Author Earnings/Vanity Presses

How Apple and Big Publishers Pushed E-Books Toward Failure

8 March 2016

From Bloomberg Business:

Apple suffered a final defeat in its legal fight with the Justice Department over e-books Monday, when the Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s appeal. When the case was filed in April 2012 it was seen as a fight over the future of the digital book industry, with Apple Inc. and the five biggest publishers aligned against Inc. While Apple and its allies lost in court, their vision for the industry won out. It hasn’t been good for e-books.

The Apple case centered on whether publishers or online retailers  would determine the prices for e-books. At the time, Amazon was selling e-books at a loss, buying a book for, say, $14.99 but then charging Kindle users just $9.99. Publishers worried that tactic would train customers to expect books to come cheap forever.

. . . .

While Apple fought through the courts, the publishers all settled with the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Amazon decided that letting publishers set their own prices wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. Its newest deals with the big publishers allow them to do so. If Apple hoped to gain an advantage over a rival, it failed. Amazon controls about three-quarters of the U.S. e-book market, according to Good e-Reader, a website that follows the industry. In 2010 it made up 54 percent of the market.

Once Amazon gave up on its goal of setting a $10 standard price for e-books, the prices began to rise. Today, three of the top five best-selling books on the New York Times list for fiction cost at least $12. It’s not unusual to be able to buy a paperback book for less than the cost of the digital version.

There’s a widespread assumption that digital media always wins out over physical media. But even the Internet isn’t immune to the basic laws of economics. E-book sales declined 12.3 percent over the first 10 months of 2015, compared with the previous year, according to the American Association of Publishers, which compiles data from 1,200 companies.

. . . .

“It’s a fascinating question and clearly what it shows is that purchasers make a decision based on price,” said Robert Thomson, the chief executive officer of News Corp., which owns Harper Collins, in a recent call with investors. “They are valuing a print book versus an e-book.”

Thomson said he still expects e-books to grow as a percentage of the company’s overall book business, but acknowledged that people have lots of choices on their devices, and won’t necessarily choose books over other forms of entertainment.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Business

DBW’s Wide-Ranging Interview with Data Guy

24 February 2016

From Digital Book World:

Who exactly is Data Guy?

We know he’s the numbers wizard behind Author Earnings—a collaboration between himself and self-published mega-author Hugh Howey. And we know that he’s anonymous. But that’s pretty much it.

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.

. . . .

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.

Strategically, if you’re a Big Five publisher, supporting those authors now with lower ebook pricing, would mean you’re building a healthy, sustainable pipeline of intrinsic revenue streams you control down the road. But by not doing so, instead you become increasingly reliant on being able to make opportunistic acquisitions of these big blockbuster properties that originate outside of the traditional publishing industry. You have to do that quarter after quarter, year after year, without fail. It just doesn’t seem like a sustainable strategy long-term. So that’s the piece of strategic advice that I’d offer.

. . . .

Do you feel that with every new iteration of this report you guys are getting more and more accurate and getting closer to the actual truth, if there is one?

Absolutely. In fact, one of the biggest jumps in accuracy was—our rank-to-sales conversion method had gotten a bit long in the tooth. And as we headed into the end of last year, we were looking at it and I go, “You know what? This is out of date and it’s going to be too conservative.” And because we mostly avoided making statements about absolute sales that Amazon is doing and instead saying, “Hey, looking at relative measures of sales, this is how the pie breaks down.” That kind of accuracy doesn’t have to be precise, but at the same time I wanted to upgrade our methods so that we could look at quarter to quarter sales and say, “What’s happening to the size of the pie? Is it growing? Is it shrinking? How fast?” And so with the February report that we did, we upgraded our approach significantly.

Now it’s based on real sales data—raw sales data—from exactly that time period provided by about a dozen authors, and an increasing number every day. And these include very high-selling authors, as well as authors who aren’t selling well. And so we pretty much have real-time data points up and down all the different sales-ranks, from one or two of the absolute top-selling books on Amazon down to books that are hardly selling at all. Hundreds of books. So we factor that in.

. . . .

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 minorities 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.

If they like what’s out there, the books will tend to do well, gain visibility, spread through word of mouth. And if they don’t, essentially it’s irrelevant in the market, and yet it may not be an irrelevance for that author. That author may have achieved their dreams, and they have finally been able to put their book out, and the three people who read it will be the ones who shared that experience. Maybe that’s all that matters to them.

So I think on the whole it’s a positive thing. Readers benefiting from a far greater wealth and diversity of high quality books and ideas. Making it all available to them, and more importantly now affordable to them. Democratization, greater diversity, and more feelings expressed—it’s kind of hard to see any downside. Not that I have any strong opinions about this or anything. [Laughs]

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Digital Arachnid: What Does Author Earnings Say to the Industry?

9 February 2016

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:

  1. Sales reported by authors are compared to rankings of various titles on;
  2. 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;
  3. An extrapolation of the results is made from that date; and
  4. 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:

  1. Don’t forget a trigger warning for Arithmophobes before you begin.
  2. 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.
  3. No more than three numbers on any Powerpoint slide.
  4. No decimal points.
  5. Don’t forget to mention Excel for Dummies.



February 2016 Author Earnings Report: Amazon’s Ebook, Print, and Audio Sales

8 February 2016

From Author Earnings:

Two years ago, the first Author Earnings report revealed the growing market share of self-published ebooks. With data on hundreds of thousands of titles, it was suddenly possible to measure the relative sales and earnings power of ebooks according to publishing path. By sharing this data, we hoped to help authors understand the changing market in order to make sound decisions with their manuscripts. In the two years since, our quarterly snapshots have revealed emerging trends in the digital publishing world. Before we get into this month’s report, let’s look at those trends, with our new February 2016 data points included.


In two short years, the market share of paid unit sales between indie and Big 5 ebooks has more than inverted. The Big 5 now account for less than a quarter of ebook purchases on Amazon, while indies are closing in on 45%.

. . . .


