October 2016 Author Earnings Report: A Turning of the Tide…?

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Two and a half years. Ten quarterly Author Earnings reports. With each one of them, we learned something new and unexpected about our rapidly changing industry.

But this October surprise flat-out blindsided us…

After two and a half years of quarter-over-quarter growth, Indie eBook market share shrinks significantly

  • Indie ebook market share drops all the way back to early 2015 levels.
  • Traditional publishers regain a little lost ebook ground.
  • Amazon publishing imprints grow a lot.

To help put this sudden reversal into context, let’s look at the 32-month market share trendlines.

In unit sales terms, we have:

201610-unitsales-trend

During the five short months since May, it seems that indies have somehow lost their market share gains of the preceding 18 months. This has been counterbalanced to a limited extent by a slight uptick in traditionally-published unit sales: both Big Five and Small/Medium Traditional Publishers have each gained roughly 1% in market share. But most of the lost indie market share seems to have instead gone to Amazon Imprints, who have gained a whopping 4% in market share.

A couple caveats apply when it comes to measuring the market share of Amazon Imprints (*1):

Due to their relatively small number of titles, Amazon Publishing’s sales are generally the most volatile from report to report. And this data snapshot was collected early in the month, when Amazon’s six KindleFirst titles held all 5 of the top 5 overall best-seller slots, and 6 of the top 7. But still, the KF titles made up only 2% of overall Amazon Kindle sales, or half of the increase we see in Amazon Imprint market share. The balance came from growing sales in the rest of their catalog.

Let’s next look at the 32-month trends in gross consumer dollar ebook spending:

201610-grosssales-trend

In consumer spending terms, the May-to-October drop in indie title dollar market share parallels the drop in their share of unit sales. For the first time since Q1 2015, readers are spending more money on ebooks by Small/Medium Publishers than they are spending on indie ebooks. Despite the Big Five’s slight uptick in unit-sales market share, their share of consumer ebook dollars has continued to drop–albeit less steeply than in previous quarters.

201610-authorearnings-trend

The share of overall Kindle author earnings going to the Big Five has finally gone up a little. Although at 23% it still remains below its January 2016 level, Big Five authors have regained a little of the ground they lost between January and May. But the biggest recent winners seem to be the Small/Medium publisher authors, whose share of total Kindle author earnings has surpassed 20% for the first time.

Amazingly, when it comes to author earnings, Small/Medium Publisher authors as a cohort are now running neck-to-neck with the Big Five. Even a year or two ago, such a thing would have been unthinkable: back in early 2014, Big Five authors were outearning Small/Medium Publisher authors by a factor of more than 2.5x, and only a year ago–in September 2015–total Big Five author earnings in the Kindle store were still 2x those of all Small/Medium publisher authors.

But for us, it’s the drop in indie author earnings that triggers the most questions.

In May 2016, verified self-published indie authors were taking home nearly 50% of all US Kindle author earnings. Now, as of early October 2016, the indie share has fallen below 40%. What happened?

Our first question was whether traditional publishers had dropped their prices and were now selling their digital editions at prices more in line with consumer ebook price norms.

So we checked.

May to October change in author earnings by price point and publisher type

Here’s what the distribution of ebook author earnings by consumer price point looked like, for each type of publisher, back in May 2016, the time of our last report:

201605-authorearnings-by-pricepoint

Contrast the above with what the breakdown of sales by price point looks like today, in early October 2016:

201610-authorearnings-by-pricepoint

If anything, compared to May, traditional publishers are now making a smaller share of their consumer ebook sales at sub-$10 price points. The prices at which the majority of traditionally published ebooks are being purchased today has moved up, not down.

More attractive consumer pricing by traditional publishers clearly wasn’t the cause of the shift.

If not ebook prices, what else might have caused this sudden reversal?

After a consistent 27-month trend in the opposite direction, it’s hard to fathom why there would be such a big single-quarter shift in indie market share.

This reversal is far too abrupt to reflect changing consumer reading preferences or purchasing behavior: such a change would have been far more gradual.

A far more likely reason would be some kind of underlying structural alteration in the modern bookselling ecosystem: a recent change in the relative discoverability of ebooks by different categories of publisher, that has tilted the digital-sales playing field.

But what kind of change would impact ebook discoverability? We can think of three possibilities:

Perhaps traditional publishers, sobered by their mounting digital losses and fast-evaporating market share, have finally decided to more aggressively market their ebook editions.

We have seen definite anecdotal signs that the savvier and more agile smaller traditional publishers (such as Bookouture, Open Road Media, Sourcebooks, and the like) are increasingly adopting bookselling strategies and tactics that were first pioneered by indie authors. We’ve seen them adopt retailer-specific Amazon ebook metadata, hold more frequent $0.99 and $1.99 sales advertised through BookBub and similar discount newsletters, run Facebook ad campaigns for their books, and the like. Perhaps the largest publishers are also beginning to do the same, too, albeit more slowly.

Or… the shift could be due to a change on the retailer side.

Amazon tweaks and optimizes their retail website, merchandising algorithms, and nightly recommendation emails on a continuous basis. Perhaps they’ve recently adjusted one or more of those in a direction that gives higher visibility to paid-for publisher featuring of traditionally-published ebooks?

Such changes to retailer merchandising prioritization of books would not be unprecedented (*2). And they would be largely invisible; at Author Earnings, we would only be able to observe their downstream effect on sales and market share. For example, if Amazon’s nightly email recommendations to ebook consumers had recently been tweaked to given more emphasis to paid-for publisher featured books, that could very well drive this type of shift. But we have no real way of knowing.

Still, at this point for Amazon, lending a helping hand to traditional ebook sales might be a logical strategic move–one intended to provide a digital carrot for the largest traditional publishers, in the hopes of forestalling their ongoing deliberate and self-damaging retreat from ebooks.

Or… the shift could be due, at least in part, to the gradual reduction in average Amazon.com print book discounts on traditionally-published Hardcovers and Paperbacks–a factor which could be driving format-agnostic fans of those authors back toward ebook editions.

When we look at 2 years worth of quarterly trends in average Amazon print discounts, it seems to lend support to that theory:

2014-2016-print-discounts-fixed

The average Amazon discount for sales of traditionally-published titles–both for Big Five and Small/Medium publishers–spiked up sharply between May 2015 and September 2015. But ever since, Amazon has been slowly lowering those discounts. And sometimes not so slowly: between May 2016 and October 2016, the average discount on print editions from Small/Medium publishers plunged by almost 5%. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that ebook editions from Small/Medium publishers saw the biggest jump in consumer dollar sales this quarter.

But again, while the above correlation of ebook sales with print prices is suggestive, it’s still speculation.

UPDATED October 13: A look at the “Bookbub Effect”

Many savvy authors in the comments below have brought up as a potential cause the declining share of indie books featured in BookBub newsletters. BookBub is a major influencer in the modern bookselling ecosystem: in particular, when it comes to the discoverability of ebooks, BookBub is without a doubt the single most significant third-party player, outside of the retailers themselves.

To quantify the effect of the changing deal mix at BookBub, AuthorEarnings extracted data from two years worth BookBub newsletters–ending up with over 16,000 discounted-price BookBub deals on Amazon Kindle titles to analyze. Then we correlated that daily history of discounted BookBub deals against the listed publishers for each title from the AuthorEarnings database.

Here’s what the two year trend in the share of BookBub deals by publisher type looks like, quarter by quarter:

bookbub-paid-only-historic-share-combined-indie-uncategorized-dashed

(For clarity I’ve combined Indie Self-Published & Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher, as nearly all of the latter are unverified Indie authors as well).

It gets even more interesting when, instead of looking at the relative number of BookBub deals going to indies, we consider what list categories those deals are in, too.

Not all BookBub deals are equal.

Getting a listing in Crime Fiction, Mysteries, Thrillers, or Contemporary Romance, for example, means a lot more resultant sales on average than a listing in Science Fiction, Paranormal Romance, or Horror. (Average discounted sales for a listing in each category can be found on BookBub’s “Featured Deals Pricing” page — they vary from 260 sales to 3,970 sales, depending on the BookBub category.)

