End the Discount Double-Cross

16 November 2015

From The Authors Guild:

In our last installment of the Fair Contract Initiative, we detailed how publishers’ outdated accounting practices consistently delay and minimize authors’ royalty payments. But that’s not the end of the story. In another common practice, publishers routinely use contract provisions to slash authors’ royalties to mere pennies per copy sold.

Standard trade royalties are based on a percentage of the publisher’s list price. But publishers have come up with a variety of clever methods to base royalties on the much lower net amounts they actually receive from booksellers and wholesalers. Then they add insult to injury by cutting the royalty rate itself by as much as two-thirds. When an author gets paid on less than half the list price, that’s bad enough. When an author gets paid only one-third the normal rate on that reduced price, the word “pittance” seems appropriate.

So-called “deep discount” clauses let publishers offer titles to booksellers and wholesalers at big markdowns. They stipulate that a publisher’s sale at a discount of over 55%, for example (a number that appears to be the new standard), the author’s royalty suddenly drops from, say, 15% of list price to 15% of the far smaller amount the publisher actually receives. A standard deep discount clause looks something like this: “On copies of the Work sold by the Publisher at a discount of greater than 55% from the publisher’s retail price through channels outside of ordinary retail trade channels, the author will be paid a royalty of 15% of the Publisher’s net proceeds.” (Many smaller publishers, which pay royalties on net proceeds to begin with, often slash the royalty rate in half on discounts from 50–70%, and by 2/3 for greater discounts.) Thanks to that drop in royalty payments the publisher makes out like a—well, the word “bandit” springs to mind.

It seems fair that when a publisher sells a book at a deep discount, the author’s take might be reduced proportionally. But there’s no proportionality in many standard “deep discount” clauses.

. . . .

We’ve seen these discount double-crosses applied for sales to book clubs and book fairs, for “special sales” in bulk outside the usual book trade, for large-print editions, for export editions. Let’s say the publisher sells our sample book in bulk for just $2.00. The discount double-crossed author would get one thin dime per copy, a royalty cut of an astounding 93%—even though the net to the publisher would decline by less than 33%.

. . . .

Even crazier, some reductions can apply even to direct sales from publishers to readers, despite the fact that the publisher gets to keep the share of the transaction that would normally go to a retailer or wholesaler. If anything, an author’s royalty rate on such direct sales should be higher than normal.

. . . .

The documented decline in authors’ incomes stems in part from these unconscionable reductions in royalty payments. Unless publishers begin to see authors as partners rather than patsies, many authors will no longer be able to afford to deliver publishers the quality work the industry was built on.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild and thanks to Jacqueline for the tip.

PG says some authors get excited when they see their books in Costco. Unfortunately, it’s almost certain that their Costco sales will fall under the deep discount royalty structure, generating only tiny royalties.

Then, there are publishers who sell virtually everything at “deep discount” so the author never receives the royalty rates that are listed first and most prominently in their publishing contract.

PG has mentioned this before, but perhaps it bears repeating. During PG’s legal career, he has helped clients with a wide range of business contracts, including agreements prepared by many of the largest and most successful companies in the world.

Standard publishing contracts from large traditional publishers stand out in the constellation of business contracts for their one-sidedness and, in some cases, outright duplicity for anyone who fails to read them very carefully. The way that Randy Penguin and its cohorts write their standard contracts is not the way that Apple, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Disney, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, Merrill Lynch and similar entities write their contracts.

PG doesn’t agree with many initiatives undertaken by the Authors Guild, but he’s pleased to see their latest efforts to shine a light on some of the most abusive contract provisions routinely employed by Big Publishing.

However, the cynic in PG holds little hope that AG’s efforts will bring about any meaningful reform. Treating authors badly is too much a part of the corporate and cultural DNA of traditional publishing to change. These dinosaurs will die before they evolve.

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PLR rate to increase by 1p next year

11 November 2015

From The Bookseller:

The British Library Board has proposed an increase in Public Lending Right (PLR) payment made to authors next year, following a decrease in the estimated number of book loans.

The board has recommended the PLR rate should increase from 6.66 pence to 7.67 pence per loan in 2016, a rise of 1.01p, which the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) intends to accept.

Following the proposal, the Society of Authors c.e.o Nicola Solomon has written to Dominic Lake, deputy director of arts, libraries and cultural property at the DCMS, urging the government to ring-fence the PLR fund and “protect and maintain the library service which is under serious threat.”