In the purple line above, we can see the decline in share of ebook dollars earned by Big 5 publishers. Despite the greater profitability of ebooks over print books, some of these publishers have touted their shrinking ebook sales as a positive development. Meanwhile, we know from our own data (more on this later) and from Amazon’s press releases, that overall US ebook sales have actually gone up in dollar terms. The blue indie line shows where most of that increase is being funneled. Today, a quarter of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks in the US is spent purchasing indie-published ebooks.


The most important graph for authors shows the rapidly diverging rate of ebook author income by publishing path. The Big 5 publishers are now providing less than a quarter of the dollars earned by creatives for their ebook sales. Indies are taking close to half. As detailed in previous reports, higher prices and other missteps are a likely contributor to this accelerating trend, but the reality may be that major publishers simply are finding it difficult to compete with indie authors on diversity, price, quality, and frequency of publication, as this divergence has been increasing for the last two years — well before the Big Five’s return to no-discount agency pricing. But as we can see, the transfer of market share in author earnings from Big Five to indies did steepen significantly after the Big Five’s 2015 reinstatement of agency ebook pricing.

. . . .

For this report, Author Earnings threw out all of our previous assumptions. We built a brand new rank-to-sales conversion curve from the ground up. This time we based it on raw, Amazon-reported sales data on the precise daily sales figures for hundreds of individual books from many different authors, spanning a period of many months. Our raw sales data included titles ranked in Amazon’s Overall Top 5 — titles whose KDP reports verified that they were each selling many thousands of copies a day — and it also included books ranked in the hundreds of thousands — whose KDP reports revealed were selling less than a single copy a day. We combined that mass of hard sales data with a complete daily record of Amazon Kindle sales rankings for each of those books, pulled directly from individual AuthorCentral graphs. We ended up with nearly a million distinct data points in total.

Why did we need so many data points? Because Amazon’s Overall Best Seller Rankings aren’t a simple calculation based on each book’s single-day sales — they also factor in time-decaying sales from previous days as well. To reverse-engineer Amazon’s ranking algorithms, the more raw sales and ranking data we used, the more accurate our results would get. So we fired up some powerful computers, fed them all that raw data, and let them crunch the numbers.

. . . .

Armed with our brand new, data-derived rank-to-sales conversion methodology, we were finally ready to tackle our deepest, most comprehensive look yet at Amazon’s daily book sales. We fired up AE’s web-crawling spider bot across 250 high-powered 8-core servers and walked it down each of Amazon’s thousands of best seller lists and category sub-lists. In a little over an hour, we pulled almost a terabyte of real-time data from the product pages of over 500,000 of Amazon’s best-selling titles. Here’s what we found:


. . . .

The aggregate share of indie self-published titles on Amazon’s best seller lists, at 27%, hasn’t changed since September 2015. It is still more than double the representation of Big 5 titles. But what has changed, very significantly, is the degree to which Amazon’s overall Top 20 Best Sellers, 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.

On January 10, the date our spider ran:

  • 4 of Amazon’s overall Top 10 Best Selling ebooks were self-published indie titles
  • 10 of Amazon’s overall Top 20 Best Selling ebooks were self-published indie titles
  • 56 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks — more than half — were self-published indie titles
  • 20 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks were indie titles priced between $2.99 and$5.99

We’re not the only ones to observe this trend, which seems to have now become the new normal.

These top-selling indie titles encompassed a wide variety of genres. Romance and Paranormal were well represented, certainly, but Amazon’s Top 100 Best Sellers also included quite a few self-published indie Science Fiction books, indie Thrillers, indie Suspense novels, indie Urban Fiction, and even Cozy Mysteries by indies.

But best seller slots held by each type of publisher is a far less interesting metric than share of daily ebooks sold, which is where we first bring our brand new rank-to-sales curve to bear:


Whether we use our new, scientifically-derived curve or the old original crowdsourced one to compute unit sales, the trend we see is exactly the same. When it comes to the number of ebooks sold each day, the market share of indie self-published titles has grown substantially since our September 2015 report, while traditional publishing’s collective market share has shrunk. Indie books now account for more than 42% of all ebook purchases each day on

. . . .

Sometimes a change in strategy achieves the intended result… and sometimes it backfires.

The Big Five’s return to agency ebook pricing may have been just such a case.

Their ebook pricing strategy was intended, at least in part, to slow the erosion of brick-and-mortar print book sales.*(3) By preventing Amazon from discounting the Big Five’s ebooks at Amazon’s own expense, the Big Five could force the consumer prices of their ebooks artificially high — higher than what many consumers are willing to pay for digital books. The thinking among Big Five publishers was undoubtedly that this would encourage those consumers to buy fewer ebooks on Amazon, and instead buy more hardcovers and paperbacks in brick and mortar bookstores, thus preserving a legacy distribution advantage long held by the biggest traditional publishers… and one that was fading away fast as a higher and higher percentage of book purchases were being made online instead.

From November 2014 to September 2015, the Big Five publishers negotiated brand new two-year contracts with Amazon in which they fought aggressively for — and won — the right to prevent Amazon from discounting their ebooks. Prior to these contracts, Big Five ebooks were discounted steeply at Amazon’s own expense. Our data from 2014 and early 2015 revealed that Amazon was on average selling Big Five and other traditionally-published ebooks to consumers at breakeven prices and making zero or marginal gross profit from them. That’s almost no profit on traditionally published ebooks, while Amazon was earning a healthy margin on the sale of indie and Amazon-imprint ebooks. In effect, prior to the Big Five’s return to agency, Amazon was more or less selling traditionally-published ebooks at cost. They were subsidizing traditional publisher ebook profits and traditionally-published ebook author earnings by nearly 30%.

By reinstituting agency ebook pricing and forcing their own consumer ebook prices high while preventing Amazon from discounting those ebooks, the Big Five publishers put a halt to that. They willingly did financial harm to their own bottom lines and in the process also seriously damaged the sales and earnings of their own authors, in an attempt to wrest market share and control away from their largest and most profitable retailer.

Did they succeed in that goal?

According to both our data and Amazon’s own public statements, despite the Big Five’s return to agency ebook pricing, Amazon’s overall US ebook sales have continued to grow throughout 2015 in both unit terms and dollar terms. On the other hand, the Big Five’s share of those ebook sales has plunged precipitously in both dollars terms, and even more precipitously in unit terms.

