The 7k Report

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Published: 2/12/2014
Written by: Hugh Howey

It’s no great secret that the world of publishing is changing. What is a secret is how much. Is it changing a lot? Has most of the change already happened? What does the future look like?

The problem with these questions is that we don’t have the data that might give us reliable answers. Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures. At most, they comment on the extreme outliers, which is about as useful as sharing yesterday’s lottery numbers [link]. A few individual authors have made their sales data public, but not enough to paint an accurate picture. We’re left with a game of connect-the-dots where only the prime numbers are revealed. What data we do have often comes in the form of surveys, many of which rely on extremely limited sampling methodologies and also questionable analyses [link].

This lack of data has been frustrating. If writing your first novel is the hardest part of becoming an author, figuring out what to do next runs a close second. Manuscripts in hand, some writers today are deciding to forgo six-figure advances in order to self-publish [link]. Are they crazy? Or is signing away lifetime rights to a work in the digital age crazy? It’s hard to know.

Anecdotal evidence and an ever more open community of self-published authors have caused some to suggest that owning one’s rights is more lucrative in the long run than doing a deal with a major publisher. What used to be an easy decision (please, anyone, take my book!) is now one that keeps many aspiring authors awake at night. As someone who has walked away from incredible offers (after agonizing mightily about doing so), I have longed for greater transparency so that up-and-coming authors can make better-informed decisions. I imagine established writers who are considering their next projects share some of these same concerns.

Other entertainment industries tout the earnings of their practitioners. Sports stars, musicians, actors—their salaries are often discussed as a matter of course. This is less true for authors, and it creates unrealistic expectations for those who pursue writing as a career. Now with every writer needing to choose between self-publishing and submitting to traditional publishers, the decision gets even more difficult. We don’t want to screw up before we even get started.

When I faced these decisions, I had to rely on my own sales data and nothing more. Luckily, I had charted my daily sales reports as my works marched from outside the top one million right up to #1 on Amazon. Using these snapshots, I could plot the correlation between rankings and sales. It wasn’t long before dozens of self-published authors were sharing their sales rates at various positions along the lists in order to make author earnings more transparent to others [link] [link]. Gradually, it became possible to closely estimate how much an author was earning simply by looking at where their works ranked on public lists [link].

This data provided one piece of a complex puzzle. The rest of the puzzle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I received an email from an author with advanced coding skills who had created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year [link]. And now we finally have some answers.

When Amazon reports that self-published books make up 25% of the top 100 list, the reaction from many is that these are merely the outliers. We hear that authors stand no chance if they self-publish and that most won’t sell more than a dozen copies in their lifetime if they do. (The same people rarely point out that all bestsellers are outliers and that the vast majority of those who go the traditional route are never published at all.) Well, now we have a large enough sample of data to help glimpse the truth. What emerges is, to my knowledge, the clearest public picture to date of what’s happening in this publishing revolution. It’s a lot to absorb, but I believe there’s much here to learn.

The Value Ratio

I’m going to start with some of the smaller lessons to be gleaned from this data. We’ll conclude this report by looking at author earnings, but I don’t want that bombshell to drown out these equally important observations.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I opened my email was these next two charts, which our data guru had placed side-by-side. What caught my eye was how they seem to be inversely correlated:

ReviewPrice

On the left, we have a chart showing the average rating of 7,000 bestselling e-books.1 On the right, we have a chart showing the average list price of the same 7,000 e-books. Both charts break the books up into the same five categories. From the left, they are: Indie Published, Small/Medium Publisher, Amazon Published (from imprints like 47North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author.2

It’s interesting to me that the self-published works in this sample have a higher average rating than the e-books from major publishers. There are several reasons why this might be, ranging from the conspiratorial (self-published authors purchase their reviews) to the communal (self-published authors read and favorably rate each others works) to the familial (it’s friends and family who write these reviews). But the staggering number of reviews involved for most of these books (over a hundred on average across our entire sample) makes each of these highly unlikely. As I’ve seen with my own works—and as I’ve observed when watching other books spread organically—the sales come before the reviews, not after. There are a number of more plausible explanations for the nearly half a star difference in ratings, and one in particular jumped out at me, again from seeing these two charts next to one another.

Note the shortest bar in one graph correlates to the tallest in the other. Is it possible that price impacts a book’s rating? Think about two meals you might have: one is a steak dinner for $10; the other is a steak dinner that costs four times as much. An average experience from both meals could result in a 4-star for the $10 steak but a 1-star for the $40 steak. That’s because overall customer satisfaction is a ratio between value received and amount spent. As someone who reads both self-published and traditionally published works, I can tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two. Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid. If they’re paying twice as much for traditionally published books, which experience will they rate higher? The one with better bang for the buck.

This raises an interesting question: Are publishers losing money in the long run by charging higher prices? Are they decreasing the value/cost ratio and thereby creating lower average ratings for their authors and their products? If so, this might have some influence on long-term sales, and keep in mind that e-books do not go out of print. What if in exchange for immediate profits, publishers are creating poorer ratings for their goods and a poorer experience for their readers? Both effects will hurt a work’s prospects down the road (a road with no end in sight). And since ratings on e-books also apply to the physical edition on Amazon’s product pages, this pricing scheme ends up adversely affecting the very print edition that higher e-book prices are meant to protect [link].

It is common these days to hear that the quality of self-published work is hurting literature in general. I counter this notion with one of my own: Pricing e-books higher than mass market paperbacks used to cost is having an even more deleterious effect on reading habits. Books are not only in competition with each other, they compete with everything else a reader might do with their time. Creating a poor experience is a way to lose readers, not a way to protect a physical edition or a beloved bookstore. And high prices are a quick and easy way to create a poor reading experience, harming everyone.

High prices are also a way to drive customers to other, less expensive books. Rather than serving to protect print editions, publishers are creating a market for self-published works. And harmful price practices is not the only way the Big Five are powering the self-publishing revolution. Next, we’re going to look at some sales numbers within these genre bestseller lists to see how underserving a high-demand market has resulted in the creation of a brand new supply of books.  

Listening to Reader Demand

The next chart shows the percentage of genre e-books on several Amazon bestseller lists according to how they were published:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings

The bestseller lists used were Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. All of the subcategories within these three main genres were also included. Why choose these genres? Because they are the most popular with readers. Our data guru ran a spider through overall bestseller lists and found that these three genres accounted for 70% of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon and well over half of the top 1,000 bestsellers.3 Future earnings reports will look at all of fiction4, but for now, we started with a simpler data set that captured the vast majority of what readers purchase.

