Big Publishing

Ebooks change the game for both backlist and export

7 October 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

There are two aspects of the business that ebooks should really change.

One is that ebooks can really enable increases in sales of the backlist.

The other is that ebooks will really enable sales outside the publisher’s home territory.

The second piece of this hardly even requires much effort. At a conference called Camp Coresource hosted by Ingram two weeks ago, Mary Cummings of Diversion Books, which last year launched a romance-only eBookstore app,EverAfter Romance, reported just short of half of EverAfter’s app users are coming from outside the “home” (US) market. Of that 49 percent, only about 6 percent come from the UK and Canada. Of course, Diversion owns world rights on many titles. And the rest of the world has far more than half the people, even far more than half the English speakers, in the world. So the US is still responsible for far more users per capita, but that’s really of secondary importance. Getting half one’s customers from markets that would have been very hard to reach ten years ago — without any extraordinary efforts — is a very new thing.

This global reality comes up in another frequent current discussion. The big publishers are suggesting that ebook sales have plateaued, perhaps even declined. Amazon says “not true”, that ebook sales are still rising. Some analysis, such as what is done by Data Guy for Author Earnings, says that the publishers’ big books are losing ebook share to the indies, primarily relying on data scraped from Amazon to make the case. The most commonly-offered explanations are that publishers’ success forcing higher ebook prices for their titles, combined with a decline in new converts to ebooks (who are inclined to “load up” their devices when they first start reading digitally) account for the apparent trend.

. . . .

The point to capture is that just having ebooks for sale around the globe can bring markets to a customer’s door, wherever the book originated. Any rights management policy that prevents an ebook from being on sale anywhere is likely to be costing some sales.

The backlist challenge is trickier and the results might not be as obvious. Two of the biggest drivers of ebook sales are discovery in response to search and the amplified effect of existing sales momentum in bestseller lists and retailer recommendations. (“People who bought this, bought that.”) A power law distribution seems inherent in ebook sales. Those that sell develop sales momentum; those that don’t remain hidden and buried.

But a lot of that has to do with metadata. Publishers have been getting better and better at writing the descriptive copy that determines whether search engines identity them as an “answer” to the right queries. That means that as you go back in time, the copy is less and less likely to be useful for the purpose.

And there are some realities about budgets and effort allocation in big companies to take into account. The lion’s share, and that means more than 90 percent, of budgets and internal effort allocations for marketing go to the current frontlist. The backlist has many times the number of titles as the frontlist, so a much smaller amount of money and assignable labor is spread over a far larger number of titles. On a per-title basis, there have hardly been any resources available for backlist.

. . . .

And, on top of that, publishers often count on backlist sales to be the most profitable precisely because they don’t have to allocate marketing spending or staff time to those books. There sometimes seems to be a fear operating at publishing houses that starting to expend marketing effort on backlist is opening a Pandora’s Box which would compromise the most profitable aspect of their business.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

How the US Innovates in Digital Publishing

4 October 2015

From Digital Book World:

The United States has been at the forefront of digital publishing since the field’s inception. And now, as digital is fully integrated into our daily publishing lives and the industry continues to expand the format of books and data analytics, the US market continues to lead.

While there has been a lull as ebook sales level out and digital startups and initiatives falter, this year has nevertheless seen the reimagining of some of publishing’s earliest digital innovators to adapt to the changing face of the industry, such as Vook’s evolution to become Pronoun, and a greater focus on data analytics and software.

. . . .

The two biggest problems publishers face in the digital landscape are adapting print book content for devices and what readers are seeing in other media outlets, and understanding and reaching readers through curation, format and content.

Joe Wikert, director of strategy and business development at Olive Software, agrees that the market has mostly plateaued: “Right now we’re stuck in what I like to call the ‘print under glass’ era. That’s similar to the early days of TV where the first shows were nothing more than radio programs in front of a camera,” said Wikert. “It’s clear that publishers want to protect and leverage workflows they’ve built over the years.”

Dan Nigloschy, Client Solutions Architect: Publishing Technology at codeMantra, sees publishers shifting their production cycles. Where they once thought digital enrichment came post-production, they now see that as something they produce simultaneously, if not before the print production. Publishers are also acquiring content with digital enhancements in mind, allowing them to better plan the timeline and allow all formats to reach the marketplace simultaneously.

. . . .

