May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the definitive million-title study of US author earnings

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Data in the publishing biz is hard to come by. Without widespread sharing of data by retailers, publishers, agents, and authors, we are all left like the blind to describe different parts of the same but seemingly disjointed elephant. Two years ago, AuthorEarnings released its first report on a new part of this elephant: E-book sales on Amazon.com. Our report stirred controversy, as it described a formerly unseen world of publishing data.

Over the past two years, we have worked with industry insiders and data-savvy authors to refine our approach. This year, our up-to-date methodology and conclusions were presented in a Digital Book World 2016 keynote to an audience of prominent traditional publishers, agents, and retailers — many of whom deemed the AuthorEarnings keynote and hour-long Q&A with Publishers Lunch to be a highlight of the show. (The complete DBW slides can be found here).

Nowadays, even those who still fundamentally disagree with our conclusions generally acknowledge the accuracy of AuthorEarnings’ numbers. Their objections, these days, focus on what our reports *don’t* cover, rather than what they do. There is much more of the elephant to describe, and we relish that opportunity. Slowly but surely, the overall picture is being filled in. With each report, we uncover something new. This report is no different. In fact, it may be our most shocking.

Authors Unknown

Our methodology employs a software spider that crawls across Amazon’s bestseller lists. The 200,000+ titles on those lists make up roughly 60% of Amazon’s daily sales. This leaves an appreciable number of titles and sales unaccounted for. There’s more elephant here to uncover! We’ve long heard this might be the case, as independent authors familiar with our data have claimed to be making a livable wage without a single one of their books appearing on any Amazon bestseller list. These are the truly invisible among the already difficult-to-discern. We wanted to see if they could be found.

So for this report, we went deeper. Instead of just looking at Amazon’s bestseller lists, we had our spider follow links to also-bought recommendations and also through each authors’ full catalog. This resulted in a million-title dataset, our most comprehensive and definitive look yet at author earnings. We were able to tally up precisely how many indie authors, Big Five authors, small/medium press authors, and Amazon-imprint authors are currently making enough from Amazon.com sales to land in a number of “tax brackets”.

But first, with our shiny new May data included, a quick look at the prevailing trend-lines. Over the last 27 months, how has the distribution of ebook unit sales, gross consumer $ spending, and author earnings changed among publisher types?

Ebook Market Share: 27 month trend lines

ebook-units-trend-201605ebook-gross-sales-trend-201605ebook-author-earnings-trend-201605

The only noteworthy highlight here is that the Big Five’s year-long plummet in overall ebook unit sales appears to have finally leveled off, leaving them with roughly 23% of Amazon’s ebook unit sales. A factor in this leveling-off *may* be lower Big Five ebook prices (the average price of a Big Five ebook dropped from $10.31 in January 2016 to $8.67 in May 2016, which warranted a closer look.). But on the other hand, the Big Five’s loss of market-share in gross consumer dollar terms — and, more importantly, the ongoing decline in Big Five authors’ ebook earnings — have both continued relatively unabated.

Also-boughts… and Author Pages, Too!

For this report, we didn’t stop at 200,000 listed category best-sellers. Instead, we also had the AE spider crawl through each of their also-boughts, and pull data on every single one of *those* titles, as well. And then we had it crawl the Amazon author pages for all of those books, too, and pull data on every single other title each author had for sale on Amazon. We ended up with daily sales data on a million of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks — nearly a third of all titles listed in the US Kindle store. We captured practically all of the titles selling with any frequency whatsoever, the vast majority of the infrequently selling titles, and many, many of the non-selling. Our dataset includes:

  • Nearly every single Kindle book selling 1 or more copy per day. (98.5% of them)
  • 90% of all Kindle titles selling at least 2-3 copies a week
  • 81% of all Kindle titles selling 1 or more copy a week
  • 64% of all Kindle titles selling 2 or more copies a month
  • 32% of all Kindle titles listed in the Amazon US Kindle store.

With this report, Author Earnings is now capturing and breaking down a full 82% of daily Amazon Kindle ebook sales. Even better, we’ve been able to capture the majority of the previously unmeasured “dark matter” sales — whose composition we had before only speculated about. Well, now we know.

Only 18% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales remain unaccounted for in our data — and every last bit of that remainder is coming from titles selling less than a copy a day, the overwhelming majority of it from titles selling less than a copy a week, and most of *that* coming from titles selling less than a copy a month. Even more notably, all of the remainder comes from the very lowest-selling authors on Amazon, who have no other titles making any significant sales either.

How much of a boost do non-listed titles add to a best selling author’s bottom line?

The answer varies by publisher type. Indie authors and the Big Five are the disproportionate beneficiaries of these non-bestseller-listed additional sales. A straightforward way to depict their contribution is in terms of the incremental percent of author earnings they add to those authors’ bottom lines. We can see that view below:

shadowmatter-contribution

What’s interesting here is that indie authors with one or more bestseller-listed titles are, on average, receiving a significantly higher increment of additional revenue — 30% more — from their other, non-bestseller-listed titles than Big Five authors who have listed best sellers, for whom their other titles add only 21% to their bottom line. For small or medium publishers who have listed best-sellers, the additional contribution from their non-bestselling titles is even less significant: only 13%. And oddly, for Amazon-Imprint Published authors with listed best-sellers, their other non-listed titles only contribute an additional 5% to their bottom lines. Perhaps this simply reflects the small number of both authors and titles that Amazon Imprints publish. Or perhaps, greater Amazon marketing adeptness, which keeps a higher percentage of their titles visible on the best-seller lists to begin with.

What about Print and Audio sales?

While we were at it, we pulled accompanying Amazon sales data on 900,000 top-selling print titles and 67,000 top-selling audiobook titles, too — including every format of every single title by any author who had even one title of any format on any Amazon bestseller list.

The significance of that — of capturing each author’s entire sales catalog: all books they have for sale, in every format — cannot be overstated. It means that this is not just our deepest and most comprehensive cross-sectional look at author earnings ever. It is…

A Definitive Study of Amazon Author Earnings

This is the definitive study of what authors from all publishing paths and all levels of sales success are earning right now from Amazon.com, the largest bookstore in the world.

It captures a complete picture of Amazon author earnings — ebook, print, and audio sales combined — for every single author, traditionally published or indie, who is making any significant Amazon sales today whatsoever.

This picture does not include non-Amazon.com income, from:

  • Print sales through brick and mortar bookstores & other mass merchandisers
  • Ebook sales through Apple iBookStore, barnesandnoble.com, Kobo, and Google Play
  • Audiobook sales through iTunes
  • Print books sold online through non-Amazon.com retailers
  • Library sales
  • Publisher-direct sales
  • Author-direct sales
  • Non-US digital and online print sales through other Amazon stores (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.au, etc.)
  • Other foreign sales

But despite the apparent length of the above list, the hard numerical reality of US bookselling today — the rarely mentioned elephant in the room — is this:

More than 50% of all traditionally published book sales of any format in the US now happen on Amazon.com.

That’s just the traditionally published books, though.

In addition, roughly 85% of all non-traditionally published book sales of any format in the US also happen on Amazon.com.

In other words, a comprehensive cross-sectional snapshot of Amazon.com’s sales, like the one we are describing here in our May report, is a definitive look at more than half of all daily US author earnings, period.

With that in mind, let’s take a look now at how many authors are currently earning how much, from the combined US Amazon sales of all of their books: hardcover editions, paperback editions, ebooks and audiobooks put together. And then let’s see how those author counts in each “tax bracket” vary by choice of primary publishing path, and by author tenure.

And for those concerned that we’re leaving out almost half of traditionally published author earnings from non-Amazon sources, hold that thought. We’ll factor those earnings in, too, below.

A New Census of Author Earnings by “Tax Bracket”

Our September 2015 7-quarter longitudinal study of author earnings was only based on income from Kindle ebook sales, and even then, from only the subset of titles appearing on some category bestseller list.

This time around, our census of author earnings includes author income from Amazon hardcover and paperback sales, too, as well as audiobook sales. And it includes revenue from every single title each author has for sale: best-selling and barely selling alike. Unlike our September 2015 census, this is a cross-sectional study rather than a longitudinal one — it’s based on a single-day snapshot of Amazon author earnings. But having done the longer-term study back in September, we can now say with confidence that a million-title, 200,000-author cross-sectional snapshot such as this one will give us a statistically reliable proxy for the average distribution of author incomes throughout the quarter, i.e. for Q2 2016.

Let’s start with those authors currently earning at a run rate $10,000 a year or more from all of their Amazon.com sales combined:

10k-tax-bracket

The 4 leftmost bars include every author who debuted anytime in the last century and is currently accumulating income at a rate of $10,000 a year or more from their Amazon US sales alone. The good news here is that we can see almost 9,900 such authors, although a small fraction of that represents multiple appearances by the same authors under different pen names, and another small fraction ascribes revenue to a single author that in reality gets shared with one or more co-authors: as in James Patterson’s case, for instance.

Comparing this 9,900 number to the roughly 5,600 authors earning 10K+/year that we found in our September 2015 7-quarter longitudinal study is a bit of an apples-to-oranges proposition. This is a cross-sectional study, after all, rather than a longitudinal one, so we have to take any like-for-like comparison with a slight grain of salt. But even so, that September study only considered each author’s best-seller-listed Kindle titles. The inclusion here of each author’s non-best seller listed titles, too, and all of their Amazon print sales and audio sales as well, appears to have nearly doubled the count of authors currently earning in this $10K/year “tax bracket”.

(The very small number of Amazon-imprint-published authors appearing in this tax bracket simply reflects the short depth of the A-Pub roster: there are probably fewer than 3,000 authors in total who have been published by Amazon imprints to date. Which makes the fact that over 300 of them are currently earning at a $10K-or-better rate relatively impressive.)

While $10,000/year is hardly a living wage in the US, it’s a nontrivial supplementary income. Especially for doing something you love.