What this chart shows is that indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon. We can clearly see that the demand from readers for more of these works is not being fully met by traditional publishing. Among the advice given to aspiring writers, you’ll often hear: “Write in the correct genre.” And here we see the sales-potential of that advice.

Looking back to the price/review comparison and also to the chart above, we can surmise that major publishers would be well-served by publishing far more titles in these genres and also by charging less for them. This is wisdom the indie community knows very well. Publishers must be tuning in, as prices began to decline last year [link], and publishers such as Simon & Schuster have announced new genre imprints [link]. Hopefully this data will help accelerate these trends, for the benefit of both the reader and the newly signed author.

Now take a look at this chart:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings

Again, daily unit sales are estimated by sales ranking, using publicly shared data from dozens of authors who have logged the correlation between rank and daily purchases (included among those authors are the two involved in this study).5 Some obvious things immediately jump out. The first is that Amazon has an incredible ability to market their own works, which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering it’s their storefront. We see from this and the previous chart that their 4% of titles command an amazing 15% of the sales. That’s impressive. It’s nearly 4 times the average unit sales volume per book. Now look at the Big Five, who with all their marketing efforts and brand recognition actually end up with pretty average per-book sales: a mere 1.2 times the overall average.

The other eye-popper here is that indie authors are outselling the Big Five. That’s the entire Big Five. Combined. Indie and small-press books account for half of the e-book sales in the most popular and bestselling genres on Amazon. Instead of feeling any sort of confirmation bias, my immediate reaction was to reject these findings. Surely they weren’t accurate. And so I complained to our magical data snoop that we were only looking at e-book sales. What percentage of the overall reading market does this represent? Our data guru said this was a question we could easily answer. You won’t believe what he found.

Everything You Know About E-Books is Wrong

The experts? They have no idea. It’s not entirely their fault; it’s just that the data they’re working with is fundamentally flawed.

You may have heard from other reports that e-books account for roughly 25% of overall book sales. But this figure is based only on sales reported by major publishers. E-book distributors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the iBookstore, and Google Play don’t reveal their sales data. That means that self-published e-books are not counted in that 25%.

Neither are small presses, e-only presses, or Amazon’s publishing imprints. This would be like the Cookie Council seeking a report on global cookie sales and polling a handful of Girl Scout troops for the answer—then announcing that 25% of worldwide cookie sales are Thin Mints. But this is wrong. They’re just looking at Girl Scout cookies, and even then only a handful of troops. Every pronouncement about e-book adoption is flawed for the same reason. It’s looking at only a small corner of a much bigger picture. (It’s worth noting that our own report is also limited in that it’s looking only at Amazon—chosen for being the largest book retailer in the world—but we acknowledge and state this limitation, and we plan on releasing broader reports in the future.)

There’s a second and equally important reason to doubt a 25% e-book penetration number: The other 75% of those titles includes textbooks, academic books, cookbooks, children’s books, and all the many categories that are relatively safe from digitization (for now). Print remains healthy in these categories, but these aren’t the books most people think of when they hear that percentage quoted. E-book market share is generally spoken of in the context of the New York Times bestsellers, the novels and non-fiction works that are referred to as “trade” publications. If we look specifically at this trade market, it’s quite likely that e-books already account for more than 50% of current sales (some publishers have intimated as much [link]). Factoring in self-publishing and further limiting the scope to fiction, I’ve seen guesses as high as 70%. But that can’t be possible, right?

I asked our data guru if we could find out. Could we look at the bestseller lists and tally by format? Of course, we would be looking only at Amazon, which might skew toward e-books—but to reiterate, we are looking at the largest bookseller in the world, digital or print. To do a first study of this sort on a smaller distributor would be less than ideal. Still, keep this caveat in mind.

We analyzed the overall Amazon bestseller lists for several categories and used the web spider to grab the text description of format type: paperback, hardback, e-book, or audiobook. This is what we found:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

Did the smelling salts work? Are you with us? It turns out that 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books. At the top of the charts, the dominance of e-books is even more extreme. 92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books!

I know, right? Allow that to soak in for a moment, and then let’s look at author earnings. Here, we will see that publishers should cross their fingers and hope that the share of e-book sales increases rather than flattens. Because they are doing quite well on the backs of their authors. Major publishers are taking in record profits [link], but they aren’t the big winners to emerge from this report. Read on. The real story of self-publishing is up next.

Writing Doesn’t Pay?

This is a story that has been sensed by many. The clues are all around us, but the full picture proves elusive. It is being told in anecdotes on online forums, in private Facebook groups, at publishing conventions, and in the comment sections of industry articles. Authors are claiming to be making more money now with self-publishing than they made in decades with traditional publishers, often with the same books [link]. I’ve personally heard from nearly a thousand authors who are making hundreds of dollars a month with their self-published works. I know many who are making thousands a month, even a few who are making hundreds of thousands a month. But these extreme outliers interest me far less than the mid-list authors who are now paying a bill or two from their writing.

My interest in this story began the moment I became an outlier. When major media outlets began asking for interviews, my first thought was that they were burying the lead. My life had truly changed months prior, when I’d first started making dribs and drabs here and there. And I knew this was happening for more and more writers every day. But that inspiring story was being buried by headlines about those whose luck was especially outsized (as mine has been).

Before we reveal the next results of our study, keep in mind that self-publishing is not a gold rush. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. There are no short cuts, just a lot of effort and a lot of luck. Those who do well often work ludicrous hours in order to publish several books a year. They do this while working day jobs until they no longer need day jobs. This is also true of the writers earning hundreds or even thousands a month. Please keep this in mind. The beauty of self-publishing is the ownership and control of one’s work. You can price it right, hire the editor and cover artist you want to work with, release as often and in as many genres as you want, give books away, and enjoy a direct relationship with your reader. It isn’t for everyone, but you’re about to see a good reason why more authors might want to consider this as an option.

