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Self-Publishing is the Best Solution to Low Author Earnings

13 October 2019

From ALLi:

There is an old business saying: follow the money to see the true story. If we follow the money in publishing, from the perspective of authors, what story does it tell us?

This is the typical money trail in trade publishing:

  1. Reader pays bookstore
  2. Bookstore pays wholesaler
  3. Wholesaler pays distributor (sometimes wholesaler and distributor are one)
  4. Distributor pays publisher
  5. Publisher pays agent
  6. Agent pays author many months after the sale (who, by the time everyone has had their cut, receives less than 10% of book retail price).

This business model of selling print books through bookstores is not commercially viable for most indie authors. Economies of scale means that few of us can compete with trade publishing in the  print-book-to-bookstore model. And the economics of physical bookstore distribution, given the discounts retailers, wholesalers and distributors need to make their profits, are punishing, even for big publishers.

. . . .

In self-publishing the most common money chain looks like this:

  1. Reader pays online bookstore (the author’s website or a retailer such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo etc).
  2. Author gets paid immediately on own website (full cost of book, minus publishing expenses); or 90 days after transaction (up to 70% of book retail price) through the retailer or one of the aggregators who distribute to them (who will also take a cut).

And these online stores, with their global readership, 24/7, give far more access to readers than any physical store can provide.

. . . .

Self-Publishing is also advantageous from a rights perspective.

The days of needing to give an exclusive, all-territories, long-term, license to a publisher in order to see our books on sale, disappeared a decade ago.

Indie authors retain ownership of all publishing rights and the savvy author understands the value of that. Owning and creating value from our rights, today’s authors can adopt a variety of business models, produce a variety of book-related content, in text, video and audio and distribute it through a variety of outlets and platforms, not least our own websites.

The author who is stuck in a Cinderella complex, where Prince Publisher Charming is going to sweep in, fall in love with their book, and carry them off to fame and fortune, without them having to do the work, has failed to grasp the enormity of what gets handed over in such a transaction.

. . . .

What few authors know is that a publisher’s business model is built on failure for the majority of authors that they take on. Of every 20 authors who sign with them, probably two will do well enough to make a living from their writing (and pay the overheads of the publisher). The problem is they don’t know which two it will be.

They are fired out into the marketplace, to see what sticks. From the publisher’s perspective, that’s understandable. They know they only need that one or two to do well in order to recoup their investment in all.

The effect for the authors is devastating. They, and their “failed” books are dropped, but they have gained no publishing skills in the transaction. Any confidence they gained from signing the deal in the first place has probably been eroded. And if they seek another publisher they are doing so from a very weak bargaining position.

By contrast, those who self-publish, and combine self-publishing with selective, non-exclusive licensing, are building skills and confidence with each book, each sale, each negotiation, each deal. We are building an author business, step by step, book by book, reader by reader, collaboration by collaboration.

As an author, you may relish the creative challenges of self-publishing, or you may quail at them, but building those skills empowers you.

Link to the rest at ALLi

Self-Publishing

5 Comments to “Self-Publishing is the Best Solution to Low Author Earnings”

  1. I respect self published authors much more. Think about it… they are smart enough to realize how to maximize profits while finding a profitable solution that lets me read the book months or years sooner then a traditionally published book and at a cheaper price point as well.

    I follow a couple dozen authors who self publish. I can think of only around half a dozen traditional published authors I still follow and that is because they are finishing multi-book series.

  2. Excellent article on the reality of publishing. Published authors know this. Unfortunately, aspiring authors tend to believe that traditional publishing equals bestselling books.

    Sadly, it doesn’t. If it did, every book published by a trad publisher would be a bestseller.

    As the article points out: “What few authors know is that a publisher’s business model is built on failure for the majority of authors that they take on.”

    Publishers know what they’re doing and the majority of authors are cannon fodder.

    Looking on the bright side — today, authors can self-publish. After almost 40 years as an author, self-publishing still makes me giddy with happiness. What’s not to like? 🙂

  3. This article totally depressed me. I have self-pubbed nonfiction and traditionally published my novels. I much prefer traditional publishing. I prefer to focus on my craft. Ten years ago, traditional publishing hated on indie, calling it lesser quality writing, publishing, everything. The indie world has done a remarkable job bringing the industry around and earning respect. But now this article makes it sound like the indie world has switched roles with traditional, and now profess they are the way for all authors to find a better way. I don’t want to self-publish. I really don’t. “But we make more money,” seems to be the retort. Good for those making the big bucks. I’m proud of them, and no doubt they work hard for it. But that does not make them better authors….it just makes them authors who publish differently. Publishers are still trying to do their best, and they are not all demons. I tire of that rhetoric. The bright side is that authors have choices. Why can’t we be happy with that?

  4. Publishers are still trying to do their best, and they are not all demons. I tire of that rhetoric. The bright side is that authors have choices. Why can’t we be happy with that?

    Of course a publisher is trying to do its best. But we have to examine what doing its best means.

    Authors are suppliers. A publisher doing its best does not mean doing what is best for suppliers. It means maximizing profit for the company and its owners.

    The independent author also does his best. But that means doing what is best for the author.

    So, when the publisher does his best, the benefits flow in one direction. When the independent author does his best, the benefits flow in a different direction.

    And they are both doing their best.

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