Lake said: “The proposed increase has been possible in part due to efficiency savings and increased income, and in part as a result of a reduction in the estimated number of loans of books registered for PLR. The DCMS notes the British Library Board’s recommendation that the 2016 payments are made at an increased rate per loan of 7.67 pence and propose to amend the PLR Scheme accordingly.”

. . . .

“PLR continues to be an important source of earnings for authors and we would urge the government to ring-fence the (already meagre) PLR Fund in any future spending review,” Solomon said. “We are sad to note the decrease in the estimate loans of books registered for PLR, caused, no doubt, by the cuts in library services and the exclusion of some volunteer-run libraries from the scheme. We urge the government to include volunteer-run libraries within the PLR scheme so that true figures for library lending can be recorded and remunerated.”

She went on to say: “We understand that the government is considering plans to bring in PLR payments for remote e-lending. Libraries now remotely lend a significant number of e-books and it is only fair that authors should be remunerated for these. Publishers have been reluctant to ensure that authors receive a fair share of licensing revenues for remote lending. We believe that an author’s receipts from e-book lending should equate to the total earnings the author would have received on a physical copy over the lifetime of the book from the combination of royalties on sale and PLR on every loan. The same considerations apply to the remote lending of digital audiobooks.”

The PLR payment is made to authors by the government each time their books are loaned through the public library system. The amount due to each author is based on a rate per loan, calculated on the basis of the size of the fund available and an estimate of the total number of loans of their registered works, obtained by way of a sample of public libraries in the UK.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

America’s Most Surprising Six-Figure Jobs

17 October 2015

From Forbes:

Think all of the country’s six-figure salary professionals are confined to corner offices? Think again.

Each year, Forbes examines data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find some of the country’s most surprising six-figure jobs, using data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates released annually for more than 800 occupations, refined by geography and industry.

. . . .

Highly-trained stargazers–those who “observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge or apply such information to practical problems”–can earn as much as $162,630, with California paying the most for analysis of its skies. As a group, the more than 1,600 astronomers in the U.S. earn a mean annual salary of $107,140.

. . . .

Some writers and authors–even those without a bestseller to their name, as yet–also bring in annual earnings that might raise a few eyebrows. The mean annual salary for preparing “scripts, stories, advertisements, and other material” is $67,870 with the top 10% earning an average $114,820, annually.

Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Should You Go Wide or Join KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited?

6 October 2015

From Lindsay Buroker:

When I uploaded my first book, The Emperor’s Edge, in December of 2010, it was a foregone conclusion that I would put it out there everywhere I could, in the hope that new readers would stumble across it and give it a try. Then, a couple of years later, Amazon introduced KDP Select, a program for self-publishers that requires exclusivity.

Right off the bat, Amazon introduced a couple of promotional tactics that are still available to those who are enrolled. Eventually, Kindle Unlimited and the ability to be paid for borrows also came along.

. . . .

So, what do you lose? Obviously, if you’re exclusive with Amazon, you can’t receive ebook income from the other stores. Let me emphasize that we’re only talking about ebook income, as you can still have audiobooks in iTunes and paperbacks in Barnes & Noble and elsewhere. But, as you probably already know, ebook income is huge for self-published authors. Even though I’m working on getting more audiobooks out there, and I’ve done paperbacks for most of my novels, ebooks easily account for 95% of my income.

. . . .

Before I go further, I should disclose that I am not in KDP Select with any of the books under my name, but that my pen name is currently “all in” with KDP Select. I started the pen name books there, to take advantage of the sales ranking/visibility boost from Kindle Unlimited, and I returned them to KDP Select this August, after not gaining much headway in the other stores and after Amazon switched to Kindle Unlimited 2.0, a system that rewards novelists by paying based on total pages read.

For my LB books, I’ve been around longer, and my books do sell on the other platforms, especially on Barnes & Noble (Kobo has been coming on strong these last few months too). I also make some sales on iTunes and Smashwords, and through Smashwords, I make a nominal amount at Overdrive, Oyster, and Scribd.

. . . .

Still, even with all that, Amazon always seems to make up about 85-90% of my ebook income. In my case, if things are going well elsewhere, they’re going even better at Amazon.