So if the mix of BookBub categories where indies are featured has also changed substantially over time, the impact on indie ebook sales and earnings could be less than or greater than what deal count alone would indicate. Using the average sales numbers for each BookBub category, here’s how the ratio of actual BookBub-attributable sales by publisher type has changed over time:

bookbub-paid-only-historic-share-of-average-sales-combined-indie-uncategorized-dashed

When we incorporate the average sales per BookBub listing category, rather than just looking at pure deal count, we see that the indie share of those Bookbub-generated sales has declined even more steeply than the indie share of BookBub deals.

It appears that not only are indies receiving an ever-decreasing share of BookBub deals, but also that indie deals are now more likely to be in the less popular BookBub categories, and less likely to be featured in BookBub’s heavier hitting categories that drive thousands of sales.

As a cohort, Indies are being accepted for less than half as many discounted BookBub deals as they were 2 years ago… and because of the categories those indie deals now mostly end up in, selling only a third as many BookBub-listed books.

However, the 40-50 daily discounted BookBub deals across all categories combined lead to an average of at most 50,000 – 60,000 attributable unit sales at the very most, and that’s across all retailers, a total that can be readily projected from BookBub’s “Featured Deals Pricing” page.

Which means that even if all those units sold were Kindle units, BookBub deals could potentially account for at most 56% of ALL Amazon Kindle unit sales total, of which 1-2% are BookBub-attributable indie sales… and these are very conservative upper bounds.

The real BookBub impact on Amazon might well be half of that.

In other words, even if BookBub were to cease accepting any indie titles period, the maximum drop in Indie market share would be at most 1-2%.

The 2016 decline in indie BookBub deals that we measure here isn’t the explanation–it could have shifted Kindle market shares by 0.5% at most.

We still don’t have a definitive answer

It will be interesting to see what happens next quarter.

We have no idea whether this reversal represents the new normal–no clue at all whether what we’re seeing is a single-quarter blip before the previous relentless market-share shift toward non-traditional ebooks resumes; or whether we are seeing the true beginning of a turn in the digital book tide.

But regardless, if you’re a traditionally published author of longstanding tenure, this change is probably good news.

On the other hand, if you’re a relatively new traditionally published author or traditional publishing aspirant, the news is a whole lot less exciting. Because it seems the benefits of this recent increase in traditional ebook market share are not being felt equally by all authors…

Failure to Launch: the worsening plight of recent traditionally-published debuts

Let’s revisit the distribution of author earnings by publisher type and price point that we looked at above. But this time, let’s ignore the earnings of the longer-tenured authors, greying out and eliminating any author whose first title was published 2 years ago or more. This gives us a look at only the earnings of the more recent debuts along each publishing path.

For these newer author cohorts, who published within the last 2 years, the discrepancy in ebook author earnings by chosen publishing path remains very stark.

201610-recentdebut-authorearnings-by-pricepoint

Blue shows us the earnings of indies who first published in the last 2 years. Green is author debuts by Amazon imprints. For the Big Five–and for Small/Medium publishers–you really have to squint to spot any purple or red. With traditional publishers sticking more than ever to higher prices for their recent debuts, it seems that with few exceptions nearly all of the Big Five’s ebook sales are going to their longer tenured authors.

To even be able to see the earnings of more recent traditionally published authors on this chart, we need to zoom the vertical scale:

201610-recentdebut-authorearnings-by-pricepoint-zoom

After zooming in, we can now see finally a little bit of purple Big Five earnings. But nearly none at prices below $9.99.

Back in our May 2016 sidebar special report on Big Five ebook pricing, we pointed out some troubling differences between the prices of recent backlist ebooks by long-tenured Big Five authors and those by more recent Big Five debuts. We showed that this discrepancy has effectively crippled the digital sales, earnings, and discoverability of more recent Big Five authors. Between early 2014 and early 2016, compared to all authors of the same vintage, newer Big Five authors saw their relative share of the pie drop the most dramatically–falling from 22% of the total to 9% of the total.

Today? Those recent Big Five debuts–represented by the slivers of purple in the above graph–are taking home less than 7% of the new-author total.

But it’s not just their author earnings that higher ebook prices damage.

The impact of high prices upon the discoverability of these more recent authors, who are now trying to launch their careers and build up a base of new readers and fans, is even greater. We can see that by looking at unit sales:

201610-recentdebut-unitsales-by-pricepoint-zoom

For every reader discovering a new Big Five author, there are literally dozens of readers finding brand new indie authors and Amazon-imprint authors they enjoy.

If you’re a recent Big Five debut–or a new author considering signing a traditional Big Five deal–when it comes time to negotiate ebook price ceilings for your books, the above two charts are worth taking to heart.

High ebook prices make newer authors invisible to the vast majority of avid readers, who don’t care how a book is published.

$10-$15 ebook prices are the kiss of death for most new Big Five debuts.

But aren’t these recent Big Five debut authors making up for those lost ebook sales by selling more print books instead?

Let’s take a look.

Here’s what the mix of earnings by format looks like for all authors:

201610-authorearnings-by-publishertype-and-format

When we view all traditionally published authors as a cohort (Small/Medium publisher in red, Big Five in purple), total Amazon print earnings are quite substantial. It can be a little misleading if you mistakenly interpret the above as the median earnings mix for individual authors, because the majority of those print sales for both traditionally published authors and indie authors are nonfiction–generally written by a different set of authors than their fiction counterparts who make the majority of ebook and audiobook earnings in each category. But at a macro level, for different categories of publisher, it captures the total mix accurately. And it’s especially interesting when we compare it to what the same mix looks like for just recent debuts in each publisher category.

Again, let’s eliminate all of the longer tenured authors and their earnings, and look at just the earnings of authors who first published–either traditionally or indie–sometime in the last 2 years.

201610-recentdebut-authorearnings-by-publishertype-and-format

Surprisingly, when we look at just the more recent debut authors along each publishing path, the indie cohort of new authors is selling nearly as many print books online as the Big Five, and as Small/Medium publishers. (Back in February 2016, we weren’t at all surprised to find out that 11 of the top 35 best-selling print books in the Amazon US store were coloring books. But we were surprised to find out that 5 of them were self-published POD coloring book titles… by indies.)

CreateSpace and IngramSpark/LightningSource have now made it extremely easy and inexpensive–often even free–for indie authors to create and distribute Print-On-Demand paperback editions of their books. And selling those print books online is even easier. At the click of a button, indie authors–as well as the smallest boutique publishers and micropresses–can now sell their books through the same online retail storefronts that today account for roughly 50% of total US print sales.

The print playing field has become far more level than it used to be. And when comparing the online print sales of the most recent Big Five debut authors, who don’t yet have name-brand recognition, against those of their indie counterparts… it shows. When it comes to selling print books online, the gap between the most recent traditionally published authors and the most recent indie authors has narrowed substantially.

But that’s only online print… what about sales at brick and mortar bookstores? Haven’t they gone up? Aren’t bookstores across the US once again thriving, like the media has been reporting?

The reality is a little more complicated.

US bookstore sales: the real story. It’s not what you’ve been hearing…

Blurry Nielsen Bookcan categories confuse skyrocketing online Amazon print sales with “bookstore” growth, fueling false physical-bookstore recovery narrative

Over the last 12-18 months, publishing industry news–and often mainstream media as well–have been telling us that “bookstores are back!”

These articles mostly point to two pieces of data in support of their conclusions:

At the same time, these articles carefully ignore many other crucial pieces of data:

  • Namely, they ignore the fact that during the same time period as the $50 million uptick at at independent bookstores, print book sales at Barnes & Noble, which were already down $190 million in fiscal 2015, fell by at least another $80 million in fiscal 2016 a loss of 1.5 times as many print sales as the ABA independents have gained. They ignore the fact that sales at Books-A-Million–the second largest national bookstore chain (and a very distant second to B&N)–had, as of their most recent public report, stayed at best flat. And they ignore the recent report that, for the first quarter of fiscal 2017, B&N’s losses are only accelerating.
  • And they also ignore the fact that also during the same time period, print book sales at mass merchandisers like Walmart, Target, and the like, which appear in Nielsen Bookscan’s “Mass Merchandisers & Other” category and collectively make up a far larger share of US book sales than the ABA’s independent bookstores do, shrank almost 9% in 2015And in 2016, those mass merchandiser sales have thus far fallen a further 4%.