That particular outcome was easily predicted — and probably inevitable. Perhaps the Big Five viewed it as a strategic sacrifice.

But at the same time, Amazon’s online print sales — driven by steeply discounted hardcovers and paperbacks, which in many cases were priced even lower than the ebook editions — ALSO went up.Significantly. In fact, our data points toward Amazon seeing even greater growth in their 2015 print sales than in their 2015 ebook sales.

As of mid-January 2016,’s print sales were running at a rate of 969,000 print books a day.

With the largest bookstore chains reporting 2015 book sales as flat or down, and book sales also down significantly for warehouse and club outlets, an uptick in local independent bookstore sales is a small brick-and-mortar bright spot. But it’s extremely likely that most if not all of print’s reported 2015 “resurgence” took the form of increased online print sales… at

We suspect that the Big Five’s high ebook agency pricing, and Amazon’s steeper online discounting of print books, may well have had the opposite of the intended effect. It may have encouraged traditional hardcover and paperback buyers — including those who had zero interest in buying digital editions — to take advantage of those steeper discounts and purchase more of their books online, while buying fewer in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Some very savvy analysts who cover the industry from the traditional side, and whose insights *(4) we value greatly, have pointed out that this particular outcome may not necessarily have been unanticipated by the agency publishers. But they still may have deemed it the lesser evil, if in the process they could also slow the consumer shift from buying print to “e”.

But either way, if true, it means that more print-book buyers are now shopping at a storefront where indie print books share a significant portion of shelf space alongside books from traditional publishers, and where indie print books are now fast-approaching a double-digit percentage of print sales.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

A couple of thoughts from PG:

1.  As he has noted before, Hugh and Data Guy are conservative in the way they treat Small or Medium Publisher numbers.

Quite a number of indie authors have created their own publishing imprints and list those imprint names on Amazon. Since Author Earnings doesn’t know if XYZ Publishing is a single author or a small press that publishes 25 authors, AE conservatively groups single author publishers with Small/Medium Publishers.

PG believes that the true numbers of indie authors are much higher because of the omission of indie imprints from the indie author categories.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of AE in any way, but a suggestion that indie authors are more dominant on Amazon than AE’s excellent data demonstrate.

2. As PG considered AE’s “250 high-powered 8-core servers” and the data analytics chops behind AE’s conclusions, he believes that these stats are substantially more sophisticated than a typical traditional publisher generates for its internal purposes.

Some Thoughts on the International Market

3 December 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, I found out through the magic of Facebook that four of my sf novellas, translated into Italian, are four of the five bestselling titles in my Italian publisher’s bookstore. As I mentioned in my blog on translation a few weeks ago, that’s not due to me. That’s because I have an excellent translator. It’s a good marriage of translator and story, because books in translation don’t receive acclaim (and sales!) if the translator is poor, no matter how well the book did in its original language.

The Italian books came about because I don’t have an agent. I know that’s counterintuitive for those of you still wedded to traditional publishing myths, but things have changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Or rather, my eyes have been opened and things have changed.

For many years, I had sold many titles for translation in other countries. Then I switched agents, went to a much larger agency, one with a dedicated foreign rights department, and the sales of my books to foreign publishers for translations decreased. I switched agents again, to an even larger and more prestigious (and older) agency, and my foreign rights sales stopped completely.

What happened? It’s very clear in hindsight.

Agent #1 embezzled from me. His preferred area of embezzlement? Foreign rights royalties. He paid the advances, although I never saw the contracts (a problem right there, because who signed them? I never gave him power of attorney). I have no idea if he skimmed off the top of those advances. I suspect he did, but I didn’t audit him.

When I realized just how shady this guy was, and believe me, it took years because he (still) has a sterling reputation in the industry, I fired him and moved to the much more prestigious and much larger boutique agency with the dedicated foreign rights agent with an office in the basement.

My sales started drying up then, because she would turn down deals if they were too small. Embezzler Boy would take those sales, because he knew he would get more in royalties, but she was (in theory) above board, and thought the deals too small.

Since Boutique Agency handled (and handles) some big New York Times bestsellers, my deals were small in comparison to those offered to the big names. And apparently, not worth the agent’s time. She turned down the offers without consulting me. Yep, she and the agent I had for my U.S. rights often turned down “too-small” offers on my behalf without consulting me.

How did I find this out? Only when I went overseas as the guest of honor at an international science fiction convention and publisher after publisher who had published my work in the past pulled me aside to ask why I had gotten so focused on money. I mentioned changing agents, thinking these publishers had simply contacted the wrong person, and the publishers told me they knew I had changed agents and as politely as possible, told me that the change prevented my books from seeing print.

. . . .

I’ve been making steady royalties off the foreign deals I’ve negotiated, without any embezzling that I’ve caught. (Another foreign agent, a partner agent to Boutique Agency’s agent, embezzled as well. It’s so easy for “trusted advisors” to put their sticky fingers into a writer’s finances, so easy it’s scary.)

The Italian deal, above, with the novellas, is one I negotiated. I’ve done plenty of others, and I know I could have even more if I simply queried the older publishers. I’m sure I will…eventually.

. . . .

One of the biggest overseas markets for my work twenty-five years ago was Great Britain. Back then, getting British books here in America or getting American books in Great Britain was a real chore. There were some booksellers, including friends of mine, who specialized in getting first edition British books into the States. That involved tariffs and taxes and expensive shipping or traveling with the books themselves. And then there was no guarantee of instant sales.

The best way for book dealers to handle British books was to deal with British writers who had become popular here. British writers like P.D. James would first publish their books in Great Britain, so the first editions in English were always British. Plus, they were released six months to a year in advance of the American edition. If you couldn’t wait for your next P.D. James fix, you either had to travel to England yourself, cultivate a British bookseller, or buy books from one of these American bookseller/brokers.

No matter what your preferred method was, you would always pay a premium for that first edition and the chance to read that book before everyone else.

Amazon started to change that when it opened its Amazon U.K. store years ago. Other online businesses sprang up that had partners in various countries, which somehow reduced the tariffs and duties. (I don’t even pretend to know all the legalities.)