When HarperCollins Chief Digital Officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi joined the company, in 2012, HarperCollins was already beginning to collect reader data. And under her tenure, the company has examined this data to discover better pricing, better ways of reaching and appealing to readers through online communities and social media campaigns and sales, and what kind of content they are looking for.

In a 2014 interview, Restivo-Alessi said, “Digital changes our ability to acquire more data, which is good and bad. The good side is it gives us the opportunity to look at things that we do and also what we acquire in a different way. The bad thing is that the risk is you have too much noise and you need to make sure you’re identifying exactly what you’re looking for rather than being swamped by data.”

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Frontlist? Backlist? Books!

2 October 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Maybe two months ago, at our weekly professional writers’ lunch, we discussed frontlist and backlist, and how old-fashioned those terms are now.

. . . .

[Carolyn] Reidy is the CEO of Simon and Schuster, which deals with so many books per year that most people can’t imagine it. So I’m going to help you. :-) Get ready for your brain to explode:

Simon & Schuster has 12 active imprints for adult fiction. Imprints are book lines, standalone, with their own catalogues and their own voice (in theory). On its website, S&S defines the imprints this way:

The Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group includes a number of publishing units that offer books in several formats. Each unit has its own publisher, editorial group and publicity department. Common sales and business departments support all the units. The managing editorial, art, production, marketing, and subsidiary rights departments have staff members dedicated to the individual imprints.

S&S has 10 active imprints for children’s fiction of one form or another. S&S has two audio imprints.

S&S International lists three major companies (not imprints): S&S UK, S&S Australia, and S&S Canada. These companies publish different books (with some overlap) from the U.S. company. Those three companies have their own imprints. For kicks and giggles, I clicked on the U.S. link for S&S Australia and got this little note:

Simon & Schuster Australia is one of the region’s Top 10 book publishers. We publish and distribute fabulous books in Australia and New Zealand across a broad range of fiction, non-fiction and children’s categories under our local and international imprints, including Aladdin, Atheneum, Atria, Fireside, Free Press, Howard, Kangaroo Press, Little Simon, Pocket, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Simon Spotlight Entertainment and Touchstone. Simon & Schuster Australia also acts as the local sales and distribution partners for Duncan Baird Publishing (mind, body & spirit, well-being, and cultural reference) and Kyle Cathie (illustrated cooking and lifestyle books).

Now, consider this: In 1939, Simon & Schuster started America’s first paperback publisher, Pocket Books, when S&S was still wet behind the ears. (The company was founded with crossword books in 1924.) It has had corporate ownership of one form or another since 1975.

According to Wikipedia, S&S has at least nine former or inactive imprints. This number is on the low side. I know of a few that aren’t on Wikipedia’s list.

So, think about this: S&S has been publishing fiction and nonfiction books continually since 1939. Some of those books have gone out of print. Some of them have had their rights reverted to the authors. Many of those books were licensed before all the changes in the U.S. copyright laws in the 1970s. Some of those books (very few) have slid into the public domain.

According to S&S’s corporate overview, S&S “publishes approximately 2000 titles annually.” The word “approximately” is theirs, not mine. In 2014, S&S placed 294 titles on the New York Times bestseller list. Individual titles—different books.

. . . .

Now, let’s pretend that S&S has consistently published 2000 titles per year in the 21st century. (Honestly, it was probably more pre-Recession, but we’re waving our magic wand—and guessing.) Since a few of those S&S books are mine, I can safely tell you that S&S still controls most of the rights to those 21st century books. (S&S is almost impossible to get rights back from and has been that way for almost a decade.)

This means that for the past 15 years, S&S has published 2000 titles per year. Which means it controls the license of roughly 30,000 titles.

Thirty thousand different book titles. And that doesn’t count the titles it still controls from the 1990s or the 1980s or the renewed licenses for books that have been continuously in print from the 1970s, 1960s, 1950s, and so on. Or the books it has under contract for 2016, 2017, 2018….

I have no idea what S&S’s book inventory is, how many rights and titles it still controls, but it’s at least 50,000 titles.

. . . .

Consider all of those 50,000 book titles. Then realize that the bulk of those titles are merely names on a spreadsheet. Long ago, the acquiring editor was fired, downsized, acquired by another imprint, moved to a different job, or, gosh-golly-gee, dead. Many of the earlier titles (those still in print from the 1950s upward) are controlled by estates. The authors are dead too.