There have been times that I’ve considered trying KDP Select with a couple of my series, to see how much it would affect sales and if I would make more overall with the borrows added in. But after almost five years of publishing widely, I’ve gained some loyal readers from those other platforms. It’s uncomfortable enough when I have to explain that my pen name books are only available on Amazon!

I also, from a moral and business standpoint, don’t like the idea of being exclusive with Amazon and relying wholly on one vendor for my income. I’m quite tickled to have reached the point, in the last year or two, where my non-Amazon income has grown to enough that I could still make a living at this if Amazon disappeared. (Of course, I hope it won’t!)

But I understand why some authors choose exclusivity and KDP Select. With 3-4 books out wide in all of the stores, my pen name made a little shy of $1,000 on platforms other than Amazon between January 2015 and July 2015 (that’s total, not per month).

. . . .

When KU changed to KU2.0 this summer, I decided to put all of the pen name books back into KDP Select. I’d probably recommend almost anyone doing a pen name start out this way, not only because it takes more effort to gain traction on the other stores but also because, if you’re publishing frequently, it’s more work to upload everywhere and keep the back matter updated.

Link to the rest at Lindsay Buroker and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

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

Miss Congeniality: South African Fiction

4 October 2015

From Calling Through the Fog:

Authors’ incomes collapse to ‘abject’ levels.

That’s what the headline on The Guardian said, and I was frantic to know more. Which authors? Was it me? Were my annual royalty cheques of R250 about to plunge to R50? Less?

Usually I read like a millenial, which is to say I base my world view on the first three words of headlines from Buzzfeed articles on Twitter. But this time I read on.

Many professional authors in the United Kingdom, I discovered, were seeing their royalties plunge. Some who had earned their living from writing books were facing the prospect of – dear reader, are you sitting down? – not being able to write fiction as a full-time occupation.

. . . .

Mal Peet, a celebrated writer of novels for children, told The Guardian that his direct income from sales had become “literally abject”. His royalty cheque for the last months of 2013, which included all his books in print, was £3 000.

That might sound like quite a lot to a South African writer, but of course Peet doesn’t live in South Africa, and for a UK resident, twice-yearly cheques of £3 000 are basically enough for a bus ticket down to Lidl and a packet of Jaffa cakes.

Still, for South African writers the alarmed cries of authors in the UK might have a slightly comical ring to them. I mean, 6 000 abject pounds a year can’t keep a Briton in Marmite but that’s still about R115 000 a year, and for most South African fiction writers that’s the stuff of pure fantasy.

. . . .

But then your publisher explains that it’s not 12% of the cover price of the book. It’s 12% of what the publisher gets, which is the price of the book minus VAT minus bookshops’ 40%-ish cut.

So if your novel costs R150 you’re looking at getting about R10 per copy.

No problem, right? You only have to sell 100 000 copies to make a million bucks, and your mom has already bought six, so that’s only another 99 994 to go. And so you scamper down to Exclusives Books and find your novel, lovingly shelved under Non-Fiction or Mind/Body/Spirit or Wildlife, and you notice that they’ve sold two copies since the last time you were there. Which is actually pretty good seeing as the last he last time you were there was three hours ago, compulsively counting the number of copies of your book on the shelf.

. . . .

But as weeks become months, and you start seeing your book in second-hand shops, marked down from R100 to R70 to R40 to Shem to Bwahahahaha, you realize that your publisher’s initial print run of 2,000 copies wasn’t a defeatist lowball estimate to knock your self-confidence. You’ve sold a thousand and change. And that’s that.

. . . .

The bottom line is that the vast majority of South African novels written in English sell between 700 and 1,500 copies. Their quality doesn’t really seem to be a factor. Some novels that are basically typed poo sell quite respectably. I know one literary prize-winning novel that didn’t crack 900.


Your novel sells 1 000 copies. You get R10 per copy. Over the entire lifetime of your book (a year or three) you’ll make R10 000. Before tax. That’s about £600.

Link to the rest at Calling Through the Fog and thanks to Jules 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.

Media Often Mistakes Legacy Publishing Stats for Market Stats, Foresees the Decline of Ebooks

25 September 2015

From Nate Hoffhelder at The Digital Reader:

It’s that time of year again.

Starting with Nicholas Carr in 2013, it has become a biannual tradition for someone in the media to proclaim that print isn’t dead, and that ebooks are declining.

The last publication to cheer on the revival of print was The Guardian, which proclaimed in April that paper books were opening a new chapter, and now the NYTimes has picked up the standard.

