Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Longwinded Screed for Mike Shatzkin

I recently read a post by Mike Shatzkin on his blog called The future of bookstores is key to understanding the future of publishing.

Go read it. I'll be here.

In the comments, I had two exchanges with Mike that are worth repeating, because I'd like to expand on them and Mike self-admittedly has no patience to wade through "someone else's lengthy dialectic" and has a policy on his blog against "longwinded rants" such as mine.

Joe: Hi Mike.

I wanted to comment on some of the points you made in this post.

You said:

"One distracting fact for analysts considering this question has been the apparent slowdown in the growth of ebook sales, suggesting that there are persistent print readers who just won’t make the switch."

The analysts you refer to don't have access to all the data, and the data they have isn't being interpreted correctly.

First of all, the shadow industry on self-publishing accounts for tens of millions of sales (if not more) that aren't being counted. Ebook growth may be slowing for legacy publishers. It isn't slowing for self-publishers.

Second, the idea of "growth slowing" was nicely refuted by Barry Eisler in his conversation with agent Robert Gottlieb.

Barry: This is at best a highly misleading way of describing what’s really happening, which is that the growth of ebook sales is slowing.  Put more simply and accurately:  ebook sales are not slowing, they are growing.  Here, from Publishers Weekly:  “Total e-book sales rose 44.2% in 2012, to $3.04 billion. The gain in e-book sales offset a flat performance by print sales which held virtually even at $12 billion between 2011 and 2012.”  And here, fromFuturebook   “If we look at these particular stats from Publishers Weekly, for this segment, sales of e-books rose to $2.07 billion from $869 million as units increased 210% to 388 million.”

There’s more:  in December 2013, Amazon revealed that a quarter of US ebook sales were by indies.  The numbers for B&N’s Nook are similar.  Hachette and HarperCollins both report that ebook revenues are increasing — indeed, by 40% for Hachette (of course, now we know why).

Most astonishing of all is that missing from these figures demonstrating a still dramatically growing market are indie figures, because data is collected only from major publishers.  That’s right:  the ebook market is still growing even when measured without including indie published books.

Calling this kind of continued explosive growth “slowing” is like saying a car that went from 50 miles an hour to 100 and then to 130 is “slowing” because since it hit 100 mph its speed only increased by 30 percent.  Would you honestly describe a car that just accelerated from 100 to 130 mph as “slowing”?  Because that’s what you just did with the ebook market.

Joe: You also said:

"The physical book has uses and virtues that a CD, a vinyl record, a DVD, or a videotape don’t, not the least of which is that a physical book is its own “player”. But it also provides a qualitatively different reading experience, whereas the other “physical” formats don’t change the consumption mode at all."

I talked about journey value and destination value four years ago dismissing the qualitatively different reading experience of print.

And while books may be their own "player", show me someone who doesn't have a device that can read ebooks. Besides ereaders like Kindles and tablets like iPads, smart phones and computers abound. A book being its own player isn't important when so many consumers already own devices that ebooks can be read with.

CDs are still around because they can be ripped to mp3s and put on digital players. The CD is simply a hard copy of digital info. When was the last time you saw a CD Walkman?

Books can't be digitized without scanning. So while I can buy the new Tom Waits CD and put it on my iPod (or Kindle Fire), I can't buy a hardcover and read it digitally.

You said:

"But the fate of almost all trade publishers is inextricably connected to the fate of bookstores."

Actually, it is inextricably connected to authors.

Years ago I realized that unconscionable publishing contracts and low royalties would lead to authors leaving legacy publishers and self-publishing. This will happen more and more. We don't know how much it is already happening, because there is no data available, but B&N reported that 25% of Nook ebook sales were from indie authors, and I suspect the percentage on Amazon is larger.

You said:

"It is still true that putting books in stores is necessary to get anywhere close to total penetration of a book’s potential audience."

I agree. But I don't care, and neither do a lot of self-pubbed authors. Yes, it would be nice to have my print books in all bookstores and Wal-mart, but I made a million dollars in 2013 without that happening. I don't need those sales to make a nice living. You go on to say as much in the next paragraph, but you may not realize this is happening right now.

Don't discount self-publishing as a Big 5 killer. For every publicized story of a self-pubbed writer taking a legacy deal, there are many who refuse deals, or don't even bother submitting to publishers. What happens when publishers run out of good submissions?

Mike: I think I personally have been a) fully cognizant of the possibility that what is in view isn't totally taking indie publishing into account and b) clear about the fact that is *slowing *is the *rate of growth*, which would necessarily be the case as the market got so much bigger.

Joe adds: Yet your blog post focuses on how the future of bookstores--not authors--is the key to understanding the future of publishing. In your economical 1600 word post, you focus on authors for 117 words. You present the possibility that publishers may have to offer authors higher royalty rates, shorter contract terms, and more frequent payments, then immediately say the marketplace hasn't been forced to do that yet, and if bookstores hold their own they may not need to for a long time.

This, as David Gaughran says later in the comments (repeated below) is dismissive.

As for the ebook rate of growth slowing, since it is still growing there are apparently are not as many "persistent print readers who just won’t make the switch" from paper to ebook as you believe. Either the whole pie is growing (paper readers are the same numbers, ebook readers are getting larger), both segments are growing, or ebooks are cannibalizing paper sales. Which, incidentally, is why those sneaky price-fixing publishers were slapped by the DOJ; they wanted to slow the growth of ebooks and protect the sales of print, where they controlled distribution.

Mike: But the effect is not really as big as you make it, because such a high proportion of the indie units are at very cheap prices and such a high proportion of the Big Five units are at prices you'd probably consider extortionate (although, thanks to both self-publishing and the DoJ, the prices for the Big Five books are coming down, probably to the detriment of fledgling writers who are losing their opportunity to make noise at the low end of the market.) So if 25% of Nook sales are indie authors, I'd hunch that the percentage of dollars they represent is closer to 10%. It might be less.

Joe adds: And it might be more. Neither of us know.

Mike: And while I'm not in their number and obviously you aren't either, there are still a very large number of print book readers, many of whom (as you point out) MUST have a perfectly serviceable reading device in their possession, who just DON'T WANT to read digitally, they want to read print. They may actually still be a majority of the people, all these years into the digital revolution! And a big chunk of *them *really want to buy their books in a store. Stubborn luddites though they may be, they do exist in substantial numbers. And they aren't all geriatrics.

Joe adds: Or those print readers MIGHT be shrinking, both as a static group and percetnage-wise in relation to the growing number of ebook readers, and some of them MIGHT eventually switch to ereaders (you know those late adopters and laggards Evert Rogers talks about) and some MIGHT switch to buying their paper online, since going to a local B&N means half the selection it had five years ago.

Mike: I think the demise of the establishment happens a bit more slowly than some enthusiasts for the future may expect. I am sure you have the humility to reflect on that fact from time to time, even though it would probably be a bad strategy to admit it out loud (and I've never known you to do that.)

Joe: You said:

"(although, thanks to both self-publishing and the DoJ, the prices for the Big Five books are coming down, probably to the detriment of fledgling writers who are losing their opportunity to make noise at the low end of the market."

