm seeking a traditional publisher right now for a story collection, and you make me want to self publish badly. If any publisher bites, I will be in a muddle. Cheers from Berlin and continued success to you!

Marcus Speh said...

PS. readers might also want to check out a THIRD WAY, Red Lemonade, where I've put excerpts of a short story collection as marketing exercise. RL is a community and a volunteer-run publishing press and they're growing fast.

Anonymous said...

I'll be publishing my first eBook this year. Because I'll only have 1 book available, would it be best to opt to get paid from Amazon for up to $10 or up to $100?

Is anyone even going to see my comment. Probably just get lost...

Merrill Heath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrill Heath said...

@Stephen, I appreciate your opinion. But let me clarify - my plan is to produce 2 novels and 2 novellas a year. And the novels won't be 500 page tomes. They will be 200 page, somewhat formulaic mysteries. I will further clarify that 5 of the 20 novels will be previously (traditionally) published novels written by my father. Those just require typing, proofing, cover design, and uploading to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

I'll be the first to say, I'm not trying to write The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye. I'm simply trying to write entertaining stories that will sell enough copies to allow me to work full-time as a writer.

Now let's do a little math to explain the 4 per year time frame. I don't know how quickly you write, but I can easily write 3 pages a day. If I only write 5 days a week, it takes 33 days to complete the first draft of a 100 page novella. Writing 5 days a week that's approximately 6 weeks. It takes 2 weeks to do the rewrite which puts me right around 8 weeks - 2 months. If I do that twice, I've spent 4 months and produced 2 novellas.

Using the same figures, it takes me 4 months to produce a 200 page novel. At that pace, 2 novels takes 8 months. Again, this is only writing 5 days a week. Most weeks I write every day. Some days I produce more than 3 pages that I'm satisfied with, other days maybe not. But it's a reasonable average.

Now, I may find this is not realistic. Or there may be other issues that preclude me from maintaining that pace. But it's certainly do-able with a little discipline and focus.

As for whether it's crap or not - that's subjective. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. No doubt some will think it is. But others will like it and buy every book I write. But if you want to see how good (or bad) my writing is before you label it crap based solely on a comment on a blog, click here and read the excerpt. Then give my your feedback, either here or on my blog or via email.

Merrill Heath
Novels by Merrill Heath

Michael Carr - Veritas Literary said...

But let me clarify - my plan is to produce 2 novels and 2 novellas a year. And the novels won't be 500 page tomes. They will be 200 page, somewhat formulaic mysteries.

Merrill, come on, man. Aspire to more than this. I don't care what you're writing, take it seriously. You can do better than formulaic.

Merrill Heath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrill Heath said...

Thanks, KingM, but there's nothing wrong with formulaic if the characters are interesting, the plot is entertaining, and the writing is good. As a matter of fact, I think you'd have a hard time finding a successful mystery series that isn't somewhat formulaic.

Rob Cornell said...

The formula for (almost) every mystery: Someone dies. Someone else finds out who, how, and why.


Anonymous said...

Endless opportunities for anyone? Maybe, but that doesn't mean you are selling significant copies. For example, we have put on Creators by Hungarian author Cathrin Smith (a pen name, of course)on Amazon and .... a couple of sales so far. That is disappointing. No serious results as yet.

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Kathleen Gage said...

"A hardcore niche group of 10,000 fans can support a writer quite easily."

Excellent post. So true that the pie is getting bigger, much bigger for both fiction and nonfiction authors.

Regardless of what genre one writes in, it would be to the author's benefit to learn how to use online methods to drive traffic to their Kindle titles.

Authors knowing how to market (or actually not knowing how to market) has been a challenge long before Kindle came along.

Rather than saying no one will find a particular book or books, the solution resides in authors taking responsibility for their own success.

Thus the need to learn how to promote titles.

Besides selling the original Kindle version there are plenty of back-end sales opportunities. The beauty of eBooks is the ability to direct the reader to other locations such as a blog, web page, landing page or sales page.

Building a loyal following is not a passive process.

Granted, this may not be to everyone's likely and each author has to decide for themselves what works and what doesn't based on their own goals.

Loved the post and look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

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