On Tuesday, the NYTimes announced that print was far from dead and that due to declining ebook sales, the expected digital apocalypse had been indefinitely delayed.

. . . .

The NYTimes is citing the AAP’s monthly sales stats. This data is collected from some 1,200 and collated each month. The stats are good and accurate, but they also come with a huge caveat:

The 1,200 publishers represent less than half of the industry’s ebook revenues.

According to the AAP’s year-end report, the 1,200 odd publishers generated $1.58 billion in ebook revenues in 2014.

That is a lot of money, but not in comparison to the AAP’s figures for 2014 ebook revenues for the trade publishing industry, which totaled an estimated $3.37 billion dollars.

The share represented by the 1,200 publishers comes to 46%, in case you were wondering.

While I’m sure some readers are thinking that you can reasonably extrapolate from a limited data set to the entire market, that will not work in this case because the 1,200 publishers are not a representative sample of the market.

There’s a fundamental difference between the AAP’s data and the non-AAP industry. While the majority of the AAP monthly data about ebook revenues comes from the Big Five US trade publishers, the majority of the non-AAP ebook revenues goes to self-published ebooks and indie published ebooks.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Mikey for the tip.

eBook Sales and Author Incomes and All That Jazz

23 September 2015

From John Scalzi:

People are pointing me to this article in the New York Times about eBooks sales slipping and print sales stabilizing, and are wondering what I think of it. Well:

To begin, I think it’s lovely that print sales and book stores are doing well; it was touch and go there for a while. I’m also not entirely surprised to find that many younger readers — the “digital natives” — like and often prefer physical books. That’s certainly been the case with my daughter (who now, as it happens, works at the local bookstore). She’s sucked into her phone as much as any person her age, or indeed, as much as most people alive, it seems. And yet, when she reads books, and she reads a lot of them, print is her preferred medium, and was even before the bookstore.

With that said, it’s worth noting this bit in the article:

It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.

Indeed, a couple of days before this particular article, my Twitter feed was alive with retweets of data showing that publishers’ share of Amazon ebooks sales had decreased while indie sales had increased; since the data had come from a source that is unabashedly pro-indie (and less-than-subtly in my opinion anti-publishing), it also came with rhetoric implying that publishers were doomed, doomed, and so on.

So a couple of things here. First, if we are talking overall book sales, I do think we’re missing a lot if we’re not bringing indie sales into the discussion. There’s a hell of a lot going on there and it’s one of the most exciting places in publishing right now, “exciting” being used in many senses of the term. But no matter how you slice it, if you’re lightly sliding over its existence, you’re not accurately describing the current publishing market.

. . . .

Publishers, for example, might decide that it’s in their long-term interest to stabilize and even grow the print market, and price both their eBooks and print books in a manner that advantages the latter over the former in the short term.

Why would they do that? For a number of reasons, including the fact that Amazon is still 65% of the eBook market in the US, and publishers, as business entities, are appropriately wary of a retailer which a) clearly has monopsonist ambitions and tendencies, b) has been happy to play hardball with publishers to get its way. 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.

. . . .

I think it’s entirely possible that publishers have as their long-term strategy imprints and initiatives that primarily address particular media, with some imprints, books and authors primarily digital-facing and some primarily print-facing, depending on where their data tells them money is to be made with each book/author/imprint/whatever.

The short version of all of the above is: I’m sure publishers are happy about print doing well, and I would be mildly surprised if publishers are too deeply concerned with the short-term dip in digital sales, especially if they are investing in positioning themselves for the long-term.

. . . .

I’ve noted before that I think in general there are three kinds of authors: Dinosaurs, mammals and cockroaches, where the dinosaurs are authors tied to an existing publishing model and are threatened when it is diminished or goes away, mammals are the authors who rise to success with a new publishing model (but who then risk becoming dinosaurs at a later date), and cockroaches are the authors who survive regardless of era, because they adapt to how the market is, rather than how they want it to be. 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.

Link to the rest at John Scalzi and thanks to Ashe for the tip.

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

With respect to Scalzi’s last point about self-publishing income, PG would note that Author Earnings provides an excellent window into the income of indie authors (not all, but indie authors who are selling more than a handful of books on Amazon each month). While Author Earnings does not claim to be a perfect measure of author income, it is certainly better than any numbers from an Authors Guild survey which PG suspects was a voluntary mail-out/mail-back survey (he hasn’t been able to find a description of survey methodology).