And don’t forget this is a tally of 9,900 authors who are making that much or more on Amazon. Almost half of those 9,900 authors also appear in the $25000-or-better bracket above, and some of them in the brackets beyond that. So, onward.

Let’s take a look at publishing’s much-decried mid-listers next, to see how they are actually faring on Amazon.com.

The Size of Publishing’s Midlist : Traditionally Published vs Indie

25k-tax-bracket

Once again, when we look at the leftmost set of bars, it’s encouraging to see a sizeable, healthy midlist represented there — more than 4,600 authors earning $25,000 or above from their sales on Amazon.com. 40% of these are indie authors deriving at least half of their income from self-published titles, while 35% are Big Five authors deriving the majority of their income from Big Five-published titles, and 22% are authors who derive most of their income from titles published by small- or medium-sized traditional publishers.

But this includes traditional publishing’s longest-tenured and most recognizable names, including thousands of authors who have been actively publishing for the last several decades. When we consider only those authors who debuted sometime in the past ten years — who appear in the second set of bars in each graph — a sharp dichotomy starts to become apparent.

The vast majority of traditional publishing’s midlist-or-better earners started their careers more than a decade ago. Their more-recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well. Fewer than 700 Big Five authors and fewer than 500 small-or-medium publisher authors who debuted in the last 10 years are now earning $25,000 a year or more on Amazon — from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and ebook editions combined. By contrast, over 1,600 indie authors are currently earning that much or more.

The gap becomes even more pronounced when we look at those authors who first debuted in the last five years, or during the “ebook era.” And when we look at just the most recent debuts from each publishing path, only 250 Big Five authors and 200 recent small or medium publisher authors who debuted in the last three years are earning a midlist-or-better income from their Amazon sales.

By contrast, there are over 1,000 indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years who are doing so.

We see the same dichotomy play out in the $50,000/year “tax bracket”, which tallies up authors earning what would be a living wage in most parts of the US:

50k-tax-bracket

On the one hand, it’s fantastic to be able to count over 2,500 authors who are currently earning at a living-wage run rate — $50,000/year or more — from just their Amazon sales. But once again, among the traditionally published contingent we see predominantly authors whose careers began decades ago, including all of traditional publishing’s longest tenured best sellers and most recognizable names.

Out of more than 10,000 Big Five author debuts in the last five yearsfewer than 220 are currently earning $50K/year or more on Amazon. Despite all the countless small and medium publisher debuts over the past five years, the tally of those authors earning a living wage is even more discouraging: barely 100 non-Big Five traditionally published authors launched in the past 5 years now earn $50K/year or more from all of their books on Amazon.

But, wait! How about all those other non-Amazon sales? Don’t they make a huge difference here?

It turns out that including print sales from brick and mortar bookstores doesn’t change the relentless calculus of the traditionally published midlist significantly. Here’s an easy way to see that:

Remember that more than 50% of all traditionally published book sales happen on Amazon. To account for the remainder — traditionally published earnings from all of those brick-and-mortar bookstores and other non-Amazon online retailers — we can simply shift the purple Big Five bars and red Small-or-medium-press bars, which tally the traditionally published author count in each “tax bracket,” up into the next higher tax bracket instead — i.e. from $10K up to $25K, from $25K up to $50K, etc. Doing so will more than account for the almost-half of traditionally published book sales which don’t come from Amazon.

So here’s what those tax-bracket-shifted comparisons, which now require the indie authors to be earning double what their traditionally published counterparts make from Amazon sales, end up looking like for the $25K and $50K tax brackets:

comparing-10k-trad-vs-25k-indies comparing-25k-trad-vs-50k-indies

Even applying a 2x to 2.5x handicap to indies and Amazon-published authors, to account for all those brick and mortar print sales and other non-Amazon sales they might be missing, doesn’t really alter the picture much.

When we look at authors who debuted anytime in the past decade, and apply that handicap, we still find more indies now earning at a $25K and $50K run rate on Amazon than either Big Five authors or Small/Medium Publisher authors.

When we look at just debut authors from the past five years, we find more indie authors now earning a $50K-or-better living wage than all of their Big Five and Small/Medium publisher peers put together… even after we throw in that overgenerous 2x multiple for traditionally published non-Amazon revenue.

But why is a two-fold traditionally published earnings multiplier overgenerous?

For a couple reasons. For one thing, many indie authors also have significant non-Amazon revenue from titles they leave “wide” in the iBookstore, Nook store, Kobo, GooglePlay, etc. This is particularly true of higher-earning indies.

But more importantly, that 2x multiplier is especially generous because we’re looking at the midlist here. Few indeed of these traditionally published debut midlisters would have received any publisher-purchased bookstore co-op placement: those paid-for front-table and aisle end-cap displays only go to a select handful each year, who then receive a disproportionately high share of all bookstore print sales. By contrast, most traditionally published midlisters are lucky to see a few copies of their books placed spine-out on bookstore shelves, and even that for a couple months only, before those titles get cycled out to make room for the next batch of hopeful traditionally published debuts. They get cycled out because that bookstore shelf space is already full: decades worth of traditional publishing’s favorite authors and their latest releases have laid prior claim to it. The brick and mortar bookstore model has always been one of finite shelf space and enforced scarcity; there are a shrinking number of seats on that bus now, and most of them are already taken.

On the other hand, digital shelf space is unlimited. And the brand new, living-wage-earning indie author midlist that now dominates that digital shelf space is thriving.

In the past year, we’ve seen a rash of media articles decrying the shrinking prospects and worsening incomes of authors. Most of those articles are based on self-selected surveys, which solicit data exclusively from society-dues-paying traditionally published authors. Those articles are only reporting half of the picture. Here’s what they aren’t saying:

More than 1,080 indie authors, most of them brand new debuts from the last five years, are currently earning at a $50K/year or higher run rate from just their Amazon sales.

It’s not the death of the midlist that these one-sided “author poverty” surveys are measuring, and that the publishing media is lamenting. Rather, it’s a changing of the professional-author guard.

Over 1,000 indie authors are already making a living wage from Amazon sales alone…

And even better, more than half of those thousand are earning six figures or more.

The $100,000+ Club: Authors Earning Six-Figures or More

100k-tax-bracket

1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured “old guard.”

Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.

The author earnings gap between publishing paths is so wide among these six-figure-earning authors that once again brick-and-mortar print sales and the like cannot significantly alter the picture.

Consider that these Amazon totals already include roughly 40% of all US print sales that the traditionally published authors are making anywhere, while many high-earning indie authors also have significant additional non-Amazon revenue from their “wide” titles. But even when we apply our overgenerous 2X multiple to the traditionally published authors’ earnings, this is what we see:

comparing-50k-trad-vs-100k-indies

  • There are twice as many indie authors who debuted in the past 5 years now earning a six figure run rate than Big Five authors who were first published in the same time period and are able to do the same.
  • Recent small- or medium-publisher authors are even farther behind: there are four times as many indies earning six figures as small- or medium-press authors who also launched in the last five years.

The higher we set the author earnings bar, the starker that contrast between publishing paths becomes.

Here are the tallies of authors earning $250,000/year and $500,000/year on Amazon:

250k-tax-bracket 500k-tax-bracket

Once again, when we exclude traditional publishing’s longest-tenured household names, there are more recently debuted indies earning a quarter-million a year on Amazon, or even half a million a year, than Big Five and non-Big Five traditionally published authors combined.

And finally, let’s take a brief look at:

Authors Earning Seven Figures

1m-tax-bracket

We won’t belabor this one any further. But it is worth noting that the 28 Big Five authors in the leftmost purple bar include traditional publishing’s most recognizable and longest tenured mega-bestseller household names: James Patterson, Nora Roberts, George R. R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, David Baldacci, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and the like.

As of May 5, 2016, only 3 Big Five authors who debuted in the past 5 years are currently making a seven figure run rate from their Amazon sales — print, audio, and ebook combined. On the other hand, 14 indies who debuted in the same time period are right now doing the same.

But what about those “invisible” authors earning $100,000+ per year…?

The ones we keep anecdotally hearing about (and hearing from), who don’t show up on any Amazon category best seller lists?

Well, we found them. They were hiding in plain sight, in our million-title May data set.

Turns out there were 43 of them lurking unseen in the dark spaces between Amazon’s bestseller lists, including one author invisibly earning more than $250,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, 30 of the 43 invisible six-figure earners — including the top earner — were self-published indie authors. Most were writing in the Romance Fiction genres, but there was also an indie author of editor’s-choice Cozy Mystery Fiction, and even more surprising, a traditional-award-winning indie writer of Literary Fiction. We happen to think that’s pretty cool.

When we lowered the author earnings bar to $50,000 a year, we found 142 invisible authors that were earning that much or more on Amazon.com, without any of their titles appearing on any category best-seller lists. 105 of those 142 were self-published indies.

We live in exciting times. Today it’s possible to be a full-time professional author, quietly earning $50,000+ a year — even six figures a year — without ever sending a query letter to anyone. On Amazon alone, the data shows over a thousand indie authors earning a full-time living right now with their self-published titles.

The only gatekeepers that matter now are readers.

 

Download the raw Kindle data this report is based on (.txt.zip) (zipped, tab-separated-column text file)

Download the raw Print data this report is based on (.txt.zip) (zipped, tab-separated-column text file)

Download the raw Audio data this report is based on (.txt.zip) (zipped, tab-separated-column text file)

Creative Commons License
Author Earnings is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 


APPENDICES


 APPENDIX I: The usual market-share pie charts, updated…

ebook-titles-1m-201605

ebook-units-1m-201605

ebook-gross-sales-1m-201605ebook-author-earnings-1m-201605

 


 

APPENDIX II: Geeking out on the invisible “dark matter” of Amazon’s ebook sales

By looking at 200,000 top-selling ebook titles scraped from the Amazon category bestseller lists, quarter after quarter, we’ve consistently been able to shed light on the majority of Amazon’s ebook sales — nearly 60% of the daily total, in fact. We’ve been able to paint a very clear and detailed picture of Amazon’s list-visible titles, and how *those* particular sales break down.