But the real groundbreaker, as you all know, was Amazon’s Kindle, which led to the rapid rise of electronic books.

. . . .

My books have been in the Amazon U.K. store since Amazon made it possible to sell English-language books in the U.K., and the one thing I always noticed was that the British market lagged a few years behind the American market. (I like to say five years behind, but it’s probably closer to three.)

The arguments against e-books were the same in Great Britain as the ones against ebooks in the U.S., but Great Britain was having the arguments years after the U.S. had already settled them.

The British market remains years behind the U.S. market, and the British market added some twists to protect paper books. For example, the U.K. market charges a Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all ebooks, which it does not charge on paper books. I’m sure there are other things that I’m not aware of that are currently hindering some of the growth in the U.K. ebook market.

But the market is a viable one. For years, for my work, Amazon’s U.K. ebook sales were always second to Amazon U.S. ebook sales. That’s no longer true. A number of other retailers both here and in other countries now scoop Amazon U.K. in terms of sales for my stuff. But we all know—or should know—that anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all. It’s just proof that one writer’s career works one way.

. . . .

Myth 3: The Big Five Publishers here in the U.S. can get better overseas sales for their writers.

Simply not true at all. The entire [Author Earnings UK] study that Hugh and Data Guy did points to this conclusion—and frankly it surprised them. It didn’t surprise me, because my own personal experience has been that the ebook revolution has made my own English-language sales grow exponentially.

I’ve had some other experiences though that help this detail be unsurprising for me. I’ve traveled overseas as an author a number of times, and I was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction before this ebook revolution hit.

I constantly got questions back in those days about making F&SF available for an international audience. After all, the major SF awards are mostly focused on short fiction and until the last six years or so, getting the issues of the various short fiction magazines into the hands of readers outside the U.S. has been difficult at best. Those readers had heard of all of these stories and authors, but weren’t able to sample them.

Now readers can, and can easily.

The same happened with novels. I can’t tell you how many people I met overseas who had heard of my work but had never read it. They wanted copies of the work, but couldn’t get their hands on it.

Then the ebook revolution happened, and I got email after email from some of these same readers, ecstatic that they can now get books they had only heard about before.

Some of my books that are unavailable overseas are traditionally published. In some cases, I got English-language rights reverted to me, so there are different editions for the overseas work and the U.S. work. But in others, I signed some bad contracts that took translation rights as well as World English. Those publishers have not exercised any of the overseas rights. Not a one, but they would come after me if I did so.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

November 2015 – the UK report: Author Earnings on

2 December 2015

From Author Earnings:

Up until now, Author Earnings has focused on the US ebook market, and mostly on, the dominant US retailer. There’s a reason for that. According to the International Publishers Association, the United States makes up 30% of the global book publishing market. In other words, $3 out of every $10 (or perhaps more appropriately, £3 out of every £10) spent on books of any format anywhere in the world, is spent in the US. And more than half of that $3 is spent online — two thirds of it in’s US bookstore — where, notably, for the last several years, most of the books purchased have been ebooks.

But now, it’s time to broaden our horizons a bit. The barriers that once made it difficult for an author to make their books available in other countries have now fallen. It’s time for all authors to start thinking globally — there’s a whole wide world of readers out there.

According to the IPA, after the US, the next four countries — China, Germany, Japan, and the UK — in combination comprise another 30% of the global publishing market: China has 10%, Germany 9%, Japan 7%, and the UK roughly 4%. The remainder of the global publishing Top 10 — France with 4%, Italy 3%, Spain 3%, Brazil 2%, and India 2% — between them add up to another 15%. Thus 10 countries make up 75% of global sales of books of all formats, with the US alone just about equal to the the next 4 combined.

But when it comes to digital book adoption rates, most of those countries significantly lag the United States, for a variety of reasons. As a result, the US now makes up a far larger portion of the world’s digital book market than print — well over half of it, in fact. The United Kingdom is the only other country whose ebook adoption rates even come close. The ebook markets of China, Germany, Japan, where print book sales are larger than the UK’s — and of France and Italy, whose print book sales are close to the UK’s — are still relatively nascent. Those countries still sell far fewer ebooks than the UK does.

Which makes the United Kingdom currently the world’s second largest market for digital books.

With our October report, we filled in the remainder of US ebook market by looking at the top 4 non-Amazon ebook retailers — Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google, so now it’s time to move our sights across the pond. Perhaps we should have done it sooner. Although the UK ebook market is less than a fifth of the size of the US market in unit sales or revenue terms — still sells more ebooks than any of the non-Amazon US retailers do in the US. More than the US Apple iBookstore or Barnes & Noble Nook store… and several times as many as Kobo US and GooglePlay US combined.

Simply put, is the second largest retailer of English-language ebooks in the world.

. . . .

In this report, which is our first look at the UK ebook market, we were curious about several things:

1) Market share by publisher type. How well are self-published indie authors doing in the UK store, relative to their traditionally-published peers? Are the growing indie ebook sales and author earnings we see in the US market a phenomenon limited to that country only? Or have indie authors gained a significant foothold in the world’s second-largest ebook market as well?

2) Ebook pricing. How are ebooks priced in the UK, relative to the US? Do the pricing strategies of Big Five publishers, Small/Medium publishers, and indies vary on different sides of the Atlantic? If so, does it have a noticeable impact on their market share?

3) Ebooks without ISBNs. In the US market, over a third of all ebook purchases lack trackable ISBNs — the International Standard Book Numbers sold to US publishers by Bowker. As of September 2015, 37% of all ebook purchases each day on did not have an associated ISBN. Traditional market statistics from Nielsen, Bowker, and the AAP are completely blind to this rapidly growing non-traditionally published segment of the US market, which has led to a flurry of mistaken media coverage about “the US ebook market” flattening or shrinking. (The broader US ebook market is actually growing year on year, rather than shrinking, according to a Wall Street Journal quote from Amazon, who can measure the sales of both non-ISBN and ISBN-bearing books and thus is far better position to actually know.) But what about the UK? Do untracked ebooks without ISBNs similarly make up a significant portion of ebook sales there?Or are no-ISBN ebook sales in the UK far less prevalent than in the US?