What this means is that no one who controls the rights to these still-in-print book titles knows what’s in the books. Nor does anyone know what awards the books won, whether or not they hit a bestseller list back in the day, or if the author had done something that’s newsworthy to a 2015 audience.

You can post here about how stupid it is for a corporation whose livelihood is based on contentdoesn’t know the content of the properties it owns—and I will agree with that statement.

However, mentioning that will change nothing. It’s a fact. It is what it is.

No one in these big conglomerates (and the other Big 5 publishers are the same) knows what their backlist is composed of at all.

. . . .

Now, in that context, consider the following statements from Carolyn Reidy. She was speaking to atraditional publishing audience. In that context (the context of 50,000 titles or more), realize just howrevolutionary her comments are.

[Carolyn Reidy] said publishers must

“…exercise a deep knowledge of our entire catalogue and determine how our books relate to what’s happening in the world today,” whether that involves an entertainment or media hit or to tie in with a current event. And now it’s a part of S&S’s weekly marketing meeting, she said, to bring up those and a range of other opportunities, whether a book is listed for a prize or mentioned on a TV show or in a tweet by a celebrity.

Making these connections applies to the full backlist (which is “really frontlist to the consumer who hasn’t read it”), and needs to go from monthly and weekly planning to “looking at our lists through a lens of daily opportunities.”

These statements are revolutionary because they change the entire focus in the publishing part of the huge S&S conglomerate. For the past fifty years or more, all of traditional publishing had limitations. Bookstores were small, first in comparison to the chain stores that sprouted up later, and then in comparison to the unlimited virtual shelf space of online competitors.

. . . .

For the past fifty years or more, all of traditional publishing had limitations. Bookstores were small, first in comparison to the chain stores that sprouted up later, and then in comparison to the unlimited virtual shelf space of online competitors.

Shelf space really and truly was limited. Books that didn’t sell had to be pulled off shelves to make room for books that might sell. Books that sold well stayed on the shelves, and books that sold a little stayed on the shelves longer than books that didn’t sell at all.

This need to churn product turned into the velocity model. A big push to get the books onto the shelf and selling immediately so that they would stay on the shelf—for two weeks, a month, maybe three months, but rarely longer than that.

It was a necessary business model for its time that started to fade in the 1990s and has been slowly dying ever since. Well, not so slowly now. 2015 will probably be the year that traditional publishing realizes the velocity model is well and truly dead.

Hence, Carolyn Reidy’s comments. She once tried to prevent this decline in the velocity model, which is one of the reasons she participated in the ebook price fixing that got her corporation slapped by the courts and the U.S. Justice Department. The traditional publishing business has not improved since those fateful conversations with Apple five years ago. In fact, things for big publishers have gotten worse.

And, as those of us who understand big business were trying to say back then, wait. The big publishers will catch a clue that the business has irrevocably changed.

Carolyn Reidy’s statements show that. Now she, and the other Big 5 publishers (and the other traditional publishers—those with 500 books per year instead of 2000), have decided to change the way they do business.

They will have to hire people to examine the history of their inactive books—what we used to call the backlist. Those new employees will have to read the backlist, rebrand it, and figure out how to market it.

Then, those new employees will have to continually update the inventory on a daily basis. If an independent film company wins the Cannes Film Festival with a film made from a thirty-year-old novel that sold 5,000 copies in its lifetime, the new employees at the publishing house that still retains the rights to the novel can update the metadata to reflect that. If some Turkish writer who has had only one book published in translation in the U.S. wins the Nobel Prize for literature for her body of work, those employees at the U.S. house where the English language book is in print can change the metadata that day to reflect the win, while the company works on rebranding that book (and acquiring and translating the rest of her work).

. . . .

Reidy is right about one thing: In the early days of the ebook revolution, readers were picking up backlist at an astonishing rate. What Reidy misunderstands is that those backlist sales pointed to a huge problem in traditional publishing.

Readers were hungry for those backlist books, so the readers snatched them up, even in badly scanned editions with typos on every page. Readers generally don’t care if a book was published last week or five years ago. Readers only care about writers who are new to them.

Readers are the original binge consumers. Readers find a writer whose work they like and readeverything the writer has done.

Nowadays, everything by that writer can remain in print—if the writer is indie or hybrid.

But not if the writer is traditionally published.