So, with print sales at independent ABA bookstores up a tiny bit, but book sales at all major US bookstore chains and mass merchandisers down by almost an order of magnitude more, then why does Nielsen Bookscan’s “Retail & Club” sector still report that US print book sales are up 5% overall?

The answer’s pretty simple.

  • Nielsen Bookscan’s “Retail & Club” sector doesn’t primarily track US physical bookstore sales anymore–it also includes online print sales, including Amazon’s.
  • Nowadays, more than 50% of the total sales reported in Bookscan’s “Retail & Club” category are Amazon.com online print sales; US physical bookstore sales now make up the minority.
  • In the past 12 months, fueled by deeper Amazon print discounts, Amazon’s online print sales have exploded–growing by a double digit percentage year-on-year.
  • Those fast-growing Amazon online print sales have more than offset the collapsing sales at physical bookstores, leaving us with a 5% overall net print-sales gain for the US.
  • When Bookscan lumps both together into one reporting category, it completely obscures this rapid shift in where those books are being bought, letting us see only the net 5% overall print-sales gain.
  • The media mistakenly reports that net 5% gain as a nationwide increase in sales at “bookstores.”

How do we know this?

By looking at 2016 sales data & corresponding sales ranks for Amazon.com print books, the same methodology we use to measure ebook sales. And here is what Q1-Q3 2016 Amazon print-sales data looks like, overlaid on top of data from 2015.

In the chart below, the underlying gray data points are from Q1-Q3 2015, and the overlaid green ones were collected during Q1-Q3 2016. When we compute log-quadratic curve-fits separately for each set of data to yield rank-to-sales curves, for 2015 it yields the purple curve, and for 2016 the blue curve.

print-r2s-2015-vs-2016

Even on a log-log plot such as the above, the year-on-year growth in Amazon’s print sales is visibly obvious. If we zoom in to the top quarter of the range in the chart below, we don’t even need to fit curves to see Amazon’s 2016 print-sales growth: it’s visible to the naked eye. The green 2016 data points for each sales rank correspond to a significantly higher number of total sales than their gray 2015 counterparts do:

print-r2s-2015-vs-2016-zoom

The distance between the blue and purple sales curves tells the whole story:

Amazon’s 2016 online print book sales are nearly 18% higher than they were in 2015.

When we integrate the area under the two curves, we find that:

  • Amazon sold over 255 million print books in the US in 2015.
  • Amazon is on track to sell well over 300 million print books in the US in 2016.

The above totals include at least 13 million annual print sales of non-expanded-distribution CreateSpace POD books by self-published authors, which Amazon does not include in the numbers they report to Nielsen Bookscan.

The implications are numerous:

In 2015, more than 40% of Nielsen Bookscan’s 652 million total reported annual US print sales–and the majority of Nielsen’s Retail & Club sector–were online print sales from Amazon.com, rather than brick-and-mortar bookstore sales. 

The fact that Nielsen Bookscan reports only 5% growth in the “Retail & Club” sector, when Amazon’s half of those “Retail & Club” numbers is up 18%, can only mean one thing:

The other half of the Bookscan Retail & Club sector, US physical bookstore sales, must be down by at least 8%.

The math is inescapable.

For traditionally-published authors, especially those whose books are not receiving front-table co-op in bookstores and airport outlets, Amazon is not only the source of most of their digital sales, it accounts for an increasing percentage of their print sales, too. In most cases, Amazon will make up the majority of them. And as we’ve seen in the data for newer traditionally-published authors, high ebook prices mean those authors are far less likely to find an audience and build a word-of-mouth fanbase. Which is probably why newer traditionally-published debuts, saddled with those sky-high ebook prices, nowadays aren’t really selling all that many print books, either.

Will indie ebook market share rebound in Q4?

Or will it continue to shrink?

At this point, the answer is anybody’s guess. But we’re intensely curious to see what further changes the end of the year will bring. Either way, this remains a golden age for authors willing to take control of their careers, and we don’t expect that to change any time soon.

 

Download the raw Kindle data this report is based on (.xslx)

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

 


Footnotes

(*1) – For KindleFirst title preorders, the price at which most sales occur should be the $1.99 preorder price, not the $4.99 release price. But the net effect would be to reduce Amazon Imprint market share by about 1%, while increasing the market share of other publishing categories by a fraction of a percent.

(*2) As an illustrative example that many indies have pointed out, consider last year’s change to Amazon keyword search results for books. Amazon eliminated the option to sort results by “Best Selling”… leaving the “Featured” sort order as the closest default alternative. That particular Amazon change happened to be a plainly visible site modification… but behind-the-scenes changes to book prioritization algorithms are far less easy to spot.

 

90 Responses to “October 2016 Author Earnings Report: A Turning of the Tide…?”

  1. Alan Tucker says:

    I have a one-word answer: Bookbub.

    The number of Big 5 offerings up on Bookbub the past few months has skyrocketed, pushing Indies out of those spots. That’s literally thousands of copies sold per day shifting from Indies to the Big 5.

    Now, I’m sure this isn’t the whole of the problem, but my guess it accounts for a pretty significant portion of it. When we lose access to such a powerful sales/discovery tool, it makes a huge difference.

    • I have to agree with this. And along with the increase in advertising by traditional publishers, BookBub’s rates have gone up, putting them out of reach for many indies.

    • Katie French says:

      BookBub also came to my mind. I know they helped me make lots of money a few years ago and now I can’t even get them to sniff at my titles.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Alan,

      Bookbub is an intriguing possible factor. And luckily, I happened to have 2 years worth of BookBub deal emails handy, containing over 25,000 BookBub deals. So this morning I wrote a software email “spider” and turned it loose on those emails. And then I correlated the title deal data it extracted from them against the listed publishers for those titles from the AuthorEarnings database.

      Here’s a 2 year quarterly trendline of (non-free) Bookbub deals by publisher type:

      (For clarity I’ve combined Indie Self-Published & Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher, as nearly all of the latter are unverified Indie authors as well).

      I’ve also added the above graph, plus some explanation, to the main body of the report.

      Bottom line: Although the indie share of BookBub has been shrinking steadily for 2 years now, BookBub could account for at most a 2% shift in overall Kindle market share for indies, even if they stopped accepting indie books altogether.

      Best,
      DG

      • Alan Tucker says:

        DG,

        Thanks so much for taking the extra time to dive into the numbers once again. I’ll admit I’m surprised with how little BookBub appears to influence the macro level, because that influence is gigantic on a micro level. It points to just how large the Amazon marketplace is.

        Although that steady downward trend from 40% of listings to 15% is really disturbing.

  2. Within the last quarter, two things have happened:

    1. Several months ago, Amazon began pushing pay-to-play ads which show up in reader’s organic search. Whereas before the books that showed up in ‘recommended for you’ were all organic recommendations based on people who bought your book, and similar books, now there’s a new line ‘sponsored products related to this item.’ Who can afford to pay-to-play? Big publishers and well organized mid- to small publishers, plus some of the bigger indies with larger marketing budgets.

    2. Amazon just announced they will be giving Amazon Prime members similar to KU free access to Amazon Imprint books. We all know Amazon market-tests these things before they announce them several months in advance by tweaking their algorithms.

    No surprise here. Amazon is getting more aggressive about reaping $$ from authors and publishers who want visibility in their store (including their OWN imprint) the same way big box bookstores like B&N have always done.

    • HD Lynn says:

      This. I think #1 is a much bigger deal than #2. Combine Amazon’s pay-to-play with bookbub’s changes, and yes, I think that explains a lot of the earnings dip.

  3. I also have to wonder how indie sales are doing at other online retailers. Because of the changes in KU, many indies have opted to go wide instead of being exclusive with Amazon. As a reader, what difference does it make if I read an ebook on my iPad with the Kindle app, nook app, or directly via the iBookstore? Have some readers switched the platform they use because the books are now available there?

  4. JOE MCNALLY says:

    Perhaps some loss of trust in Indies because of the number of scams, especially in KU?

  5. There is a very nasty rumor circulating all across author chat boards (Kboards and other places). Indies across the board are seeing huge drops in sales in October, some of it began in late Sept. Numerous Indies have been emailing Amazon to complain about inaccurate sales reportings.

    I experienced the same issue as many Indies. Suddenly, a promoted title that was receiving regular traffic from paid ads has stopped selling.