4) International sales of domestic best sellers. Between the UK and US market, how much sales overlap is there for particular titles? After all, being able to make a title available for purchase in another country isn’t the same thing as being able to sell well there. Are Big Five publishers significantly better than Small or Medium publishers at marketing their books internationally? At the other extreme, how handicapped are self-published indie authors, who lack the marketing backing of a traditional publisher, when it comes to achieving visibility and making sales outside of their home country?

. . . .

First, a quick glance at the distribution of 115,000 of the best selling titles by publisher category, collected en masse from’s bestseller lists. As always, we started from the overall Top 100 bestsellers, and then worked our way down. We collected data from literal thousands of best seller lists, for all the various categories and subcategories of fiction and non-fiction, from titles selling many hundreds of copies a day down to titles which were selling far less than a single copy a day. We didn’t discriminate. If our spider could see it, we grabbed it. Instead of cherry-picking ebook data from a limited number of publishers only, as the most-often cited industry studies do, we picked the whole tree clean. Here’s what found:


Compared to our recent look at in the US, the distribution of publisher types is almost identical — it’s so close that we almost couldn’t tell them apart. The breakdown of best seller slots held by every type of publisher lies within 1-2% of what we saw for that type of publisher in the US.

But the relative number of titles holding positions on best-seller lists is far less meaningful than the relative difference in unit sales by each publisher category. So let’s look at that next.


Here, we see our first significant difference between the UK and the US markets. Ebooks by indie authors make up more than 26% of all ebooks sold on But even so, the indie share of all books sold on is far smaller than in the US, where indies sell well over 38% of the ebooks sold on

That discrepancy isn’t due to a difference in Kindle Unlimited participation between the US and UK, either. 66% of the best selling indie books on were KU titles, which is very close to the 68% we found in the US. But before we examine relative pricing on different sides of the Atlantic, let’s look at the other publishing categories.

Small/Medium Publishers are doing somewhat better in the UK than in the US, it seems. These smaller, non-conglomerate-owned traditional publishers make up nearly a quarter of the unit sales in the UK, compared to the 19% they command across the pond. Medium-sized imprints like Scholastic, Corvus, Bookouture, Faber & Faber, and Head of Zeus seem to be holding their own far more effectively in the UK than their equivalents in the US store. Collectively, Small/Medium Publishers aren’t selling as many books in either store as their larger Big Five brethren or their more nimble indie competition are. But in the UK, the performance gap is closer than in the US.

Amazon’s publishing imprints, despite having relatively few titles compared to the other categories of publisher, make up 15% of all unit sales. Unsurprisingly, Amazon imprints are doing roughly the same in the UK as in the US. (At least half alf of the difference between the 15% shown here for the UK and the 13% found in the US is attributable to the fact that we happened to take our UK sample on the first of the month, when November’s 6 heavily-Amazon-promoted Kindle First titles held all 5 of the overall Top 5 best seller slots, and 6 of the Top 7).

But how about the Big Five Publishers — Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster? Collectively, they make up significantly more of the market in the UK than the US. These five publishers still account for 31% of all ebooks sold on, compared to their 26% US market share on Which we find very interesting. These are the same publishers, after all, and their top best-sellers in each store are mostly the same books. But they seem to be achieving vastly different outcomes in the two stores, which raises the question why.

Correlation does not equal causation, but a look at average ebook prices in each market is certainly instructive. Especially when we compare the average US and UK selling prices in each country for each type of publisher.

Using the November 1, 2015 exchange rate of $1.00 US = £0.65 UK, here’s that comparison shown in pounds sterling:


Given the above, perhaps its not surprising that the Big Five’s share of ebooks sold in the US has plunged so much. In the UK, Big Five ebooks on average sell for prices that are only 50% more than Small/Medium publisher UK ebooks, and just slightly over double what UK indie ebooks are selling for. But in the US, under the new Agency contracts, the Big Five publishers are pricing their ebooks far higher in the US than they are actually able to sell them for in the UK — fully twice the average selling price of US Small/Medium publisher ebooks, and almost four times what US indie authors are charging.

As we’ve shown in previous reports, media stories about a “flattening US ebook market” are greatly exaggerated. They misinterpret the shrinking market share of the AAP’s 1,200 traditional publishers, 80% of whose sales are made up by the Big Five. And in the US, driven by higher agency prices, those five publishers are selling far fewer ebooks, their sales rapidly being supplanted by non-traditional publishers and indies. Today, more than half of all ebooks being purchased in the US are now non-traditionally published. And most of those sales are indie ebooks without ISBNs — a vast and growing sector of the publishing industry that remarkably remains uncounted in the industry’s official, ISBN-based statistics.

Which brings us to our second big question about the UK market: what proportion of’s ebooks sales are no-ISBN indie ebooks. So we checked.

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Just over 25% of the ebooks sold each day through lack ISBN identifiers. Again, significantly less than the 37% we see in the US. But still, indicative that the number of ebooks sold in the UK is at least one-third-again larger than traditional, ISBN-based statistics are measuring.

In gross pound (or dollar) sales terms instead of unit sales terms, we see that nearly 16% of UK consumer ebook dollars are going to ebooks without ISBNs:

. . . .

It turns out that one out of every 4 ebooks purchased by UK consumers is an untracked ebook without an ISBN — and nearly £1 out of every £6 spent in the UK on ebooks is currently going to untracked ebooks without ISBNs.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

Hugh Howey and Author Earnings

10 November 2015

The most bought, most read, and highest-earning sector of digital publication

9 October 2015

From a comment by Data Guy at Author Earnings:

From a reader perspective and an author perspective, no-ISBN ebooks are the most bought, most read, and highest-earning sector of digital publication. Today, those books pretty much define the digital publishing industry.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google: a look at the rest of the ebook market

9 October 2015

There’s a new report from Author Earnings:

  • Amazon makes up a higher percentage of the total US ebook market than the oft-cited 65% figure: when indie books without ISBNs are included in the statistics, Amazon accounts for 74%of all US ebook purchases and 71% of all US consumer dollars spent on ebooks.
  • Outside of, 4 other major online retailers comprise nearly the entirety of the remaing 26% of the US ebook market: the Apple iBookstore, the Barnes & Noble Nook store, the Kobo US bookstore, and GooglePlay Books.
  • At those 4 other stores, self-published indie ebooks make up 22% of all ebooks purchases and take in 32% of all author income generated by ebook sales.
  • Between 14% and 25% of all ebooks sold at Apple, Nook, and Kobo store lack Bowker-issuedInternational Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs).
  • In total, more than 33% of all ebooks sold in the US each year have no ISBN.
  • Across the entire US ebook market, ebooks without ISBNs now command a greater share of consumer ebook purchases, reading time, and author earnings than all of the AAP’s 1,200 publishers put together, including the Big Five.
  • The true US ebook market, which includes non-ISBN sales, is at least 50% larger than ISBN-limited market statistics from Nielsen and Bowker are estimating.