Here is what our data guru found when he used sales per ranking data5 and applied it to the top 7,000 bestselling genre works on Amazon today:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

Looks good for the Big Five, doesn’t it? When it comes to gross dollar sales, they take half the pie. Remember, they only account for a little over a quarter of the unit sales. Also keep in mind that they only have to pay 25% of net revenue to the author. By contrast, self-published authors on Amazon’s platform keep 70% of the total purchase price.6  Let’s now look at revenue from the author’s perspective:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

It’s a complete inversion. Indie authors are earning nearly half the total author revenue from genre fiction sales on Amazon. Nearly half. This next chart reveals why:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

Blue represents the author. You can clearly see that for Big-Five published works, the publisher makes more than twice what the author makes for the sale of an e-book. Keep in mind that the profit margins for publishers are better on e-books than they are on hardbacks [link]. That means the author gets a smaller cut while the publisher takes a larger share. This, despite the fact that e-books do not require printing, warehousing, or shipping. As a result, self-published authors as a group are making 50% more profit than their traditionally published counterparts, even though their books have only half the gross sales revenue.

Before we move on, take another long look at this chart. Here you find everything that needs to change in the publishing industry. Readers and writers alike should take note.

A quick note on how we calculated author earnings for the Big Five publishers in the above graphs. These numbers are based on estimates of wholesale pricing for e-books (publisher’s net was modeled as 80% of Amazon price). That estimate could be off by 10% either way, but even if we adjusted it to assume a wholesale price of 120% of retail (which would mean Amazon is taking a loss on every traditionally published e-book sold), indie authors would still come out on top. Also interesting is the observation that for the top-selling genres, Amazon is currently making nearly as much profit from indie e-books as from Big Five e-books.7

It’s also worth keeping in mind that this graph ignores the long tail of publishing. We’re just looking at the top 7,000 genre e-books. This represents the most popular offerings from both self-published authors and their traditionally published counterparts, which makes it an extremely fair comparison. Other surveys have compared all self-published works to only those in the traditional route that made it past agents and editors. That is, they compared the top 1% of traditionally published titles to the entirety of self-published works. Looking at bestselling charts avoids that mistake. Here we have 7,000 e-books as they are selling on any given day, which also serves to move the discussion away from misleading outliers and into the more interesting midlist. Now let’s see how Uncle Sam feels about all of this.

Tax Brackets

We’ve seen that self-published authors are earning more money from genre e-books than traditionally published authors. But how much more? The next thing we wanted to do was estimate yearly e-book earnings for all of these authors based on their daily Amazon sales. We ran this report and put each author into one of seven income brackets. The results, again, were startling:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

Indie authors outnumber traditionally published authors in every earnings bracket but one, and the difference increases as you leave the highest-paid outliers. But even these extreme outliers are doing better with their self-published works. The scale is difficult to see, but the breakdown of authors earning in the seven figures is: 10 indie authors, 8 Amazon-published authors, and 9 authors published by the Big Five. The much higher royalties and other advantages, such as price, seem to counterbalance the experience and marketing muscle that traditional publishers wield. This is something many have suspected to be true, but which now can be confirmed.

Of course, we still doubted this even after seeing the results. Our first thought was that top self-published authors can put out more than one work a year, while Big Five authors are limited by non-compete clauses and a legacy publishing cycle to a single novel over that same span of time. Indie authors are most likely earning more simply because they have more books for sale. Was this skewing our results? We ran another report to find out, and to our surprise, it turns out that only the handful of extreme earners have this advantage. Most self-published authors are, on average, earning more money on fewer books:

The_Data_-_A_Look_at_Author_Earnings_pages

This suggests that the earnings discrepancy will grow greater over time, as self-published authors develop deeper catalogs. We hope to answer questions like this as we run reports every quarter to track shifting trends. For now, the full data set for this study has been anonymized by removing the title and author info, and is available for download below this report. By tweaking the values in the yellow areas of the spreadsheet, you are able to play around with the data yourself. Our aim here is complete openness and to invite community discourse. It is also worth remembering that all of our base data comes from publicly perusable bestseller charts, so there’s an added layer of transparency and reproducibility. The information was there all along; grabbing a useful quantity of it simply required someone like my co-author to come along and snag it.

An Easier Choice?

Choosing which way to publish is becoming a difficult choice for the modern author. This choice has only grown more challenging as options have expanded and as conflicting reports have emerged on how much or how little writers can expect to make. Our contention is that many of these reports are flawed, both by the self-selected surveys they employ, the sources for these surveys, and, occasionally, the biases in their interpretation. Our fear is that authors are selling themselves short and making poor decisions based on poor data. That is the main purpose for fighting for earnings transparency: helping aspiring writers choose the path that’s best for them. A secondary goal is to pressure publishers to more fairly distribute a new and lucrative source of income. Operating in lockstep in offering authors only 25% of net is not just unfair but unsustainable, as more and more authors are going to jump to self-publishing.

Of course, self-publishing isn’t for everyone. There is no absolute right or wrong way to publish; the path taken depends entirely on what each author wishes to put into their career and what they hope to get out of it. But as marketing falls more and more to the writer, and as self-published authors close the quality gap by employing freelance editors and skilled cover artists, the earnings comparison in our study suggests a controversial conclusion: Genre writers are financially better off self-publishing, no matter the potential of their manuscripts.

Consider the three rough possibilities for an unpublished work of genre fiction:

The first possibility is that the work isn’t good. The author cannot know this with any certainty, and neither can an editor, agent, or spouse. Only the readers as a great collective truly know. But what we may simplistically, and perhaps cruelly, call a “bad” manuscript stands only a slim chance of getting past an agent and then an editor. To the author, these works are better off self-published on the open market. They will most likely disappear, never to be widely read. But at least they stand a chance. And those who fear that these titles will crowd out other books are ignoring the vast quantities of books published traditionally—or the fact that billions of self-published blogs and websites don’t impede our ability to browse the internet, to find what we are looking for, or to share discovered gems with others.

The second possibility for a manuscript is that it’s merely average. An average manuscript might get lucky and find an agent. It might get lucky a second time and fall into the lap of the right editor at the right publishing house. But probably not. Most average manuscripts don’t get published at all. Those that do sit spine-out on dwindling bookstore shelves for a few months and are then returned to the publisher and go out of print. The author doesn’t earn out the advance and is dropped. The industry is littered with such tales. Our data shows quite conclusively that mid-list titles earn more for self-published authors than they do for the traditionally published. And the advantage grows as the yearly income bracket decreases (that is, as we move away from the outliers). It is also worth noting again that self-published authors are earning more money on fewer titles. Our data supports a truth that I keep running into over and over, however anecdotally: More writers today are paying bills with their craft than at any other time in human history.

