Saturday, July 19, 2014

Barry & Joe Discussing The Guardian Discussing AuthorEarnings

Joe sez: Yesterday, the Guardian reviewed aspects of the latest AuthorEarnings report in an article called, Self-publishing Surging to 31% of Ebook Market, Claims Report.

Barry sez: I’m a big Guardian fan and think it’s great that they’re covering the data AuthorEarnings has been crunching -- data that contradicts a lot of misinformation and legacy industry propaganda. I also think it was entirely sensible for them to reach out to Philip Jones of The Bookseller and Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors for a contrary view.

Joe sez: Maybe they also could have reached out to you for a supporting viewpoint, since you have written for the Guardian. Maybe they didn't have time, or see the need. But I see this as a biased piece questioning AuthorEarnings data.

Barry sez: Well, we can always argue about “balance” or whatever in these matters. In general, I like to see a contrary view. My concern about Jones’s and Solomon’s views isn’t about whether they were pro or con; it’s more that they weren’t very coherent.

Joe sez: We'll get to those views in a moment. What interests me most about the piece is its bias.

We all have bias. And if the media has no bias, it's a classic View From Nowhere case (which is of course itself a form of bias, and an especially insidious one), such as Porter Anderson's recent piece where he refused to take a position. Read the comments and see how he deflects my criticisms. Or rather, refuses to address them. Without bias -- supportable and defensible bias -- reporting becomes stenography.

Barry sez: “Bias” is just the accusatory way of saying, “worldview,” and everyone has a worldview. I’ve written about this at some length elsewhere, including a piece called The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled.

Joe sez: The Guardian is taking a position on the AuthorEarnings report. The position is skeptical, and Jones and Solomon are quoted to support that skepticism.

Barry sez: I think that’s a fair characterization. Again, I don’t care so much about a writer’s worldview so much as I do with whether that worldview is logically coherent and supported by evidence.

Joe sez: I agree. And I agree it's progress that AuthorEarnings is getting some media attention. But I'm still rolling my eyes at the way the media -- and the industry -- is reacting to the data.

So… on to the Guardian piece itself:

Guardian: A new report claims that self-published authors have surged to 31% of ebook sales on, and are now earning more ebook royalties than writers published by the "Big five" traditional publishers. Despite research published earlier this month finding professional UK authors' incomes plunging below minimum standards...

Joe sez: The diction is fascinating. AuthorEarnings is a report that claims. The UK thing is research that finds.

Barry sez: Hah. It reminds me of that great George Carlin sketch… your things are “shit,” my things are “stuff.” So, “Hey, can you move your shit? I’ve got no room for my stuff.”

Naturally, they would do so again because self-pubbing is a thankless, losing venture that doesn't make any money. You know, except for those "typically recouping their investment plus 40%"

Let's repeat that:

"typically recouping their investment plus 40%"

Once more, this time in unbiased English:

"self-published authors surveyed made money -- a 40% profit at the time of this study"

That last bit the Guardian didn't mention is important, because ebooks are forever. I made 40% profit too. And then the next day, I made more. And the day after. And the month after. And five years after.

When did the profit begin? How soon after publication? How long has it been tracked? (You know -- tracking data, like is doing). 40% is ludicrous. I've invested perhaps $30k in creating ebooks (cover art, proofing, editing, design) and I've made several million dollars. That's more than a 40% return.

Guardian: According to the Bookseller editor Philip Jones there are "large question marks" about Howey's data.

"This is a very narrow selection of a particular type of market at a particular time," he said. "Most people who've looked at this in any depth say you can't extrapolate from bestseller rankings on the Kindle store to a picture of the wider market. Howey sees an ice-cube, and shrieks 'iceberg'."

Barry sez: Wait a minute… “a very narrow selection of a particular type of market at a particular time”? They’re tracking over 100,000 titles! But hang on, let’s ask Data Guy himself...

Data Guy sez: The Author Earnings reports are cross-sectional studies of Amazon ebook sales.

The raw data for each is obtained by a custom-coded Java web Spider software program that crawls the thousands of Amazon category Best Seller lists page by page and then "reads" the Amazon product pages for each of the 100,000+ listed books, extracting each book's title, author, publisher, price, overall Amazon Sales Rank, review counts and scores, and DRM info. It works by parsing the raw html of ebook product pages, following links through all the main and then sub categories. Anything on a product page can be pulled into a spreadsheet cell.