. . . .

According to most industry accounts, 65% of all US ebook sales happen through Amazon’s Kindle store. Or, more accurately, 65% of traditionally-published ebook sales do — because as we’ve seen, the media reporting on the industry almost always confuses the sales of only 1,200 traditional AAP publishers with those of the entire US ebook market. And as we’ve also seen, those 1,200 AAP publishers now represent less than half of the broader US ebook market — a market which, despite all the misleading media coverage of the AAP’s collapsing ebook sales, is still growing while the AAP’s minority share of it falls.

Over the past 7 quarters, we’ve charted the rise of non-traditionally published ebooks on Amazon. We’ve watched the share of the US consumer ebook market held by independent authors and Amazon-imprint authors grow quarter after quarter, while the share of the market held by traditionally published ebooks shrank. Today, indie authors and Amazon-imprint authors sell more ebooks daily than all traditional publishers put together, a remarkable fact that most industry observers — ourselves included — still find hard to believe. And it’s also a reality that the publishing industry statistics from Nielsen, Bowker, and the like — which all rely on counting ISBNs — are completely blind to… for the simple reason that 37% of all ebooks sold on each day do not use ISBNs.

. . . .

Some traditional industry spokespersons have speculated that more than 85% of indie ebook sales are wholly dependent upon Amazon. They presume that indies sell very poorly outside the Kindle store and make up an insignificant percentage of ebook sales elsewhere.

Among indie authors themselves, there is little consensus. Anecdotes about sales at other retailers run the gamut. Some indies are now going all-in with Kindle Unlimited, choosing to make their books Amazon-exclusive because the sales they saw at other ebook stores were so anemic in comparison. Many of these authors report seeing a significant increase in their earnings under KU, not only in the form of KU payments for page reads, but also in additional direct sales of their books as a result of the side benefit of enhanced best-seller-list visibility which the lift from KU borrows gives them. These authors say the combination of the two more than offsets whatever lost sales they have given up in other stores. At the same time, other indie authors are doing the exact opposite, by opting out of Kindle Unlimited exclusivity to “go wide.” They report doing very well as a result, with some high-earning indies making more revenue on non-Amazon channels than on Amazon itself. Many authors who have gone wide report seeing the relative share of their earnings coming from non-Amazon channels increase month after month.

. . . .

In the US, more than 95% of all consumer ebook purchases — and probably closer to 99% of them — go through just five major ebook retailers. Among those five, Amazon is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla. Amazon accounts for almost two thirds of the traditionally-published total… and significantly more of the true overall ebook total, making up 74% of US ebook unit sales and 71% of US gross consumer dollars spent on ebooks (once you include all no-ISBN indie sales and those of Amazon’s publishing imprints.)

Next up in size after Amazon is Apple’s iBooks store, accounting for roughly 10-12% of US ebook sales — or a third of what’s left. After iBooks comes Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, which despite its steepening downward slide over the past two years, still remains the #3 ebook retailer with about 7-8%of all US ebook sales. Fourth up is Kobo, with about half of Nook’s sales — or maybe 3-4% of the total US market. And finally Google, with around a third of Kobo’s sales, making up 1-2% of today’s ebook market — a surprisingly meager showing for the internet giant.


. . . .

Like the Amazon store, Apple has many category bestseller lists and sub-lists from which our AuthorEarnings software spider was able to pull thousands of books and their sales-ranking data. Unlike the Amazon store, however, only the Top 200 books reveal their absolute ranking among all other books in the iBookstore. From the other lists, we were able to obtain a rich matrix of relative ranking data for that genre or subgenre, but no absolute rankings. This required a slight change in our methodology. Fortunately, many of those category best-seller lists included several books that were also in the overall Top 200. This gave us a mathematical “master key” for each category list, from which we could calculate a rank scaling factor to apply to the rest of the books on that list. Thus we could project with reasonable accuracy the absolute sales rankings for 5,300 more of the iBookstore’s top-selling books (out of the 33,000 total titles that our spider had collected from Apple’s lists). Those top-selling 5,500 books comprised roughly half of all Apple ebook sales that day, giving us a very representative cross-section of sales in the iBookstore.



11% of all best-seller listed ebooks and 20% of all ebook purchases in the Apple iBookstore are verifiably books by indie self-published authors. Another 3% are books by lower-selling single-author publishers — most likely also indies, but we didn’t check them one by one, so we left them uncategorized. The Big Five traditional publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette — make up 58% of unit sales, while small and medium publishers make up the remaining 19%.

With 20% of Apple’s unit ebook sales now going to indie authors, that puts the iBookstore about on par with what the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook stores used to look like, back in late 2012 or early 2013. But this is our very first look at the iBookstore, so it remains to be seen whether the indie share of Apple’s ebook sales is currently growing, stable, or shrinking. Only time will tell.

. . . .

In gross consumer dollar terms, indies currently make up only 9-11% of Apple’s ebook dollar sales, while the Big Five, with their higher agency ebook prices, take in nearly 75% of the gross consumer dollars spent in the iBookstore. But our focus is as always author earnings, rather than how much traditional-publishing middlemen are taking out of the pie. So the bottom chart — which looks at onlythe author’s share of each book’s earnings — is a lot more interesting to us, because of what it reveals:

At least 28% of the total income received by authors from iBookstore sales is going to indie authors.