PG won’t go into detail about the accuracy of various survey methodologies, but mailing (or emailing) surveys to all your members, then drawing conclusions from a return rate of 10-20% reliably shows nothing about the non-responsive 80-90%. The respondents are self-selecting and, absent real and reliable data about the differences between respondents and non-respondents, you can only talk about the 10-20% of authors who responded, not all authors or even all members of the Authors Guild. There are good arguments that, when a survey generates a poor response rate, the likelihood that the responders and the non-responders are different in significant ways is much greater than 50%.

When Author Earnings reports on the top 65,000 or 100,000 ebooks on Amazon, they’re getting information on 100% of that population on that day. AE has been very transparent about its methodology and the means by which it utilizes hard data to extrapolate author income. AE also releases all of its data so anyone else can perform their own analysis. PG hasn’t read what all the various critics of AE have written, but he is not aware of any critic conducting his/her/its own analysis of the AE data to show any flaw in AE’s conclusions, stretching over 7 quarters and growing.

UPDATE: AE has just released a study of individual author income across the last seven quarters.

Authors Guild Report: AG Membership Impoverishes Authors (And It’s Amazon’s Fault)!

14 September 2015

From Barry Eisler:

Apparently the Authors Guild has done a study in which it concludes that “the majority of authors would be living below the Federal Poverty Level if they relied solely on income from their writing…not only are many authors earning little, they are, since 2009, also earning less.”

Now I’m no statistician (though I doubt I’m any more statistically challenged than anyone at the Authors Guild), and regardless picking apart the report’s basis isn’t what primarily interests me today. But I do have to note one thing just as an aside. Which is: it’s fascinating that the Authors Guild could rely on respondents only from its own membership—89% of whom are over 50, 64% of whom have never even experimented with self-publishing, and only 4% of whom have eschewed legacy publishing entirely—and then use these responses to draw conclusions about what’s going on for all authors.

You don’t need to be an expert in self-selection bias and non-probability sampling to understand that the AG’s stunt would be a devastating methodological flaw in any study (as it is regarding reports of Association of American Publisher earnings—don’t miss the latest must-read AuthorEarnings report). But given that the most innovative and entrepreneurial writers in publishing today look at the Authors Guild as at best a punch line, the error is a showstopper. If the report demonstrates anything at all, it’s that a declining poverty-line subsistence correlates with membership in the Authors Guild. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and maybe this is why the organization is eager to treat its respondents as somehow representative of authors generally, including authors who would laugh at the notion that they should join.

. . . .

Now I’m no statistician (though I doubt I’m any more statistically challenged than anyone at the Authors Guild), and regardless picking apart the report’s basis isn’t what primarily interests me today. But I do have to note one thing just as an aside. Which is: it’s fascinating that the Authors Guild could rely on respondents only from its own membership—89% of whom are over 50, 64% of whom have never even experimented with self-publishing, and only 4% of whom have eschewed legacy publishing entirely—and then use these responses to draw conclusions about what’s going on for all authors.

You don’t need to be an expert in self-selection bias and non-probability sampling to understand that the AG’s stunt would be a devastating methodological flaw in any study (as it is regarding reports of Association of American Publisher earnings—don’t miss the latest must-read AuthorEarnings report). But given that the most innovative and entrepreneurial writers in publishing today look at the Authors Guild as at best a punch line, the error is a showstopper. If the report demonstrates anything at all, it’s that a declining poverty-line subsistence correlates with membership in the Authors Guild. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and maybe this is why the organization is eager to treat its respondents as somehow representative of authors generally, including authors who would laugh at the notion that they should join.

. . . .

Now let’s examine the proposed solution to the causes of all this author impoverishment: “Authors need to be cut in more equitably on the profits their publishers see, or we’ll stop seeing the quality of work the industry was built on.”

Wait, I thought the rise of Amazon—the publisher that pays higher royalties than any other—was impoverishing authors. How is that possible, if the solution to author impoverishment is higher publisher royalties? It’s all just so confusing…!

But okay, no doubt it’s an outrage that legacy publishers are making more and more and sharing with authors less and less—which again makes all the more remarkable the AG’s failure to do anything about it beyond than the odd supplicatory blog post. But what does any of that have to do with piracy and all the rest? It’s like Rasenberger is throwing up a bunch of distracting chaff instead of saying what’s simply and glaringly obvious: if legacy authors are being impoverished, it’s because their publishers are keeping an ever-larger share of the profits. It has nothing to do with piracy, or consolidation, or with some bookstores rising and others opening and closing. Legacy publishers make too much and share too little.

