From Digital Book World:
In the past two years, Data Guy’s Author Earnings reports have become an increasingly popular resource for authors, shedding light on aspects of the publishing industry that were going previously unreported.
But the reports have also spurred a great deal of controversy. While some within the industry think they are vital tools for authors everywhere, there are others who criticize the data and think the conclusions resulting from them are worthless. There are of course many in the middle who believe the reports are admittedly far from perfect, but necessary nonetheless.
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Why do you choose to keep your identity anonymous, and is there anything that you’re willing to divulge personally?
I think the anonymity kind of goes back to where I was at when we started. Much by happenstance I discovered there are some advantages to staying anonymous. Back when I first pulled the data, it was really for my own information. I had just been approached by one of the top imprints in my genre, and they were making an offer on one of my books. It had done really well as an indie published release, and they could see it was selling well, ranking high on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, featured on devices, racking up reviews, etc. So they approached me, and I was negotiating with them and I was pretty excited. But, you know, I’m a numbers guy by my other career—my non-writing career—and I was looking for data to help me make my decisions. And there really wasn’t any data out there on what I needed. The official industry stats were kind of blind to half of the story. They didn’t cover indie publishing at all. And so I’m in the middle of negotiating with that publisher, when I pulled this data, and I look at it. I share it with Hugh, and we decide to publish it. But I didn’t want my involvement with Author Earnings to interfere with the discussion that I was having with the publishers.
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So based on all the research that you’ve done into ebook sales and where the money is going, is there one piece of strategic advice that you’d offer to Big Five publishers to do things differently than they do now?
There definitely is, and I think that DBW may be an opportunity to dig into some of these trends in more detail. In general, my observation is not something that Hugh and I alone are saying. High ebook prices don’t really hurt mega-selling authors with long established careers in all of the airport book stores and Walmart, but what they do that is not good is they damage the discoverability and also earnings of mid-list authors. And particularly the vast majority of debut authors who are brand new. No one knows who they are. They need to first find their own audience and fanbase among avid readers before their publisher will put a significant amount of marketing and funding behind pushing them to a more casual, broader audience. The industry’s changed, and the dynamics are not the same as they were when today’s traditionally published mega-sellers first came up a decade or more ago.
Most avid readers today read digitally. When you look at who’s reading 50 books a year, 100 books a year, those are the folks who are giving new authors a shot. I’m not talking about the seven-figure advance, Pulitzer Prize, one-of-them-a-year mega-debut author; I’m talking about the vast majority of traditionally-published debut authors who are trying to build a name for themselves. And the digital readers, these avid readers, are basically bypassing those authors, because they don’t recognize the names, and the price is off-putting to them.
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This is a bit of a long-winded question, but it’s the one that I’m most curious about. Your feelings or anyone’s feelings toward the Big Five publishers aside, how do you personally think the rise of self-publishing has affected our literary culture as a whole? Not too long ago, we had gatekeepers who let only a minority of potential authors past. Now with self-publishing and further avenues to get a book out there to an audience, literally anyone can be an author, and as a result, the number of books published per year has, frankly, exploded. For individual authors, this is great news: they can now achieve their dreams and publish a book. But taking a step back, with the gatekeepers not holding all the power, and a surge in books published, how do you feel this has changed the culture surrounding books? To put it another way, is the value of a book at all watered down now that anyone can be an author?
This is a question that I’m not going to be particularly good at answering. After all, I’m known as “Data Guy,” not “Literary Subjective Opinion Guy.” [Laughs] But with that said, first off, I have no particular feelings about the Big Five publishers, positive or negative. And I think this makes me a little different than a lot of the folks we hear from on various author groups. I’m a brand new author and a new entrant into this industry. I’ve never submitted a query to anyone. I hear a lot of this angst, and there seems to be bad blood one way or another. It’s just lost on me. I don’t get it. I get that some people in this industry feel very strongly about the things that have happened in the past, but for me it’s just a brand new, wide-open field. Let’s see what there is to learn.
With that said, I do think that today’s wide-open, democratic world of publishing is a good thing. It’s been a tremendous boon for literary culture and freedom of expression. The gatekeepers were an economic necessity in the past. It wasn’t so much about quality, although these two concepts tend to get tangled a lot, because nobody wants to think of themselves as just serving an economic function alone when working in the arts. It was more about choosing which manuscripts were worth taking a financial risk on. Well, today that risk is largely mediated by the fact that you don’t have to take a big risk to get a book out there in the public eye. At the end of the day, the only gatekeepers that matter are readers.
Link to the rest at Digital Book World