Indies are taking a big bite out of the apple, when it comes to author earnings. Perhaps some of that 28% results from Apple’s more generous across-the-board 70% revenue share, which applies at any price point rather than only for books the $2.99-$9.99 price range… or it might be that Apple offers special featuring to indies with more frequency. But whatever the reason, while that 28% pales in comparison to the 43% of all author earnings that indies command on Amazon, it’s still more than we expected to see.

With indies capturing well over a quarter of the author earnings generated by the iBookstore, it’s pretty safe to say that that a healthy market for indie books exists at Apple. But quite a few indies use third party distributors to get their books into the iBookstore, while others choose to deal with Apple direct. So let’s take a look at how indie books distributed via the different paths are performing relative to one another.

. . . .

When we put it all together, we can present a complete picture that reflects not just ebook sales on Amazon, but rather the ebook sales of the entire US ebook market.



. . . .

Indie ebooks without publisher-purchased ISBNs now make up at least 33% of all retail ebook purchases and author earnings across all US ebook stores.

In past reports, we have referred to these no-ISBN ebooks as the “shadow industry,” a catchy moniker originally coined by Joe Konrath which has gone on to become popular shorthand for the officially uncounted, ISBN-lacking sector of publishing.

But the term “shadow industry” is not really an accurate descriptor. Not anymore.

Ebooks without ISBNs now command a greater share of US consumer ebook purchases, reading time, and author earnings than all of the AAP’s 1,200 publishers put together, including the Big Five.

From a reader perspective and an author perspective, no-ISBN ebooks are by far the biggest sector of digital publication.

Today, no-ISBN indie ebooks pretty much ARE the digital publishing industry.

If you’re an indie author who sees little point in buying ISBNs for your digital editions, it looks like you’re in very good company. At this point, it’s unclear how the ISBN could possibly rescue itself as a meaningful measure of anything at all in the digital publishing world. Perhaps if all ISBNs were made universally free, and retroactively offered to all indie authors for their existing books… but even then, without any tangible benefit from using an ISBN, many authors still wouldn’t bother. The ISBNs irrelevance in the modern digital publishing world is a problem for which we don’t see an answer.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings and thanks to Jane and many others for the tip.


Individual author earnings tracked across 7 quarters, Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015

23 September 2015

From Author Earnings:

Seven quarters.

Seven Author Earnings reports.

Seven times we unleashed our software spider and took a detailed X-Ray of the majority of the US ebook market. Each time, we captured between 35% and 50% of all ebook sales in the US that day.

Over 200,000 authors, and close to a million different books.

Title-level data spanning half a billion ebook purchases, nearly $3 billion in consumer ebook spending, and a billion dollars in author earnings.

Quarter after quarter, we’ve tracked the fastest-growing and most volatile sector of the US publishing industry, and watched how it has shifted. And seen how the different sectors of the industry — from the Big Five traditional publishers and their smaller traditional-publishing peers to Amazon publishing imprints and self-published indie authors — have competitively fared.

But each of our quarterly snapshots, no matter how comprehensive, is only an X-Ray of the US ebook market at that exact moment. It’s what’s called a cross-sectional study. Like a freeze frame photo, it can only tell us how the ebook market is faring as a whole, rather than predicting the future prospects of any particular author along any particular publishing path. Because although every AE snapshot captures the sales of tens of thousands of authors — even hundreds of thousands of authors — each data set can only tell us how each individual author’s books happen to be selling at that precise instant in time.

The picture painted by each quarterly report, taken on its own, is thus necessarily incomplete.

They tell us nothing about the consistency of those individual authors’ earnings over time.

And if I’m an author deciding which publishing route to pursue, isn’t that what I’m really most interested in? Rather than broad comparisons of each publishing path’s total collective “market share”?

Publishing professionally, after all, is about building a readership and a long-term, decent-paying writing career. As an individual author, that’s really all I care about, regardless of which publication method I choose.

And that’s why single-quarter snapshots of the market, no matter how comprehensive, don’t tell me what I need to know.

Let say you’re a writer holding a completed manuscript, on the fence about which publishing path to pursue. The traditional path is undoubtedly the slower one — countless authors end up querying and submitting their work for decades, without ever landing a publishing contract. But for the relative few traditional aspirants who do, does that patience get rewarded with higher long-term stability than indie publishers see? And greater long-term income?

Does slow and steady actually win the race?

What if, for example, it turns out that traditionally published authors — as a result of their publishers’ superior marketing muscle — end up being steadier, more consistent earners quarter after quarter, just like the proverbial tortoise? And what if their bestselling indie peers are by contrast more like the proverbial hare, each of them briefly surging up the charts to be captured by our spider during their single fleeting moment of glory, only to be churned under once again and languish in non-selling obscurity thereafter, overwhelmed by the sheer teeming numbers of other indie hopefuls? What if each indie you see on the best seller charts is only king or queen for a day, or even a month or two, before their brief place in the sun is taken from them by the next lucky — and equally short-lived — indie contender?

Imagine that I’m an author deciding which way to publish my first book… or even my tenth book.

I’d kind of want to know that, right? And so, most likely, would you.

The thing we’d both really like to see is called a longitudinal study of author earnings, rather than a cross-sectional one. A study that tracks the earnings of those same individual authors over a longer period of time. And we’d especially like to see such a study done with a statistically well-defined and economically representative sample of authors — such as all authors whose books appeared on any Amazon best seller list over a seven-quarter period — rather than done based upon the self-selected responses of a handful of narrow-demographic, association-dues-paying survey participants.

Eighteen months ago, back in early 2014, at Author Earnings we took our first stab at tracking same-author earnings over time. With only two quarterly cross-sectional snapshots available to compare, the results were suggestive, but hardly conclusive.

We simply didn’t have enough data to work with, back then.

We do now.

A Longitudinal Study of Individual Author Earnings Over a 7-Quarter Period, from Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015

By matching up author names across all seven of our quarterly snapshots, we were able to create a single, merged data set. It included over 200,000 authors and their cumulative seven-quarter sales and author earnings from the subset of their Kindle books which appeared on any Amazon best seller list or sub-list during any of our snapshots. It also included their Kindle best-seller sales and earnings broken down by each individual quarter.