But just as our own universe is made up of both visible “light matter” and invisible “dark matter,” so too is the universe of Amazon’s ebook sales.

For the past year, our AE spider has been capturing the sales of all of Amazon’s list-visible titles: the entire “light matter” portion of the Amazon ebook sales universe. And from there, we’ve been able to draw meaningful inferences about the composition of the remaining 40% — from the nearly three million other very-low-selling titles that have thus far managed to dodge the attention of our best-seller-list-crawling AE spider, because they appear on no category best-seller lists at all.

In other words, the titles that make up the invisible “dark matter” of the Amazon ebook sales universe.

Some of that ebook-sales “dark matter” is comprised of lower-selling backlist titles belonging to the very same authors whose better-selling books already appear in our data sets. We could call that portion of it “shadow” dark matter, perhaps: an additional penumbra of uncounted author earnings that gets cast like a shadow from those authors’ bestseller-list-visible “light matter” sales. But the rest of the dark matter is “pure” dark matter, coming from a different and entirely uncounted group of authors — authors who have thus far remained completely invisible in the AE data, because even their best-selling titles remained wholly below our radar. How much of each type is there? The percentage breakdown of dark matter sales has so far been anyone’s guess.

What we do know about the dark matter with fair precision is how many daily sales all of those invisible titles generate in aggregate: around 40% of Amazon’s daily total. And we know that very few dark-matter titles individually sell in significant numbers. How do we know they don’t? Because once all of the visible “light matter” titles and their individual sales rankings have been accounted for, there simply aren’t many decent-selling sales-rank slots left over for the “dark matter” to occupy. But beyond those two inarguable facts, there’s little else about the dark matter’s makeup that we have been able to say for sure.

And so, despite our best efforts, the true nature of that dark matter has remained a mystery. We’ve speculated that it is most likely distributed among different categories of publisher in about the same proportions as Amazon’s “light matter.” But absolute certainty about it has continued to elude us.

Until now.

So, what lies hidden in the invisible “dark matter” of ebook sales?

First, let’s look at how Amazon titles, authors, unit sales, daily revenue, and daily author earnings divide up between:

  • “Light matter” – titles visible on at least one category best-seller list
  • “Shadow dark matter” – non-list-visible titles from authors who do have other titles that are listed category best-sellers
  • AE-tracked “Pure dark matter” – titles from authors without a single title on any category best-seller list, but whom our spider first discovered in the also-boughts of other authors’ category bestsellers, and then went on to pull the rest of their titles
  • Non-AE-tracked “Pure dark matter” – titles from the lowest-selling authors without a single title on any category best-seller list, and whom our spider failed to find in any other title’s also-boughts, either

Note that, despite the large number of invisible titles and authors that lie in the “pure” dark matter, and which skew the first two pie-charts below, the vast majority of Amazon ebook unit sales, customer dollar spend, and dollar author earnings — around 75% of each — are going to the more “visible” authors, those with at least one title appearing on some category bestseller list. This can be seen clearly in the three pie charts that follow.

Causation or correlation? A bit of both, obviously. But the impact of author obscurity does appear to be very steep, while the career benefits of category bestseller-list visibility — which is part of discoverability — look high indeed.

title-distro author-distro unit-sales-distro gross-sales-distro author-earnings-distro

How does each shade of Amazon sales “matter” divide up among various publisher types?

The list-visible “light matter” ebook sales are distributed basically the same way they were in January 2016. The pie chart does include a higher percentage of uncategorized single-author publishers, who are also mostly indies. But this simply reflects our recent laziness — the process of going through these single-author publisher names one by one and categorizing them is painfully tedious, and there are many tens of thousands of them in our million-title dataset.

lightmatter-units

So there’s nothing particularly new or striking revealed in the “light matter” — the fact that roughly half of Amazon’s daily ebook purchases are now going to indie authors has, in 2016, become rather unremarkable. Which is in itself rather remarkable. But we digress.

More interesting is the composition of Amazon’s “shadow dark matter” sales, below — the additional, non-bestseller-listed sales that contribute to the earnings of authors whose bestseller-list titles make up the “light matter”:

shadowmatter-units

As described earlier in this report, indie authors and the Big Five are the disproportionate sales beneficiaries of this additional “shadow” dark matter.

And then there’s the “pure dark matter” — sales from entirely invisible authors who have no titles on any category best-seller list:

puredarkmatter-units

Once again, indies make up the bulk of these invisible sales and authors — an even higher proportion than in the other shades of Amazon sales matter. We even found a few dozen invisible authors here — mostly indies — who are earning six figures from titles that live entirely in this “pure” dark matter. But the majority of these 2,600,000 titles comes from the lowest-selling 750,000 authors on Amazon, and 900,000 of them belong to the lowest-selling 160,000 indies.

It might be discouraging to consider the 300,000 lowest-selling Big Five titles that we find here in the “pure dark matter”, belonging to 86,000 invisible Big Five authors. Or the 750,000 lowest-selling titles belonging to 240,000 authors published by small or medium publishers. While some of these authors are now retired or deceased, a full 60% of them were still actively publishing as recently as two years ago. Each of these authors successfully fought their way through the traditional-publishing slush pile, and secured themselves an agent and a publishing deal — even a Big Five deal. Those achievements appear to have granted them little career advantage, in either sales or visibility. Today, these several hundred thousand traditionally published authors find themselves earning even less than the very lowest-selling indies are.

Whether those 160,000 lowest-selling indies represent good news or bad news depends on your perspective: whether you view the glass as half-empty or half-full. In the past, when traditional publishing was the only real choice authors had, their manuscripts would have instead languished in traditional publishing’s slush pile, unpublished and unread. Instead, they are now collectively selling 150,000 copies a day, earning each of their authors, on average, $250/year — or roughly $100/title. And getting read, too, if not yet by many, and hopefully finding a few fans along the way.

 

134 Responses to “May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the definitive million-title study of US author earnings”

  1. Jim Johnson says:

    Great stuff, guys. Will you be providing the raw data files as usual?

  2. Karen Myers says:

    In light of the expansion into the list-visible authors’ additional titles, I wonder if there is any detectable impact of differences (if any) relative to books-in-series?

    In other words, if you can detect if a book is part of a series or multi-volume work, is there a difference in ratios for books-in-series vs stand-alones by publisher class? If indies produce more books-in-series vs big-5 (a big “if”) does that have a disproportionate impact on these results?

    Another cut I would love to see added would be a “by high level genre” comparison of data.

    Thanks for all the hard work and great analysis!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Karen,

      This time around, we had the spider also pull series-related data (number of titles, page lengths, and whether the first one was free). I haven’t had a chance to crunch that series data yet. But as soon as I do, we’ll share it. 🙂

      As for breaking the data down by high level genres, here’s a few of them:

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Nirmala says:

        Hi Data Guy,

        I would love to see the genre data for non-fiction also….my wife, Gina Lake, is clearly in the $25K plus category with her 20 plus self-published nonfiction books/ebooks/audiobooks, and it would be nice to see how nonfiction is doing overall in this new digital publishing world.

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Nirmala,

          I counted 24 of her titles in our dataset, and their May 5 run rate was solidly in the range you mention.

          Here are the above genre graphs with nonfiction added:

          For the uber-geeks, here’s the SQL I’m using to pick out nonfiction:

          case when ((categories like ‘%nonfiction%’ or categories like ‘%Arts & Photography%’ or categories like ‘%Biographies & Memoirs%’ or categories like ‘%Business & Money%’ or categories like ‘%Crafts, Hobbies & Home%’ or categories like ‘%Computers & Technology%’ or categories like ‘%Cookbooks, Food & Wine%’ or categories like ‘%Education & Teaching%’ or categories like ‘%Engineering & Transportation%’ or categories like ‘%Health, Fitness & Dieting%’ or categories like ‘%History%’ or categories like ‘%Law%’ or categories like ‘%Parenting & Relationships%’ or categories like ‘%Politics & Social Sciences%’ or categories like ‘%Reference%’ or categories like ‘%Religion & Spirituality%’ or categories like ‘%Science & Math%’ or categories like ‘%Self-Help%’ or categories like ‘%Sports & Outdoors%’ or categories like ‘%Travel%’)
          and
          (categories not like ‘%romance%’ and categories not like ‘%mystery, thriller & suspense%’ and categories not like ‘%mysteries & thrillers%’ and categories not like ‘%science fiction & fantasy%’ and categories not like ‘%science fiction%’ and categories not like ‘%fantasy%’ and categories not like ‘%action & adventure%’ and categories not like ‘%horror%’ and categories not like ‘%erotica%’ and categories not like ‘%teen & young adult%’ and categories not like ‘%teens%’ and categories not like ‘%children%’ and categories not like ‘%genre fiction%’ and categories not like ‘%Comics & Graphic Novels%’))
          then 1 else 0 end as nonfictiontitle

          pretty gruesome, huh? That’s because Nonfiction isn’t a category unto itself; it’s spread all over the place. 😉

          All my best,
          Data Guy

          • Nirmala says:

            Thanks Data Guy! That is interesting to see. One thing that pops out is how little Amazon’s own imprints have been doing in the non-fiction category. One of their companies contacted us a while back, but they never followed through with their communications. That is probably the only publisher we would consider at this point.

            But otherwise, it is nice to see that we are not the only non-fiction indies out there 🙂

            And just to note, my wife had a new release in mid-April and a Bookbub at the end of April, both of which were definitely still helping her sales on May 5th.

      • Don says:

        I was wondering something similar. From conversations with various authors, it seems to me that having 5 to 7 books self-published, on average, (whether in a series or not) seems to be a per-requisite before they can reach over ‘x’ amount per year, say perhaps, $10,000. (A necessary but not necessary the only condition, of course.)