    I also experienced this issue with a Bookbub promo. I sold easily 1/3 of the levels of my last two Bookbub promos.

    I have no answers, and I can’t even claim to have a decent theory. But something is definitely wrong, and it stinks like a major Amazon algorithm change, possibly coupled with a problem in their sales reporting-tracking.

    I know these kinds of conspiracy theories have been around alot, but the kind of drop in sales many of us are seeing is even worse than the days when KU was first introduced and it instantly impacted ebook sales across the board (virtually overnight).

    Yes, its that bad.

    Any insights on this? Lots of theories and conspiracies flying around. No real answers.

    🙂

    • Anna says:

      It doesn’t feel like a conspiracy theory anymore. The romance community in particular has investigated this from many angles, including conducting our own tests with uploaded books and sharing graphs and data from multiple authors–top 10 authors and ranging down to the newbies. Everyone is seeing a massive, massive dip in their page reads. We’re talking 40-75% reduction or more.

      Something has happened with Amazon, and our calls and emails to their customer service department gives us contradictory explanations depending on which rep answers.

      Some authors noticed this happening as early as August–delays in reporting, lower than average reads. We might have attributed it to the summer slump then, but this is not a “Seasonal” anomaly, as many reps have told us. Either our page reads were ridiculously inflated before, or something is suppressing them now. No one has any answers, and we’re getting nothing from Amazon.

      • An Author says:

        Yep. 75% of my income gone, poof.

        • Susn says:

          Mine have dropped 75%, beginning on September 23.

          • Isobel says:

            Yes, my KU page reads were the same… motoring along nicely and then flat lining in mid- September. I complained to KPD and got a reply from the fancy titled “Kindle Direct Publishing Executive Customer Relations”

            Hello,

            Thanks for your inquiry. We looked into the concerns you expressed along with those of other authors in response to inquiries about KENPC reporting. I have pasted our latest forum post on the subject below:

            —————-

            “We have completed our monthly audit of September pages-read data. We regularly monitor pages-read systems for accuracy with a particular focus on making sure we have correctly filtered out fraudulent reading activity, while including all legitimate customer behavior. Total audit adjustments for the month were an increase of roughly 2% of pages read (though the amount will vary from author to author). We are currently updating reports and changes should be visible within the next day.

            We expect the September fund to increase again compared to August and will release the new figure by mid-month as usual.

            Thanks for the recent questions from some authors about how Page Flip is being used by customers and its possible impact to pages read. Page Flip is designed to make it easy to explore and navigate in books while automatically saving your place, and that is how customers are using it. We checked for effects on pages read before launching Page Flip, and investigated it again to re-confirm that there is no impact. We do not see any material reading volume happening within this feature, but we will continue to monitor it closely.”

            I’m still none the wiser and I don’t believe a word of it. I think something has gone wrong with a new algorithm and they are at pains to admit it because of the headache of readjusting millions of page reads.

      • Jaie says:

        Late To reading this article…but…one of the very difficult problems on Amazon is the untalented, no-accounts, who disguise themselves as “publishers” to “help” authors and who appropriate the author’s book/s under the guise of “publishing” it.

        There are quite a few of these on Amazon. What may be happening is that Amazon is starting to truly look at Quality (via some kind of Algorithm) and downgrading those books which are clearly meant to simply strip and spin the mill for a few bucks. With apologies to Anna, romance writers have repeatedly been highlighted as appropriating (shall we say) other authors work. Perhaps the algorithm is beginning to detect original versus derivative?

    • Sorry to post merely a link, but rather than repeat the whole blog post, best to just go look.

      I can personally confirm the “page flip” glitch that records only one page read for a KU book read in “page flip” mode. Since KU is dominated by indies and small presses, suddenly losing income and possibly rankings because of this impacts indies disproportionately.

      https://teleread.org/2016/10/08/amazon-kdp-select-authors-are-losing-page-reads-apparently-due-to-software-glitches/

  6. Ann Christy says:

    There’s been a lot going on in the sales world for indies that’s been hard to peg. Some people began to notice as far back as June, but the answers when queried to the wider indie author world were largely, “I’m fine. Nothing is happening.”

    Then it got worse, then it got even worse. Then in September, even the biggest names started to ask where their reads were. Drops from 30 to 90%.

    There are a lot of theories but a few have been tested or evaluated. One: page-flip. I use it on all devices save one because I can read faster with it. Amazon says it is a small percentage and not causing a problem, but informal data gathering indicates a whole lot of people read in page-flip, sometimes without knowing it. Page reads aren’t counted in KU as reads, and reads took a nose dive.

    Two: anti-scam detection. It’s entirely possible that their solution to the scammers is casting far too wide a net and damaging the honest. Three: algo change. This is a rising possibility and it seems possible that the weight for steady, long-term performers has been diminished, creating larger churn. Too much churn really unless you want to publish every three weeks in order to stay seen.

    Whatever is going on, I believe it’s firmly inside the Amazon walls and I don’t think it’s a good thing. It may have been intended to create a better experience, but it’s gone way off the rails.

    I sort of had to decide if I was okay with putting out only good books that had the time to get edited and perfected at a slower rate…and face the continuing slide into invisibility. Or, would I write them fast and good enough and keep up with the churn. I decided I couldn’t do the churn. I’ll keep doing this until it no longer pays for itself, but whether I can keep going all in with Amazon is still an unknown. I’m not sure it’s wise anymore. It’s a game of diminishing returns…more books for less money and higher costs to market for a quality product. It’s not a recipe for indie longevity.

    • I’m also worried about the way Amazon’s algos seem to encourage churn (rapid mass-production turnaround, requiring authors to become factories), which affects the whole industry, and indie authors in particular. I think it’s an unsustainable situation.

    • I noticed the change at the beginning of 2016 and getting worse ever since. I’ve never been a big seller, but I used to release a new book and clip along pretty well until 30 days, then off the cliff. The last couple I released debuted to painfully reduced sales, which suggests to me they aren’t even being seen– either buried by scammers, or a change in the algos. Or both.

  7. Thank you so much for this! It’s time to get our heads in the game.

    Data Guy! Can you post the raw data for this report?

  8. Elisabeth says:

    Agree with the others. I think it’s a combination of changes:
    * the distributor’s algorithm changes and wall of entrance (trying to block scams etc. but often over-reaching)
    * the marketing sites like BookBub, Gorilla etc.are adding more traditional books into the stream of adverts
    * the Freebies (everywhere) don’t carry as much weight with readers any longer
    This doesn’t surprise me. Deep breaths, it’s an uphill climb for most of us. Keep writing.

  9. Jake Kerr says:

    Interestingly, the drop dovetails almost exactly with Amazon Marketing Service’s new sponsored ad product. But that should help self-publisher’s, no?

    Another wildcard here is KU growth. If KU is growing huge (which it seems it is) and most of those readers are coming from self-published purchases, then this will explain it a lot. In fact, romance seems to moving in a massive wave to KU, and romance is so huge that will have a big impact.

  10. Gordon Horne says:

    That’s a sudden shift. If it is an actual shift, I agree such an abrupt change is unlikely to be caused by the crowd. One or more of the big influencers has likely done something that changes the options available to the crowd.

    I don’t see cause for panic even if one is invested in the indie model specifically rather than the general welfare of authors. New Big Five authors continue to underperform, and the future of publishing is new authors.

    I also see a possible benefit of Amazon becoming less of an Indie paradise as a result of tweaked algorithms and increased pay to play options. Perhaps more Indies will go wide. A more diverse publishing industry (more authors, more publishers, more retailers) is a more robust publishing industry less subject to sudden shocks. A more diverse industry is good for those who experience failure as well. More diversity means more options to reboot a career.

    Once again, thank you for sharing the results of your hard work.

  11. An Author says:

    Or, it could be the Amazon cluster f… being talked about all over fb and in author forums where they’ve lost tracking ability to pay authors for the correct pages read thru KU due. Authors are reporting anywhere from zero, to be fair, to a 90% drop in pay, depending on lots of factors being discussed in depth from private forums to the public kboards.com in the writer’s cafe.
    Authors are not happy.

  12. thesfreader says:

    thanks again to Hugh and Data Guy for the report. And an example on why going wide COULD be a good strategy too.