The third and final possibility is that the manuscript in question is great. A home run. The kind of story that goes viral. (Some might call these manuscripts “first class,” but designations of class are rather offensive, aren’t they?) When recognized by publishing experts (which is far from a guarantee), these manuscripts are snapped up by agents and go to auction with publishers. They command six- and seven-figure advances. The works are heavily promoted, and if the author is one in a million, they make a career out of their craft and go on to publish a dozen or more bestselling novels in their lifetime. You can practically name all of these contemporary authors without pausing for a breath. We all like to think our manuscript is one of these. And from this hubris comes a fatal decision not to self-publish.

Why is that decision fatal? Our data suggests that even stellar manuscripts are better off self-published. These outlier authors are already doing better via self-publishing, when compared one to one. Now consider that the authors with the greatest draw, the most experience, and possibly the best abilities, are not yet a part of the self-publishing pool. What will our graphs look like once more up-and-coming authors skip straight to self-publishing? What will they look like when self-published authors have a decade or more of experience under their belts? What about when more authors win back the rights to their backlists? Or when top traditionally published authors decide to self-publish, as artists in other fields are doing? [link] [link] [link] What will these graphs look like then? We look forward to finding out.

Final Thoughts

What is presented here is but one snapshot of the publishing revolution as it stands today. That revolution isn’t over. These reports can be run so long as books are ranked. Our hope is that the future brings more transparency, not less. Other artistic endeavors have far greater data at hand, and practitioners of those arts and those who aspire to follow in their footsteps are able to make better-informed decisions. The expectations of these artists and athletes are couched in realism to a degree that the writing profession does not currently enjoy.

Our ambitious goal is to help change that, but we can’t do it alone. And so we hope others will run their own reports and analyze our data. We hope they will share what they find and that this will foster greater discourse. We also hope publishers and distributors will begin sharing their sales figures. We expect many to disagree with our analysis. We expect flaws will be found in our reasoning and our sampling methodologies. Discovering those flaws will lead to better data, and we look forward to that process.

If I had to guess what the future holds, I would say that the world of literature has its brightest days still ahead. That we have come so far in such a short period of time is revealing. We take for granted changes in other mediums—the absence of that tall rack of CDs beside home stereos, the dwindling number of people who watch live TV, that missing thrill of opening a paper envelope full of printed photos. There will be casualties in the publishing industry as the delivery mechanisms for stories undergo change. There already have been casualties. But there are opportunities as well. And right now, the benefits are moving to the reader and the writer. Speaking as both of these, I count this a good thing. I marvel that there are so many who fight for higher prices for consumers and lower pay for authors, all to protect a legacy model. That model needs to change.

Publishers can foster that change by further lowering the prices of their e-books. The record margins they’re currently earning are certainly seductive, but taking advantage of authors is not a sustainable business model. Hollywood studios had to capitulate to their writers when a new digital stream emerged. Publishers will likewise need to pay authors a fair share of the proceeds for e-book sales. 50% of net for every author is a good start. If they do this, they will stop losing quality manuscripts, back catalogs, and top talent. If publishers nurture their authors and work hard to satisfy their customers, they will see those average ratings go up and sales increase. They will see more people spending time with a book rather than on a video game or on the internet. And then the entire publishing industry, as well as those who love to read and those who hope to write for a living, will benefit.

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

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

1 The scale here reflects the effective minimum and maximum ratings observed. Nearly every book in our sample has at least three stars, which makes the difference in rating nearly twice as sensitive as a 5-point scale would indicate.

2 These could be self-published authors or small publishers. Determining which requires checking online to see if it is indeed a self-published work. Only the top 1000 or so bestselling works were checked, as this was labor-intensive and became less important with the lower rankings.

3 Across the top 1,000 bestsellers on the combined lists, these three genres accounted for 57% of titles. The reason for the drop (it was 70% across the top 100) is because many publishers fail to categorize their titles appropriately, not putting them in genre subcategories, but rather leaving them in parent categories. A future report will nail this number more closely and also comment on why publishers lose visibility by not understanding how best to categorize their e-books on Amazon.

4 As we go to press, a run on the top 50,000 bestselling titles on Amazon reveals that 69% of daily sales go to genre fiction, 22% are Nonfiction, 5% Fiction & Literature, 3% Children’s Books, while Comics and Foreign Language books round out the last percent. So we feel confident that our analysis looks at the vast majority of books sold on the largest bookselling outlet in the world.

5 Daily sales according to Amazon rank can be found in numerous places, including herehere, and here. Depending on the source, the model changes, but not enough to greatly affect the results. Keep in mind that the dollar figures and the exact sales are irrelevant to the ratio and percentages shown. Any change in those numbers impacts all books equally, so the picture of how authors are doing according to how they publish remains the same. These daily sales figures are adjustable in our spreadsheet, which contains our full data set and which we are offering at the low, low price of absolutely zilch.

6 For works priced above $2.99 and below $9.99, Amazon takes a 30% distribution fee and leaves 70% to the self-published author. For works priced above or below these thresholds, the distribution fee is 65%, which leaves 35% to the author.

7 Those in the indie author community who fear Amazon might turn its back on them or adjust royalty structures might be comforted to see here that they are more important to Amazon’s bottom line than anyone suspected. Also: The 30% Amazon takes to distribute their works is more than the 20% (or less) that the Big Five pays Amazon. Instead of worrying about a reduction of the 70% rate, indie authors might start asking when that number might go up.


241 Responses to “The 7k Report”

  1. LBrent says:

    Well, all that information should definitely get folks thinking differently about self-publishing!

    Great job, Hugh!

    • Lisa Grace says:

      Consolidating the data is something that’s needed to be done for a while. Most surveys on the book selling industry totally ignored/underestimated self publishing sales. I believe this report could lead to a paradigm shift on how publishers approach their business. Some agents are now buying small presses as they realize they can make more money publishing the authors they represent rather than waiting a year to get a book deal from a big house.
      This report is good news for authors on both sides of the fence.

  2. Rachel Aukes says:

    Wow, this is a wealth of information. Thank you for taking the time, energy, and money to pull this data together. This could (and should) get people talking for months, if not years!