        • I made about $8,000 in the first year of having one book published, with the second book coming just at the end of that time. Made about $10,000 in the second year, with 2-3 books. All religious nonfiction in a small genre (Catholic spirituality and Catholic parenting). My point: lots of people are hitting this milestone before having 5 to 7 books.

      • Juan says:

        From where did you get the information?

    • David says:

      YES! We all know that romance dominates, and we could guess at a few fiction genres which probably make up the top 10. But what would be incredibly useful is seeing broadly how they rank. Is there a certain Hobby category which outranks the others? Do Biographies sell more than Religion & Spirituality books?

  3. Cathryn Cade says:

    Thank you so much for gathering and interpreting this data. Much appreciated!

    I too would LOVE to see the major genres broken out in future reports, if possible.

  4. Sela says:

    Great report! You and Hugh are to be commended for all your hard work. We all benefit!

    I’m one of those invisible authors who has earned a six figure income for the past few years in the romance genre and none of my books are currently on a bestsellers list. They do pop on or off when I have a BookBub or new release but otherwise I stick to the top 10k or thereabouts and that’s enough to make a very nice living.

    Keep up the great work!

  5. David Nees says:

    I’m new with only one book out so far (since April 1). It’s quite successful as far as I can tell. What I notice is that I’m earning as much from KNEP pages (2.5 million pages read through May) as from ebook sales (3,700 through May). Is this typical and do you have any way to add in the KNEP counts “sold”?

  6. I always look forward to your Reports. As an author of 22 books with traditional-publishers and 5 self-published ebooks, I’m not sure whether to be extremely happy or terrified!
    While I absolutely accept your figures and conclusions, I’d like to point out that traditional-published authors, at the moment, seem to have other ways to make money from their craft. Each year, here in Australia, I receive a substantial cheque from Public Lending Rights and Educational Lending Rights for my books kept in public libraries. I assume there is a similar program in the USA and UK? Also, trad authors tend to be more likely to be invited to writers’ festivals and to receive speaking engagements in educational institutions. I’ve made a living as an author for 30 years based on this simple formula – 50% income from royalties; 50% from talks.
    I’m not saying this will continue – I imagine there are already numerous ‘indie-published’ festivals occurring in the USA. I’ve already noticed I’m being invited to give talks on my self-published books rather than my trad-published editions.
    I’m settled enough in my career to be able to indulge in both trad-published and indie-published – I don’t want to, or need to, take sides.
    Your reports always reinforce the need for we authors to be adaptable and to approach publishing with an open mind. Thanks, once again.

    • Gina Drayer says:

      I think that’s common for a lot of writers, indie or trad-pub.
      I personally know two indie authors who fall into the $500K+ a year from sales that also speak and run companies that offer other author services (like formatting and marketing).

    • Hi Steven,

      Here in New Zealand, the Public Lending Right applies to self-published works as well. I think that’s also the case in the UK – is it any different in Australia?

  7. How can I get a Printer Friendly version of this report? I’m interviewing Influencers in the Christian Book Market later this month and need this report to refer to. Great stuff THANKS!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Pamela,

      See Tink’s reply below. 🙂

      If that doesn’t work for you, shoot me an email and we’ll figure something out.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  8. Vivian Arend says:

    If I started publishing with a small/medium press, had a Big Five deal, and now publish as an indie…where am I categorized for the purposes of these charts?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Vivian,

      We categorized hybrid authors based on which publishing category made up more than 50% of their total Amazon earnings (on 5/5, when the dataset was taken).

      You were categorized as indie for the purposes of these charts, because as of May 5 our data shows your 15 indie titles outearning your 36 small/medium-press titles, and also significantly outearning your 5 Big Five titles.

      BTW, congratulations on hitting the USA Today Best Seller List this week with your latest indie title! 🙂

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  9. Tink Boord-Dill says:

    Pamela Christian – You can generate a PDF yourself. Go to http://www.printfriendly.com/

    I just did it for this report 😉

  10. David North says:

    Making this a PDF would be SO helpful (I could add it to my Kindle and Apple libraries).

    Incredible info and great news from those of us who have been told constantly that “self publishing is a dead end”.

    • David North says:

      Thanks for the link, Tink. Having the powers of an immortal faerie can come in handy now and then I guess.

  11. Drew says:

    Thanks guys! Great job as always. I’m wondering how two very specific author arrangements might impact your conclusions:

    First, how do you think the number of high-earning authors would be affected by the fact that many independent authors have more than one successful pen name? What appears to be two mid-list earning pen names could actually both belong to one high-earning writer.

    Secondly, there are more and more group pen names out there. My partner is in one that ranks as a top 100 author on Amazon.com most of the time. Your data would probably slot that pen name into one of the higher-earning categories, but that pen name is actually six or seven different authors.

    It’s all quite interesting to consider. 😎

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Drew,

      You’re right: the “tax bracket” charts are counting the # of pen names earning a certain amount. We didn’t have a good way of merging (or splitting) for the two scenarios above. I don’t think either one would change the overall counts drastically, and the two scenarios counteract each other’s impact somewhat, but I can’t think of a good automated way to research/split/merge pen names in our data.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  12. Hi,
    I had a question about the methodology… When you say you crawl bestsellers lists do you consider only the top 100 in each category or even lower selling titles like number #2500 in humor for example…
    Thanks for this report… It’s always very interesting and insightful 🙂

    • Marian says:

      Would love to know this, too. Since Amazon’s “expanded” their bestseller lists, I’m no longer sure how to categorize my books (light vs dark matter).

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Camilla,

      Our list-crawler can only directly reach the Top 100 in each subcategory, but indirectly, it gets almost every other book in those subcategories, too, regardless of rank, by also pulling also-boughts and entire author catalogs. So effectively, yes… we get pretty much all of the lower-selling titles in each subcategory, too. It’s the non-selling titles that are hardest to get at.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  13. TheSFReader says:

    thanks again DG and Hugh ! Great work on the shadow/dark matter, and great analysis !

  14. Hey data guy.

    Can you expand a bit on your audiobook process? You had a very small section just mentioning that you were capturing data, but you never really talked about audio. I am interested in knowing more data points about audio, how its growing and looking at indie/small/medium/big 5 publisher.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Michael,

      Great question. Here are the May breakdowns for audio:

      In addition to the indie authors self-publishing audiobooks directly (shown in the solid blue wedges), we also see (in the checkered wedges) some indie authors self-publishing ebooks and print editions, but selling their audio rights to Audible Studios, Tantor, Blackstone, and the like.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Gina Drayer says:

        Data Guy,

        I was wondering what rate you used to calculate the Daily Rev to authors.

        I always found it impossible to figure out what I was going to be paid by ACX between Whispersync discounts and the mysterious Allocation Factor they multiply by when readers use Credits.

        Fantastic work guys!

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Gina,

          For ACX sales, we calculated earnings based on 54% AL units (where AudibleListener subscribers spend credits) and 46% ALC/ALOP (A La Carte retail purchases & AudibleListener Off-Plan retail purchases) That’s the average percentage split we measured across a wide swath of titles by different authors. We used $14.95 for the AL retail allocation factor (again, the average we measured across a bunch of titles).

          And then to compute AuthorEarnings we applied ACX’s 40% rate to that total.

          I can’t recall if we factored in a $50 bounty for every 100 sales, although that was about the average. We might have left it out to be extra conservative. I can check.

          If I recall, net author earnings ended up averaging around $5-6 a unit, but that’s off the top of my head.

          All my best,
          Data Guy

  15. I believe indie authors have grown the book market by providing readers, quickly and cheaply, with books they want to read. I would love to see a graph that tracks the size of the total market (however you can finagle that) over this ebook revolution.

    Thanks for all your great work!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Susan,

      I’m working on that for a future post. Here’s an easy benchmark: Traditional trade publishing (fiction + nonfiction) units stayed roughly flat for the last few years when you add ebook units and print units together — what we saw was mostly format shift. See:

      http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2016/2015-us-book-industry-year-end-review.html

      During that same time period, the nontraditional sectors went from basically zero to 300 million ebooks and from a few million to almost 30 million print. So the rise of ebooks grew the overall book market by at least 30% in unit terms, but somewhat less in dollar terms. And of course, that’s not visible in the above Nielsen chart, which only shows the traditional side.

      Hope that helps!

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  16. Folks, another awesome beyond awesome report. One question. You say: “More than 50% of all traditionally-published book sales of any format in the US now happen on Amazon.com.”

    I’ve no doubt you’re right about that, but what’s your source there? I googled around and couldn’t find confirmation. Thanks!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Harry,

      Publishing insiders seem to go out of their way to avoid mentioning that fact in the media. Publishers Weekly is particularly circumspect about it: they frequently publish Nielsen industry stats on the “Retail & club” sector, which lumps Amazon’s online sales in with bookstore sales at B&N, BAM, and the independents; but they NEVER show how sales in that sector actually break down between brick and mortar & online. 🙂

      The only open reference I’ve ever seen was by Mike Shatzkin, in the comments on a recent idealog.com post, where he says:

      “Amazon has something more than half the retail trade in books in the United States.”

      I’ve privately seen official industry numbers that confirm exactly that, but I can’t share them here publicly without violating trusts and subscription terms-of-service. What I can do, instead, is point you at a few public indicators which you’ll find by googling.

      1) “Bookstores are back!” articles typically cite stats from the ABA, whose member indie bookstores grew 10% in 2015, adding $50 million in print sales. Add in non-ABA independent bookstores, and that’s about $100 million total. Great news for the smallest booksellers, which make up 8% of all print sales.

      2) But during 2015, Barnes & Noble lost over $300 million in print sales, more than three times what the small independents gained. The second-largest US bookstore chain, Books-A-Million, stayed flat, while book sales at Walmart, Target, and Costco — the core of Nielsen’s “Mass merchandisers” print sector — fell 9%, decreasing somewhere between $120 million – $150 million.