Link to the rest at Barry Eisler

Here’s a link to Barry Eisler’s books

September 2015 Report from Author Earnings

14 September 2015

Author Earnings has released a new report:

AAP Reports Own Shrinking Market Share, Mistakes It for Flat US Ebook Market

In the 18 months between February 2014 and September 2015, the AAP’s 1200 reporting traditional publishers — which include the “Big Five”: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette — have seen their collective share of the US ebook market collapse:

  • from 45% of all Kindle books sold down to 32%
  • from 64% of Kindle publisher gross $ revenue down to 50%
  • from 48% of all Kindle author net $ earnings down to 32%

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) releases monthly reports on the total sales of 1200 participating publishers, of whom the “Big Five” collectively account for roughly 80% of AAP-reported sales.

So far in 2015, the AAP’s monthly StatShot reports have charted a progressive decline in both ebook sales and overall revenue for the AAP’s 1200 publishers.

During that same period in 2015, Amazon’s overall ebook sales have continued to grow in both unit and dollar terms, fueled by a strong shift in consumer ebook purchasing behavior away from traditionally-published ebooks and toward indie-published- and Amazon-imprint-published ebooks.

These “non-traditionally-published” books now make up nearly 60% of all ebooks purchased in the US, and take in 40% of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks.

The AAP is still reporting on May 2015 right now; they haven’t seen the latest 5% drop in their collective market share, measured by Author Earnings in early September 2015 (after Penguin Random House’s return to agency pricing).

. . . .

In 2014, one of the pervasive memes in publishing was that the industry was stabilizing. Many publishing observers opined then that the disruption effected by ebooks and the ease of digital self-publishing had largely run its course. The largest traditional publishers have generally cheered the leveling off of their ebook sales — in one case, even characterizing a sharp decline in their ebook revenue as “great news.” Over the past 18 months, they’ve responded to these shrinking ebook sales with progressive ebook price hikes. Now both their ebook revenue and their overall dollar revenues — including print revenue — are declining.

The widely-heralded “flattening” of the US ebook market has gotten plenty of press over the last 18 months, due primarily to these reports of declining ebook sales from the AAP, Nielsen, and in the released quarterly financials of the largest traditional publishers.

Traditional publishers, industry pundits, and are all claiming that the ebook market has flattened, or is now even shrinking.

But at the same time, the largest ebook store in world is telling the Wall Street Journal the exact opposite is happening:

“Amazon says e-book sales in its Kindle store—which encompasses a host of titles that aren’t published by the five major houses—are up in 2015 in both units and revenue.”

So which is it?

Is the broader US ebook market really flattening or declining? Or is it simply that vast numbers of readers are now abandoning traditionally-published ebooks and buying non-traditionally-published ones instead?

The AAP, Nielsen Bookscan, and Nielsen Pubtrack all claim to capture roughly 80% of all trade book sales — both for ebooks and for print. Amazon sells the lion’s share of those ebooks, accounting for67% of all traditionally-published ebook sales by most accounts. And at AE, we have built a comprehensive database of quarterly snapshots, each of which captures between 45% and 60% of Amazon’s daily sales.

So we were in a great position to put the AAP’s claim they represent “80% of the US trade ebook market” to the test.

. . . .

We charted the AAP’s true share of the US Kindle ebook market over the last 18 months and seven AE data sets. Here’s what we found.


The first thing that jumps out at us when we look at the leftmost four bars of the above chart, which correspond to 2014, is this:

Throughout 2014:

Kindle ebook sales by the AAP’s 1200 reporting publishers made up less than 45% of all Kindle books purchased in the US in 2014.
Nielsen Pubtrack’s ebook market statistics, based on self-reported data from the top 30 US publishers, are even more overstated in their claimed coverage. In actuality, Pubtrack captures only 40% of true US Kindle sales.
The AAP’s “80%”-of-the-market claim seems to hold roughly true if one considers only traditionally-published ebooks, however…
Traditionally published ebooks as a whole only made up 55% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US in 2014.
So where did the other 45% of the ebooks purchased by consumers in 2014 come from? The data answers that very clearly.