  3. vrabinec says:

    Dude! Serious research there. These numbers “feel” right. Thanks for doing all this.

    Fred

    • Michael says:

      The figure seems about right. From the Wall Street Journal article Fast-Paced Best Seller: Author Russell Blake Thrives on Volumes

      “In 2013, self-published books accounted for 32% of the 100 top selling e-books on Amazon each week, on average.”

      B&N mentioned this back in April 2013:

      “Customer demand for great independent content continues to dramatically increase as 30% of NOOK customers purchase self-published content each month, representing 25% of NOOK Book™ sales every month.”

      It’s not hard to see that for the three most popular genre fiction, the number is higher.

  4. Sherrima says:

    Great article! Very informative. I have an agent and just completed my book. I was debating what route I would take. This article answered a lot of questions.

  5. Damn! Super impressive. I was just relating to some people how Amazon made at least $11,000 off my books in January, which is perfectly acceptable — as long as I make more! It’s clear from this data that Indies make more off their efforts than the Trads — on the average. Sure, there will always be blockbusters, but they’re also on the Indie side. And when an Indie hits it big, the author really cleans up. This article is destined to become the bible of indie publishing, and spell even more headaches for the Big Five. Thanks for posting it, Hugh. It had to take considerable time and effort on your part. You da man!

    P.S. You can thank Russell Blake for posting your article to The Retreat.

  6. Cora Seton says:

    These findings don’t surprise me one bit, but what a brilliant synopsis of what we self-published authors felt had to be true. I can’t wait to pass on this information to other authors.

    Self-publishing requires hard work, determination, an eye for details, and an ability to run your career like a business. It isn’t for everyone, but I’m so grateful that when I was ready to write, I got to choose this route. I quit my day job after just a few months of self-publishing and 2014 looks like it will be a banner year for me. If I’d gone the traditional route, maybe I’d have a single romance out by now.

    Maybe.

  7. Kevin Riley says:

    Finally some real numbers! Thanks Hugh!

  8. What a great report. I appreciate the restraint, because hyperbole and grand rhetorical flourishes, as entertaining as they can be, get in the way of seeing clearly. We need clear data, and this is the best I’ve seen so far.

    And bonus points for sharing the raw data. #opendata is #doingitright :)

  9. Great job! It’ll be interesting to see what arguments arise over this in the coming weeks, or even months.

  10. The proof is in the pudding. What an excellent, detailed report about how self-publishing pretty much dominates. This is the kind of stuff that new authors need to read before deciding on which path to take. Thanks for this awesome analysis, Hugh!!

  11. Marilyn Storie says:

    Wonderful stuff. This site has been sorely needed.

  12. Bob Mayer says:

    Geez– don’t let everyone in on the reality.

    I’ve always shaken my head at the stats most people are quoting, knowing that they were far from the reality for authors. The most telling is the amount trad publishers are making off of eBooks while authors are sucking wind with them.

    This is going to bring about some huge changes in the coming year.

    Thanks for doing this.

    • Tim ward says:

      This was an eye opener for me. I naturally take people at their word, so when I hear about ebooks being 25% of book sales, I just accepted it. I never thought to ask about what amount of data that stat was coming from. Very insightful.

      I second Bob and everyone else. Thanks!

      • For what it’s worth – if we back out my audio sales (which are becoming a big % these days my sales break down 61.8% ebook and 38.2% print. Most genre (fantasy) authors I speak to report similar numbers (Brandon Sanderson says hes at 2/3 ebooks and 1/3 print – a panel at Connecticon). I don’t know anyone who is under 50/50.

  13. Barry Eisler says:

    So, the most penetrating, groundbreaking, explosive article about publishing in memory. And it came from… a publisher? An agent? An industry analyst?

    A writer. And, not coincidentally, a self-published writer.

  14. Like many indie authors now gleaning this superb report, I can’t say I’m surprised. Many thanks, Hugh.

  15. Thank you for this report! With all of the defensiveness in recent articles and blog posts/comments by agents and publishers, I had a feeling the tide had turned toward self-publishing. Now there is evidence to back it up.

    I *really* look forward to the updates. I’m sure legacy publishing will try to argue against this, but they can keep wasting their time. Meanwhile, the rest of us can write and publish our genre books–and make more money to boot.

  16. Phyllis A. Humphrey says:

    This is a fantastic report. Thanks for your effort in getting the truth out to the world. If you published this, it would be the one “how to” book I’d buy. And I’d buy lots of them to give to the clueless writers I know who are still turning up their noses at self publishing.

  17. Ramez Naam says:

    I love that hard data! Thanks to you and the dev for putting it together.

    I do think there are a couple ways that traditionally published authors make money that aren’t reflected here. That doesn’t *reduce* the viability of self-pub (which is clearly now viable for a lot of people, and which I’ll probably try myself at some point), but for completeness:

    1) Amazon’s only about 30% of the market in the US. Ebooks are only about 14-15% of the market total in US. (These are both as of the last numbers I have, which are about 5 months old.) So there’s a lot of traditional pub revenue coming in that isn’t captured here. So the income bracket of a traditional pub author isn’t something you can readily compare to that of a self-pub author by scraping Amazon.

    2) Traditional pub advances are often higher than are justified by royalties * sales, particularly for authors at the high end. That makes calculating author earnings by looking at sales data difficult.

    3) Traditional pub authors get some guaranteed revenue. At the low-end it’s four figures. At the mid-list it’s usually five figures. (And in non-fiction, low six figure advances for mid-list books are not at all uncommon.) Some self-pub authors can blow past that and earn much more. But some, for whatever reason, won’t sell, and will get very little revenue. So it’s a trade-off in some cases of greater potential reward for greater risk of no or very small reward. Different people have different risk profiles based on their circumstances.

    Altogether, I’m really excited to see self-pub thriving more than ever, and to see this data on how much self-pub and indie dominate Amazon’s sales rank. It’s clear it’s an extremely viable path. For some authors and some books, it will still make sense to look at traditional publishing as well. Maybe a certain book will work best that way. Maybe your audience doesn’t read on ebook (based on your genre or or sub-genre or age group or whatever). Maybe you really want to see it in physical book stores around the country. Maybe you just get an offer that you really like.

    Or maybe self-pub is really a better option for you or for that particular book.

    Either way, more options are better, and having this hard data is fantastic.