Next, because we were only interested in comparing longer-term performance, we excluded “one-hit wonders” — i.e. authors whose author earnings from Amazon-bestseller-listed Kindle ebooks were not above a $10,000/year run rate in at least 2 different quarterly snapshots out of our 7. Perhaps some of these single-snapshot earners were indies that just happened to have their books captured on “Bookbub day”, or maybe some of them were traditionally-published authors whom Amazon happened to be deeply discounting for a few days, giving them a brief pop in sales. Either way, it means that we caught those authors on a particularly good day in one of our snapshots, which was not representative of their longer-term earnings.

That left us:

5,643 authors in our longitudinal data set — or roughly 2.8% of the original 200,000 — whose Kindle best-selling ebooks appearing on Amazon best seller lists were consistently earning them $10K/year or better.

Lest anyone get discouraged by that 5,643 number, keep in mind that it is only the visible tip of the iceberg: there are many, many other strong-selling authors and books that never appear on any of the Amazon Kindle best-seller lists. Those other writers don’t appear on Amazon’s best seller lists — and thus don’t appear in our data sets — because they happen to write in highly competitive genres where even dozens of sales per day are insufficient to allow a book to reach position #100 on any sub-genre best seller list. Thus those other books and authors are invisible to our spider. (Anecdotally, we’ve spoken to many of these “non-best-selling” mostly-indie authors who are earning five-figure incomes — sometimes six-figure incomes — from ebooks that never appeared on any Amazon best seller lists.)

And even for those 5,643 authors whose visible earnings from Kindle best sellers in our data sets exceeded $10K/year, many of them also had other Kindle books, too, which were NOT visible on the best seller lists. And thus their true overall Kindle ebook author earnings were higher than we show… to say nothing of their additional earnings from ebook sales at other retailers, audiobook sales (10% of the audiobooks on Amazon’s best seller lists are indie), and print sales (offset or POD).

But even so, it’s a meaningfully large and statistically representative sample, so without further ado, let’s jump in and take a look at the (best-selling) Kindle mid list.

The Kindle Mid-List


We’ll start with the steady $10K-or-better earners. Again, keep in mind that this is by no means all authors who are earning more than $10K+/year, nor even all authors earning that much just from their US ebooks, nor yet even all authors earning that much from only their Kindle ebooks. These are authors earning $10K+/year consistently from only that subset of their Kindle books that appear on the Amazon best seller lists.

For now, we’ll focus only on the leftmost set of bars, which include all authors regardless of how long they’ve been publishing.

The first thing that stands out from the chart is that there are many thousands of such consistent five-figure-earning “Kindle Midlisters” visible in the data — both traditionally published (purple) and indie published (blue). And as we’ll see in the charts that follow, almost half of these 5,600 authors — over 2,200 of them — are consistently making $25K/year or more on their Kindle bestsellers, and more than a fifth of them — over 1,200 authors in the data set — are making $50K/year or more on their Kindle best sellers alone.

Once earnings from their other non-bestselling Kindle books, other ebook retailers, and other formats such as audio and print are factored in, it’s safe to say that most of these 5,600 writers in our longitudinal data set are making a living wage from their writing.

The two bar charts below tally up the numbers of authors making $25K/year or more, and those making $50K/year or more, from best-seller-listed Kindle ebooks alone. At each of these higher income levels, we further tightened up our requirements for observable earnings consistency. To be included in the charts below, each of these authors not only had to have total 7-quarter earnings at that yearly level or above, their earnings each quarter also had to exceed that of the previous level in at least 4 of our 7 quarterly snapshots.

Let’s take a look:



The leftmost set of bars in every chart includes <i>all</i> authors earning at or above a given level, regardless of their earliest publication date. The left-most purple bar is thus where we’ll find traditional publishing’s longest-tenured and highest-selling authors: names like James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, and Stephen King.

The left-most blue bar is also worth a mention. Prior to 2009 indie authors were a niche phenomenon, with very limited access to mainstream readers. Six short years later, there are more than half as many indie authors earning steady midlist-or-better incomes from their Kindle ebook bestsellers as there are among ALL traditionally-published authors — even with all of those perennial traditional-publishing name-brand heavyweights, who spent decades atop the old-media best seller lists, also tipping the ebook scales.

So let’s take a look at the other sets of bars, moving across the charts from left to right, because that’s where things start to get really interesting.

When you look only at authors who started publishing less than a decade ago — in 2005 or later — the gap between the numbers of indie and traditionally published authors earning midlist-or-better incomes nearly disappears. Fast work, considering that none of those indies had widespread access to readers until 2010, giving their traditionally-published cohort-mates a five-year head start.

In fact, if we look at only authors who debuted in the “ebook era” — i.e. in 2010 or after — we see a reversal. At each annual earnings level, we find far more indies than traditionally-published authors who debuted in the last 5 years and are now earning that much or more.

If we look at the most recent debuts — authors whose first Kindle book was published in the last three years or so — the disparity grows:

There are fewer than half as many traditionally published authors as indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years and are now earning consistently at the $25K/year level or $50K/year level from Kindle ebooks.

This, then, is the world that all new entrants — whether traditionally published or indie — face in 2015. If you’re a debut author in 2015 with a manuscript in hand, or even an experienced author regaining the rights to your backlist or starting out with a fresh pen name, when choosing your publishing route it’s that right-most set of bars in every one of these charts that is today most relevant to you.

But what if you are destined to be more than a mid-lister? You don’t want to sell your work short. Isn’t it still worth being patient and pursuing the traditional route, to have a better shot at truly stellar earnings?

Surprisingly, as we move into six-figure-earning territory and beyond, the contrast between indie ebook earnings and traditionally-published ebook earnings becomes even more stark.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

PG says you’ll be interested in the comparisons between trad pub and indie authors earning $250,000, $500,000 and over $1,000,000 per year from Kindle bestsellers. It’s not a pretty story for trad pub.

PG will also note that AE used a very conservative methodology to calculate earnings for indie authors. The true numbers and incomes will be higher in each of the earnings categories.

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