      3) Despite all those publicly documented retail brick and mortar print-sales losses, industry stats show overall US print sales up almost 7%. There’s a reason for that…

      Our own unpublished AuthorEarnings data on Amazon print sales in mid-2015, compared to what we measured in January and May of 2016, shows Amazon print sales up at least 20% year-on-year for the first five months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. As Amazon publicly announced, their ebook sales did grow in both dollar terms and unit terms in 2015. But what they didn’t say publicly is that their online print sales grew even faster.

      Bottom line: Mike Shatzkin’s absolutely right. While the media is focused on ebook-vs-print, the really dramatic shift happening now is the migration of print-book sales from physical bookstores to online (especially Amazon).

      Email me privately, and I can share some links.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  17. Avery Flynn says:

    Hey Data Guy! What is the definition you use for earnings (net revenue for book cover price, estimated royalty, something else)?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Avery,

      Net revenue is based on industry standard royalty rates for traditionally published books and known retailer revenue shares (KDP et al) for independently published books.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  18. Joseph Flynn says:

    Thanks for helping even the mathematically challenged among us get an idea of what’s going on.

    I have a couple of questions. I think I’d be categorized under the single-author publisher heading, as that fits what my wife and I do right now, but would I get bumped into the indie category or the small publisher category if we took on another author? I don’t really see the possibility of ever taking on more than two writers. Maybe that would make us a micro-publisher.

    Also, how do you establish income thresholds for the year in May? My earnings might vary a great deal depending on how successful my book promos are.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Joseph,

      Stray Dog Press is categorized indie in our data right now. 🙂

      About the single-day nature of this analysis, great question. This is a several-hundred-thousand-author cross-sectional slice of daily performance. We aren’t attempting to project the annual incomes of specific named authors based on a single day’s sales; we’re instead looking at the broader statistics.

      For any given author, there’s no guarantee that their earnings would remain consistent from day to day — in fact, statistically, they are almost guaranteed not to. But when you take a large enough one-day cross section of the market — and a million titles is definitely large enough — the *ratios* of how many authors qualify for a given tax bracket based on their daily income will match the *ratios* of how many authors actually end up in each of those tax brackets at the end of the year. It won’t necessarily be the same authors who end up there. But it’ll be the same relative counts.

      We put that premise explicitly to the test in our 7-quarter longitudinal study of author earnings back in September, where we tracked the incomes of the same named set of 200,000 authors from quarter to quarter. The results and tax-bracket ratios basically matched those calculated from the quarterly one-day cross-sectional snapshots.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  19. bowerbird says:

    your work has been outstanding all along.

    now it has become truly superlative.

    and the most mind-boggling aspect here
    is that, although i know you wouldn’t do it,
    you could actually give us the _names_ of
    the authors in all your various categories.

    imagine how iron-clad that would be!

    -bowerbird

  20. Joe McGrath says:

    Hey, one question that came up in a discussion was whether your analysis takes into account the volume of books published in each category – I can’t see any references to that anywhere; am I missing it somehow?

    What we were interested in finding out was the relative proportions of each publisher type within each income band – for example what percentage of indie authors earn above 10k vs what percentage of tradpub authors earn above 10k. It’d be great to see how those numbers break down!

  21. Jim Rudnick says:

    RE this — “More than 1,080 indie authors, most of them brand new debuts from the last five years, are currently earning at a $50K/year or higher run rate from just their Amazon sales…”

    I have been writing for only 9 months…have 10 books in Amazon and Select too… and that Stat would include me…and I need to ask — are you sure that is true? I think i’m doing marvelously — but am I in that little group? Aren’t there tens of thousands of Authors who make $50k?

    Do not want to sound critical but can that be true? Really?

    Jim

    • Data Guy says:

      ”Aren’t there tens of thousands of Authors who make $50k?”

      Hi, Jim,

      It would pretty much require a miracle for that to be true. Here’s why:

      Americans spend about $15 billion a year on trade books of all formats. After retailers and publishers take their cut, at most $3 billion actually lands in author pockets. Divided up perfectly evenly, that $3 billion could theoretically support 60,000 authors at the $50,000 level…

      But instead, it’s getting divided up among at least 1,000,000 authors, if not more… including the estates and heirs of deceased authors. (I can see at least a million author names in our Amazon ebook data and top-selling Amazon print-book data, and that doesn’t even start to include the 32 million(!) lower-selling print book titles listed on Amazon right now, whose sales are too low to be captured in one of our scrapings.).

      But lets imagine that there were only a million authors sharing the $3 billion right now. Which is an average of $3,000 each, if it were evenly distributed — but of course, it isn’t evenly distributed. Not even close.

      It’s a Pareto distribution. And it’s one where the top 1% of authors — the top 10,000 — take home 50% of that $3 billion, making the average income among those top 10,000 authors around $150,000 a year. Here’s the thing, though: averages are pretty meaningless in a Pareto distribution. Because the top 1% of that top 1%, or just the top 100 authors — folks like James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and the like — take half of the half. (Those 4 names alone account for 10% of it, if you believe Forbes magazine’s estimates.)

      So the remaining 9,900 authors in the top 1% have to split what’s left: $750 million. And the next 10% down — or 1,000 of them — take nearly 50% of that, leaving only $375 million to be split among the remaining 8,900 top-1%-ers, bringing their average income to $43,000 or so. Which means that every single author below that top 10,000 — and the majority of those in it — are actually earning less than $50,000 a year from their writing.

      All of which is a painfully longwinded way of saying that there just aren’t enough dollars being spent on books in the US to make “tens of thousands” of $50K-earning authors even a remote possibility.

      Throw in foreign sales (again, concentrated in the top few thousand traditionally-published authors) and movie rights (which, again, are mostly going to the top 1% of 1% of traditionally-published authors) and we could maybe talk ourselves up to high single-digit thousands of authors earning $50K.

      Which, interestingly enough, ends up being not that far from the number of $50K earners the AE graphs show:

      So congratulations on being in the top 1% of author earners, Jim.

      Anyone who sets out with an expectation of earning a living from their writing is setting themselves up for almost certain disappointment. At best a low single-digit percentage of writers are ever able to. But that’s actually good news: before indie publishing became viable, the odds of doing so as an traditionally-published author were far worse — and for unpublished-but-querying traditional aspirants, basically infinitesimal.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  22. Hi Data Guy! Thanks so much for compiling all this information.

    This may be answered elsewhere, and I may have just missed it, but can you please explain the difference between the publisher categories? For example, Big Five and indie are self-explanatory, but what’s the difference between indie and uncategorized single-author publisher? And what is meant by Amazon published? Is that actual Amazon imprints like AmazonCrossing and AmazonEncore? Thank you! 🙂

  23. Maggie Lynch says:

    Wow!!!! You guys are the bomb! Thanks so much. I can’t even begin to conceive analyzing a data set with over a million titles.

    Really loved seeing the impact of previously invisible authors. Loved seeing the numbers rising for the $25K and $50K indie folks. Given this info, I can’t imagine anyone who wants to have a chance at a financially rewarding writing career choosing the traditional route first.

    Like others, I’d also be excited to see a post on Series impact in income. I suspect that much of the “dark matter” side of revenue is coming from that category. Where later books are making bestseller lists but backlist in a series are adding significantly to income. You did say something like this but didn’t categorize backlist as series-related.

    If possible, when you tackle this, I’d also love to see an income breakdown in series with first book free vs. 99 cents vs in other amount. I personally see 99 cents as practically free and often wonder if it makes a difference.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Maggie,

      Expect a followup report in the coming months where we look at the impact of series and first-in-series-free.
      Great idea about also looking at $0.99 series-starters — I’ll definitely include that as well.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Just wondering if you’ve had any chance to do that number crunching about the first-in-series-free marketing strategy. I’ve been trying something along those lines, giving away a free short story with the first chapter of my first novel stuck on the end, and while I’ve given away a ton of copies, and garnered a ton of 5-star reviews, it has absolutely not worked when it comes to monetization on the novel.

        I see testimonials all the time from authors who say they use that strategy, but they never back it up with any data. And I’m really suspicious that they are just confirmation-biasing their way into believing it works, when it really doesn’t (viewing every sale of book 2 as a confirmation that the strategy worked, with no evidence that they wouldn’t have gotten that sale if book 1 cost money; or that their sales of book 2 wouldn’t actually be higher if they weren’t giving away book 1 and devaluing their brand; etc.).

        I personally tend to never get around to reading books I got for free, and I suspect that’s common. And I also suspect that people who download lots of free books have such a deep to-be-read pile that even if they loved Book 1, they aren’t going to be able to justify spending money on Book 2 with all those TBR sitting there on the Kindle. I further suspect that the audience who downloads free books and the audience who buys books may be two completely separate populations.

        I think the quant question we want to answer is something like this:
        – Take pairs of Kindle books that form the beginning of a series, book 1, book 2
        – Divide that into two groups, those where book 1 is free, and those where book 1 is not free
        – Determine if the revenue from sales of book 1 + book 2 differs between those two populations

        I think that would tell us whether the opportunity cost of giving away book 1 is justified by increases in sales for book 2.

        Then perhaps you could repeat the experiment for entire series of books, not just the first 2.

  24. Suzan Lauder says:

    What about the 990,100 authors earning under $10,000 a year? Your survey had a million authors, but you’re reporting on only 10% of them. I bet a huge proportion of them are “indie.”

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Suzan,

      Roughly half of the sub-$10,000 earners were indie. The other half were traditionally published (including nearly 100,000 Big Five authors earning less than $10,000 a year).

      But even that’s a false equivalence, no more meaningful than comparing the average incomes of all lottery ticket-buyers in one lottery (the indie one) against the average incomes of only the lottery winners in another lottery (the traditional one). After all, every one of those sub-$10,000 traditionally-published authors beat long odds to land an agent and secure a publishing deal. For each one of them, there are dozens of other traditionally-aspiring authors who are still querying unsuccessfully, and earning $0 from their work.