    Best,
    Mez

  18. Well done. As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s never been a more exciting time to be an author. We have choices. Amazing, exciting choices. And I think the most wonderful thing about this message is that there is no ONE way we must choose. Indie publishing is NOT for everyone. And thank God it’s not the only choice. Just as I’m SO thankful that traditional publishing is not the only choice.

    Thanks for being such a strong advocate for the indies, Hugh. Because of front runners like you and Bella and Joe, etc. etc. we live in a brave new world now. :)

  19. Awesome, informative post. Thank you.

  20. Ann Christy says:

    Awesome job, Hugh and Data Guru!

    So, if the data was grabbed in 2013, that means the top 7000 books were looked at? If so, then that means two of mine made it in there for at least a while…at least I hope so because that would tickle me pink.

    I’ve no illusions that I got to 1500ish in ranks only because I rode on Hugh’s coattails, (and I’ll forever be grateful), but I’ve been watching others really struggle with 10 to 20 sales a month on good work. It seems that this sort of study is just what they need to see so that they know there is light available for them to share at the end of that tunnel so long as they don’t give up.

    I turned down a contract because the numbers didn’t check out in my favor but how many others, those who are selling low amounts, actually realize how short lived any boost with a publisher will be? This sorts it all very nicely.

    Thank you from the bottom of my self-published heart.

    Also…might there be one upcoming on the numbers of POD vice MM or Big5 paper sales coming soon? Inquiring minds want to know….

    Ann Christy

  21. Wow, great information. Thanks so much for taking the time to compile it all.

  22. Kim Cano says:

    Hugh,
    Thanks so much for this report. I write women’s literary fiction, and even though that wasn’t included in your study, I’m happy that in my first year I made $4,000 on my debut self-published novel. At least I can make my monthly car payment with it, which feels nice.
    Looking forward to reading future reports.
    Kim

  23. Hugh: Fabulous data here, well explored. Please also thank your secret partner.

    What an eye-opener this is.

    Patrice

  24. All I can say is Yeah! Fist pump included. I’ve been waiting for confirmation of my suspicions. Thanks for this, Hugh.

  25. Julie Musil says:

    Wow, wow, WOW! Hugh, thanks for compiling this data and for helping us make informed choices.

  26. M.J. Rose says:

    This is amazing work. For the record I’m a hybrid so I have no horse in this race to prove or disprove or challenge your hard work. But if I am reading this right its all based only on Amazon sales right? But when I look at my sales and the sales at many traditionally published authors whose data I have access to we are often selling less than 30% of our books on Amazon. Some as low as 10% or less.

    So while these charts show how well a sel-fpubbed genre author can do – how does it show that it in comparison to traditional authors whose books are for sale in many other outlets than online stores.

    Again – not challenging you, Hugh, you know I am a huge fan. I just want to be sure I understand because I’m often data challenged.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      We’ll look at other outlets soon. This is just a model for what’s possible. And no one else is doing it. (I bet some others are now, though)

    • Hi MJ,
      Just wondering where many of you hybrid and/or traditionally published authors sell. I was surprised to see that less than 30% of your sales came from Amazon.
      Cheers!
      Lisa

      • M.J. Rose says:

        Again I’m not for or against here. I publish both ways. And depending on your genre/goals/advances see value in both.

        To answer your question:Generally authors who are traditionally published are selling in any/ all/ some of these: Libraries, Target, Costco – other big box stores like Sam’s Club, airports, supermarkets, B&N, Books a Million, Indy bookstores, train stations/news kiosks like Hudson news in Grand Central…

        Plus most/many/some/all have several releases – a hardcover /ebook release then a six months to a year later a trade paperback or mass market release – so the book has re-releases.

        Also on my traditionally published books:
        95% of my print sales are non-Amazon
        75% of my ebook sales are on Amazon.
        And on my last traditionally published book sold about 35% ebooks and 65% print. And that’s without a reduced ebook sale – if/when my publisher gives me a $1.99 week the % can get skewed.

    • Tam Francis says:

      Thank you for asking. I was curious about this as well. I’m curious to know how other sales stack up against Amazon.

  27. First, it’s impossible to thank-you enough for putting this together. I’m a programmer and self-published author and I threw a few hours at this a couple years ago and concluded that to do what I needed was going to require more time than I was willing to spend. And you’ve made calculations I hadn’t even thought of. I fully appreciate the amount of effort that went into this.

    Second, Ramez Naam wrote:

    “Amazon’s only about 30% of the market in the US. Ebooks are only about 14-15% of the market total in US. (These are both as of the last numbers I have, which are about 5 months old.) So there’s a lot of traditional pub revenue coming in that isn’t captured here.”

    I could believe that Amazon is only 30% of the U.S. book market overall. Which means it’s impossible that ebooks are only 14-15% of the market total based on the above data. If you mean that Amazon is only 30% of the ebook market, I’d like to see your figures, because not only is that lowest figure I’ve ever seen floated in the past four years, this data is the first time self-published ebooks have been really accounted for and it suggests that any estimates we’re getting to date could be off by an order of magnitude. If you have links for this data, I’m sure many of us would be grateful and interested to see them.

    • Ramez Naam says:

      Edward,

      That 30% is Amazon’s share of all consumer book sales, print and ebook combined, in the US, measured in dollars (not in number of books). It’s from a publisher’s weekly article from September 2013. Clearly their share of ebooks is much higher. I see that quoted at 50%, but personally my ebook sales are much more slanted towards Amazon than that.

      Similarly, the 14-15% share that ebooks have of the market that I quoted is share of dollars spent, not share of books sold, and also not share of author earnings.

      It’s almost certain that ebooks, because they’re often self published, and even when traditionally published have higher royalty rates than print, make up a substantially higher fraction of author earnings than they do of consumer spending.

      Lots to think about. Thanks again to Hugh and the anonymous developer behind this for the data.

      • Hi Ramez -

        Thank-you for the reply. So if Amazon has 30% of the dollars of books sold and the data above shows that the vast majority of books sold by Amazon are ebook as opposed to other editions, it’s impossible that ebooks only have 14-15% of the market. Even if that figure above of 92% of Amazon’s sales being kindle is in units, not dollars and even if bringing in the sales other than the genre sales (which Howey has shown dwarf all other Amazon sales) , it’s still very likely that at least 70 of their dollars in book sales are from ebooks. Which means that Amazon ebooks alone are over 20% of the book market in dollar figures, and certainly Apple and Nook have to bring that up some.