We're still making noise, Mike. Ebooks aren't zero sum. A $2.99 Hachette ebook doesn't compete with mine. Instead, if gives readers the ability to buy more of my ebooks, because Hachette is no longer charging $15.99.

You said:

"So if 25% of Nook sales are indie authors, I'd hunch that the percentage of dollars they represent is closer to 10%. It might be less."

Dollars for whom?

Think about that. Those are authors making higher royalties than they can through legacy, and that's 10% of all ebook revenue that legacy publishers are missing out on.

An author can sell one $30 hardcover from a legacy publisher and make between $3 and $4.50.

If I sell $30 worth of $3.99 ebooks, I make $19.75. And it is much easier to sell a $3.99 ebook than a $30 hardcover.

You said:

"there are still a very large number of print book readers, many of whom (as you point out) MUST have a perfectly serviceable reading device in their possession, who just DON'T WANT to read digitally, they want to read print."

That's fine. Writers don't need those readers to make a living. And their may be a lot fewer paper readers than you believe, since the shadow industry of self-publishing isn't being counted.

You said:

"I think the demise of the establishment happens a bit more slowly than some enthusiasts for the future may expect. I am sure you have the humility to reflect on that fact from time to time, even though it would probably be a bad strategy to admit it out loud (and I've never known you to do that.)"

All signs are pointing to it happening faster than I expected. Amazon released a statement saying it sold more Kindles during the 2012 holiday season than any previous year. Borders is gone. Random Penguins merged. Dorchester is gone. 150 self-pubbed authors sold over 100,000 ebooks each on KDP last year (I'd love to get the data on how many sold over 10,000 copies--I suspect lots.) Rowling opened Larry Block self-pubbed his latest (at $9.99, which means he keeps $7 per ebook sold, and he's ranked respectably at #1200. I could go on.

I'd love for you to address the facts brought up by me and Barry Eisler in my last three blog posts, which all came down to "Why do publishers believe authors are going to continue to submit to them when they can make 70% royalties on their own, keep their rights, and don't have to sign unconscionable contracts?"

You mention that "so far the marketplace hasn't had to offer higher ebook royalty rates, more frequent payments, and shorter contract terms."

But I'm guessing you suspect they will have to, at some point. Because authors aren't idiots. And we talk to each other. A lot.

When I first started making money self-publishing, I was labeled an outlier.

How many outliers does it take before they aren't outliers anymore, but a trend? In the past few days Brenna Aubrey turned down a six figure legacy deal to self-pub, and self-pubber Theresa Ragan admitting to making over a million dollars.

I've been in touch with many other successful self-pubbers who make hundreds of thousands per year. It isn't my job to out them, but I suspect you'll hear about them sooner or later.

My ebooks are invisible to the NYT list and the USA Today list, even though I could have made both several times. And mine aren't the only ones.

I don't have your faith that B&N will be around in five years. Bookstores will never go away, and paper books will never go away. But the book business only needs two parties: authors and readers. Everyone else involved in the bookselling process is a facilitator.

Facilitators need to justify their cut, be they publishers or bookstores. Especially since authors today don't need either.

Mike: Joe, I have two pretty firm policies which we're running up against here.

One is that I don't allow my comments space to be used for other people's longwinded rants. I guess you're used to having people read you at great length; I strive for an economy of words in my posts and in my responses. I don't really have the patience to wade through somebody else's lengthy dialectic and I make the self-serving assumption that my readers don't either.

So I'll leave it with the answer to your prior post. That one will serve for this one too.

Joe adds: Then David Gaughran joined in.

David: Hi Mike,

You might dismiss the threat posed to large publishers from self-publishing by (rightly) pointing out that the portion of the dollar pie they have grabbed is significantly smaller than the unit sales pie. But I don't think you should dismiss it so quickly.

Unit sales could be viewed as a leading indicator here. By my calculations, self-publishers (and other non-traditional actors) have grabbed about a third (in unit sales) of the US ebook market.

As I said there, talking about market share in dollar amounts might be important to publishers – who are anxious to replace falling print revenue with new digital income – but it’s way less important to self-publishers (who price at the lower end of the range and don’t really care if readers are paying less for digital editions).

Talking about market share in terms of unit sales is, in my opinion, a much better metric for seeing where things stand and where they are headed – but I’m happy to debate that.

Mike: I am not quite sure how a post intended to wake publishers up to the real changes they will face as self-publishing grows turned into the "dismissal" you characterize it as being, but...

Joe adds: Your post wasn't about publishers facing changes as self-publishing grows (hint: reread your title). That was 1/16 of your post, and you did dismiss it.

Mike: All I was doing by pointing out the dollar metric in addition to the unit metric was trying to put things into a more realistic context than anybody who waded through Konrath's screed might have absorbed. Here's a bit more. He starts with Nook saying 25% of their ebook sales are indie, to which I say their sales volume might be 10% or less (almost certainly less.) Add this. They *also *don't get any print sales! B&N's print sales still exceed their digital sales on most Big Publisher books. So now we're saying that the importance of the indies isn't not-as-much-as 10 percent of dollar volume, but is actually LESS THAN FIVE!

Joe adds: Or it could be 25% of dollar volume. Or 35%. We can all keep guessing at actual percentages, numbers, figures, data, etc.

I think we call all agree that David and I and a lot of self-published authors making money believe the shadow industry of self-publishing is larger than you do.

I'd also like to take this opportunity temper some of my beliefs and predictions. My work, and the work of many of the writers who visit my blog, is in genre fiction. When I make pronouncements and predictions, it is about genre fiction. I dunno anything about non-fic, or childrens, or lit-fic. I have zero idea how big a chunk of the publishing industry genre fiction is. I know it makes up most of the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists, and most of the Top 100 Kindle bestseller list, but I'm only guessing that the migration of Big 5 genre authors from legacy publishing to self-publishing would indeed destroy the legacy industry.

That said, I believe authors will migrate, and that it will hurt the legacy industry greatly, and while publishers need bookstores, they need authors more. A mass author exodus will be devastating to publishers.

You advised publishers to increase author royalties way back in 2011. In your economical 2300 word post Paying authors more might be the best economics for publishers in the long run you stated that "if the authors don’t play along, they (publishers) have nothing to sell. Making deals with authors is the publishers’ price of admission to the game."

You were right. And because publishers have elected to not pay authors more, a shadow industry has grown which is probably bigger than anyone imagines. In the comments to my previous post, Paul Draker opined.

Paul: How big is Amazon self-publishing's shadow industry?

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what "25% indie" means.

To weed out the "fire-and-forget" one-offs, I only considered the Top 50,000 Amazon ranks (or books selling more than 3 copies/day each, which is 1000 copies/year).

In math terms, I integrated 25% of the area under this curve...

...which maps Amazon rank to average sales/day.

Here's what I came up with as a minimum estimate:


So that's 100 Million self-published books sold a year by just the 12,000 indie authors who can, at a minimum, out-earn the "entry level" traditional-publisher advance.

Mike: That doesn't mean there isn't a threat. That doesn't mean that the indie share isn't going to continue to grow. That doesn't mean that publishers aren't going to have cognizance of it and adjust to it, over time. But it does mean -- to me -- that any suggestion that indies are on the verge of taking over the world is either delusionary or self-serving crap.