The methodology involves an interplay of four factors: 1) The known overall rank of each title on the Kindle store. 2) The estimated daily sales for those ranks. 3) The sales price of the ebook. 4) And the royalty paid to the author.

1) Is known. 2) Has been compiled by dozens of indies, who note their daily sales at varying ranks, and these rates match up and are regularly re-checked. 3) Is known. 4) Is known for self-published titles and well-estimated for all others.

You can tweak (2) and (4) as much as you want and not break the conclusions found in our reports, which is that self-published authors have taken sizeable market share of ebook royalties on the largest bookseller in the world.

Joe sez: I believe the only way to deny the results of the AuthorEarnings data is to say that Amazon sales rank doesn't correlate to the number of books sold. Which is VERY presumptuous. When Amazon sneezes, a thousand indies check Jeff's pulse. If Amazon was tampering with rank, someone would be able to show it.

Almost all media sales follow a power curve. Looks like a hockey stick. You can adjust this curve all you like, but since the distribution of indies to traditionally published authors is even and consistent, it doesn't change the results. Move a legacy book up in sales by its rank, and the neighboring indies go up. Move an indie book down in sales per rank, and neighboring trad books go down.

What Data Guy discovered, in essence -- by looking deeper into the data than anyone had before -- was three things:

1) It isn't just indies in the top 100 taking up 25 - 30% of slots; it goes all the way into the top 100,000+ titles on Amazon.

2) It isn't just 99 cent works selling at high clips; it's a range of prices.

3) The difference in royalty rates (5.6x) more than makes up for the difference in price and ranking.

What is the opposing argument? I haven’t heard it from Jones or Solomon...

Barry sez: And who are the “most people” etc. Jones refers to? In the absence of any names or citations, I don’t know how to interpret the phrase other than as “my cronies who share my thoughts and want to believe the same things I do.”

Which, from a guy criticizing others for a lack of scientific rigor, is a bit disappointing.

Joe sez: I like Jones's iceberg analogy, but not in the way he'd want me to.

An iceberg is the visible part of something potentially much larger. The phrase "tip of the iceberg" has become cliche because we’re all aware of this. Equating ice-cubes to an iceberg is like equating the tip of the iceberg to the rest of the iceberg.

Perhaps if Captain Smith had been paying closer attention to ice-cubes, the Titanic wouldn't have sunk.

Howey sees what thousands of indie authors have known individually, and he and Data Guy are proving in the aggregate. We're making a ton of money. But because this is an untracked shadow industry, only individuals (and those we share data with) have known this.

Of course, Amazon also knows this. And they're so confident in the money indies are making that they began the Kindle Unlimited program, offering readers unlimited access to ebooks and audiobooks, many of them self-pubbed in KDP Select.

Being in KDP Select means being exclusively on Kindle. Amazon is so sure they, and their authors, will make money, they're using Kindle Unlimited as a perk to entice more self-published authors to go exclusive with them.

Ice-cube? It's a frickin' glacier the size of a continent.

Guardian: While Howey has sparked an important conversation about author earnings, Jones continued, the report's positioning and aggressive rhetoric obscures much of its value.

"The fact that we don't know who this 'Data Guy' is or where he's come from suggest that we should take the Author Earnings report with a large pinch of salt," Jones said.

Barry sez: So… someone compiles data from public sources and analyzes it. He provides full information about his sources and his methodology and publishes all of the raw data for the world to cross-check. And Jones prefers to ignore all of that in favor of, what? The absence of a long-form birth certificate?

The proper criticism of reports like the ones coming from AuthorEarnings is (1) your numbers aren’t accurate; and (2) your methodology is flawed. The fact that Jones is unwilling to engage AuthorEarnings on those two issues, and instead wants only to discuss who Data Guy is and where he (or she) comes from, is incredibly telling. Apparently Jones can’t dispute the numbers, he can’t dispute the methods, and he can’t dispute the findings. So he goes for the far less relevant “how can we trust this guy” dodge, instead.

On balance, Jones’s reaction is about as powerful an endorsement of the importance and accuracy of AuthorEarning’s conclusion as we could reasonably hope for at this point. So as an AuthorEarning’s fan, I just want to say… Thank you, Philip. :)

Joe sez: Apparently two plus two only equals four if the one saying it shows his credentials. And his driver's license, to prove where he lives.