        And honestly, that 30% estimate assumes that publishers weekly did not underestimate Amazon’s overall book market share by ignoring the half of their ebook sales which no one has hard numbers on (until now, to some extent). It certainly sounds in the ballpark, but the data presented here definitely raises questions. It seems likely to me based on this that Amazon may sell at least 50% of the total genre fiction (all formats) sold in the U.S. and that Apple – another market where indies have had some success – is likely to have another chunk of it.

        There are some obvious conclusions to be drawn from that, but I will grant that this data is for only two days and is probably not enough to make “hard” conclusions. But it is enough to suggest that data garnered from traditional sources could be way, way off.

        • Ramez Naam says:

          Amazon does seem to sell more ebooks than any other format. They announced that ebooks had surpassed all print books in 2011. But I think two things temper that when looking at overall dollar share:

          1) The head of the curve (the top books) is potentially very different in rank distribution than the tail of the curve. Kindle readers, in my experience, scan the “top N” lists in their preferred genre on Amazon, and will often make impulse buys, particularly if a book is very inexpensive. I’ve had books in the top 100 in both ebook and print format, and the feedback loop is much more powerful in ebook in my experience (maybe because of instant gratification, maybe because of lower price, maybe something else).

          What that means: I very very much doubt that 92% of Amazon’s unit sales of books are kindle. That may be true in the very head of the curve. But in the middle and the tail, I’d hazard a guess that the representation of kindle and print books becomes more equal.

          2) The average price for indie and self-pub ebooks that this analysis (the one in this post that we’re commenting on) found was between $3 and $4. I’ll bet if we weighted that by position in the sales rank, we’d find that it was even lower, with the ones at the very top of the list often being $1.99 and sometimes $0.99. Kindle buyers seem pretty price sensitive. Or at least, low price seems a frequent feature of kindle books at the top of the best seller lists. That lowers the dollar impact that the high unit sales of ebooks have in customer dollar share.

          Indeed, I just saw a different market share study, done by asking samples of book readers about their purchases, that said that ebooks were now about 15% of book spending, but about 30% of book sales, which dovetails with the observation of generally low price for the top selling ebooks.

          • Hugh Howey says:

            If you look at our spreadsheet, we weight the sales toward the high end. We use 7K per day for the #1 position, which seems to be about right right now.

            That #1 position is practically never a print edition, btw. That tells you something.

            And keep in mind that the percentages of “book spending” vs. “book sales” aren’t looking at profit. Half of a print sale goes to the retailer and the printer, so your profit is already in e-book territory. Publishers are making record profits as print declines and digital takes off, and there’s a reason for this.

  28. Fascinating data. Thanks for compiling and presenting it.

    I second the points made by Ramez Naam about the trad pub income streams that aren’t reflected here.

    I’m also curious as to why Amazon Publishing isn’t counted in on the trad pub side in many of these conclusions. In some ways, it’s unlike the Big 5 (much less emphasis on print distribution and marketingm and of course, its retail might), but in terms of advances, royalties, contract terms, timelines, etc., it’s completely traditional–at least, for non-celebrity authors such as myself.

  29. Marshall Estes says:

    This is definitely an eyeopening report. Thank you for taking time to put it together. This gets my juices flowing for writing again.

  30. Laura Taylor says:

    Brilliant and deeply appreciated.
    Laura Taylor – Romance Writer

  31. Helen Ginger says:

    Probably the best summary of data I’ve read. Thanks for all the work you put into this.

  32. AngryGames says:

    Nice to see some real investigation into self-publishing instead of just throwing around numbers that come out of someone’s backside more often than not. It isn’t exact, and cannot be until the ebook retailers release real data, but this is better, by far, than anyone else’s attempts.

    It’s also nice to know that the things Konrath and Eisler have been saying for a long time are getting some hard evidence behind them (we self-pubs know they are almost always right, but this a good layer of icing on the cake).

  33. Alexis says:

    I am the audience you are doing such great service for – the fledgling author who is trying to make reasonable decisions in the face of huge uncertainty. I turned down a traditional contract last summer (mostly because it was going to take too long) and I’ve questioned that decision on an almost daily basis ever since. Everybody I tell about it gives me the “pity face.” You’ve done me a huge favor both in this incredible report and on your blog. Regardless of what happens with my book I will eternally be grateful.

    And also this…
    “It turns out that 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books.” BOOM goes the dynamite!

    ;)

    • Glenn says:

      Alexis,

      I’ve looking a self publishing date coming up over the horizon so I hear you! To soothe your concern about having turned down a traditional publishing offer, I want to share what happened to someone I met through a friend. I wanted to learn from her experience and maybe so can you.

      She got a $3000.00 advance on a book she wrote about Reiki. She never saw another dime. It was translated into foreign languages and sold overseas. She never saw the first euro. What struck me the most, however, was the series of emotions that flitted across her features one after the other – concern / disbelief / disillusion – and then settling into disgust as she told her story. Despite her protests, the publisher had chosen a cover where the practitioner’s hands were TOUCHING the client. You don’t touch the patient when working with Reiki energy so the cover was a flat-out wrong. There was nothing she could do because she had signed away those rights.

      So, Alexis, you follow your heart and your instincts no matter what! I popped over to your blog and I can tell you that you’re fun to read… and I don’t even have children!

      Oh, and I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am either…

      • Glenn says:

        … and my fingers typed too fast on the iPad keyboard in that first sentence… oops. “I’m looking at a self publishing date…”

  34. Avril Sabine says:

    Thank you for going to so much trouble to produce this data and report. It’s greatly appreciated.

  35. Mimi Strong says:

    Great report! The prawns are alive and well!

  36. Sandra Marine says:

    Hugh – simply brilliant info. Thank you!

  37. J Washburn says:

    The thing I love about Hugh Howey is how HUMAN he is. I think he’s successful because of the way he treats people. Thanks for sharing this with all of us!

  38. Miguelito says:

    First off, I love this kind of analysis. I deal with compiling stats like this in my day job and it’s always so much fun to do it yourself as well as read the work of others.

    But.

    I’m going to copy and paste something I left at another website that was discussing this study.

    “It turns out that 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books. At the top of the charts, the dominance of e-books is even more extreme. 92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books!”