Joe adds: Sort of like the delusionary and self-serving crap that the Big 5 will continue to thrive? :)

Actually, no one is suggesting indies will take over the world. We're suggesting that more and more writers will leave legacy publishing, and that is it happening faster than you and publishers think.

Mike: All that said, I agree that the unit numbers are worth taking seriously, not ignoring. But, you know what? So are the dollar numbers!

Joe: No, Mike, they're not nearly as important to self-pubbed authors, who are getting poor royalties off those numbers.

Would you rather get large royalties from a smaller figure or small royalties form a larger figure?

It depends on the figures, of course. But I'd rather have 70% of $10,000 than 6% of $100,000.

But that's apples to oranges. Apples to apples is a backlist legacy book that sells a handful of paper copies per year, but is kept "in print" by a publisher because it continues to sell 1000 copies a year in ebook so the author cannot get their rights back.

A $3.99 self-pubbed ebook that sells 1000 copies per year earns an author $2790.

A $5.99 DLP (digital list price) legacy pubbed ebook that sells 1000 copies per year earns an author $748 per year.

A $3.99 DLP legacy pubbed ebooks selling 1000 per year earns an author $498.

For a legacy published author to make the same $2790 per year that a self-pubber makes selling 1000 copies at $3.99, she would have to sell 5600 copies at $3.99.

Let me repeat that point. On  ebooks with the same price point, a legacy published authors has to sell 5.6x as many copies as a self-pubbed author.

The continually observant William Ockham whom I've seen comment here and on Passive Voice (who is this guy?) responded to Shatzkin:

William: The factor that folks seem to be overlooking is that the need for shelf space is determined by the number of titles which benefit from offline distribution more than it is by the number of books sold offline. I have been spending some quality time with the raw data from Pew Research when they asked people how many books they've read in the past year. Pew releases their raw data about six months after the survey, so the latest data I've looked at is Nov 2012. Their 2013 summer survey was in August, so we should get that data next month. In any event, the data is telling.

Just like the bestseller list accounts for a substantial portion of immersive books' sales, a relatively small part of the adult population is responsible for a large portion of the total books read. People who read 20 or more books a year make up 15% of the population and read 65% or more of all the books that get read. The folks who read 50 or more books a year probably read 40% of all the books. Online stores are the only ones that have the breadth of selection to satisfy folks who read a book a week.

Think about where the power curve of mass sales intersects with the power curve of number of books read. Bestsellers are made by the buying habits of people who read 6 books or less per year. We are fast approaching the point where the number of titles that really need mass offline distribution is less than a hundred. There will a lot of specialty bookstores (for non-immersive reading), but the megastore (and thus B&N) is doomed. The current system has a large amount of inertial momentum, but the end is clearly visible.

The consequences of this are pretty clear. Big publishers should be cutting midlist authors as fast as possible (which seems to be happening). By trimming the number of books they publish, they can cut costs and kill the return system. Publishers need to concentrate on the books that are evergreen (don't get stale) or books that have broad appeal (Patterson, King, Grisham, et. al.). Bookstores that survive will create a niche that Amazon can't replicate, e.g. by hand-selling like a jewelry store. More books will get sold in other types of retail (gardening books at the garden store, etc.).

Joe: Mike hasn't responded to William (which is odd, because this was days ago and Mike has responded to every other comment.)

If William is correct with his numbers, how is legacy publishing a sustainable business model? I have big doubts that booksellers will ever stop using the return system (Bob Miller tried doing this years ago). If you add shrinking shelf space in bookstores to the startling concept that less than 100 titles yearly require mass offline distribution, and then stir in unhappy authors seeking higher royalty rates by going solo, what conclusions can be drawn?

I'll add that Borders closing was not a "Black Swan" event as you stated in your original post. It was foreseeable and understandable. At one point they operated 686 bookstores.

When they disappeared in 2011, wouldn't it make sense that in the absence of one of their biggest rivals, B&N would have absorbed their customers?

And yet, less than two and a half years later, B&N is closing stores.

When B&N disappears, will that be a black swan too? Authors who self-publish hurt potential bookstore sales the same way they hurt potential publisher sales. There could be hundreds of millions of dollars annually that publishers and bookstores could have made, but don't.

Or maybe it's only tens of million of dollars. Or two million. Or ten bucks.

The actual number isn't the point. The point is, do you see the trend reversing? Are people abandoning ebooks? Are print run averages getting bigger? Are publishers putting out more print titles than ever before, and if so, how are those titles doing? Are bookstores booming (with special attention to bookstores where the percentage of the profits are from new books, not used books or toys and games, etc.)? Are more and more authors seeking out legacy deals? Are more and more self-pubbed authors getting pushed off the Amazon Top 100 lists by legacy ebooks?

Mike, I understand you probably didn't have the patience to read through this lengthy dialectic, and that you strive for an economy of words in your responses, but you're welcome to reply to this blog post with as many words as you like.


JA Konrath said...

I missed putting Shatzkin's quotes in italics in some places, and just amended that.

Bob said...

I threw in my towel on Shatzkin's blog about a year ago when he kept insisting that you had to have a print presence in order to be considered a real factor in publishing. No matter what I presented, he disagreed. So I said fine and let it be. He tends to get touchy when disagree with, which is rather amusing considering he's putting it out there in public.

He's changed his tune a lot since then; mainly I believe because he's recognized that in order to make money he needs a business like the one he's started where they advise clients on metadata and all sorts of other things. Interesting stuff and some of it is possibly worthwhile as I noted in my only other comment on his blog, but it's making ancillary money in publishing, not by directly selling books. In fact, I cast a leery eye on all the ancillary money-makers in publishing, many of whom have blogs read by many. I prefer to listen to those who make money selling books, since that's what I do.

I don't have to prove I'm right to these people. The business will do that for me. I do say that 2014 will be a bloodbath in publishing while most prognosticators felt like they "weathered" the digital storm and it will be relatively smooth sailing. No such thing.

I also don't read all the surveys, whether by DBW, indie authors, publishers, ancient Greek seers, whatever. Because I'm going to do my thing. My position is very different than anyone else's. Every author's is. We need to keep aware and track trends, but ultimately must all go our own way.

The reality is more murky than most realize. Those who aren't actually selling books for a living, are one step removed from the front lines.

JA Konrath said...

I don't have to prove I'm right to these people. The business will do that for me.

I agree, and wish I had the self-control to stop.

And with that, I'm going to go write and not return here for a minimum of four hours.

Anonymous said...

Let me repeat that point. On ebooks with the same price point, a legcay published authors has to sell 5.6x as many copies as a self-pubbed author.

Depending on the contract, of course.

Here are some real numbers:

In 2012, on the one novel I have with a traditional publisher, I earned $1500 on the sale of 14,500 ebooks. A lot of those sales came from a Kindle Daily Deal where the book was priced at $1.99, but still. On average, that's less than ten cents a copy for me, the author.

With a self-published book--even if it's priced at $1.99 all the time--I only have to sell 2143 copies to make $1500. At regular price ($4.99), I only have to sell 430 copies to earn $1500.

430 vs 14,500 for the same amount of money. That's not 5.6x as many. That's 33.7 time as many.

