From Publishing Perspectives:
In the new February Author Earnings report, released Monday (February 8), things continue to look rosy for self-publishing authors and dire for the trade. But there are also announcements of changes in the approach—not entirely clear changes, mind you but in some ways promising. We’ll look at a bit of that later in this article.
To grasp the industry-political context here, we must remember that many who are skeptical of the efficacy of the Author Earnings effort point to the fact that it is an agenda-driven exercise.
Frustrated with what they said was a skewed and pro-industry picture presented at the Digital Book World in 2014’s “What Authors Want” survey, Mssrs. Howey and Guy set out to find a way to demonstrate that self-publishing is a viable route to earnings potential for authors. The result is the Author Earnings assessments, which many in the self-publishing community have defended as proof that their pathway to publication can be as good or better, financially, as the standard trade publishing route. Those fans, again, will be chuffed.
. . . .
Here’s the news: Author Earnings asserts that on Amazon’s bestseller lists, indie self-published titles account for more than twice the number of Big Five titles.
“What has changed,” the report tells us, “is the degree to which Amazon’s overall Top 20 bestsellers, and even the overall Top 10, have come to be dominated by self-published titles from indie authors—nearly half of which were not priced at $0.99 but rather ‘full-priced’ sales at prices between $2.99 and $5.99.”
. . . .
The most interesting question for us at this juncture is just what the trade publishing management attending DBW will make of this. Can it be that the “legacy” industry is being outclassed so substantially by “indie published” authors—the self-published sector?
. . . .
This is the language of self-publishing as what some of its champions call the “shadow industry,” a creative corps that cares nothing for the customs and concerns of the industry, and yet seems never to tire of carping at the establishment. It’s always worth noting that even some of the most-honored self-publishing bestsellers have taken contracts when offered.
And as anyone familiar with negotiating basics knows, by framing its results in ways that call out “the other side”—in this case, traditional publishing—Author Earnings repeatedly has hobbled its own efforts to widen the discussion. Rather than simply present an interpretation of the market and let that interpretation speak for itself, the material is served on a bed of right and wrong. Eyes glaze over, chips remain on shoulders, collegial exchange seems hard to come by.
. . . .
On the way out the door, Data Guy stops to pop publishing with a towel for agency pricing, of course, which gives us those out-sized prices on trade ebooks and Amazon’s “This price set by the publisher” notes on the pertinent sales pages. It may well be true that the publishers are shooting themselves in the feet with agency pricing on ebooks, perhaps contributing to the slowing of growth in digital reading on some level.
. . . .
Some of the most highly placed operatives in the trade will privately tell you (they’ve told me) that they’ve spent two years scratching their heads over Author Earnings’ digital derring-do. It’s reputed to have several parts:
- Sales reported by authors are compared to rankings of various titles on Amazon.com;
- A “crawling” of Amazonian sales pages is accomplished (our spider man or woman at work) to “scrape data” on a single day for each report (January 10 in the newest one)—spider goes out, spider comes back with the scrapings;
- An extrapolation of the results is made from that date; and
- Inevitably, a web of upbeat news for fans of self-publishing is spun from the results.
It might all be searingly accurate, spot on, perfectly right. But we can’t tell that.
And, as I mentioned in some commentary on the last report of 2015 at The FutureBook, what’s probably needed is a full analysis by a completely independent, reputable, capable firm, a unit of Nielsen or Forrester or PWC, KPMG, Deloitte, somebody, anybody. Please!
. . . .
What I’m being told is that a group of more than a dozen authors now makes available to Author Earnings, in some form, its actual royalty statements. The approach thus takes out the second-hand nature of reported sales. This takes us, Data Guy says, past the realm of “volunteered data points” collected and on to more precise observations made “during the precise same time period.” Significantly, Data Guy says that rather than using single-day sales, “this model incorporates sales history and matches Amazon’s true algorithm far better.”
And that’s the crux of the change: it involves the formula Data Guy uses to infer what a sales ranking means, based on what he tells us is now better-sourced actual data on sales provided by authors.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.
So, we need an audit of Author Earnings by KPMG or some other extremely expensive auditing firm.
PG wonders how often KPMG audits Nielsen Bookscan. Nielsen claims to record 75% of all retail sales of books in the US and is the bible of Big Publishing, controlling the careers of 98% of all traditionally-published authors. How do we know that Nielsen’s numbers are accurate? How do we know that all the retailers are providing Nielsen with accurate numbers?
Author Earnings makes its data publicly available in downloadable form with each new report. Here’s a link to all the data backing up the latest report. It’s a spreadsheet that runs almost 200,000 lines.
All the quote marks surrounding “crawling,” “scraping data” and “spiders” in the OP are breath-taking admissions of technical ignorance. Crawling and scraping data is what Google and Yahoo and Bing and a zillion other web search engines have been doing approximately forever.
To spell it out for the English majors in Manhattan, millions of Google spiders crawl the web 24/7, scraping data about the content of websites around the world. Google started doing this in 1998. But, of course, Big Publishing takes the long view and 1998 won’t happen there for a few more years.
As far as the methodology that Author Earnings uses, in PG’s view, it’s brilliant. He immediately understood it when it was described in the the first Author Earnings report. It’s a version of what Google does applied to book rankings on Amazon. Spidering, crawling and scraping are involved in case you had any doubts.
If Big Publishing employed anyone who knew more about computers than Spell-Check, it could have done the same thing that Data Guy and Hugh Howey did with Author Earnings.
Since Big Publishing has much more detailed information about Amazon sales of the ebooks of many, many tradpub authors, it could have extrapolated a lot more information about ebook sales than Author Earnings did.
But that would have taken more effort than lobbying the Department of Justice to make Amazon stop doing bad.
Unsolicited advice to Data Guy for his presentation at Digital Book World:
- Don’t forget a trigger warning for Arithmophobes before you begin.
- Include a map on your first slide showing the location of the closest safe space with no numbers. You may want to show the map periodically during your presentation.
- No more than three numbers on any Powerpoint slide.
- No decimal points.
- Don’t forget to mention Excel for Dummies.