"where he's come from"? Seriously?

Guardian: "I think of it more as part of Amazon's PR effort, rather than an objective overview of the digital marketplace,” [Jones said].

Joe sez: If Amazon wanted to issue a press release on how much money indies are actually making, the publishing industry would cry "No way!" and call Amazon a bunch of liars.

But Amazon doesn't feel the need to. And Jones doesn't want to see the threat, so he talks himself out of admitting there is one. Classic deer in headlights. Stand very still, and maybe the car speeding at you at 65mph won't notice you and subsequently run you over.

Barry sez: It’s pretty amazing that one sentence after acknowledging “we don't know who this 'Data Guy' is or where he's come from,” Jones accuses him of being part of an Amazon PR effort. “We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s from the Death Star!”

Joe sez: It's a trap!

Barry sez: It’s okay (indeed, unavoidable) to be biased. But you have to support your bias with logic, consistency, and evidence. Bias expressed like Jones’s makes your worldview untrustworthy and unpersuasive.

Guardian: The report's treatment of literary fiction is a case in point, he added. "In the real world, literary fiction is a vibrant market, albeit smaller in sales than commercial fiction, and so far not an attractive purchase for your average Kindle user.”

Joe sez: Of course lit fiction is a vibrant market, as evidenced by its constant appearance on the bestseller lists.

Er, I mean look how big the lit fic section is in bookstores.

Uh… look, lit fiction is important to culture. We all value culture, right?

Barry sez: I have to ask… what is Philip's “real world”?  With zero data or citations behind his claim, what can a reader conclude except that Philip's “real world” is the evidence-hostile zone that exists only inside his own head?

Joe sez: Did you catch Jones's informal fallacy? Because Hugh's report didn't give lit fic enough credit in Jones's opinion, Hugh's report can be entirely dismissed.

Once you starting eating a bowl of fail, it's apparently difficult to stop...

Guardian: “I see this as less a problem with the canon, and more an issue for the platform,” [Jones said].

Barry sez: LOL… of course! Because after all, unlike those lazy benighted people who rely on data for their conclusions, Philip is able to see the Real World.

I’m not sure how to measure “vibrancy,” or even quite what Jones means by it. Maybe he’s confusing an objective report about size of the market -- that is, number of books sold -- with importance? The definition and importance of the canon Jones refers to is an interesting and worthy topic, much debated on university campuses. But when he responds to a report on data with a rejoinder on “vibrancy,” you get the feeling that he’s trying hard not to hear.

Which, I should I add, I understand. No one wants to hear unwelcome news. But it’s important to be aware of that innate reluctance, and to try to guard against rather than surrendering to it.

Joe sez: He is the editor of The Bookseller. He knows more than we do.

Barry sez: It is indeed important to evaluate opinions primarily on who the opining party is and where she comes from.

Guardian: “But I've yet to see Howey look at a piece of data, and not seek to pass it off as a problem big publishers have caused," [Jones said].

Joe sez: Which Jones ably defends by citing…

Wait, he didn't defend it. No links, no quotes by Hugh, no references taken from

It's okay to have an opinion. I prefer my opinions to be informed, and defensible.

I suppose someone could look at AuthorEarnings and come to the conclusion that it’s somehow about the problems big publishers have caused. I happen to think its a collection of data that shows how much authors are earning. Hence the URL,

Barry sez: Yes, “I’ve yet to see Howey” is particularly beautiful coming immediately after Jones’s evidence-free assertions about Data Guy being an Amazon shill and literary fiction being vibrant in the Real World.

Guardian: According to Jones, authors and publishers would welcome an "adult debate" about ebook sales and author earnings, but in the absence of sales figures from Amazon that's just not possible.

"Nobody has a good view of this market, because Amazon holds all the data and doesn't share it," he said. "Anyone who claims otherwise is just making it up."

Barry sez: As opposed to all the legacy industry’s well-known data-sharing generosity…?

And Jones claims the Data Guy is a shill?!

I’m sorry to keep coming back to it, but this is another really great example of the pernicious effects of unexamined, unchecked bias. Yes, Amazon is secretive. But what does it mean when someone criticizes only Amazon for the very same secrecy that characterizes the entire legacy industry?