Considering the reality of those numbers, why would anyone in his or her right mind want to stay with such a publisher?

Sean Black said...

We really need a proper understanding of what net is when we talk about publishers paying 25% of net. For instance Steve Zacharius, who deserves credit for at least engaging, talked about digital warehousing costs and that they weren't insignificant. I have looked at the LibreDigital website and they do appear to be a significant cost.

Are those warehousing costs applied equally or are they applied against the author share? Ditto other costs? Does the publisher take the hit, or are they split or does the publisher absorb them all?

This might appear to be nit picking but 5% here, 10% there all adds up and where costs are applied is significant.

We are so used to assuming that at $4.99 a KDP author sees about $3.45 (assuming the small data charge) and that a trad author sees $0.85 (25% of net). But is that second figure accurate?

Some clarity on this would be helpful for authors and agents to gauge how they publish.

Additionally, can we please kill the 'indie authors can only compete by selling super cheap' meme. I actually price higher in the US (where I am indie) than my trad publisher in the UK does. Same titles, but different markets and different prices. If you can only compete on price, as every indie author knows, you are in trouble. Indie authors are selling because readers enjoy their work.

Bill Smith said...

Joe: Thank you again!

Your posts the past week or so, between Mike Shatzkin, Robert Gottlieb and Steve Zacharius show the incredible gulf of denial between the publishing establishment and reality. These people are terrified of admitting what is utterly obvious to anyone who is paying any attention at all to the publishing business.

Their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the failings of trad pub or even consider adapting to the new reality of the business has reinforced what I have instinctively felt for a long time:

(Preface: At least for me -- everyone has to find their own path -- but for me --)

There is absolutely nothing a traditional publisher can offer me that would make me interested in doing business with them.

Low royalties, minimal promotion, expecting me to tour extensively out of my own pocket, exclusivity clauses, long waits for royalty payments, preventing me from marketing, promo and excerpting MY OWN WORK, tieing up rights for years...I want nothing to do with any of that.

The ONLY thing traditional publishers have to offer is bookstore distribution.

And that part of the business is going to become less and less important as time goes on.

Online physical books can be handled nicely through CreateSpace.

And sure, ebooks are 25-33% of the market NOW. But that will inevitably change. As more and more tablets and smart phones and comparable devices are adopted by the entire range of users, from high-end goodies to very affordable low-end devices, and now that Kindles and Nooks are routinely being offered below $50 -- and I suspect within 2-3 years, there will be sub-$35 Eink readers -- ebooks are soon going to be the only market that really matters.

Not right now, but soon, possibly VERY soon, being in physical book stores is going to be a nice "add-on." A revenue stream, not unlike foreign language rights. Nice extra money, but not where the action is. As some authors are now saying, soon print will be a "subsidiary right" instead of the core of the business.

And while readers are going to be able to get more and more books for less money, authors are going to make a lot more money because of the higher royalty rates.

You can see this tidal wave coming and the trad publishers are just puttering around in the surf pretending that nothing is changing and there is NO REASON TO BE ALARMED.

I would almost feel bad for them had they not treated most authors so shabbily over the entire existence of the industry.

Anonymous said...

We are so used to assuming that at $4.99 a KDP author sees about $3.45 (assuming the small data charge) and that a trad author sees $0.85 (25% of net). But is that second figure accurate?

Publishers typically offer 50% discounts to vendors, so net on a $4.99 ebook would be $2.50.

With a 25% royalty rate, the author would get $.63 per copy.

Which boils down to 12.5% of the list price. :(

James said...

"On ebooks with the same price point, a legacy published authors has to sell 5.6x as many copies as a self-pubbed author."

This is the fundamental problem traditional publishers will have to face. And I've yet to see any traditional publisher even acknowledge it as a problem.

The argument isn't a Yes/No problem. It isn't, "I told you, legacy would still be standing after everything came tumbling down!"

It's that the price point for entry is so low for an author, that there is virtually no benefit to choose a traditional publisher when you are anything but the super elite.

And when/if you start to move more product -- why would that author ever want to then join a traditional publisher? The author has literally done all the heavy lifting to get to that point -- and would be taking a paycut to go with legacy.

Legacy is for the super elite. The people moving millions of copies a year. We aren't talking about the super elite. They can do whatever the hell they feel like.

We're talking about entry level. We're talking about the future. Traditional/legacy publishing does nothing to lure or tempt authors (new or old) to want to sell books through any publisher. They're not drafting new relationships with authors for the future. That's really the problem.

Alan Spade said...

"Legacy is for the super elite. The people moving millions of copies a year. We aren't talking about the super elite. They can do whatever the hell they feel like."

My last blog was titled "A top of the pyramid industry". And I began it with: "Imagine an industry which would put all of his resources at the services of winners to the lotto."

On Facebook, one of my contacts described the whole thing as a "Ponzi scheme".

There's truth in that, I think.

William Ockham said...

William Ockham here. First, welcome to Shatzkin's penalty box. He stopped responding to my comments when I wouldn't let him off the hook for pleading ignorance on antitrust law. To his credit, I think he was incredibly patient in dealing with someone who kept insisting that the industry he reports on/to was led by a bunch of crooks. I believe that if the biggest companies in your industry are accused of collusion you have a responsibility to educate yourself about the topic.

As far as my numbers, I have been on a mission to understand the story market as a system. The level and quality of data in the book business is abysmal. Basically, nobody knows anything (except Amazon and they ain't talking). Because publishers and writers have been separated from readers by layers of intermediaries, there has been little opportunity and less curiosity to learn about actual readers as a group. I became obsessed with building a model of the industry because that's what I do for fun and profit. In looking around for useful demand-side information, I discovered that there is very little usable market research. So, I turned to more general sources of data.

Pew Research has been polling a question that asks people how many books they read in the last 12 months. The great thing about Pew is that, after a 6 month delay, they release the raw data from their surveys (along with weighting factors they use to compensate for lack of randomness). This is a gift from the gods if you are a data nerd. Raw data, from the best representative sample you can get, available to slice and dice to your heart's content.

The first thing I noticed when I tossed Pew's raw data into a spreadsheet was that there was an anomaly at the high end. Apparently the data sheets that the interviewers use has only space for two digits. And they use 98 and 99 to code "don't know" and "refused to answer". There is this measurable group of people who read more than 100 books a year, but show up as having read 97. The nice thing about this from my perspective is that it makes it really easy to analyze this group. I am pretty sure that these folks are the prime target for indie authors.

Here's some news. There are about 7.5 million adults in this group, about 3% of the adult population. And they read over 25% of all the books that get read in the U.S. And there is no one in publishing who knows this (excepting that Amazon almost certainly does). Wouldn't you like to know how many of these people own an ereader? I will have an answer for that one soon. That answer will tell you a lot about how long B&N can survive.

Ultimately, I think I can build a model that can, for example, help individual writers evaluate how well a promotional strategy worked AND why. And that might be worth more to most professional writers than anything a legacy publishing company can do.

Randy Morris said...

Thanks Joe. You blog plus one from Hugh Howey and a few others has inspired me to write one of my own about what legacy publishers should have learned from iTunes. Maybe if enough people say the same things... someone over there will start listening.

JA Konrath said...