    One thing that should be mentionned here is (again) taht by going indie, the author keep the possibility to switch, get out of Select and go wide, choose other distribution channels or strategy, while they would have gotten NO way to react in any effective way if they had been shackled with traditional publishing contracts…

  13. Emily says:

    Many indie authors have reported (myself included) something happening with our sales near end July, going into August and September. Ratios of sales to pages read changed dramatically. Books in a series with a known audience seeing a drop of 20-50% of page reads *for no appreciable reason*.

    People have seen wild swings in ranks as page reads drop by huge numbers and then surge back on a single day, affecting sales rank and visibility (which affects further sales).

    Many authors have also confirmed by experimentation that books opened in page-flip mode do not record page reads. They return 1 page read rather than the entire book. Page-flip mode does not keep up with audio sync, which gives further weight that this problem exists. Many new devices open automatically in this mode and it is easy to read in it.

    Unfortunately, Amazon have been denying problems, then accepting a problem but claiming it is incredibly minor, then different reps have been saying different things, including there are new anti-fraud measures in place and some wanting to investigate the page-flip issue. Collectively when indie authors contact Amazon regarding this, we often get cut-and-pasted responses. Sometimes the rare customer service representative admits there is a problem.

    Many of us gather data exhaustively. We test and measure and so we know from past experience how well within a range a promotion should go. We know if we sell X books we should get Y page reads. We know roughly what our sales rank should be for a certain number of sales and page reads.

    But since the end of July and onward, these gathered figures have broken down. Sales spikes are recorded with new releases without an accompanying spike in page reads (unheard of until now). Promos push but then collapse down almost immediately.

    Seeing Amazon’s imprints surge is no surprise – they control the algorithms and we know this isn’t a fair playing field.

    This report is confirming but many Indie Authors already know – something changed in Amazon and it dramatically affected Indie sales and thus, earnings. Amazon is still ducking and dodging but the evidence piles up day by day and they must address it.

  14. Bree says:

    Exactly what Travis and Ann said. There’s a huge thread on kboards (and lots of discussion in private groups) with indie authors complaining about not only a possible algorithmic shift, but more concerningly, issues with the accuracy of pages read being reported. This is possibly partially due to issues with page flip resulting in unrecorded reads (a problem that has been verified by multiple testers but denied by Amazon) but also potentially some kind of glitch causing authors to see sudden inexplicable drops in page reads by 30 percent or more.

    Any thoughts about this?

    • thesfreader says:

      Any thoughts ? 4 words actually : get out of KDPSelect

      • So much this. Now is the time for authors to set themselves free from KU and stop putting up with the “pages read” system. The whole thing is designed to benefit Amazon while paying authors as little as possible.

        As I mentioned in another forum, when Amazon changed from being a level playing field to “go exclusive or go home,” many indies shifted our focus to growing our sales at the other retailers, and those efforts are paying off. Sales are up significantly this year at iBooks, Kobo — and even Nook. It would be great if Hugh and Data Guy could study Author Earnings at the other retailers, so authors could see how they’re growing while Amazon goes nowhere but down, down, down.

        Keep in mind that going wide is not a quick fix. It takes time — not days or weeks but months — to build your following and sales at the other stores. But it’s incredibly liberating to be a truly independent indie, rather than allowing Amazon total control over your sales and earnings.

        • allynh says:

          KU is such a beautiful concept, but the way it is now I will not sign up because of the fatal flaws.

          You can “borrow” a book as many times as you want, but the author will only be paid the first time the book is read. You can “borrow” the book year after year, and the author sees nothing more.

          BTW, before people talk about how a book in the library, read many times, does not generate more income, remember this fact that has been mentioned many times:

          A small number of copies of a book will be bought by a library system, not a single library. Those few copies will be shared in inter library loans, until the copies are “withdrawn” from the system and sold. I have bought many a beautiful, clean, untouched, used book that was originally a library book.

          KU done right could generate a steady income to authors who write tons of books that people want to read, over and over, for decades. KU as it is now is permanent free. That works if you choose that tactic. Possibly have the first few of a large series as KU to get people hooked, then keep the rest of the series out of KU.

          Also, it is all too easy to “borrow” the book, move a copy to Calibre and the book is stolen. Sad thing is, people don’t see that as theft.

          Even if Amazon fixes the “page read” or counts each “borrow” as a new start, the book read in Calibre will not register as “pages read” by Amazon.

          Thus, I’m staying clear of KU.

      • That’s the final solution, like jumping out of a sinking boat and try for different ones, but the first, most sensible solution is to try to fix the boat we’re in. It would seem to be in Amazon’s best interest to do so.

        • TheSFReader says:

          Note that I didn’t suggest to leave Amazon entirely, but to get out of the exclusivity and go wide. Contrary to boats, you CAN go wide and diversify your risk to multiple sales channels rather than a single (albeit so far more efficient) one

  15. Cedar says:

    Is it possible that Amazon is just ramping up its Amazon Publishing? I’ve heard that successful indie authors are getting calls from Amazon publishing. If the market isn’t changing, which it doesn’t look like it is, then isn’t it logical when you look at the first graph, that a good portion of the sales that were going directly to ‘indies’ are now going to ‘Amazon imprint’? That’s where the spike up happened, everyone else just seems on trend. Personally, as a consumer, I’ve noticed that a lot of their more recent marketing efforts seem to be going to giving their own authors a leg up.

  16. ML Banner says:

    What about Kindle Unlimited (and expansion of Prime)? More Indies have joined KU lately and certainly those numbers could skew the overall buying market.

    Also, more traditionally published titles have been BookBub’d recently just before contract expiration in an focused effort to avoid rights reversion to the author. This one practice could skew the sales results a percentage point.

    Finally, I believe more professional indie authors are either going hybrid and/or setting up their own publishing companies to publish their titles, which may include more than one pen name, and therefore knock it out of the “Uncategorized single-author publisher” category.

  17. enabity says:

    It is distinctly possible that a significant portion of indie earnings have been made by scammers. If Amazon’s recent efforts have been successful at stopping scammers, then the indie share of sales would be down. It may be that legitimate authors have been hurt as well, but a crackdown on pervasive scamming is in itself sufficient reason that indie author earnings are down.

  18. Publishers Marketplace says:

    Interesting update. You’re on the right track with Amazon’s print share gains, but the whole profile needs some adjustment. Barnes & Noble’s print sales fell, but by a modest amount — the lost share in a rising market, but their decline was nowhere near $300 million. (Info below from their most recent full fiscal report.)

    NB actually counts *warehouse clubs* — BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club — in regular “retail,” not mass merchandisers and others.

    And we don’t know what happened to BAMM sales since Q3 of 2015, since they went private in 12/15 and have not filed sales publicly since then.

    Also remember that Hastings went bankrupt and liquidated this year; publishers tried to taper inventory ahead of the filing — but then the liquidation pushes those units out (and NB does not capture prices). And last year Family Christian was in bankruptcy reorganization for a good portion of the year.

    • Data Guy says:

      Thanks! The additional guidance and detail you’ve provided here is much appreciated.

      Great catch in particular on the B&N numbers; I should have gone straight to B&N’s annual reports, instead of relying on unverified secondary sources.

      B&N’s 2016 annual report shows their retail sales:
      – falling $187 million in fiscal 2015
      – falling by another $80 million in fiscal 2016

      B&N’s recently announced Q1 2017 results do appear to show a recent acceleration, with B&N’s retail sales:
      – falling a further $57 million in a single quarter (fiscal Q1 2017).

      BAM going private is why the most recent data I could find was 2015. Their sales, which were flat compared to 2014, are roughly a tenth of B&N’s size. But whether their 2016 sales have gone up or down is unknown to me.

      I’m not knowledgeable enough to intuit the impact on print sales that Hastings and Family Christian would have. Presumably these would reduce reported brick-and-mortar numbers?