Because there’s another whole set of employees that traditional publishers need to hire. The traditional publishers need to beef up their legal department, and have many employees finding and reading old contracts, to see if the publishing company still has the rights to the book, the rights to reprint, the rights to reprint in an ebook, the rights to reprint in paper…

It’s a mess.

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.

Kris is very intelligent and immensely knowledgeable about the publishing business, traditional and indie. PG learns something from almost every column Kris publishes.

However, PG is a bit more cynical than Kris is about S&S gaining “deep knowledge” of its backlist.

Simon & Schuster is a subsidiary of CBS. It has been a subsidiary of various large conglomerates since 1975. CBS’s much larger television properties are facing big challenges relating to the declining efficacy of traditional television commercials, the increasing number of people who are cutting the cord and terminating cable subscriptions (a huge part of CBS income), video streaming, etc. CBS is a jumpy company that is rightly worried about its future.

If you check the portfolio of CBS companies on the CBS website, you’ll note they are not displayed in alphabetical order. PG assumes the portfolio companies are listed in the order of significance those companies have for CBS management (probably related to their profits or revenues). You will note that Simon & Schuster is way down the list, below CBS DVD and The Smithsonian Channel.

Carolyn Reidy may bestride the publishing world, but inside CBS, she’s far from the top of the heap. She has a lot of people in a corporate hierarchy above her to please. Every quarter.

Reidy’s number one job is to keep generating good quarterly financial numbers to combine with the numbers of all the other CBS subsidiaries so CBS mothership stock prices increase. If she stops doing that for very long, CBS corporate will have no hesitation in replacing her. She can make a lot of other mistakes that don’t show up in financial numbers and keep her job. However, Kardashian books that generate good numbers are much better than Nobel Prize winning books that don’t as far as CBS is concerned.

PG provides this long preamble to his response to Reidy’s deep knowledge comment to explain that managers of subsidiaries of big media conglomerates can and do give speeches about dramatic ideas and innovations, but their ability to actually make real innovation come to pass is significantly constrained.  Someone at CBS corporate finance who reads Reidy’s deep knowledge comments is going to respond, “That sounds great, Carolyn. Just don’t spend too much money on it.”

Large corporations in general are good at operating in a stable business environment, making incremental improvements, and not good at disruptive innovation. Subsidiaries of large corporations need to be similarly good in a stable business environment and very careful about taking a flyer on innovation. This is one reason why companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. – all very young and often run by founders who own a huge amount of the stock – have been the place where revolutionary stuff has happened over the past couple of decades.

PG thinks that deep knowledge about backlist titles is a wonderful thing and potentially valuable. He doesn’t think it will go far beyond a speech because S&S won’t spend the money or hire the technical chops necessary to develop such deep knowledge.

Of course nobody has deeper knowledge about backlist or frontlist titles than the authors of those titles. If those authors are indie, they can use their knowledge in all sorts of innovative ways.


For Amy Schumer, Multimillion-Dollar Book Deal Is All in the Timing

1 October 2015

From The New York Times:

When news broke last week that the comedian Amy Schumer had sold a memoir to Simon & Schuster in a high-seven-figure deal, some publishing executives experienced a sense of déjà vu. Hadn’t Ms. Schumer already sold a book of autobiographical essays for seven figures two years ago?

It turns out, she had. HarperCollins was the first publisher to sign up Ms. Schumer, back when she was a promising standup comedian but hadn’t yet achieved the stratospheric fame that comes with a hit TV show and a feature film directed by Judd Apatow.

After Ms. Schumer received a $1 million advance from HarperCollins in 2013, she made sporadic progress on the book, writing several essays with the help of the New Yorker writer Patricia Marx, who was hired to polish the prose and punch up the humor. But the next year, Ms. Schumer canceled the contract and returned her advance, saying that she was too busy to focus on the book.

Now Ms. Schumer has landed another book deal, this time for much, much more. After a frenzied auction, the Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books paid more than $8 million for Ms. Schumer’s book, according to news accounts and publishing executives who followed the auction process.

. . . .

David Hirshey, senior vice president and executive editor of HarperCollins, who began courting Ms. Schumer in 2012 and worked with her for more than a year on her essays, said he was not bitter about losing the book. “I was thrilled to cost one of our competitors $9 million,” he said, and added in an email, “In publishing it sometimes makes more sense to be behind the curve rather than ahead of it.”

How Ms. Schumer traded in a million-dollar deal for a much larger one says as much about the manic competition among publishers to land celebrity books as it does about Ms. Schumer’s meteoric rise.