And what’s particularly amazing about Jones’s misleading claim is that the only data available to AuthorEarnings -- the only information they could use to extrapolate their results -- comes from Amazon! The legacy industry is a like a black hole -- you can’t see it directly, so you have to examine it obliquely through data that can be gleaned from Amazon. You know, the data Amazon won’t share.

Joe sez: Hold on a second. Are you saying that legacy author royalty statements aren't transparent and easy to understand? Or that prior to Nielsen Bookscan (a third party), publishers' data wasn't accessible by everyone?

I gotta shake my head in wonder. Attacking your opponent for doing the same thing you're doing is ridiculous.

So... Data Guy is either:

1) making up the data he got from Amazon 


2) the data he acquired somehow doesn't count because Amazon isn't the one who compiled it.

Why do I get the feeling that if Amazon did compile and release their own data, there would still be widespread disbelief?

Barry sez: What you’d likely hear then is that Amazon’s published data is false, while the legacy industry’s nonexistent data is reliable.

Joe sez: What's the term when a person refuses to acknowledge they are in danger, so they don't act at all?

Barry sez: You mean denial? I’m not sure if there’s a formal name. The phenomenon is, “I’m not acting, and even though my position is worsening, I’m not dead… and that thing out there is really scary. So I’m going to keep on not acting because so far I haven’t died." But I don’t know the name for it. A kind of denial, I guess.

Joe sez: I see a lot of that happening on all sides in this industry--authors, publishers, media, anyone connected to this biz. Lots of people refusing to give any credence to the very real threat of the two-headed monster in the room: self-publishing and Amazon.

Ignore it, discredit it, deny it, downplay it, pretend it isn't there.

Guardian: The general secretary of the Society of Authors, Nicola Solomon, welcomed Howey's attempt to shed light on a rapidly changing market, though suggested his conclusions should be treated with caution.

"First, these figures don't look at sales of print books, which will still be a major part of the earnings from a Big five publisher.”

Joe sez: Uh, didn't AuthorEarnings look at sales of print books on Amazon?

Barry sez: What’s that saying? “It’s not the things you don’t know that’ll get you. It’s the things you know that just ain’t so.”

And often, the things we know that just ain’t so are the product of a desire to believe something. If that desire is deep enough, it’ll cause people to overlook easily available evidence, as seems to be the case with Solomon here.

Guardian: “Even if you look at ebooks only, these figures don't take into account the risk and up-front costs which self-published authors take on themselves," [Solomon] said, "nor the impact of advances received by a traditionally-published author."

Barry sez: What “risk” are self-publishers undertaking? They control their rights. Self-publishing a book today doesn’t preclude legacy-publishing it tomorrow. You might coherently argue that self-publishing offers limited upside. But to argue that it involves material risk makes no sense. The real risk is in the legacy route, where you give up your rights forever pretty much no matter how things turn out.

As for the upfront costs of self-publishing, I would argue that these are relatively trivial. And there are plenty of costs involved in the legacy route, such as a dramatically lower per-unit royalties, vastly slower time-to-market, a permanent loss of rights, etc.

There’s a species of logical fallacy I see again and again in the publishing revolution, and it fascinates me. There’s probably formal nomenclature for it (and if you know it, please tell me in the comments!), but what I’m talking about is the tendency to attribute a negative trait only to the feared outgroup -- when it applies at least equally to the desired ingroup. A trivial example would be a Republican claiming, “Democrats lie!” Or a Democrat claiming the opposite. When in fact, obviously, all politicians lie.

So to try to dismiss AuthorEarning’s findings because the findings don’t discuss the (illusory) risks and (low) costs of self-publishing -- while failing to mention (and thereby implying the non-existence of) the real risks and high costs of legacy-publishing -- is deeply misleading.

Guardian: The report offers a snapshot of sales at only one retailer, she continued.

Barry sez: Over 100,000 bestselling titles is a “snapshot”? I’d call it a gigantic mural, at least. Has anyone ever crunched more numbers than AuthorEarnings? BookScan only examines a fraction of books sold, yet BookScan data is widely accepted as gospel. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that some people were -- consciously or unconsciously -- trying to deposition AuthorEarnings only because they don’t like its conclusions.