There are about 7.5 million adults in this group, about 3% of the adult population. And they read over 25% of all the books that get read in the U.S.

So it is theoretically possible to make a very good living selling only to these super readers, and any incidental sales to those who read fewer books will be gravy.

I'd also think that it is probably easier to be visible to this 3% than to other groups of readers. They must be searching for books on a regular basis, which means more chances to discover one of mine.

When you build you model, William, sign me up. I have LOTS of data I can share with you. :)

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Wow.....yes please!

C E said...

Thanks !

Kris Bock said...

Why do all these "industry insiders" assumes that self-publishing means e-books? I just went over my indie book sales from last year, and I have nearly equal sales in e-book and print on demand. Most of those print sales are from my children's mystery novel, The Eyes of Pharaoh. This book was rejected by several traditional publishers 5+ years ago because "historical fiction isn't selling." I'm not making big bucks on it, but I am making something comparable to what I get in royalties from each of my my traditionally published children's novels.

I do think print is more important for children's novels, but POD allows reasonable print prices for anyone who wants a novel, especially since publishers have started going to the $14-$18 trade paperback size.

Rob Cornell said...

Um, yeah, William. You are amazing! Keep in touch for when you get that model worked out. :)

Veronica - Eloheim said...

This brings to mind the idea of super fans which was my biggest takeaway from John Locke's book on self-publishing. (BTW, I never hear about him anymore....)

I'm a non-fiction author and have loads of offerings beyond books: retreats, private sessions, meetings, etc.

Books are a doorway into my other offerings which is where I make the majority of my income.

My newest "super fan" saw my photo on Youtube, liked my energy, bought one of my $0.99 books, and has since spent over $900 with me.

So, super fans mean a LOT to my bottom line. Not just "day of release sales," but serious income.

Doubling my super fans would completely shift my financial picture. 5x my super fans would create amazing opportunities for me.

For now, I seem to find them via my 460+ YouTube videos and my FB page. I would love to find more of them via Amazon and I hope that this continued discussion will facilitate me doing so!

I've gotten so much from the recent conversations and I thank Joe and all the contributors.

William Ockham said...

I assume there are some romance writers living off the 100+ books a year crowd already because a majority of these folks are women. [TODO: cross-ref data with RWA reader survey data].

When I have the demand-side of the model worked out, I am going to need some supply-side data. In particular, I will first be looking for the OCD writer who has kept records of their Amazon sales and sales rank over time. If I can get that, I will be able to incorporate a lot of other data from writers.

If you are one of those OCD writers, drop me an email, but don't send me any data yet. You can reach me at info at

Understanding how power readers (I would include 50 books a year folks) find books is really important. The endless shelf has changed life for these folks. Joe is right that you have multiple chances for your books to connect with these readers.

Their "discovery" problem is completely different from the "I read a couple novels every year on vacation" crowd. I know a few things about power readers already. One behavior is the "new to me" series search. One of the most exciting things for a power reader is finding a series they love.

One of the Holy Grails of the book business is finding a better way to recommend books. In theory, computational linguistics can solve this problem, but for most people, there isn't enough data to work on. But if you read 100 books a year, that's lots of text to analyze and you are more likely to need a recommendation. So it would make sense to work with these folks.

I just think that there is a lot of opportunity to add value for power readers. An indirect result of that would be to help writers who retain their rights. But as much faith as I have in the power of data, it won't help you as a writer unless you write stories people want to read.

Jill James said...

If people can't see the writing on the wall, or in the ebook (LOL) it is their own damned fault. When my mother-in-law decided this Christmas that she DID want a Kindle afterall because all the books she wanted were e-only I knew a point had been reached.

Stella Baker said...

William, your posts made my day.

I worked in public libraries for over 30 years. Power readers have historically gotten both books and recommendations for new authors/series at their library, but the advent of relatively inexpensive and instant access ebooks has affected library patronage. FYI, those recommendations are called Readers’ Advisory in library-ese. I used to do a ton of it. It’s like hand-selling in bookstores, without money changing hands.

And now I’m a writer and self-pubber.

Funny that my librarian-side has always known about power readers but my writer/publisher side never really thought about ways to focus on those power readers. Please post when you have ideas/service to help writers like me target those power readers. If I make that link, it will be like the old days of Readers’ Advisory, but this time money would change hands…and end up in my pocket.

Paul Draker said...

We frequently hear the meme "indies are only selling in big numbers because their books are cheap."

Joe and other commenters have already covered the fact that one sale of an inexpensive indie book earns the author far more money than one sale of an expensive traditionally-published book.

But I also think a pricing survey of the Top-50,000 indie books might surprise the folks making the broad-brush generalization about indie books being cheap. Hopefully someone will do one soon. The data-savvy and insightful William Ockham, perhaps?

In the meantime, here's an snapshot of best selling Science Fiction on Kindle. I think it's interesting in the context of this discussion.

A week ago, I noticed that there were 10 Science Fiction books in the Overall Kindle-Store Top-100 Best Sellers. And 5 of the top 6 of those were self-published.

The sixth? An Amazon-published book.

Yesterday, I checked again, and 7 of the Overall Kindle-Store Top-100 Best Sellers were still Science Fiction -- 4 of them unchanged from last week.

These 7 Science Fiction books are ranked #2, #42, #60, #65, #85, #96, and #99 in the Overall Kindle Store. By looking at the empirical rank-to-daily sales graph to estimate daily unit sales, and multiplying by their price, we can estimate their daily dollar sales.

Of the seven books, one is traditionally published, three are indie published, and three are Amazon published.

The three indie books are Atlantis Gene, Atlantis Plague, and Sand. Prices $3.99, $4.99, and $5.99. The indie titles are earning their authors an approximate total of $13,000/day.

The three Amazon published books are Timebound, Romulus Buckle (City), and Romulus Buckle (Engine). They are priced $1.99, $4.99, and $4.99. The Amazon-published titles (at 35% est.) are earning their authors an approximate total of $5,900/day.

The traditionally published book is The Rosie Project. It is priced at $1.99. It is earning Simon & Shuster $7,000/day. So (at 25%) it’s earning its author approximately $1,700/day.

I think this flies in the face of the "indie units are priced cheap and dollar sales don't compare" myth. The lowest-priced book of the seven was the traditionally-published book, "The Rosie Project."

Another interesting question, while we're looking at that book:

How much is being spent to market Rosie Project right now? And is that money, which could be going to the author’s revenue share instead, being spent effectively?

I don’t know how much Amazon is spending on marketing their three books here.

But I suspect A. G. Riddle and Hugh Howey are spending exactly zero marketing theirs.

P. S. Power said...

I think that there is a long term problem that the big 5 hasn't covered publicly yet at all.

15 years from now.

Yes, at this moment Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are big players. James Paterson is king and all that.

But a lot of those big players, the old men and wise women in the sales room, a decade or more from now will be made up of different people.

It might be that King is still around, but eventually even he will retire. Paterson is likely to do that in the next five years or so.

When that happens, new people will be moving into their places, and a lot of "high midlist" people moving up are like me. People that have a lot of books, rapidly growing readership, and the ability to hang in there while the legacy publishers lose a bunch of their talented writers due to mismanagement.