Publishers have been locked in a fierce and costly arms race to sign up TV stars with large social media followings and cultural cachet, hoping that will translate into robust print sales. Sometimes, these gambles pay off. When Little, Brown paid around a reported $6 million for Tina Fey’s book in 2008, many in the industry thought the price tag was wildly inflated. The doubters were wrong: That book, “Bossypants,” has sold more than 3.5 million copies.

. . . .

Even with such dizzying advances, publishers can still make a profit through foreign rights deals that can add up to millions of dollars, as well as paperback and audiobook sales. Books by celebrities also get a lift whenever the author-star has a new TV show or film. And even when celebrity authors don’t earn out their advances, publishers still have a lot to gain from the burst of exposure and perceived clout.

“Even if you lose money in the short run, it helps your prestige,” the literary agent Russell Galen said. “If you are a big publisher, you need to show the flag, you need to make news, because it helps your entire list.”

. . . .

The courtship began in 2012 when an offer from Mr. Hirshey, who had seen Ms. Schumer’s standup act and was impressed, offered her about $500,000 for a book. She accepted and said she wanted to write personal essays. But as months went by and Ms. Schumer still hadn’t signed the contract, people at HarperCollins started to worry. Then her raunchy and irreverent Comedy Central show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” debuted, and she was crowned as a fresh and sharp new voice in comedy.

Her literary agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell, told Mr. Hirshey that Ms. Schumer wanted to entertain other bids from publishers. After a rival offered $1 million, Mr. Hirshey and Mr. Morrison agreed to match it. Ms. Schumer accepted the new offer and signed the contract in the spring of 2013.

The book’s early drafts lacked a clear narrative structure, so Ms. Marx was brought in to polish the essays, according to several people.

Over the next year, as Ms. Schumer’s career accelerated, little new progress was made on the book. In the spring of 2014, Mr. Hirshey and Ms. Marx requested a meeting to go over the edits.

Ms. Gendell delivered bad news: Ms. Schumer was too busy and wanted to cancel the contract. She returned her advance with interest. Ms. Gendell stepped aside as her agent. In an interview with GQ in July, Ms. Schumer noted that she was writing a book of “dark” autobiographical essays and alluded to the canceled contract, saying, “I had a whole deal, but I decided to wait — I thought I would make more money if I waited.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to HN for the tip.

Reidy Hails Metadata, E-book Subscription at BISG

30 September 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Delivering the keynote address at the BISG annual meeting, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy emphasized that book publishing has been transformed by the “ staggering amount of information available. There’s more information on publishing than ever before and I love it.”

According to Reidy, readers of literary fiction purchase e-books just as much as readers of commercial fiction, though both remain attached to the physical book. “The book is a permanent keepsake,” she said, “unlike a YouTube video.” Most readers, she said, seem to want e-books to be a “replica of the print book.” Enhanced e-books loaded with videos or other digital gimmicks, have been a failure, although its unclear why. “Is it because of the interruptions to the text or because we, the publishers, have failed to make them good enough?” she said.

Despite predictions that e-books might reach 50% of all book sales, Reidy said e-books sales have slowed and are likely to settle at about “25% to 30%” of total book sales. Although initially e-books helped jump backlist sales, Reidy said, “not anymore,” noting that “the novelty has worn off.” She said now “there are fewer readers” entering in the digital category and said the slowing growth in e-book sales have pushed publishers back to “highlighting books as beautiful physical objects.”

Asked if the higher pricing of e-books, in the wake of publishers’ new agency agreements with Amazon, had also figured in the slowdown of e-book sales, Reidy noted that in the wake of publisher settlements over e-book price-fixing charges in the case with Apple, “I’m not supposed talk about pricing, ” but added that “our data says that our pricing is effective.”

She pointed out that even the sales of books from S&S’s line of hip young YouTube authors, are overwhelmingly in print. Old-line media like major print, radio and TV shows, she said, were still the best way to drive sales of a book. “Even if most of those sales are through online channels.”

. . . .

 [A]ccurate metadata, “makes a huge difference in sales,” she said, highlighting how a simple change in metadata impacted the house’s experience with the novel Galveston, written by Nic Pizzolatto, creator of the hit HBO TV series True Detectives.