Guardian: "Do these figures really mean you should self-publish and ignore a traditional publishing deal?” [Solomon said]. “Well, no, not necessarily." But with self-publishing becoming increasingly attractive for many authors, traditional publishers need to offer more, she continued. "They should be offering better rates – 25% of net receipts is simply not fair – and they should be offering shorter timeframes on contracts before rights should either revert to the author or be up for renegotiation."

Joe sez: I don't think anyone is saying that legacy deals should be ignored. If I were offered a legacy deal, I'd consider it. Any reasonable person would consider any reasonable author.

But I doubt any legacy deal would tempt me. Their terms are too onerous. I agree with Solomon that legacy royalties are too low, and shorter timeframes are needed, but that's just (pardon me) the tip of the iceberg.

When authors can earn 70% and control their rights, and AuthorEarnings shows that how self-pubbing authors are earning more than legacy authors, any reasonable person should be paying attention.

And you do have to wonder… why is the general secretary of the Society of Authors using language that shows bias against self-pubbing, which is demonstrably beneficial to authors? Why the fear?

Barry sez: Well, this was a fun and interesting opportunity to examine some of the revealing human reactions to disruptive change in an industry. But I don’t want to lose sight of what we started with: it’s great that AuthorEarnings, despite their unwelcome conclusions, is getting increased attention in the mainstream media. So thank you, Guardian -- and Philp and Nicola, if we’ve misunderstood you or mischaracterized anything you’ve said, we’d love to hear from you in the comments (we’d love to hear from you generally). Most of all, we hope more authors will follow so they have better information to make better decisions for themselves. Because if there’s one thing probably everyone can agree on, it’s that writers have choices today that we never had before -- and that we should do what we can to ensure we’re making the best choices possible.


Bob said...

For authors who've been through the gristmill of NY publishing-- the Big 6/5, and weren't 'annointed' like 1% were, indie publishing has opened the distribution channels.

I finally get the fear coming off Scott Turow, Malcolm Gladwell, and others. They see 50% loss on their royalty statements. I thought since they made tons of money anyway, they didn't care. But their egos are tied up in it. Seeing their sales go down is kicking in a the 'imposter syndrome'. Maybe they're not as good as they thought they were?

Nirmala said...

There is a name for what they did to Data Guy. It is called an ad hominem argument which is a logical fallacy:

As for attributing a negative quality to the out group, that may simply be a form of psychological projection.

Liz said...

Hey Joe,
I noticed you mentioned Kindle Unlimited from the perspective of Amazon's profits, but where do you think this leaves indies? Is it a good thing for us?
Thanks as always for your perspective.

Mark Terry said...

"This is a very narrow selection of a particular type of market at a particular time," he said. "Most people who've looked at this in any depth say you can't extrapolate from bestseller rankings on the Kindle store to a picture of the wider market. Howey sees an ice-cube, and shrieks 'iceberg'."

Um, yeah, that's what research does. Pharmaceutical companies don't test out drugs on 8 billion people, they take representative samples. The larger the better, but rarely 100,000. Same goes for market research. If you're going to analyze, say, the clinical diagnostics market in the U.S. (which I've done several times), you don't get financial data from all 250,000-odd clinical diagnostic labs operating in the country, it's impossible. But you can work with the numbers you have and compare the records from the publicly traded companies and extrapolate to private companies based on test volumes they are (sort of) required to turn into the government, etc. This is a totally specious argument, as if Nielsen Bookscan somehow accessed 100% of available book selling data, or, for that matter, The New York Times Bestseller list isn't based on a selective (and more or less secret) selection of a very limited number of bookstores.

Unknown said...

This is helping me to wrap my head around the arguments that are happening, as I tend to skip over the article and get back into my writing hole. THANK YOU.

Anonymous said...

According to Jones, authors and publishers would welcome an "adult debate" about ebook sales and author earnings, but in the absence of sales figures from Amazon that's just not possible.

Except that thousands of auhors, legacy published and indie, are having that adult debate right now, and looking at real data that informs it.

Alan Tucker said...

"In the real world, literary fiction is a vibrant market, albeit smaller in sales than commercial fiction, and so far not an attractive purchase for your average Kindle user.”

There's an impressive amount of snobbery and elitism packed into that statement. You guys already touched on the "real world" aspect. Besides which, the report doesn't denigrate literary fiction, it just says that the sales of it are minimal and what sales existed were largely attributed to one book.