      • Publishers Marketplace says:

        This is the part I meant to paste in from BN (fiscal 16 is the period you are talking about, and the SEC filing gives better details, which still vary from what you have). FC sales are likely lower. Long term, Hastings sales go from $100 mil annual in books to 0. Between 7/21/16 and 10/31/16, they will move an artificially high number of book units at deep liquidation discount, skewing Bookscan unit stats a little bit. BN:

        The Company’s sales decreased $133.3 million, or 3.1%, during fiscal 2016 to $4.164 billion from $4.297 billion during fiscal 2015. The changes by segment are as follows:…

        B&N Retail sales decreased $79.6 million, or 1.9%, to $4.029 billion from $4.108 billion during the same period one year ago, and accounted for 96.8% of total Company sales. Online sales were impacted by challenges following the launch of the new BN.com website, decreasing $49.0 million, or 14.4%, versus the prior year. Closed stores decreased sales by $40.5 million. Device warranty reimbursements, resulting from favorable claims experience with a warranty service provider, decreased $4.8 million on a year-to-date basis as compared to the prior year due to a smaller claim period and lower volume. These unfavorable variances were partially offset by a $3.0 million increase in gift card breakage as redemptions continue to run lower than historical patterns. B&N Retail also includes third-party sales of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., which increased by $8.7 million, or 21.7%, on increased adult coloring book business.

        Comparable store sales decreased $1.3 million, or essentially flat, as compared to the prior year. Of the $1.3 million decrease in comparable store sales, core comparable store sales, which exclude sales of NOOK® products, increased $13.0 million, or 0.4%, as compared to the prior year. Non-book core categories increased sales by $48.3 million, or 4.2%, on growth of the Toys & Games and Gift businesses. Book categories decreased sales by $35.3 million, or 1.5%, primarily on lower sales of Trade and Juvenile titles, partially offset by strong sales of coloring books. Sales of NOOK® products at B&N Retail stores decreased $14.3 million, or 19.2%, versus the prior year on lower device unit sales and lower average selling prices.

  19. Matt says:

    I’m hearing that more and more indy authors are making decent money through the Kindle Unlimited program. Is there any way the algorithms will be able to track how authors are doing when the revenue from this program is factored in?

  20. Always interesting information! I wish is that you could factor in other retailer information as well. As Amazon becomes more focused on its own ecosystem, indie authors are finding other retailers stepping up to the plate and seeing numbers go up. This report is a part of the picture but not the whole picture for Indie authors who distribute their books across all retail platforms. I really appreciate your sharing all these facts, though!

  21. Chuck Litka says:

    The explanation may be found in the first column of your earnings by price point charts. My rough, back of the envelope calculations, using a 35% royalty rate for $.99 & $1.99 books and 70% for the rest, show that $.99 ebooks comprised around 48% of sales by units in May, jumping to about 64% in October, and that’s up from about 38% in January 2016. The unit sales increase in lower priced ebooks may have suppressed gross sales and author earnings – especially since it appears that total unit sales were up in October. Perhaps we’re seeing intense competition in the ever more crowded marketplace driving prices down – as the theory of supply and demand would suggest. Of course I’m just eyeballing your charts and estimating numbers. What does your data show? Could this account for the drop in earnings?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Chuck,

      Eyeballing %-ages off charts is always tricky… so I ran the actual numbers.

      $0.99 ebooks comprised:

      19.7% of all unit sales in May 2015
      20.1% of all unit sales in September 2015
      21.1% of all unit sales in January 2016
      20.3% of all unit sales in May 2016
      22.3% of all unit sales in October 2016

      The proportion of 99c ebooks is pretty consistently around 20-22% quarter to quarter, including the latest…
      It doesn’t seem to be much of a factor.

      Best,
      DG

      • Data Guy says:

        Sorry, Chuck — I misunderstood, initially. The above is the percentage of unit sales that are 99c across all publishing types. What you’re talking about is the % of indie sales that are 99c.

        When limiting the scope of the same calculation to only indies:

        99c ebooks were:

        36.3% of all indie unit sales in May 2015
        40.4% of all indie unit sales in September 2015
        43.0% of all indie unit sales in November 2015
        37.7% of all indie unit sales in January 2016
        30.9% of all indie unit sales in May 2016
        40.4% of all indie unit sales in October 2016

        While there is a bit more variation from quarter to quarter in the indie 99c-sales percentage (and of course, the proportion of $0.99 sales for indies is typically nearly double the market-wide average), the October 2016 hasn’t moved outside of its historic range.

        Still, as you point out, it’s a very suggestive metric.

        Notably, back in September 2015 when the indie market share was lower than it is now even post October 2016 decline, the % of indie sales at $0.99 then was identical to today’s.

        And also notably, the % of indie sales at $0.99 was at it’s lowest ever (30.9%) in May 2016, which is when the overall indie market share hit it’s highest point to date.

        I think you are definitely onto something there…

        Best,
        DG

  22. Bookanista says:

    I’ve never understood why the Fair Trade Commission hasn’t investigated Amazon for vertical restraints violations: specifically, it’s role as a retailer AND a publisher. Wasn’t that the reason Crown and Brentano’s had to choose to be either one or the other?

    If so, how can this be brought to the attention of the Fair Trade Commission?

    I would imagine any publishing entity, be it the Big Five or a class action of indie authors, would fear retaliation.

    Perhaps some of the lawyers reading this can comment on this…

  23. There’s some interesting questions arising in this data from business changes. I’ve also anecdotally noted the rise in traditional publishers’ use of “off-Amazon” discounters like BookBub. Scraping prices and sales ranks from Amazon product pages may overstate revenue for new traditionally published authors if the BookBub effect skews the sample. BookBub promotions create an initial spike that tapers over time. The promotion’s tail is where the highest price sales occur, i.e. when prices revert to “full retail,” but the majority of unit sales occur in the head at lower prices. The overstatement of new traditional author earnings may arise from differences in the decay rates between the BookBub promotion and Amazon’s sales rank. If BookBub promotions taper more quickly than Amazon’s sales rank decay then the Author Earnings data may attribute a higher price to the estimated sales that actually occurred at a much lower price. The magnitude of the BookBub effect can be preliminarily assessed by looking at the skew of unit and dollar sales for new traditionally published authors. The majors are less likely to discount their marquee authors and I hypothesize that new traditional authors without co-marketing should have a more even distribution of sales (closer to 0); so if we see a heavily skewed distribution of new traditionally published authors, the risk increases for a greater BookBub effect in the snapshot sample.

    If Amazon changed their algorithm, we should see the effect in their data. We just need to know how to look. The obvious first place is the Amazon imprints. Their continued good performance is no surprise. Suppose Amazon is now primarily crowd sourcing new authors for their imprints through their own sales data instead of literary agents, how would they change their algo to serve this purpose and what effects would this produce? An algo that relies heavily on sales volume and review rating and volume is prone to local optima, i.e. search results get stuck on books because the initial sales volume and reviews creates a virtuous cycle for that book (it stays on top because it is on top). I suspect this is why the permafree tactic for series has worked for a few authors, but not the hordes of undiscovered. (Test it by looking at permafree series by tenure.) I’ve observed local optima in Amazon’s historical search results. Suppose they realize what they’ve done and want to find new authors that write well. Reducing algo dependence on sales and reviews, e.g. by increasing random inserts in listings, will help find those undiscovered gems. If Amazon has done this, I expect to see a less skewed distribution of unit sales volumes relative to historical.

    I haven’t had time to perform these analyses on the Author Earnings data; and I must confess I haven’t dug deeply into the methodology, so forgive me if this post is uninformed. I do intend to look into these and other questions someday. Thanks for your continued efforts to reveal the truth in publishing!

    • BookBub only promotes one book a day in each genre, and the methodology here is to look at a couple million book sales in a single day. So it would be pretty much impossible for BB-related price deflation to have the effect you are describing.

      • Robert Harken says:

        I disagree. We’re looking at a subset of the sample that is over indexed with Bookbub deals. If the spike from a one day promotion had no material effect on unit volumes that day or subsequent days, people wouldn’t pay Bookbub’s prices. We also know that BB deals happen every day, so this cross sectional data set contains their effect. Do they cause an overstatement in new traditional author’s revenue? I don’t know. The data will have to tell us.

  24. Thanks for the data analysis. I was particularly interested in the print analysis because this is vital information in making decisions about potential trad-publisher deals. And about the print analysis, I didn’t understand some of the text for the first log quadratic curve graph, and I’m hoping it’s a mistake rather than my failure to understand. Where you wrote:

    “The green 2016 data points for each sales rank correspond to a significantly higher number of total sales than their gray 2016 counterparts do:”

    Should that have finished with: “…gray 2015 counterparts do:”?