Originally published in 2010, the novel got good reviews and won an Edgar award, but sold about 1,000 copies, Reidy said. While there is no connection between the novel and the TV show, S&S saw the rising popularity of the show, and quickly changed the metadata by adding a note to the author bio that Galveston was written by the True Detectives creator. In 2014, Galveston sold more than 37,000 copies, print and e-books combined. “And this was not a tie-in. We did it with metadata,” Reidy said.

Metadata and social media, she said, “can be used to connect books to what’s going on in the world. We’re just learning how to do this. We can bring the backlist directly to readers but we need daily, as well as monthly and yearly planning. Real world feedback can shape our publishing program.” Publishers, she said, can use social media to “establish direct connections and relationships” with communities interested in their authors. “We need to give our authors reason to partner with us,” she said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to SFR for the tip.

A noticed new scam

30 September 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

But one thing, traditionally published writers need to pay attention to. It is something I noticed on a recent royalty report. There is an interesting new scam publishers are pulling.

On a previous royalty report, the total numbers of books sold were there, including a few thousand copies held as a reserve against returns. (Book had been in print for a decade, but returns were still being held. And the return amount had remained consistent for years.)

On the next royalty statement for the same book, the ISBN had changed, all previous sales had vanished, and all reserves held had vanished as well. A book that had sold over two hundred thousand copies in its life now showed only a few thousand sold.

A couple thousand books held out of my royalty report had just gone “poof.” If I didn’t watch royalty reports, I would have never noticed.

I just laughed and shook my head. I didn’t care since the book I noticed it on was a long distance from earning out because my advance had been so high, but it dawned on me that with all the redoing covers, electronic book editions and such, and all changing ISBNs, the sudden vanishment of reserves against returns that were being held against a certain ISBN would be a very nice way to make money for a traditional publisher.

And 99.9% of all writers and their idiot agents would never notice.

The scams to screw writers that traditional publishers keep coming up with amaze me.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

PG says most traditionally-published authors never imagine that their publishers may be playing games with their royalties.

More trees!

28 September 2015

An Adobe commercial from 2013 that one commentator has compared to the current state of publishing.

Wrongs of rights

26 September 2015

From The Bookseller:

A key issue for us at the moment is the pressure by big global corporate publishers (and the occasional less big publisher) to try to acquire world rights or to enforce global publication dates or generally to behave as though the world is flat. This notion that the digital world is one world is given the lie in various ways.

Consider H is for Hawk, a book that was published and gained momentum in the UK where it became a bestseller. American publication was many months after UK publication and consequently fed off the excitement about the book in the UK and became a bestseller there too. But if the two editions had been published simultaneously, would the US edition have received the reviews and bookseller attention that it did without the buzz out of the UK?

Similarly, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was published first in America in March this year, where its cult status was growing, but it is only since publication by Picador this August that the amazing reception here is beginning to flow back to America and is now having an impact there too. At over 700 pages, it’s also a challenging book for translation but the reverberations of all the chatter around the book has now led to a dozen foreign language sales, and rising.

. . . .

This also leads to the vexed issue of publishers attempting to buy global rights. In the absence of an actual global publication strategy for the book, my guess is that in a year or two many of them will find themselves faced with an increase in their unearned advances. Unless there is an editor to advocate for a book on both sides of the Atlantic, I have seen too many global acquisitions fail. And where publishers are gambling on selling the rights themselves, few of them actually have the necessary skills in their rights departments any more.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

New Author Earnings report tracks author incomes over time, but will John Scalzi buy it?

25 September 2015

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

John Scalzi takes the time to comment on that New York Times article that I mentioned yesterday. He scoffs at the latest Author Earnings figures on the basis of “the source [being] unabashedly pro-indie (and less-than-subtly in my opinion anti-publishing)” and thence opines that publishers know exactly what they’re doing in raising the price of e-books. They’re intentionally protecting the print market, Scalzi believes, at least insofar as the strategy touches on novels.

. . . .

Scalzi casts this as a primarily anti-Amazon strategy:

Investing time in strengthening alternate retail paths makes sense in that case, especially if, as the article suggests, consumers are happy to receive the book in different formats for an advantageous price. If people fundamentally don’t care if they read something in print or electronic format, as long as they get a price they like, that leaves publishers a lot of room to maneuver.