But that last bit? "… so far not an attractive purchase for your average Kindle user." Translated from snob-speak, "You plebes with your silly electronic readers have no sense or appreciation of fine literature, because that can only come from reading a REAL book, not that uncultured swill YOU people read."

I was an English Lit major in college. Elitists like this guy are the reason I gave it up for a job in the "Real World."

Anonymous said...

None of this matters. Not everyone gets picked for pub by trads and not all indies' books sell. Only the lucky ones can make a living at writing. And the really lucky ones get rich. It also doesn't matter if publishers vanish in future because there's self pub now. Why bicker? Just write.

Nirmala said...

In a comment on the article, Philip Jones says, "it is worth remembering that Amazon created KDP, barely 4 years ago, as part of a deliberate strategy to undermine traditional publishing."

Wow, he thinks Amazon started KDP to undermine traditional publishing. It seems to me that they started KDP to make money. I am pretty sure that the folks at Amazon were not sitting around discussing how to undermine traditional publishing as their main goal when creating KDP.

Anonymous said...

From the Author Earnings report: "The market for literary fiction is anemic for indie authors simply because it is an anemic segment of publishing overall. In fact, Literary Fiction makes up only 2% of Amazon ebook unit sales and 3% of Amazon ebook dollar sales. More startling is the fact that 20% of that 3% belongs to a single aggressively-promoted title, The Goldfinch. Even including that title, literary fiction barely amounts to 2% of total author earnings. And indie authors earn 13% of that. That’s a not-insignificant portion of what turns out to be a pretty insignificant piece of the total publishing pie."

So I wouldn't worry too much about lit fic. 'Culture' has always been a rara avis.

The breakout I would like to see is non-genre, non-lit fiction - the solid mainstream novels that are readable by most people. Do we classify Nicholas Sparks there - or shove him into the romance genre? Bridges of Madison County. The Help. Etc. (note that 'romance' is a keyword used for Spark's books).

Why? Because some of us do write in that category and are feeling a little left out. Nothing against genre fiction, mind you - just not what I write.


Unknown said...

And here I always thought it was designed to monetize the 95% of writers traditional publishing left in the inbox or tossed out with the pre order numbers. I wonder if the frustration is that writers deemed by them not ready are getting real play or that Amazon figured out how to grab a sizable market share using resources they took for granted? And even if it was what he said, what's the plan there, undermine traditional publishing by treating authors better? Can't say as I have a problem with that strategy.

Terrence OBrien said...

I expect the traditionalists to claim the AE report has been completely discredited in the past, and it is not worth considering it again.

Unknown said...

"Once you starting eating a bowl of fail, it's apparently difficult to stop..." What a great line!

It is an interesting point that Dan Meadows makes. Amazon carved out a market share by encouraging rejected authors to sell books without a publisher. The publishers said no. Amazon said yes, and has made a lot of money for itself and indie authors. And now the publishers are complaining.

Anonymous said...

Who cares what anyone thinks about indie publishing. My bank account doesn't.

Steve Johnson said...

It was just this morning while cleaning out used books from inventory, when I discovered the hardcover copy of "Megatrends" by John Naisbitt, published in 1982. Thumbing through the pages to see how much of the future Naisbitt got right, my eye stopped on Page 26, upon seeing this subtitle:

"In the future, editors won't tell us what to read: We will tell editors what we choose to read"

I quote Naisbitt:

"Anthony Smith in his 1980 book, Goodbye Gutenberg, has usefully pointed out that we are at the beginning of a period that will witness a shift from author to receiver in the 'sovereignty over text.' For hundreds of years, authors and editors have decided what to put in the packages they create for us" ... "and we pick among them, deciding what we want to read or watch. Now, with the new technologies, we will create our own packages, experiencing sovereignty over text. It will evolve over a long period of time, but the accumulated impact of people exercising sovereignty over text will undoubtedly have a strong effect on the new society we are shaping."

Seems to me Naisbitt gave legacy publishers fair warning to get ready for the coming changes 30 years ago.

William Ockham said...

Every time the legacy publishing community reacts to Author Earnings, this is what I think of:

Anonymous said...


Joseph said...

If the math said something different then what I knew to be true I'd be skeptical. As it is this report just confirms what we already knew.

Not sure what the controversy is here, but I'm not paid to put my head in the sand. So that's probably why I don't get it.

Lizzie said...