      A fair comparison would include in traditional publishing’s tally every single one of those zero-income aspiring authors still stuck in the slush pile.

      The reality of authorship is, and always has been, this: only a tiny fraction of those who want to earn a living doing this ever will. It’s still only a single-digit percentage at best. But today, given the superior author-economics of indie publishing, the number of authors who can earn a living from their writing — while still tiny — has grown severalfold.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  25. John Brown says:

    You guys are awesome! Thanks!

    And who would have ever thought that SFF was selling MORE units than thrillers!?

    Never would I have imagined that.

  26. Amelia Smith says:

    One thing I’ve been curious about lately (which you may or may not have addressed before) is the percentage of indie-published books are in KDP Select (and KU) versus the percentage that are “wide.” Do you have an estimate of that number from your report?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Amelia,

      It looks like 57% of the 311,000 indie-published titles in our million-title dataset were in KDP Select (and KU).
      Those Select titles accounted for 71% of the total indie sales (roughly half of that 71% were direct retail sales & half were KU full-pagecount-read sale-equivalents).

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Amelia Smith says:

        Cool. So it sounds like there is some overall advantage to being in KU, and a big advantage on Amazon.com. The overall advantage didn’t look huge to me, though, so as the forum conversations suggest, it really isn’t a cut & dry matter of one being better than the other.

        It does seem like these days the majority are going with KU, but they’re certainly not an overwhelming majority.

        • Data Guy says:

          That’s my take, too — when it comes to staying wide or going KU, there isn’t a cut and dried answer.

          IMO every author should experiment and see which works best for them, for each book or series they write.
          (I wouldn’t advise splitting a single series between wide and narrow, because non-Kindle readers might buy part of the series and want to read the rest, and then realize it’s not available in the same format.)

  27. Brent Jones says:

    Good information. Nice work.

  28. Wow! Excellent information, thank you. I published my first novel in April and am already halfway to the 10k mark, so this shows how important genre (and sub-genre) selection, marketing, promotion, can be! You are now collecting such a large amount of data that I challenge you to provide some deeper analysis. I’d even pay for it and assume many other authors would do so as well. Here are some questions I assume could be answered from your dataset which I think are crucial for indie authors making marketing decisions:

    1. Amazon really pushes a flat $2.99 book price, but I’m quite suspicious of this. Can you analyze your data to determine how ratings/genre/release date (30/60/90)/series vs.standalone/# of published books/visible vs. dark matter, etc. might affect this mythical sale price. (Perhaps, Amazon sells the most books at $2.99 but this does not actually maximize an individual author’s earnings). This could help ensure we do not collectively race to the bottom, selling our books for less than a Starbuck’s latte and lower that income potential across the board.

    2. A deeper dive into the indie income earners to help us understand the impact of the number of titles, ratings, price, and frequency of publication on unit sales/earnings? Can you provide some averages for these categories against them as well).

    3. KU vs. non-KU impact on Amazon sales since authors are foregoing the income outside of Amazon sales.

    4. A breakout of Hybrid authors as their own category.

    The gauntlet has been thrown down! Do you accept the challenge? 😉

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Sophia,

      I actually had #2, #3, and (sort of) #4 already in the works, but this report was crazy-long already (and a month overdue).
      Expect to see a follow-up report in the coming months, when I get the itch to dive back into the data and crunch through it some more.

      In anticipation of that, I collated a 200,000-author data set that includes:
      – author tenure (how long ago was first title published)
      – recency of last publication
      – # of titles
      – recent publishing pace (# of titles released in last year, last 2 years, and last 3 years)
      – # of series, series length, first-in-series-free-or-not
      – # of ku titles versus wide titles
      – average page length
      – # of books published each way (if hybrid): indie, small/medium pub, amazon pub, big five
      – # of books of each format (ebook/print/audio)
      – # of nonfiction titles vs fiction titles
      – breakdown of units & income by format
      – if hybrid, whether was indie-first, big-five first, small/medium pub-first, or amazon-pub first
      – which publishing mode(s) came later (to gauge direction of flow: i.e. are we seeing more trad-pub authors going hybrid or indie, or indies getting trad-pub offers?)

      So what do you think? Will authors be interested in looking at how sales success correlates with any of the above? 😉

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • D.A. Casey says:

        We authors would be VERY interested in seeing how your listed criteria correlates with author success! Thanks for the hard work, analysis, and easy-to-understand presentations.

        I can’t wait to download the .csv files for the latest raw data!

      • John Doppler says:

        Oh yes, extremely interested. I’m particularly curious about the nonfiction market, a segment that doesn’t generally get a lot of attention.

        Thank you for your outstanding work in crunching these numbers!

      • Amelia Smith says:

        Yes to all of that! I can see how it would be a lot of work to do all at once.

      • Miles O'Neal says:

        This author is certainly interested!
        I’m also interested in analysis of the various price points- how do books across genres and format do in terms of books sold, earnings, and rankings? While earnings obviously matter to most of us, those of us taking a long view know that units sold and rankings matter to the future.
        Thanks for all of this!

    • I have a little data on your first question. It’s just anecdotal compared to the volume of data being looked at here, but I did a test to determine price elasticity in the US & UK markets. What I found was pretty staggering. My conversion rate as a function of my list price is nearly a straight line, and the slope is too steep to make up for the loss of revenue at higher prices. In other words, my findings exactly matched Amazon’s. In fact, because of VAT, you can actually go to a lower price in the UK at the 70% royalty, and the trend continued even to that lower price point. The data is here, if you are interested: https://alfageeek.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/adventures-in-pricing/

  29. Hello,

    I’ve been wondering how indie authors who use a publisher name but really only publish one author are represented in the data. I’m assuming they come up under the small press section, since it would be difficult to sort them out from the crowd.

    Thank you, sorry if you’ve answered this before. 🙂

  30. Sean Campbell says:

    It would be interesting to see how the number of $10k and $50k authors changes when you include the other Amazon regions. I don’t think I’m alone in making a significant proportion of my revenue on Amazon.co.uk (and not a trivial sum on Amazon.com.au either). We know from previous reports that there is a large overlap between .co.uk and .com bestsellers, but not everyone hits the big lists on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve hit the UK top 100 with multiple books, but never been within reach of the USA top 100.

    I would be in the >$50k by revenue including non-US sales… but not by USA sales alone, so there’s still an earnings gap between the .com numbers and the take-home revenue. The marketplace is global, and there’s a lot of money on the local Amazon stores.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Sean,

      Agreed. We talked about the relative size of different ebook markets (and book markets) in the preamble to the November UK report here:
      http://authorearnings.com/report/november-2015-the-uk-report-author-earnings-on-amazon-co-uk/

      The US represents around half of all worldwide ebook sales, but easily 70-75% of the English-language sales.
      But as you point out, YMMV from one author to another. So congratulations on your non-US sales ratio; it sounds like you’re getting a more diverse base of sales than most.

      I suspect including non-US sales would increase the numbers of authors in each “tax bracket” by 20% at the outside,
      and most likely by closer to 10%. But until we actually start scraping other Amazon stores with some frequency, it’s hard to know for sure.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • You should probably dig in to this US/UK question a little deeper. I’m a US-based author, but 43% of my revenue comes from the UK. Another 10% comes from Canada. I’m not doing anything in particular to court those markets, other than checking those boxes in my Twitter Ads campaigns. So I think globalization of the English-speaking market is just happening on it own.

        • Data Guy says:

          Hi, Joshua,

          The globalization of the English-speaking market is definitely happening on it own, at least for indies, who merely need click a few additional checkboxes to make their books available globally. 🙂

          Still, the overall sales volume of the Amazon UK store is between one fifth and one sixth that of the Amazon US store, which makes your 43%-UK profile atypical. Congratulations on achieving a high ratio of non-US sales.

          The average split for US authors is probably slightly less than 10% UK, because a significant percentage of the UK volume is taken up by best selling UK traditionally-published authors who sell well in their home market, but less well in the US.

          For more details, see our UK report from November 2015:

          http://authorearnings.com/report/november-2015-the-uk-report-author-earnings-on-amazon-co-uk/

          All my best,
          Data Guy

      • You should probably dig in to this US/UK question a little deeper. I’m a US-based author, but 43% of my revenue comes from the UK. Another 10% comes from Canada. I’m not doing anything in particular to court those markets, other than checking those boxes in my Twitter Ads campaigns. So I think globalization of the English-speaking market is just happening on it own.

  31. Kathy Downe says:

    Great data.Thank you for compiling and sharing it. I don’t understand the difference between Indie, Amazon imprint/published, and Single-author publisher?

  32. I understand that your focus is on author sales and earnings, but are you collecting data on free books? Since many indie authors use free first-in-series as sales hooks, I would be interested in seeing how many of the truly successful authors are doing this, and especially how many of your non-listers earning high numbers are doing this. Even more important, are you collecting any information on KU? Some of the highest earners are making huge amounts from page reads, and many low and mid-listers are earning the bulk of their money from page reads.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, BR,

      To date, we’ve focused on paid downloads only (including KU borrows, because the author gets paid for them).
      Here’s how we incorporate KU reads into our calculations of author earnings: http://authorearnings.com/calculating-indie-author-earnings-under-ku-2-0/

      As to the degree writing in series, and setting first-in-series free, correlate with success — I was curious, too.
      So I pulled that data as well during this spider run, although I haven’t had a chance to crunch it yet.

      Expect a follow-up report where we examine those factors, sometime in the next few months.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  33. Diana Urban says:

    Hello! Great, thought-provoking report. Thanks for putting all of this together.

    I’d be curious to see the bar charts as a percentage of each author type in each salary bracket, rather than the volume of authors in each salary bracket. Your data set includes an overwhelmingly higher volume of indie authors than Amazon, Big Five, or Small/Mid-size pubbed, so of course it looks like indies are dominating every salary bracket. What if the *percentage* of trad-pubbed authors in the higher salary brackets is higher than the percentage of indie-pubbed authors in those salary brackets? The way the data is presented here doesn’t make that clear (at least to me… am i missing something?). Because of this, I think the caveat that the sample size of indie authors was much larger should be more obvious.