What are the "big boys" going to do when the number one instant best seller is an e-book by J.A. Konrath, P.S. Power (because I'm writing this, so you get the idea, I'm finally trying to self promote a little. Is it working? Well, this is just practice, so...)or one of the many very good self-published authors that have taken a big portion of the market share and are holding fast. Even growing.

Right now the big 5 make what, 60% of their money thanks to their top hundred performers? More than that?

What will happen when people want the new Konrath like that? If they're gritching about the belt tightening they need to do right now, what will they do then?

It will probably start to happen a lot faster than that, too.

Possibly in this year, or the next, we'll see the first big Indie breakout that "everyone" has to read.

It's going to happen eventually.

*Oh, wait... It already has.

Unknown said...

By these definitions I seem to fall into 'super reader' status. Do I get an awesome cape? Does this mean I can fly? A girl can only hope.

Years ago I read an article about how trade publishing markets to the 'average reader.' This average reader, apparently, buys four books a year and reads one of them. My reaction was one of sputtering confusion and outrage. But I spend thousands of dollars a year on books! Thousands! Why aren't they marketing to me?

Now I finally understand. Trade pub wants to sell one hardcover at $30, not ten books at $3. And let's be honest, I'm not going to spend thirty bucks on a single book. I can and do read three books in a single day. If I spent thirty bucks a book I'd be living on raman and feeding my dog ripped out pages as I finished reading them.

Anyway, while I have some books I find through odds and ends (the book makes such a splash that everyone reads it and I want to know what they're talking about, special deals, I like the author's blog (hi, Joe!)) mostly I find books through Amazon's recommendation engine. I like to joke that Amazon knows me better than my mom, but seriously, it's scary how good they are at selling me books.

So I guess if I try to analyze how I read to market the books I write, what I get out of it is 'price books in a binge friendly way' and 'hack into Amazon's algorithms so that they'll recommend my books.' (Kidding, kidding. I have no computer skills. I promise.)

Mean Teacher said...

Is "Ockham" a pen name? As in razor? Good stuff, regardless!

John Hindmarsh said...

The three indie books are Atlantis Gene, Atlantis Plague, and Sand. Prices $3.99, $4.99, and $5.99. The indie titles are earning their authors an approximate total of $13,000/day.

The three Amazon published books are Timebound, Romulus Buckle (City), and Romulus Buckle (Engine). They are priced $1.99, $4.99, and $4.99. The Amazon-published titles (at 35% est.) are earning their authors an approximate total of $5,900/day.

The traditionally published book is The Rosie Project. It is priced at $1.99. It is earning Simon & Shuster $7,000/day. So (at 25%) it’s earning its author approximately $1,700/day.

That is an astounding analysis. Sympathies for the poor trad published author - I wonder if he realises?

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Nothing to add except that this is great material, Joe, and I love your savvy commenters. The tsunami is coming and it's not going to be crap... it's going to be money arriving in great waves for self-published writers.

Alan Spade said...

Another great post by Hugh Howey. Go read it:

Anonymous said...

Another good thing about ebooks: NO RETURNS.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Joe, I used to spend a lot of time in bookstores. I still like to peruse in Powell's City of Books, unique to my hometown Portland, Oregon -- but all other bookstores have changed so much they're not satisfying anymore. I buy my paper books on Amazon, and they let me know when new stuff is coming out that I'm interested in. A superb arrangement where I find great reads and they ship 'em straight to my door.

What is with the entire traditional establishment trying to convince authors that they can't do math? The wizard is no longer behind a curtain, people. We all know how the dollars move in trad publishing to the folks with the LEAST investment in the product, to the detriment of the careers of those CREATING the product. Yeah, doy. Unsustainable.

JA Konrath said...

There's more activity on the Shatskin blog. He answered Ockham and several others joined in.

And many of Mike's answers... well... I'm trying SO HARD not to blow two hours of my day explaining why he's just plain wrong.

Stuff like:

It is my unprovable theory that fledgling authors are HURT by the end of agency because it resulted in bringing branded author prices down and undercutting the advantage that the indie authors like John Locke had in the early days.

Ebooks aren't zero sum. I've said that a gazillian times. If all ebook were low priced, more ebooks would sell for everyone.

Dollars are relevant to every retailer. Retailers are the path to the audience for everybody, not just big publishers. If the number of dollars being spent by consumers shrinks, so will the paths to the consumers and the sales efforts to entice them.

You completely missed Hugh Howey's point, Mike. Self-pubbed only care about the retailers that sell their books. If bookstores go away, those dollars won't go away--they'll go to Amazon where readers will find us.

For a much longer time than there will be lots of big bookstores there WILL BE books sold in stores.

And indie writers DON'T CARE! Don't you get that incredibly simply point? Publishers need bookstores to survive. Self-pubbers don't.

I gotta step away from the Internet...

Someone, please, explain to Mike why he's wrong.

Marc Cabot said...

Re: Returns.

Actually Amazon does allow returns of ebooks. (There are some pretty funny anecdotes floating around about people who overused the privilege and had their Amazon buying privileges revoked, but they were quite egregious about it.)

The highest returns field I know of is erotica, and I have had authors in that field who were at least minimally competent tell me that their returns averaged 5-10% per month. Five percent, in fact, seems to be pretty much the expected average even for what I would consider reasonably talented authors. (I've had authors I didn't consider particularly competent tell me they averaged 20% or higher. This is sort of the publishing equivalent of the old joke about the guy who would just go into bars and ask women to go home with them.)

It is interesting to note, though, that Amazon does not keep a reserve against returns for KDP authors. I expect if you were seriously problematic you'd be invited to leave the program eventually, but I don't know anybody who has.

Lois Breedlove said...

Does the reading habits of Americans appall anyone else? I knew it was bad -- I 'm a university professor -- but those numbers go along way toward explaining our problems as a society,IMHO so I'm one of those in the 97 plus category -- closer to 400 books a year. I got hooked young, and have averaged a book a day since the third grade when I got my first library card. I loved books, bookstores.... Every room in my house has books. Three years ago, I bought an IPad, and became a faithful ebook buyer. Have my buying habits changed? Absolutely. I still buy hardbacks for my gardening obsession and for professional research. I find it easier to browse a book than an ebook. And many of the books I want for research aren't ebooks. I don't think that will change for me. But who knows? In 2010 I was resistant to ereaders all together. Now I publish mystery novels ebook only. I still buy a few fiction paperbacks, but usually from my grocery store, or at the airport. I have a few authors I buy hardbacks, but even them, I'm buying as kindles most of the time. I can't remember the last time I was in BN. Even the books I do buy are through Amazon. I was in an independent bookstore last fall collecting research materials -- books about Alaska -- while I was in Sitka.

This went longer than I planned. But if my n=1 sample is common -- and I think it is, then Joe, et al, are right from a reader's viewpoint. As a mystery writer, I find the royalty numbers also convincing. Legacy publishers will need to rethink their product lines -- and their relationship with authors -- to stay afloat. And they don't seem to be willing to do that. Just think, I read 100 times the average American, and they don't seem to care what I buy....

Paul Draker said...

On Amazon ebook returns, it seems to vary greatly by genre.

I see a return rate of 0.25%-0.5% on my books, which are thrillers and mysteries.