The article read to me like the Guardian is trying very hard not to come to the obvious conclusion. That's the sense I get from most of the media outlets writing articles on self-publishing these days. Their arguments usually amount to "yeah, so traditional publishing really doesn't offer much to writers anymore, but should you abandon it completely? No. End of argument." They don't even bother backing up their assertions so I don't bother taking them seriously. I really do think most authors are far smarter than the media outlets believe they are and more and more of them will naturally gravitate towards self-publishing regardless of the weak articles the media puts out to discourage it.

Anonymous said...

All I can think of is the guy on Myth Busters "I reject your reality and substitute my own!".

Who gives a shit what these guys think? They are a couple of dinosaurs watching a meteor come in and thinking "It doesn't look so big from here!"

Terrence OBrien said...

"In the real world, literary fiction is a vibrant market, albeit smaller in sales than commercial fiction, and so far not an attractive purchase for your average Kindle user.”

So, should we expect the literary fiction sales to drop as more and more readers adopt eBooks?

Talin said...

According to Jones, authors and publishers would welcome an "adult debate" about ebook sales and author earnings, but in the absence of sales figures from Amazon that's just not possible.

Any major publisher, especially the biggest (Penguin Random House) could easily estimate indie earnings based on their own reports from Amazon. If you own a well distributed thousand of those ranking spots over the 100,000 range you can fairly easily estimate the dollars per day of everyone else in that range.

Anonymous said...


Forgive me for being off-topic, but I have a quick self-pub question which has been bugging both author AND publisher, which owns my copyright?

Should it say in my contents, © 2014 Author's Name,
or © 2014 XYZ Publishing Company?

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing "Author" for "Arthur" in the above clip

Big Publishing: None shall pass.
Author: What?
Big Publishing: None shall pass.
Author: I have no quarrel with you, good Publisher, but I must reach my Readers.
Big Publishing: Then you shall be rejected.
Author: I command you as Creator of the Stories to stand aside!
Big Publishing: I move for no author.
Author: So be it!

*Indie Authors take 20% of Big Publishing's market share*

Author: Now stand aside, worthy Gatekeeper.
Big Publishing: 'Tis but a scratch.
Author: A scratch? *looks at* Your arm's off!
Big Publishing: No, it isn't.
Author: Well, what's that then?
Big Publishing: I've had worse.
Author: You liar!
Big Publishing: Come on you pansy!

*Indie authors take another 20% of Big Publishing's market share.*

Author: Victory is mine! We thank thee Readers, that in thy mercy...
Big Publishing: Come on then.
Author: What?
Big Publishing: Have at you!
Author: You are indeed brave, Sir Publisher, but the fight is mine.
Big Publishing: Oh, had enough, eh?
Author: Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no market share left.
Big Publishing: Yes I have.
Author: Look! *shows report*
Big Publishing: Just a flesh wound.
Author: Look, stop that.
Big Publishing: Chicken! Chicken!
Author: Look, I'll have your leg. Right!

*Indie authors take yet another 20% of Big Publishing's market share*

Big Publishing: Right, I'll do you for that!
Author: You'll what?
Big Publishing: Come 'ere! You need to be sifted.
Author: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
Big Publishing: I'm invincible! I protect literature!
Author: You're a loony.
Big Publishing: The Publisher always triumphs! Have at you! Come on then.

*Indie authors take all of Big Publishing's remaining market share*

Big Publishing: All right; we'll call it a draw.
Author: Come, Readers.
Big Publishing: Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You failed rejects! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!

darrensapp said...

We've read The Fallacy Detective with our kids and then looked for examples, such as daily on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. It's amazing how many of these logical fallacies I've seen in this author earnings and Hachette/Amazon debate. The side employing these fallacies it typically on a losing path.

Unknown said...

First they ignore you.
Then they denigrate you.
Then they argue with you.
Then they slink away with their tails between their legs.

@Anonymous, about the Author vs Big Publisher skit: that would make a great Monty Python routine. :D

JA Konrath said...

Pharmaceutical companies don't test out drugs on 8 billion people,

That made me spit coffee.

darrensapp said...

I don't know that this is a perfect analogy, but governing dynamics may come into play. Remember that scene from A Beautiful Mind? What if we all ignore the blond (Big 5). FYI: The clip has one crude reference.

Gramix Publishing said...

The absence of a long-form birth certificate?

