UPDATE: Oops. Posted this late last night and was off the grid this morning. Latest report up above.
From Author Earnings:
In our most recent earnings report, one chart jumped out at us and begged for deeper analysis: It was a look at daily author earnings according to publication date, and it revealed the heavy reliance Big 5 publishers have on the sale of their backlist titles. The same chart showed, less surprisingly, that self-published authors are making the vast majority of their earnings on recently published works. In a single chart we were witness to the economic effects of new participants entering an industry in which they were formerly uncompetitive. The same chart made it apparent that the effects self-publishing will have on the trade book industry have only just begun.
Because of this chart, we began looking more deeply at authors from two different camps: those who debuted prior to the explosion of self-publishing and those who debuted after. Authors getting their start today will of course be joining the latter camp. And we believe those authors will want to know the following:
• Big-5 publishers are massively reliant on their most established authors to the tune of 63% of their e-book revenue.
• Roughly 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars are coming from e-books.
• Very few authors who debut with major publishers make enough money to earn a living—and modern advances don’t cover the difference.
• In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors.
• When comparing debut authors who have equal time on the market, the difference between self-published and Big-5 authors is even greater.
In this report, we will also reveal how e-book earnings represent roughly 64% of a traditionally published fiction author’s income, and therefore why authors should focus less on statistics geared toward publisher earnings and trade bookstore sales and consider their own incomes instead. Finally, we will tackle the difficult question of just how many authors are earning a living wage today. The results are sobering. I’ll spoil it for you and say that there aren’t many. But there are reasons to celebrate. Read on to see why.
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[We started] wondering how much of traditionally-published author revenue was coming from new releases by long-tenured authors, and how much of it was coming from debut authors. This is a crucial question for a new artist hoping to break into an entertainment sector. What we were hoping to discover is how many seats are left on the traditionally published bus. So we divided authors and books into “New” and “Old” using January 1, 2010 as a cutoff date, and checked.
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This final chart reveals a startling insight: If the Big 5 hadn’t signed a new author since 2009, and simply released new works from their long-established authors, they would still be making 63% of the e-book revenue that they are making today. Ownership of backlist and long-tenured authors is quite clearly big publishing’s most powerful commodity. This goes a long way toward explaining ever more restrictive reversion and non-compete clauses in publishing contracts. It also lends credence to rumors that some top-name authors are already receiving ebook royalties higher than 25% of net. Publishers rely heavily on these established authors and may be willing to violate their own most favored nation clauses in an attempt to retain them.
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This time, when comparing only the earnings of “New” authors who debuted after 2010, we see that below a tiny handful of mega-selling Big-5 debuts (like Veronica Roth), far more “New” indie authors are making a good living from their Kindle e-books than their “New” Big-5 peers. This is a logarithmic scale, which means a little separation signifies quite a difference in outcomes.
Some might argue that this comparison does not reveal the entire picture, because best-selling traditionally-published authors have a healthier complement of print sales than their indie counterparts. However, non-ebook revenue for traditional-published authors makes up a smaller percentage of their author earnings than you might think, and this is especially true for authors of fiction. To see this requires a digression, one that may be just as important for the aspiring author as our larger analysis in this report.
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While only 32% of the publishing industry’s gross revenue currently comes from e-books, nearly 64% of the average traditionally-published fiction author’s earnings is coming from their e-books. Earnings for the average genre-fiction author will skew even further toward their e-book sales. Perhaps an e-book-based comparison between publishing types is not so unfair a comparison after all. Especially when considering that the gain of 8% – 15% royalties on print sales means taking a massive cut in e-book royalties—from 70% of gross to 25% of net.
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[This data] neatly captures so much of what is going on in the e-book market today, mainly that there are far more indie debut authors from 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are now holding spots on the Amazon bestseller charts than Big-5 debut authors. Even more striking, the number of today’s bestsellers from these “New” indie debut authors increases steeply year-over-year, while the number of today’s bestsellers from “New” Big-5 debut authors stays flat. The number of today’s bestsellers from small to medium publisher debut authors is also growing year over year, although not at the same explosive rate with which indie debuts are grabbing and holding slots on the charts.
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After years and years of querying and jumping through gatekeeper hoops, it appears that even the less-than-1% who are lucky enough to land an agent and a Big-5 publishing contract can’t manage to quit their day jobs. (This is an observation in the data that matches what we have seen anecdotally in the publishing and bookselling trenches).
By contrast, we see over 700 Indie-published authors who debuted in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are today earning more than $25,000/year from their Kindle e-books alone. For these authors, e-book sales on other platforms and POD print sales will add another 20%-30% on average to this total. It’s easy to see that, for the past 4 years, and even taking lost print sales into consideration, far more Indie authors than Big-5 authors are earning a living wage from their writing.
Link to the rest at Author Earnings