  25. While the drop in KU page reads everyone is talking about is distressing (I don’t *think* it’s happened to me yet), I don’t think it can have anything to do with the shifts shown here. Let’s suppose with page-flip a person might read a whole novel and the KU payout is for just one page. That’s still going to record a single book sale in the rankings. So the data here would assume you got all your money.

    If KU reimbursement has actually glitched in such a way that people are earning a hay penny per sale instead of two bucks, then it’s possible that the data is far, far worse than this report suggests.

  26. Diane Capri says:

    Can anyone tell me how and where KU author revenue is included/discussed in this report? It seems to me that it’s all about sales.

  27. B McPherson says:

    You guys really need to do an additional analysis that separates KDP Select authors from non-KDP Select authors and factors those elements into the author revenue reports. Because of the much higher royalty rate KDP Select authors get from purchases, and the additional (but lower) income they receive from page reads in Unlimited, I believe that taking these elements into account would significantly change the income report, possibly even resulting in a higher average income for indies than is currently being shown.

    Additionally, it would be interesting to see how many traditionally published authors are using KDP Select. I’ve seen some that are, though most seem to be independent.

    And because KDP Select is a hot topic right now in the indie community, it would be helpful to cast a better light on it.

    • KDP Select authors in the US market (which is all this study looks at) don’t make a higher royalty. The only royalty difference is during a sale (where Select authors get the full 70%, but a non-select author would drop to 35%). There can’t be that many of those running on the particular day they do the data snapshot to change the numbers much.

      (BTW, if you have a 400 page book for $2.99, you’ll actually make more money in a KU read-through than you would from a sale. So whether KU is higher or lower is very dependent on your particular circumstances.)

      Another complication is that authors can choose 35% or 70%, depending on whether they want to go outside the normal price range, and whether they want to get the cost of downloads waived (which is irrelevant for text-based books, but a huge deal for graphic novels and the like).

  28. Data Guy says:

    Hi, All,

    The KU page-read underreporting being reported by many indies is clearly a significant issue, but–given that it’s unclear whether the corresponding KU borrows have the usual impact on salesranks or not–it’s unclear whether those errors would affect the AuthorEarnings calculations of KU revenue.

    I’m still trying to find out more about the issue–which, for those unfamiliar with it, is described very clearly in David VanDyke’s blog post referenced above.

    As I get a better picture of what impact, if any, it has upon the numbers in this report, I’ll share that info here.

    We should also be able to see if Amazon announces a significantly lower # of KU page reads for this month, when the usual Amazon KDP pot-size announcement comes in mid-November.

    Best,
    DG

  29. Ritesh Kala says:

    Data guy,

    In absolute terms, has there been a drop in overall indie revenues from say, last quarter and last year?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Ritesh,

      In absolute terms, Amazon indie revenue is down from last quarter, yes.
      But still significantly higher than it was at any point last year, in 2015.

      Best,
      DG

  30. Data Guy says:

    Hi, All,

    As of today, Amazon announced the size of their global September 2016 pot for KU KDP page-reads, so lets see how it compares with last month’s numbers, from August.

    For August 2016, the Kindle Unlimited page-read KDP pot size was $15,800,000, and the per-page (US) payout was $0.004575. Because the US alone accounts for the overwhelming majority of KU page reads, and because the per-page rates in the countries and currencies that make up the remainder of KU reads are pretty similar, it’s easy to turn that into an approximate total number of global KENP pages read for the month. Thus, according to Amazon:

    3,454,000,000 KENPC pages of KDP titles were read via KU in August 2016.

    By contrast, the September 2016 pot size is:

    $15,900,000

    That’s the largest monthly KU pot payment ever, and it means that Amazon KU page-read payments to authors are currently at a run rate of:

    $190 million per year

    However, the September 2016 per-page payout rate was also up, compared to August: it was at $0.004974 per (US) KU page read for September. Which means that, according to Amazon:

    3,197,000,000 KENPC pages of KDP titles were read globally via KU in September 2016.

    So effectively, Amazon is reporting 7.4% fewer KU page-reads of KDP titles in September 2016 than for August 2016.

    Which means that either:

    1. KU actually shrank somewhat in September 2016, with 7.4% fewer KU pages actually read than in August 2016
    .
    . or
    .
    2. those widely-reported September Page Flip KU glitches were somewhat larger than the Amazon-claimed 2% … and remain at least partially unaddressed

    ——————————————————————–

    Now, let’s see what Author Earnings’ own data says that KU page-read run rate looked like in early October.

    Again, keep in mind that the vast majority of the 3.2 billion September KU page reads—at least 75-80% of them—will be from titles in the Amazon.com US store. (The UK will account for another 15%-18% of those page reads, with Canada, Germany, Japan, India, and all other participating countries put together adding up to a single-digit percentage.)

    So figure the US share of the September KU total at roughly 2.5 billion or so KENPC pages… or an approximate run rate of:

    83,300,000 US KENP reads per day.

    Our October AE data captured 54.6% of Amazon’s total daily unit sales: 200,000 of their bestselling ebooks, which accounted for 580,500 Kindle units out of Amazon’s roughly 1,064,000-unit daily total.

    216,347 of those—or 37% of the captured total—were units of indie, small/medium-press, and uncategorized titles participating in KU. Their breakdown was as follows:

    151,752 indie-published
    40,510 uncategorized (and mostly unverified indies)
    24,085 small/medium publisher

    The units above for each category represent a mix of KDP retail sales and KU full-pagecount-read equivalents, in a ratio that we’ve previously calibrated at around 54% to 46%: thus a mix slightly favoring KU full-reads over retail sales.

    All of the indie KU titles, essentially all of the uncategorized KU titles, and some of those small/medium publisher KU titles are receiving compensation for their page reads out of Amazon’s monthly KU pot. Let’s assume that half of the small/medium publisher KU titles—or roughly 12,000 of them—are through KDP, rather than regular-wholesale-price-per-KU-download contracts.

    So, to calculate the number of KU page reads represented by the AE data captured by our spider, we get:

    54% of 151,752 indie units * 269 average pagecount * 1.5 KENP/page
    + 54% of 40,510 uncategorized units * 271 average pagecount * 1.5 KENP/page
    + 54% of 12,000 small/medium publisher units * 255 average pagecount * 1.5 KENP/page
    ———————————————— ——
    = 44,408,000 KENPC page-reads, from the 54.6% of Amazon’s daily units that the AE spider captured.

    As we showed in our far deeper May 2016 look into Amazon’s ebook sales “Dark Matter,” the mix of publisher and title types—and therefore KENPC yield—will be relatively similar in proportion.

    Thus, to account for the uncaptured page-read counts in our daily AE KENP total, we divide by 54.6%:

    44,408,000
    / 54.6% of all US daily page-reads captured
    ————————————————
    = 81,300,000 daily US KENP page-reads for early October.

    The fact that the AE-derived daily KENP page-read run rate for early October lands within 2.4% of the 83,300,000 average we came up with for all of September, based just on Amazon’s announced KU pot-size and page payout rate, is somewhat reassuring.

    I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into the AE-derived October number being 2.4% lower than the Amazon-derived one for September: it could just as easily be estimation error—for example, as mentioned earlier, our estimated US share of the overall global Kindle pot, at 77.5%, could have actually been high by 2.5%… or, for that matter, low by 2.5%. Only Amazon knows for sure.

    So this is probably as close as we can get for now. But it tells us a couple things:

    1. AE’s methodology for calculating KU author earnings and KU pages read still yields a fairly accurate independent match to the actual monthly KU page-read and payout totals reported by Amazon themselves.
    .
    2. The overall daily KU page-reads for early October look a lot like September did.

    .
    I know that’s a lot of numbers to wade through, so my apologies if your eyes glazed over along the way. But I figured it was worth sharing the calculations all their gory detail for those of you who want to check my math, just in case I overlooked something. 🙂

    Best,
    DG

  31. Just want to say Thank You, Thank You, to Data Guy(s?) for doing all this good work and sharing it with us. This is supremely helpful. Merci. Thanks.

  32. Thanks for the time and sweat in analyzing and commenting these numbers.. I translated so far a part of this article in French here to share it with non-english speaking authors : http://autoediteur.com/rapport-author-earnings-octobre-2016/

  33. Derek Haines says:

    I can attest to KU getting things very wrong. I am getting paid for page reads, but I don’t have a single ebook in KDP Select. I pulled out of Select and KU over a year ago. So, why am I getting KU page reads? But on sales, I go with most other comments before. My sales of ebooks and paperbacks on Amazon have tanked since July.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Derek,

      In response to your question:
      “I pulled out of Select and KU over a year ago. So, why am I getting KU page reads?”