I've heard new adult books (NA) also tend to have higher return rates than other genres.

But I think the Anonymous commenter who said "NO RETURNS" was actually contrasting e-books with the inefficient existing business model of traditionally-published paper books in bookstores, which encourages over-ordering of books. Especially specific "co-op" marketed titles (to create those huge stacks of the same book in a marketing display).

25-30% of all books ordered by bookstores don't sell, and then are returned to the distributor and pulped.

It's a wasteful tax on every reader and and every author.

Toby Neighbors said...

I'd love to get that info when you have it. I'd even be willing to pay for it. Is there a place I can "follow you" or sign up to be notified?

Toby Neighbors

Hollis Shiloh said...

I'm a power reader! I never knew! A slow reading year for me still means more than a hundred stories.

Alice said...

HI! I'm one of your super readers, down from about 500 books a year to around 150; my eyesight deteriorated so I can't read as fast as I used to. (I'm still putting in the same hours, just not covering as much ground.)

Once upon a time, very long ago, I couldn't walk past a bookstore without going in, just for the chance discovery. But now I stroll past without a glance - I haven't bought a paper book in over a year and have no plans to buy paper fiction ever again. References? yes. Nonfiction? yes. But not fiction. And I find my new (to me) writers primarily by Amazon recommendations, searching the Amazon top 100 (genre by genre, as I read several), trying free or discounted books via BookBub and PixelOfInk (which I check daily, others only sporadically), and the recommendations of friends. Once I find an author I enjoy, I tend to buy everything of theirs I can get my hands on, then repeat the process...

And if anyone has better results elsewhere, I'm all ears!

Jude Hardin said...

@Alice: If you like thrillers, I would like to send you a free copy of my new release.

Let me know. Just need your email address.

Mark Edward Hall said...

We love you, Hollis and Alice. Don't ever stop power reading.
By the way, Joe, great stuff.

Rob Cornell said...

We love you, Hollis and Alice. Don't ever stop power reading.

I second this!

Daniel Kenney said...

I live here in Omaha, Nebraska. Metro population 1 million...but...historically, it takes a while for things to make it our way. Like Barnes & Noble and Borders back in the day and then years later Starbucks.

Omaha didn't used to have a coffee shop culture. There really was no place to hang out when I was in high school and college. There was no third place. When Borders and Barnes and Noble finally came, all of a sudden there was. A place to get out of the cold, a place to kill some time over lunch, a place to get a coffee and hang out and read. And years later, Starbucks finally came to town. They offered another third place, albeit with even better coffee.

I say all of this because even in Omaha, things have now fundamentally changed. There are a ton of options to drink coffee, pull out your laptop and hang out. The big bookstore is becoming more and more obsolete. Especially with the advent of the ereader. And so, the casual "going to hangout at the bookstore" person just doesn't exist in Omaha like they did 10-15 years ago. And, on the other hand, the power reader, which the commenters have been talking about so much, the power reader really isn't going to the bookstore like they used to. For the power reader, the ereader is such a monumentally superior way of delivering books...that us power readers don't need the bookstore. We'd gladly instead go to our cool local coffee shop, pull out our kindle and start reading. The big bookstore is getting squeezed by a lack of casual folks and a huge lack of power readers. This trend will not reverse itself.

I'd say places like Omaha and Des Moines and Sioux Falls and Kansas City are the opposite of the canary in the coal mine. Like, when it happens here you might as well stick a fork in it. The point?

Big Box bookstores are going bye bye. We all know this. So much shelf space at my local B&N is now dedicated to non books, that I wouldn't be surprised if they started selling mulch and potted plants there this coming spring.

Yes, of course, physical books will continue to be sold in physical stores of some kind. But I'm guessing it will mostly be the best seller lists (which is all it is right now anyway_...and that really doesn't speak to most of the authors on sites like this.

In the end, midlist authors will only have a physical presence in libraries and independent bookstores...the same places they had when I was a kid.

And yet, this shadow industry will be thriving, learning about its power readers, writing books for them...and people who listen and work hard will make a living writing stories.

That's all most of us authors have ever wanted.

William Ockham said...


One of the things I love about mentioning power readers in comments sections is that they "out" themselves. You are the current champ if you were reading 500 books a year. That's awesome.

Your self-description matches what all power readers who've converted to ebooks say. All fiction in ebook form. Find new (to you) writers on Amazon recs, lists, free or discounted books, use BookBub/PixelOfInk type services, and buy everything of theirs I can get my hands on. That last part is why authors love us. I'm a power reader too, but not really in your league. I hit 100 books for the first time in 2013.

Anyway, I'm also a computer geek and have some ideas about how to make it easier for power readers to find and try out new authors. The more data I look at, the more convinced I am that it is a huge overlooked market.

Frank said...

I think the readers are the future of the book business. Readers might buy more books if they're cheaper, but given how long it takes to read a book that's probably not the biggest factor. Something needs to change the amount they read to have an impact. Does closing bookstores cause some to read less, maybe. ebooks probably cause some people to read more. I thought with Hollywood movies not being so interesting that might lead to more reading, but it seems that is being taken care of with shows like Breaking Bad. Shows like that are generally good for authors though. They revolve around the writing. Blockbuster just shut down because people stream those shows instead.

Colin M said...

As I have been reading these great posts and comments over the past 6 days, the overwhelming question that keeps coming back to me is: Who profits from these two opposing arguments?

It speaks volumes that the bloggers of influence (such as Joe, Barry, Hugh, and many others) and all the people commenting and analysing the available data, are actually doing this to help authors make more informed decisions, WITH NOTHING PERSONAL TO GAIN.

In fact, theoretically, they have something to lose in increased competition, although Joe has argued quite well that this is unlikely a concern. As Joe points out, these people are definitely donating their time to inform others...time that could be devoted to writing books.

To contrast this with the agents and publishers defending the traditional system...these people are defending a system that they still rely on for their livelihood, or at least profit from. It's possible that these people feel they are doing so in the best interest of authors but there is a much greater chance of bias in their case.

I applaud all the pioneers devoting their time to spread the information on self-pubbing as it becomes available. As someone just entering this profession, I greatly appreciate it.

Thank you all.


Mark Edward Hall said...

"I have some ideas about how to make it easier for power readers to find and try out new authors."

I'd be interested to hear what you have to say on this, William.

chris said...

I gotta step away from the Internet...

Someone, please, explain to Mike why he's wrong.

Dude, you gotta chill will your publisher hate!!

It doesn't matter, Joe. None of this matters. The whole publishing industry is evolving, same as any other industry that is being altered by the online environment. And what we believe now may not necessarily hold true in the near or far future.

Authors probably don't need to be battling against publishers we just need a clear guide to what is fact and what is fiction. And that's the benefit of many blogs like yours ie, Transparency.

We don't have to kill big publishing, nor do we have to hold them accountable. We just need information that allows us, as authors, to make informed judgments about the path we should take. And, of course, the destination we want to reach is different for each of us.

Unknown said...

@William Ockham

Any chance your current interpretation of the raw data could potentially lead to the holy grail of bestseller lists, aka One List to Rule Them All?