They were published by Amazon imprints and self-published by indie authors.

Now let’s look at that seven-quarter market share chart again, and this time let’s focus on the longer-term trends.


Let’s look at how each publishing segment has fared over the last 18 months in the largest ebook store in the world. We’ll work our way upward, market sector by market sector, from the bottom of the chart to the top.

The AAP’s 1200 participating publishers:

At the bottom, we have (in purple) the AAP’s 1200 participating publishers, which comprise their monthly StatShot reports and are dominated by the Big 5. As we move from left to right, from February 2014 to September 2015, we can see the AAP’s share of all ebooks sold progressively dropping.

The AAP’s share of Kindle ebooks purchased by consumers has fallen from 45% of all Kindle ebooks sold in February 2014 to less than 32% of all Kindle ebooks selling in September 2015.

Smaller, non-AAP-reporting traditional publishers:

Right above the AAP’s share, we see (in red) how non-AAP-reporting traditional publishers have fared. These are generally smaller publishers and micropresses who are not part of the AAP’s 1200 reporting participants.

Up through May 2015, the market share of non-AAP-reporting traditional publishers has been declining right alongside the AAP’s.

But in September, those smaller, non-AAP-reporting traditional publishers appear to have picked up some of the AAP’s lost market share. One data point does not a trend make . . . but perhaps, as the AAP publishers have begun to price themselves out of the ebook market, they’ve also given their smaller traditional publisher brethren some breathing room. We shall see in the coming months.

Amazon’s own publishing imprints:

Above the purple AAP and red non-AAP traditional publishers, we have Amazon’s own publishing imprints (shown here in pale green). There are no more than a few thousand books published by these imprints — Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Skyscape, and the like — but they punch well above their weight, unsurprisingly, being uniquely positioned to sell well in Amazon’s own store.

Over the past 18 months, Amazon imprints have nearly doubled their market share, from 7% of all Amazon ebook purchases in February 2014 to 13% of all Amazon ebook purchases now.

Indie self-published books:

And then at the top of the graph, in various shades of blue, we have indie self-published books. For simplicity, in this series of charts, I’ve included uncategorized single-author-publishers (who are basically all unconfirmed, low-selling indies) in the indie category.

In 2015, we began tracking in our reports which indie books had ISBNs. And which didn’t — and therefore were part of the no-ISBN publishing “shadow industry,” a burgeoning market sector that remains completely invisible to Nielsen, Bowker, the AAP, or any of the other traditional providers of publishing-industry statistics.

The 2015 market share of “shadow industry” indie ebooks is shown in midnight blue at the top of the latter 3 bars of the chart, while the ISBN-bearing indie ebooks are shown in a lighter shade of blue right beneath. Together, they reveal a jaw-dropping fact.

Indie ebooks without ISBNs have grown from 30% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in January 2015 to now account for 37% of all Kindle ebooks being purchased in September.

When indie ebooks that have ISBNs are included, then indie self-published books, which made up 36% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in February 2014, now make up 42% of all Kindle ebooks being purchased on Amazon right now.

Unfortunately, we didn’t also go back and retroactively check each book in the 4 earlier (2014) datasets to see if they had ISBNs. Had we done so, it would have beautifully charted the rapid rise of the untracked ebook “shadow industry,” right alongside the rapid decline in market share held by traditionally-published ebooks.

As of September 2015:

  • “Nontraditionally-published” ebooks from indie self-publishers and Amazon publishing imprints make up 58% of all ebooks purchased in the US.
  • Traditionally-published ebooks make up 42% of ebooks purchased in the US.
  • When the AAP reports “declining ebook sales”, they are describing the shrinking portion of the US ebook market held by their 1200 participating traditional publishers, whose share of the broader US ebook market has fallen in the last 18 months from 46% of all Kindle ebook purchases to less than 32%.

. . . .

18-Month Market Share Trend : Author $ Earnings from Kindle Ebooks


When we first started analyzing Kindle sales in February 2014, traditionally-published authors were taking home nearly 60% of the ebook royalties earned in the largest bookstore in the world.

Not anymore.

Today, traditionally-published authors are barely earning 40% of those ebook royalties, while self-published indie authors and those published by Amazon’s imprints are taking home almost 60%.

From an author-earnings perspective, in 18 short months, the US ebook market has flipped upside down.

But change in publishing isn’t limited to the ebook market.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

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