Lots of good comments here for this excellent post. However, I note that neither Barry, Joe, nor any of the commentators are providing their long-form birth certificates. How then can I trust anything being said? :)

J. R. Tomlin said...

Ha! "When Amazon sneezes, a thousand indies check Jeff’s pulse." Great line and so, so true.

Douglas Bornemann said...

To be fair, I can see a potential risk. Debut authors without a platform and with no prior experience in marketing could find themselves worse off because they begin with less exposure than, say, an already trad-published author who switches to self-pubbing for the second book. Even if you're convinced self-pubbing is better in the long run, you worry whether you'd be better off getting trad-pub help establishing your readership with your first novel or two. On the other hand, we don't know how much money and effort are actually spent on the average book debut, do we? If it were substantial, you'd think the trad publishers would be crowing about it (and providing details) to discourage self-pubbers from falling into the self-pub trap instead of spending all that effort trying to keep e-book prices artificially inflated...

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Douglas Bornemann...Hey impressive credentials! Now,what makes you think legacy makes a whole lot of effort or spends $ on an unknown author? When I was legacy published, I was assigned a publicist who did a little...I got most of the media appearances. Advtg budget was zero. This in the days before ebooks or alternatives. Today they won't do shit unless they spent a lot of money on the advance to a newbie...which they don't.

Douglas Bornemann said...

w.adam mandelbaum. Thanks! That's why I say a "potential" risk. No doubt a huge selection bias is happening here--clearly some authors are getting help, but we are likely never to discover the ones who don't. Without data from trad publishers there's no reliable way to evaluate how great that risk truly is. I'd think if the actual data favored trad-publishing, publishers would shout it from the rooftops, but if their heads are still buried in the sand, they may not see the need. Once the bulk of books are sold as ebooks, the only way for publishers to stay relevant will be to actually provide services that improve an author's chances of success.

Jim Self said...

"Eviscerate" isn't a word that describes many conversations, but Barry did it here. The simple argument of "prove it" shows they didn't even attempt to do so.

"Howey's numbers are bad."

Prove it.

"Data Guy is untrustworthy."

Prove it. Lay out your argument in a logical fashion, so as to carry me from where I am to your conclusions. If you can.

Walter Knight said...

Phillip Jones disputes the author earnings data by demonizing Author Guy rather than disputing the sales numbers. This does sound familiar. We all know what political party does that with pervasive media bias.

Anonymous said...

If he wants vibrant culture, tell him to dump food coloring in his yogurt. Why the fuck is he looking for art in an earnings report?

- axle blackwell

Scott said...

Jones...hmm. A pretty common last name. Do we really know who this guy is, or if he is who he says he is? Could be an alias...

Nirmala said...

Not a peep out of the mainstream US press yet about the latest authorearnings report as far as I can tell from searching Google news.

Nirmala said...

Philip Jones responded to one of my comments on the Guardian article with some clarifications, and also a link to a post claiming to debunk the initial authorearnings report:

I looked the analysis in the post over and found that many of the objections were not relevant anymore due to the follow up studies by But there are still several points in that analysis that it would be great to see a fisking of. Maybe Hugh has done one already, or maybe that could be another post on here. For example, one point in the analysis on the linked to page is that books move up and down in their ranks, so how can you compute annual sales per author based on a particular day's rank? I would like to see the rationale for that explained more fully, although it seems clear that any inaccuracy in those figures would be equally true for self-published and trad-published authors.

Also Philip claims he was not saying that Data Guy is part of an Amazon PR effort, but that the report is. I do not quite understand the distinction, and it still seems like wild speculation.

NWA said...

@Darren Snap

Thanks for the link to the Fallacy detective.

There should be a website that does nothing but put articles to the fallacy test. With the US election season heating up, it would get plenty of clicks.

With the whole self vs/ trad publishing broohaha, I wish the story of John Kennedy Toole were better known. He wrote "A Confederacy of Dunces," put couldn't get it published in the days before self publishing was viable.

He suffered from paranoia and depression for years (in part because he couldn't get his book published) and ended his own life. His mother took up the mantle for his book. Once it was published, it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and great acclaim.

If the KDP "publish" button was available, who knows what might have happened.

I do wonder how many John Kennedy Tooles are out there today, published and making money thanks to the platform Amazon gave writers.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on Kindle Unlimited?

Anonymous said...