I've been trying to find specific patterns within Amazon's numbers for a while now. I know David Gaughran has some fairly accurate estimations that he's used before, but here's a what if for you:

What if you could accurately model Amazon's ebook sales using data submitted by selfpub authors (which I remember seeing a blogger on the Writer's Cafe who was already doing this with extreme accuracy) combined with a sliding scale, using the same data, to determine sales at any given time (because being the #5 bestseller in the Mystery category on Tuesday doesn't mean the same sales on Thursday). Using that and an accurate measure of Amazon's total market share (difficult, I know), you could extrapolate the total eBook market and thus a true digital Bestseller List.

If you could do that, you could theoretically combine it with the information from NYT and USA Today lists and create the first - and more than likely most accurate - TRUE BESTSELLER LIST (caps needed).

Difficult to do, but damn if that wouldn't be awesome.

Anonymous said...

I for one can't wait for the next generation of Espresso POD machines to invade bookstores. They'll be used to replenish stock and print lower selling titles on demand.

And these days aren't too far in the future. You can't stop technological innovation (and the people taking advantage of it) with terrible arguments.

MitchMFC said...

Interesting article, thanks

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

When adding comments on this blog, we have to prove that we aren't robots. Perhaps that is why there are so few comments by literary agents and publishers to be found here. They can't meet the burden of proof.

cinisajoy said...

Hi all. Power reader checking in. I have lost count of the number of books I read a year. Now how I find books, I get all the big e-book advertisers. Bookbub, ENT, and so on. I also check e-readeriq every day. Now I pick up a ton of free books every year. Here is the thing though, if I find an author I like free, I am inclined to pick up all his/her books.
I do read mostly self-published books for 2 reasons. The first is I know I am actually supporting the author and 2, I can get way more SP books for the same price as one hardback.

Oh wait there is a third reason, the SP authors are more approachable.
Matter of fact, I know I have read several of the authors that have posted in this blog.

Oh and I guess I owe a special thanks to Joe. He does write a good book. I was following him on a board. He led me to some other fantastic authors. And no I am not naming names. :)

Anonymous said...

Behold!, the future of publishing:

The wearable book. Imagine the possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Just imagine an erotica wearable book.

Alan Spade said...

Just figured out a thing. Imagine a thread with 200 comments or more. One commentator makes an interesting quote, with the name of the previous commentator, but her quote is too short and you want to get the full context.

You just have to open the comment thread in a new window, type Ctrl+F and then, in the short window, type the name of the commentator you want to find. It works wonderfully.

I knew the CTRL+F function in the internet for quite a while, but didn't thought to use it for comment threads. Stupid me. :(

Walter Knight said...

I've noticed a growing proportion of books at stores to have photos and illustrations. Is that because E-books haven't infringed on the graphic market yet. The end is coming soon for paper graphics, too.

Randall Morris said...


You left a review on one of my books that I offered free for a while back when Joe did his 8 hour ebook challenge. Horror Stories From A Computer Tech under my pen name, Geekus Maximus. Just wanted to say thanks for your review. Power readers are awesome. :-)

Randall Morris

Anonymous said...

What if someone did a comprehensive apples-to-apples comparison of Amazon's top-selling indie books and the top-selling big-five-published books?

Here's what they would find:

The top 1000 indie books have *higher* average review scores than the top 1000 big-five published bestsellers.

Scott said...

>>The top 1000 indie books have *higher* average review scores than the top 1000 big-five published bestsellers.<<

My guess would be that has everything to do with how they found those authors - via personal recommendations, via blogs, via targeted promotions. Maybe a lot of reviewers are responding to the ebook author's request to leave a review. Those readers feel a bit of a personal connection to the author in a way that never happened before...I know it works that way for me.

Anonymous said...

Power reader here... before the internet, I averaged 5 books a week, but now that I have internet, I don't read as many books and I read zero newspapers or magazines... and I used to read many.

But I still read books, just on my kindle... I don't power read any longer, but that's primarily becuz I power write, I write every day for hours... and reward myself when I finish a project with a couple books... but I was, in my 20s, definitely a power reader and it's still lurking inside of me.

BTW, my thriller CREATURES OF APPETITE is free today and tomorrow, if you'd like to check it out... it has 250 five star reviews.

Todd Travis

Anonymous said...


@Joe: There is obviously a lot of discussion about authors and their rights, and issues that affect them, etc., on this blog, but what about consumers and rights to their ebooks? Printed paper books and ebooks are different in another way as well: consumer ownership - with an ebook, the reader owns a "license," NOT the "book" itself. Do you think that this would affect ebook publishing and author self-publishing in the future?

From the above article: "Matthew Strain, partner at solicitors Strain-Keville, says: ‘It boils down to this: you don’t have the same rights as with print books, DVDs and CDs. Rather, you own a licence to use the digital files — so when you die, they expire with you.’"

Margaret McGlynn said...

Hi, Joe, and other smart folk posting here. Question for you: If you were an unpublished author with a YA fantasy trilogy to sell, would you court a legacy publisher deal, or self-publish?

Thanks for your insight!

R.J. Chastain said...

Big debate happening on the SPRT podcast. You should be there Joe. Check your email.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you're overthinking this. What about a simpler explanation:

Readers like the top indie books better...

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

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Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

The arrogance literally made me I'll. Today, with so much knowledge and sharing, you would think educated people would finally 'get it' and speak with more insight and care. His idea of first class, coach - it's barbaric. Thanks for reminding us why the traditional gatekeepers are evil.

Linda Pendleton said...

I not only find Maass' comments insulting to authors and their business decisions, but view his comments as another show of panic by those in the NY side of publishings. I don't understand why agents even care how we publish our books. He must be getting his 15% share of his "high class" writers, so why put-down those who chose to self-publish. Seems some live in a bubble removed from the reality of the life of an author. Traditional publishing does not give most authors freedom, excellent royalty rates, cover choices, pricing, and no reserves as we can have with self-publishing.

Lisa said...

I'm sorry, by the time I got to "prize cattle of the herd" I couldn't stop laughing...(tears)
Thanks Joe and Barry for sanity in the face...what would you call this? Legacy cattle rustling.

Susan Fleet said...

Thanks for this column, Joe. You and Barry nailed it. Over the past 2 years (2012 & 2013) I sold more than 10,000 ebooks. Happily, I now make money doing something I love: writing novels that readers enjoy!

For years I tried to become one of the anointed ones, but in 2008 three agents told me my writing was fine, my plot interesting, but there was "too much competition in the thriller market" so they wouldn't take me on.

I self published my first novel in 2008. Absolution won Best Mystery of 2009 [Premier Book Awards]. Natalie's Revenge, my third novel in the series just won Best Mystery --2014 Feathered Quill Book Awards.
Thanks again for sticking up for self-published authors. You do us all a service, and as you rightly point out, you don't charge us for your ever-helpful blog.

Unknown said...

Hey, I WAS in Walmart (under a different name), and my book did awesome there. And then my next book...wasn't selected. Seriously. I have no idea why, but it was probably that someone in marketing didn't make the suggestion to the Walmart rep when my second release came out.

Sure, it's great to get that kind of exposure, but it isn't reliable until you are a HUGE name and can have people check up on your publisher and throw a fit if it they fall down on the job.