    And to be clear, I don’t mean the percentages as a distribution of author types in each salary bracket as you included in the appendices. I mean, of all indie authors, what % of them earn 10K+ per year, earn 50K+ per year, and so on, as compared to the other author types.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Diana,

      Thanks!

      I’m not sure where you got the impression that the number of indie authors in our data set is overwhelmingly higher than the number of Big Five or Small/Medium Publishers, though — that’s not really the case.

      Here are the actual author counts in our data set:

       75,943 Indie Authors
      123,371 Small/Medium Publisher Authors
        1,822 Amazon Imprint Authors
       35,457 Big Five Authors
       57,498 Uncategorized

      Per the above, it turns out there are actually far more traditionally published authors in our data set than indie authors, which makes the relative discrepancy between indie and traditional earnings even more remarkable.

      It also means that the *percentage* of all traditionally published authors landing in the higher tax brackets is quite a bit lower than the percentage of indies landing in them.

      But even this is a false equivalence. Because it ignores traditional publishing’s slush pile.

      Remember, the indie author count already contains self-publishing’s equivalent of the slush pile.

      Which makes comparing “percentages of all authors earning $X” somewhat meaningless, unless you include the traditional slush pile also: otherwise, it’s as misleading as comparing the incomes of lottery ticket-buyers on the one side (the indie one) with lottery winners on the other side (the trad pub one).

      Imagine you’re a new author with manuscript in hand, trying to choose which way to publish.

      To evaluate the probability of a given level of financial success along each publishing path, you’d have to include in the traditional count every single aspiring author who ever wrote a query letter without landing a publishing deal, along with their current $0 writing income. After all, their same-stage indie peers who finished manuscripts and wanted to see them published, already published them, and right now, are being counted in the indie totals.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Naveen says:

        @Big data,
        This is an amazing stats which I am looking for a long time. I have one confusion. one of your image showing that there are 1M author on amazon. but as per your above comment it showing that there are ~300K.
        http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/author-distro.png

        Can you please tell me the actual number of author on amazon.
        All author in amazon ?
        Kindle author ?
        kindle author by type (Indie, big 5, Small/Medium)

        Also can I get the data how many new books published in a day and month.
        New book published in a day?
        New book published in a month?

        % of author by country
        US,UK,AUS,CANADA,IND

        % of e book sale by Country
        US,UK,AUS,CANADA,IND

        Thanks you so much for such amazing reports. Appriciate your hard work.

        Best
        Naveen

  34. jon says:

    Outstanding data-gathering, analysis, and presentation … really great work! Thanks for doing it, and thanks even more for sharing it!

  35. Jennifer says:

    What’s the definition of uncategorized single-author publisher?

    Thanks.

  36. Joel Puga says:

    Hello,

    Great job collecting those numbers. I was wondering if the numbers include only English language or also non-English languages (Amazon.com does have tops for non-English books, I actually got there one or two times). Is there any way for you to make a breakdown of sales by language (I guess English sells more then the others combined, but I would love to see which one of the others are more popular). Also, I know you are planing on turning your crawler on the other amazon stores, but do these include the non-English ones?

    The reason I ask this is because I’m putting my books out there in 3 languages (English, Portuguese and Spanish) and, while I don’t sell nearly enough books to make any of your income brackets, I have noticed that my sales in Spanish are bigger than Portuguese and English combined (though they come mostly from Google Play).

    It would be great to see a language breakdown from a bigger data set than mine to see what upcoming markets are there and if it is worth the trouble of translating.

    Thank you.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Joel,

      Apologies for the formatting, but here’s the breakdown by language for ebooks.

      Keep in mind that this is for the Amazon.com US store only; most foreign-language Amazon sales will happen through the regional Amazon stores instead (Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, etc.):

      +——————-+——–+———+————-+——————–+——————–+
      | language | titles | authors | salesperday | dailyrevenue | authordailyrevenue |
      +——————-+——–+———+————-+——————–+——————–+
      | English | 938883 | 228374 | 865641 | 4455381.538089175 | 1424967.5091635035 |
      | Spanish | 19467 | 7360 | 2755 | 12279.27114278078 | 3910.3688921630383 |
      | German | 25066 | 6449 | 200 | 1345.1324064731598 | 585.4570806324482 |
      | French | 16231 | 4623 | 183 | 740.5296174287796 | 280.60477831959724 |
      | Italian | 7599 | 3091 | 89 | 672.0094898939133 | 264.6301795244217 |
      | Afrikaans | 664 | 284 | 44 | 337.6549965143204 | 86.05774903297424 |
      | Portuguese | 5646 | 2432 | 60 | 332.3284370303154 | 128.68707782030106 |
      | Chinese | 1511 | 900 | 111 | 272.37999880313873 | 68.09499970078468 |
      | Dutch | 552 | 294 | 15 | 241.9400007724762 | 82.68199795484543 |
      | Finnish | 169 | 94 | 3 | 167.4900016784668 | 58.621498107910156 |
      | Japanese | 4010 | 1685 | 46 | 160.12442135810852 | 56.10633844137192 |
      | Swedish | 240 | 118 | 8 | 146.5549989938736 | 51.93374904990196 |
      | Norwegian | 131 | 61 | 6 | 141.03592920303345 | 49.68590033054352 |
      | Danish | 260 | 104 | 3 | 127.5 | 44.625 |
      | Russian | 3629 | 1260 | 55 | 112.99999839626253 | 31.845499591436237 |
      | Icelandic | 158 | 72 | 6 | 109.44499886035919 | 28.03399968147278 |
      | NULL | 22 | 19 | 4 | 48.649999141693115 | 12.162499785423279 |
      | Bokmål Norwegian | 22 | 14 | 1 | 42.5 | 14.875 |
      | Irish | 130 | 52 | 11 | 39.39999985694885 | 19.591499894857407 |
      | Romansh | 15 | 11 | 3 | 14.970000267028809 | 3.742500066757202 |
      | Catalan | 254 | 137 | 1 | 4.610000133514404 | 1.152500033378601 |
      | Welsh | 154 | 78 | 1 | 1.4950000047683716 | 1.0464999675750732 |
      | Nynorsk Norwegian | 2 | 2 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Multilingual | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Manx | 7 | 6 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Swahili | 100 | 73 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Cornish | 4 | 4 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Scots Gaelic | 15 | 11 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Hindi | 70 | 43 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Alsatian | 16 | 6 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Provençal | 4 | 3 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Esperanto | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Luxembourgish | 10 | 6 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Scottish Gaelic | 2 | 2 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Breton | 4 | 3 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Scots | 17 | 11 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Hungarian | 2 | 2 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Basque | 122 | 60 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Greek | 5 | 5 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Albanian | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Galician | 132 | 63 | 0 | 0 | 0 |
      | Latin | 2 | 2 | 0 | NULL | NULL |
      | Slovene | 1 | 1 | 0 | NULL | NULL |
      | Polish | 3 | 3 | 0 | NULL | NULL |
      | Marathi | 1 | 1 | 0 | NULL | NULL |
      | Corsican | 1 | 1 | NULL | NULL | NULL |
      +——————-+——–+———+————-+——————–+——————–+
      46 rows in set (7.58 sec)

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Joel Puga says:

        Thank. That’s really cool.

      • Sunshine says:

        I’m try to get an estimate of the average number of nonfiction ebooks sold and author revenue derived within the B2B category / English. Numbers and I don’t get along as well as chocolate and I do, but that said, my number-challenged mind says your data above shows that in the English category of ebooks, the average is about $2100/year in author revenue. That is across all categories, though. Do you think the category I am focusing upon is lower? A guestimate would work. 🙂

  37. Chuck LItka says:

    Hi Guys,

    I assume you are using sales figures minus Amazon’s cut to determine earnings for indie-authors. For traditional authors it is a little less clear. I assume you use standard-contract rates to determine royalty earnings. If this is the case, it seems that comparing the two figures would be somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison, since indie-author’s earnings, after Amazon takes it cut, may not tell the whole story.

    It is my understanding that some indie-authors use professional services to prepare their books for publication – editors, proof-readers, professional cover artists, and such, and then spend money for advertising and promotional services after publication. I’d think that these expenses would need to be accounted for when considering actual “earnings” or comparing them to traditional royalties.

    Professional proof-reading for a 50K word novel (@ $.02-.03 a word) would run between $1000 & $1500, and then there’s covers and post-publication services. For indie-authors on the lower half of your list, $1500 – $2000 per book is a non-trivial expense. This is especially true when you consider that many authors reach the $10K leve by publishing multiple books a year.

    With your author correspondents, you likely have a far better feel than I do for how many indie-authors use paid services. Some, I know, swap services, or go without. Since these expenses vary from author to author, it would be impossible to accurately measure this factor in a broad survey like yours. Still, when listing earnings, is should be noted that the earnings for indie-authors is gross sales, not net income.

    A minor point, perhaps, but for the half of your 1% who haven’t reached the $25K+ level yet, the expenses of self-publishing may be a significant factor in earnings.

    Thanks for all the interesting information. Looking forward to more interesting reports. I’d certainly like to see a more detailed breakdown of sales by genres, which is to say, one that doesn’t lump fantasy and science fiction together… Thanks again, guys!

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Chuck,

      I was curious about the split between Science Fiction & Fantasy, too… here it is:

      You make a key point about indie spending on editing, proofreading, formatting, cover art and the like. Our calculations don’t deduct the 15% most traditionally published authors pay their agents, either. Traditionally published authors are also frequently expected by publishers to finance their own travel to book signings, industry events, pay society dues, and the like. Being a professional writer means running a business, whether an author publishes traditional or indie. Both have costs. And as you say, those costs are hard to quantify in terms of an “average”, no matter which path we’re talking about. So folks should definitely do their homework.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Chuck LItka says:

        Hi DG,
        Thanks for the reply and breaking down fantasy & science fiction. It’s encouraging to see that science fiction is running neck and neck with literary fiction…

        Writing is a pretty iffy way of making money, but it’s fun.