      If a KU customer downloaded an ebook while it was still in KU, the author of that book will still get credited and paid for any pages read by that customer while the book remains on their device, even if the title was subsequently withdrawn from KU.

      If the number of post-withdrawal KU page reads you are getting is relatively small and their frequency intermittent, that’s the most likely explanation.

      Best,
      DG

  34. DG and HH:

    Thanks for the time and effort in putting all this together and analyzing it. Two-and-a-half years of dogged data mining! It’s a tremendous contribution to the indie writing community and to publishing as a whole.

    I know you have never charged for this, but if you put a little tip jar app somewhere, you could pass on that money to some worthwhile cause… like the Nanowrimo young writers program. I’m sure a lot of us would love to have a way to show our gratitude.

  35. Katie says:

    Thank you for the stats; it’s good to know it wasn’t just me as I assumed my books just fell out of favour.
    I don’t have any books in Kindle Select but still saw a definite downturn in September in the number of books purchased. My US sales have outstripped any other region since 2013, but I noticed that my Australian royalties actually hiked (by as much as $50 ) and at one point, overtook my US sales for September. It was very weird because that’s never happened before so I wondered if the US region wasn’t reporting properly on general Kindle sales.

    Because I’m not in Select, I should have been unaffected if page reads are the issue. I know people had page read problems, but that should have left my royalties untouched. It didn’t, so deduction says it’s an algorithm problem.

    My ranks seem to be going up and down like a yo-yo so I’ve stopped looking at them for now.

    I also publish through Smashwords and sales on Apple are holding steady, despite the fact that prices there are slightly higher. I’ve got 19 novels on both Amazon and Smashwords and am seeing my sales for the latter starting to easily outstrip Amazon in recent months.

    I was fortunate to see only a tiny dip in September which looks to have lost me between $50- $75 dollars for that month but I feel so sorry for other authors who are watching their income tank, especially if they’ve put everything into this and have a mortgage to pay.

    Interesting and frightening times. Feeling grateful for Apple right now.

  36. Joel Puga says:

    Hello,

    I have noticed a big increase in downloads (both paid and free) on my books on Google Play, especially on the Spanish speaking market. Could have Google made any change on their Android devices that made it easy to read books from Google Play and this is impacting Amazon sales/downloads/reads?

    Also, I had no idea there was this problem with page reads on Amazon (I’m still not on kdp select). I’ll take it as a cautionary tale. I was thinking of trying select with my next book, but I’m now having second thoughts. At best I will stay for the first 3 month period (to take advantage of free period and countdown sales) and then go wide. From this debacle is crystal clear that indies should diversify income streams even if this hurts short/medium term revenue. Go wide, translate your work for other markets, try different but related media (comics, interactive fiction, etc), get a side job, etc. Relying on a single retailer, even if it pays more than all the others together, looks like, now more than never, a bad idea.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Joel,

      Congratulations on your Google Play growth. It’s always risky to try to infer large market trends from what individual authors are seeing, however — at any given instance in time, some are up on retailer A and down on retailer B, while others are seeing the exact opposite. Which is why AuthorEarnings looks at the data on hundreds of thousands of titles and authors at a time–it’s the only way to get the full market-wide picture.

      And unfortunately, the Google Play store is not a significant factor when it comes to overall ebook sales: a year ago, Google Play accounted for less than 2% of the US ebook sales.

      And since then, with the closure of their direct publishing portal to up-and-coming new indie authors, Google’s share of the US ebook market can only have gone downhill.

      Google just doesn’t seem to take ebooks seriously as a business… which, given their strength in other areas of mobile content, is a real shame. 🙁

      Best,
      DG

  37. Michal says:

    I vote for pay-to-play ads. While other authors report decline in sales, my sales increased significantly.
    I spent $340 in September on ads and $400 in October. My sales increased, as well as profits.
    One more thing: my paperback sales increased significantly and Amazon purchased my two titles in bulk withing that period. It seems to mee like Amazon is trying to take over paperback market and they neglected ebook sales, because they already have the winning market share in that segment.

  38. Wormbook says:

    Hi Data Guy – Will you be releasing the raw CSV files for this month like you have previously?

  39. Todd says:

    Hi Data Guy,

    How have audiobooks done so far this year? I am interested in knowing more data points about audio, how its growing and looking at indie/small/medium/big 5 publisher. Being an indie author looking to expand into audio I want to know what I’m in for. Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

    Todd

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Todd,

      Audiobook sales continue to grow rapidly, for indie authors as well as for traditional publishers.

      Here is what the breakdown of audiobook author earnings and unit sales by publisher-type looked like back in May 2016:

      The October 2016 breakdowns looked quite similar, but I didn’t make explicit graphs of them.

      Best,
      DG

  40. Khuuh says:

    Data Guy your work is greatly appropriated!
    I’m especially intrigued by the rise in audio-book sales, I think it’s great to see (and hear :D).

  41. Benjamin says:

    These graphs still frustrate me because my colorblind eyes can’t differentiate between three of the colors. Please—for the love of all that is “accessible”—choose some new colors in the graphs.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Benjamin,

      Sorry about that – I’m using the default colors, that are supposed to be somewhat accessible… But clearly they don’t work for everyone.

      In the pie charts, wedges for different segments are ordered clockwise from “noon” in the exact same sequence as shown in the legend. Hope that helps some.

      Best,
      DG

  42. Data Guy says:

    Hi, All,

    Given some of the confused media coverage about this report, it’s worth noting that:


    – In absolute terms, Amazon’s overall US ebook sales are not down at all.

    – If anything, our most recent data shows Amazon selling slightly more ebooks a day than they were last year at the same time.

    – Only the relative *mix* seems to have shifted: i.e. how those ebook sales now get divided up between different publisher types.

    Best,
    DG

  43. Leo says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for your great work! I have one question regarding the kindle raw data you provided. The file only seems to have around 193k entries for books. The last quarterly report (from May) had about 1M entries. Why is this one less extensive?

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi, Leo,

      Cost & effort vs diminshing returns, mainly — a million-title dataset costs 5x as much to capture as a 200K one, while only incrementally increasing the percentage of Amazon’s daily ebook sales the data set covers.

      But by going a million deep once, we were able to definitively verify that our usual 150K-200K title data sets weren’t missing anything that might impact our analysis of the overall market. 🙂

      Best,
      DG

  44. T.R. Harris says:

    What about Kindle Unlimited? This has to have some affect on indie sales. Nearly have my income is from KU.

  45. Jeremy Loome says:

    This is algorithm-driven. I was a relatively high-earning indie author until May of last year when my income dropped by 50%. But I have more than 20 books, so I’ve been able to experiment heavily with different pricing and advertising models.

    First, after getting three-to-six BookBubs a year since 2013, I have been offered ZERO since last May. This suggests to me that BookBub and Amazon are colluding. Amazon has basically told them which categories they will allow to flourish and which they won’t. Given that BookBub (small market share notwithstanding) was running the top 20 of every category, that’s not surprising.

    Second, the algorithm now deliberately deprecates availability for indie books that curve up in sales once they hit a certain number. This seems to be tied directly to a) the number of reviews; b) the age of the book, c) the number of free copies given away of that book.

    Third, the ranking of free books has been removed entirely from the author rankings algorithm, which helps to determine visibility. This causes a catch-22 for indie authors; books that have the most reviews are typically those which also have been given away for free the most times. If they continue to give it away for free, those reviews don’t help their visibility anymore (and may even hurt it). If they stop giving it away for free, they lose their ‘magnet’ to draw people to their other titles.

    One way I can demonstrate that this is the case is to look at author rankings. Whenever my rankings climb a certain percentage in relatively short order, they have (usually once or twice per month) a precipitous one-day drop off of more than 10,000 places. In effect, the algorithm is resetting indies’ position.

    I understand the rationales, I think, behind this ham-fisted attempt at controlling market quality, eliminating cheating and dulling the influence of mass-marketers like BookBub. That, unfortunately, does not help pay for groceries.

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