That’s an interesting notion, not least because of the idea that maybe people really don’t care which format they get it in, as long as they get it cheap. While I’m certainly not in any position to be able to judge the truth of that, I will note that this strategy does serve to drive business not only to the remaining independent and chain paper bookstores, but also to Amazon, who still controls something like 1/3 of all print sales and 2/3 of all online print sales in the US. And they do so in a medium for which there is no agency pricing. Amazon can mark print books as low as they want to—and indeed, they’re often marking them to below the price of new-release e-books.

Scalzi also ascribes significance to the recent Authors Guild survey showing that authors are having a harder time making a living these days.

. . . .

Scalzi also ascribes significance to the recent Authors Guild survey showing that authors are having a harder time making a living these days. Scalzi opines there are three kinds of authors: dinosaurs, who are tied to the old publishing model and might go extinct if it fizzles; mammals, who are profiting from the new indie model; and cockroaches, who adapt to market conditions, are largely model-agnostic, and will thrive no matter what happens. Scalzi writes:

Right now, I think publishing might be top-heavy with dinosaurs, and we’re seeing that reflected in that Author’s Guild survey.

What we’re missing — or at least what I haven’t seen — is reliable data showing that the mammals — indie/self-publishing folks, in this case — are doing any better on average. If these writers are doing significantly better on average, then that would be huge. It’s worth knowing.

. . . .

And speaking of Author Earnings, it has come out with a report tracking the relative earnings of individual authors across seven quarters. For the purposes of the report, it narrowed down the 200,000 total authors it tracked to a subset consisting of 5,643 best-selling authors who made a $10,000-per-year earnings rate in at least two of those seven quarters. Acknowledging that it was surely only a subset of the number of total authors who were earning large amounts of money self-publishing, Author Earnings proceeded to draw what conclusions it could from the data that existed nonetheless.

. . . .

So there are the very numbers John Scalzi wanted—numbers showing that his “mammals” are doing better. But Scalzi probably wouldn’t be inclined to accept them. In one of the comments under his blog post, Scalzi notes:

Speaking personally, I found AE’s historical bias and relatively poor handling and understanding of the data they have as it applies to publishing to be significant enough that my default position on it is to give it relatively little credence until someone else trucks through it and offers up commentary on it.

Well, fair enough. I suppose we’ll see who’s right in a few years, by which time nobody will even remember the doubts Scalzi expressed now.

Link to the rest at TeleRead and thanks to RM for the tip.

John Scalzi left a comment to the TeleRead article:

Since I’ve been invoked:

. . . .

2. Author’s Earning’s numbers: I buy them for what they are, which is a set of numbers which tells a highly contingent story, i.e., what a specific set of writers are doing in a specific marketplace, which AE then uses to tell a very specific story that is comforting to its own set of biases. But, to highlight only one problem, what they downplay, or are at the very least are happy to elide the importance of, is the data left out.

Let me use myself, here. I have a pretty good idea what I make out of Amazon Kindle sales (it’s a nice amount, thanks for asking). But I also have a pretty good idea what I make outside of Amazon Kindle sales, and also what the *percentage* of my sales and income is *from* Amazon Kindle sales. For example, for Lock In, Amazon Kindle sales represented roughly 18% of the book’s total sales in North America. What’s not noted there? Print sales, electronic sales in other venues, audiobook sales (not being considered for the purposes of this exercise: foreign sales and TV option sales).

18% of sales of one book isn’t chicken feed, but it’s also manifestly not the majority of my sales of that book, either, nor of my income from the book. Amazon Kindle is also likely *not* the majority of sales/income for a very large number of “traditionally” published books, either. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Kindle sales *are* the majority of sales (and also income) of Indie-pubbed authors, most of whom still don’t have easy access to bookstore sales, and some of whom may have exclusive deals with Amazon.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG will note that one of the fundamental tenets of surviving disruptive innovation is to avoid clinging to legacy distribution channels at the expense of new distribution channels.

The graveyard of tech companies is filled with tombstones of large organizations that dominated their markets in the 1980’s and 90’s and tried to protect their existing distribution channels when technological change allowed new, more efficient distribution channels to appear.

Protecting print distribution by penalizing ebook distribution is a losing strategy.

PG will note one more obvious item – KDP and other ebook distributors are a new, more efficient distribution channel for authors to deliver their books to readers. Traditional publishing is the older, less efficient channel.

It was common for graveyard companies to tout the added benefits their legacy distributors/channel partners provided to end-users. In case after case, it turned out that the end-users liked price and efficiency in obtaining the product/service more than they liked “added benefits.”

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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