        Thanks again,
        Chuck

    • As to expenses, it now costs me about $750 to put out a book as an indie. That is for a cover, titling, and editing/proofreading. I did spend $1500 on one book (which has only earned $3000 in sales over three years), but frankly, the editing was no better than when I’ve spent less.

      Last year, my direct expenses (not including professional conventions, office equipment, a deduction for a home office, etc., which trad published writers would also have) were 4% of my revenues.

      If note is that most of my books have been written in the last four years, so books for which I had expenses in 2013 and 2014 incurred no additional expenses but did produce revenue for last year.

  38. I’ve read through the methodology section, and I’m not clear on how you untangle KU/KOLL borrows that show up in the sales ranking. Maybe the sales volume isn’t high enough to matter, but there are a lot of Kindle 15- and 30-minute reads that have really high prices, but only a few pages. I can’t believe that someone would pay $6 to read 6 pages, so I’ve been assuming these have to all be KU borrows. Do you treat the really-low-page-count books separately in the analysis? Should you?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Joshua,

      Great question, and one that we’ve looked at in the past. Here’s a breakdown by page length of both title count and # of paid downloads per day (paid downloads = retail sales + full-length KU pages-read equivalents):

      Per the above, shorter reads make up a very small percentage of the daily KU units. Their net impact on the analysis would be negligible, even if their sale-to-borrow ratio was completely different than the longer books.

      In fact, Amazon has balanced their KU per-page payouts so deliberately that on average, KU-read versus retail sale works out to a wash. For every author earning less per KU download than for a sale, there’s an author earning more than for a retail sale.

      That was an eye-opener when it jumped out at me from the data.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  39. T.T. Thomas says:

    DataGuy and Hugh—even though I’m at the bottom of the bottom (of every chart and category you mentioned), LOL, thank you so much for this report. As the poet said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.” Seriously, this is a monumental amount of information, much of which gives me some insights on topicsI hadn’t previously realized I needed! Thank you!

  40. Andrew Fox says:

    Well, you have done pretty much work for collecting this information..
    Very nice bar graphs and a very useful post…
    Now, I understand which people are making huge profits and which are lacking behind…
    Thank you very much for sharing this information..
    Andrew

  41. TheSFReader says:

    Just a remark : DG and Hugh, you talk about the amazon.com as the “US store”. However, as I understand it, it is more the “everywhere in the world except localized kindle stores” that the US one, right ? People buying ebooks from Iceland or Guatemala would be counted in too, as far as I understand.

    Is that effect take into acount when you compare the “Amazon.com” numbers to “USA only” ones ? Or do you have a way of filtering out foreign sales/read page ?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, SFReader,

      You’re absolutely correct about the footprint of Amazon.com’s customer base: we have no real way (yet) of differentiating rest-of-world sales on Amazon.com from US sales. It is worth considering that Amazon has rolled out local stores in all of the countries that showed significant sales volume, which means that non-US sales from even the largest remaining country represent a tiny share of Amazon.com sales. But perhaps in aggregate they do add up to a nontrivial fraction…?

      I’d love to have a precise answer. Unfortunately, I don’t.

      I do think, however, that foreign-language sales on Amazon.com would probably correlate somewhat with foreign-country sales. And from the answer to Joel’s question, above, we see that:
      Spanish-language ebooks represent 0.3% of Amazon.com ebook sales
      French-language ebooks represent 0.02% of Amazon.com ebook sales
      German-language ebooks represent 0.02% of Amazon.com ebook sales
      Italian-language ebooks represent 0.01% of Amazon.com ebook sales

      All other languages combined add up to less than 0.04%

      All my best,
      Data Guy

      • Robert Stultus says:

        I’m wondering if it is valid to assume that foreign language ebooks sales match well with Amazon’s sales and Amazon’s market penetration. In particular, China.

        The People’s Republic puts an unusual level of effort into regulating the internet and the economy. These differences could have delayed Amazon’s entry into the market long enough for native competitors to consolidate a sizable portion of the market.

        I have heard that many Chinese language ebooks are serials often read on cellphones. I’ve not heard that Amazon has architecture that supports this. Does this work on the Chinese language Amazon?

        Last January in the November post, I asked about Chinese language ebook websites like Qidian. I realize that their financial numbers may not be available, and that units sold may be apples and oranges.

  42. Laura Boon says:

    Hi DG and Hugh

    Thanks for analysing all this data. It’s wonderful to have some numbers and such great analysis too. I am curious about one point. You say that more than 50% of all traditionally-published book sales of any format in the US now happen on Amazon.com and in addition, roughly 85% of all non-traditionally published book sales of any format in the US also happen on Amazon.com. Can you tell us where you got those percentages from?

    Thanks,
    Laura

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Laura,

      The 50% number (for Amazon’s share of all US traditional book sales of any format) comes from official industry data available to paying subscribers of those sources — and thus unfortunately, I can’t share them for free here without violating subscription terms & conditions.

      I will say this, though: the snippets and summaries of that exact same data which we see publicly quoted in Publishers Weekly et. al. are very artful in how they group those numbers for presentation, being careful to always combine Amazon’s sales with those of brick&mortar bookstores into one category. It has the effect of obscuring the biggest shift in the industry from the public eye — which is the shift of print sales away from brick&mortar outlets and toward online (mainly Amazon). The acceleration of that shift in recent months is eye-popping.

      (See my answer to Harry for some public sources of information that point to this sea-change in where print sales are happening.)

      OTOH, the 85% share of non-traditional sales comes from our own AE analysis of all the major ebook stores, which between them account for at least 95% of all US ebook sales.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  43. Don’t mean to bet too petty, but DG, could you please stop hyphenating your phrasal adjectives that use -ly adverbs? For example, “traditionally-published” (SIC), the most common error, is wrong, but you and people like Chris Meadows use it incorrectly so often that people think it’s right, and they spread the bad grammar.

    Thanks,

    Dave

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, David,

      I drive my editor to distraction with that one. 🙂 You are, of course, 100% correct. While compound adjectives do get hyphenated — as in “small-publisher ebooks” or “all-too-common mistake”, adverb/adjective combinations — such as in “traditionally published books” or “independently published authors” — do not.

      Corrected now. Thanks for the keen eye.

      All my best,
      Data Guy

  44. Somewhere along the way I stopped believing this was possible. It feels like entering a lottery. How many thousands of writers work their butts off and never make a dime? That’s the reality. I just write now b/c I enjoy going to my story worlds every day. That rocks. But as for EVER making a dime off this, fuggedaboutit.

  45. Marc says:

    Thank you for another fantastic report!

    With the Audiobook data are you able to differentiate between ‘a la carte’ unit sales and ‘membership’ unit sales?

    I’m interested in understanding the split between members vs. non members.

    Cheers, M.

  46. Jon says:

    I was surprised by the number of authors who were earning more than $10,000 a year. I personally know a lot, hence it seemed very low.

    I thought about this.. and it mentions above that the number of self-published authors earning over $10,000 maybe high due to multiple pen names. However, I think the reverse is true.

    You may find there are lots if ‘pen names’ earning $4-8k, but then you will have one ‘author’ with several of these types of pen names. Hence, the number of ‘authors’ (and not pen names) earning over $10,000 is likely higher and underestimated above.

    I personally know several serial self-publishers who prefer to use a range of pen names as it spreads the risk and enables them to produce more books. Just some thoughts to the debate.

  47. Harry Dounchis says:

    Do you have any data on the impact of movies / TV series on writer’s income?

  48. CW Hawes says:

    Really appreciate the work you do on these reports. They continue to fuel the dream that one day I’ll be earning in the 5 or 6 figure range. The beauty of indie publishing is one’s fate is in one’s own hands and not that of some corporate entity.

    I was wondering if you have a breakout for horror? If not, in the genres listed above would horror be included in fantasy?

  49. Jamel Cato says:

    As a small value add to Data Guy’s excellent work, I’ve summarized the entire data set by category and made it searchable and sortable. I wish everyone well with their book sales.

    http://cato.io/the-category-explorer

  50. Eric J Drysdale says:

    Thankyou so much for all the great info. What a fantastic resource for writers, wherever they are on their journey. I was directed to this by Bill Bernhardt, so thank you Bill!!!
    I have just finished a new novel THE PRICE TO PAY and am gathering info on E-book publishing to enable me to make an informed decision. This been a great help.
    Thanks,
    Eric J. Drysdale

  51. JJ says:

    Hi DG, are you planning on doing any more analysis of iBookstore (and other non-Amazon) figures in the future? I recall you including the Apple ones in a report around this time last year but were limited to top 200 rankings. I found a site (book.iproduct.info) which appears to have rankings going beyond 1000 for the Apple store (and has been useful in tracking my own book’s ranking). Anyway, keep up the great work!

  52. Self-published authors are now earning almost 40% of all e-book royalties at the Kindle keep, the report continues.

  53. Joyce Dade says:

    Data Guy,

    You Rock, and I think I love you. I never ever thought I would say such a thing about a spider! But, there it is-I do love you. Thank you for all these astonishing statistics, graphs and info, I am sharing it a close friend, so please, accept her thanks and gratitude also. Of course, I am signing up for your newsletter, and look forward to the latest info. I have a question, and that is, what do you get out of providing all this priceless info to us all? I can’t seem to figure that out, but you should certainly get something good. Another question, do you and your team go around in Spider-Man suits or what? 🙂 You write beautifully and your statistics, well, they are sublime! Thank you so much and sending this info to social media for my friends there to see also. Have a wonderful summer, and a thousand thanks again for all this wonderful information, that only and your spidery crew could have amassed to share with us all. I do LOVE YOU!

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