    Whoa. That doesn’t seem to strike anybody as weird? 84% of the top 2500? 92% of the top 100? Jebus, that is a *huge* percentage of total book sales.

    To look at that another way, if you take out audiobooks, that means only 12% of sales of the top 2500 are paper copies. Of the top 100, only 4% are paper copies. I know e-books have been continually increasing their share of the market, but paper only represents 12% of the top 2500 sellers and 4% of the top 100?

    That doesn’t strike anybody as at least a tad unrealistic that so few paper copies would be sold anymore? Or much more than a tad unrealistic?

    The alternative explanation is that Amazon’s ranking algorithm (a black box that everybody has tried to game but nobody has figured out) has pushed Amazon’s Kindle e-books much higher in the rankings than their sales would otherwise justify. This, of course, would lead to a significantly overweighted representation of Kindle e-books in this study.

    Which would skew the results of the entire study.

    I’m just having a really hard time believing this analysis as based on those book sales stats alone. To me, it indicates something is wrong with the underlying data.

    • I agree that number seems high. But here’s the thing – Hugh provided raw data. And a glance at the genre bestseller lists suggests that it’s likely true. Take a look at the top sellers in Books> Romantic Suspense. This is all books, all formats.
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/13389/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_3_3_last

      I only count 6 books in the top 100 that aren’t the kindle edition, and almost all of those are pre-releases. I glanced in mysteries/thrillers and only ten books (7 audio, 3 paper) are non-kindle in the top 100.

      This is definitely different than a couple years ago – there were still a majority of books in the list which were kindle, but it wasn’t like this.

      • Hugh Howey says:

        Yup. We didn’t believe the results either. I mean, we sat and stared at the results. We looked for what we’d done wrong. And then we glanced at the lists and realized this is just the way it is right now. The game has changed.

        • Just to check… is this really 86% of sales? Do those charts separately list ebook and pbook positions, or are they combined with the most popular format being the default listing?

          If the latter, then it’s still really big news ebooks are the most popular format for 86% of bestsellers, but that’s very different from ebooks being 86% of bestseller sales. It’s a really striking finding, so I want to make sure the basis for it is solid.

    • CrissyMoss says:

      Miguelito, yes, it struck me as weird too, until I thought about it a little more.

      This report only takes into account Amazon, and specific genre fiction. We already know that a lot of book stores are failing around the country, unless they do little niche sales, or sale used books. So it isn’t that surprising that paper books are slowly going down. It is likely that if we could account for all the paper books sold in, say, Walmart, Target, B&N, etc, that the gulf wouldn’t be as wide.

      Also, if/when they do a report that adds in things like non-fiction, and the rest of the store, the gulf might get a little narrower there, but probably not much.

      I’ve been saying for the last few years that ebooks are going to become the norm, and people are going to reserve paper books for those books which they really love, and want to display, so this isn’t surprising me all that much.

    • You made a mistake. The Amazon Best Seller lists are listed according to number of units sold in the previous 24 hours, not on Amazon rank which, as you note, has a black-box algorithm that takes in sales in the last hour, last day, last 30-days and time since most recent sale with an apparent weighting algorithm for new releases. Thus, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The data in the report holds fairly accurately, I would say.

    • John O'Connor says:

      I’m an aspiring writer but a reader first. I have over 300 Kindle ebooks mainly the genres above including Hughs work. I haven’t bought a print version of a genre book in 3 years but in the last week alone I bought 10 ebooks. I only ever buy print non-fiction now.

  39. Aubrey Rose says:

    Holy. Butts. Hold onto yer pickles, cause this rodeo ain’t stopping!

  40. As a long-time journalist, I can’t imagine how many hours you and Data Guru spent working on this, Hugh. I’m so inspired by your thoughtful work, humility and transparency. As a writer and reader, I’m grateful. You could be sitting by a pool counting your money! :)

    Recently I’ve seen a couple of curl-your-toes-shrill blog posts about how horrible self publishing is–from authors I like (but will no longer buy). Apparently they feel they’re doing some kind of community service (????), but they sound desperate and scared, as if they believe writers must fight each other for a few publishing scraps. Now that I think about it, isn’t that convenient for the Big Five?

    Change often is difficult, of course, but it’s also exciting. Especially for those of us who shun the idea of publishing as a zero-sum game. Cheers! And viva la revolution!

    • CrissyMoss says:

      I’ve also run across a few of those, Kelley. Some who were specifically saying self publishers were lazy, and impatient, unwilling to do the work to get traditionally published. It was kind of sad.

  41. Pamela Aares says:

    Hugh– thank yo for doing this– as ann indie author launching a four book series (The Heart of the Game) you have given me encouragement for those days (like today, finishing up the taxes!) when the expenses for excellent editors, cover designers and proofreaders still outweigh sales. For readers and writers there has never been a better time for great stories to reach readers. Thank you, Hugh!

  42. Alex P. Berg says:

    Given that some of these numbers mirror what I heard at the recent Superstars Writing conference (specifically the sales of e-books compared to print books in genre fiction), I’m more inclined to believe the whole kit and caboodle. And that makes me a happy camper.

  43. Hugh – a big thank you! My first book is just out – The Madras Mangler – published by a smaller publisher; and I am ready to send out my second. Tearing my hair out as there’s not much info out there on the best route to go. Your report is a great help, though of course India is not that advanced in Internet or eBook penetration. But still, self-publishing seems a great option, considering the control that we have over our precious baby and as we’re not making much with a traditional publisher anyway. Thanks once again and keep them coming!

  44. Dara Carr says:

    Mind-blowing! Thanks so much for the analysis and these data. This piece is a game changer.

  45. Brenda says:

    Excellent report! I just shared the link on the Indie Earnings part of my Show Me The Money section of my website. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

  46. Thank you for culling these numbers, applying analysis, then sharing so generously. Rarely see the power of the web working in such a positive way these days.

  47. Transparency in data is wonderful to have. I’m happy to see that indie books gain higher review ratings, and that indie best-selling authors earn more money on average. And if ebooks are truly outselling all the other formats, that’s wonderful news for indie authors who can’t get their print books sold in bookstores.

    The only value that a Big 5 Publisher has is the power of marketing. When they choose to offer this to a debut author, it’s a mighty offer. Very few authors have the skills or time to self-promote effectively. So I don’t begrudge the major publishers from taking such a large percentage of the profit. The author gets their books out there, and once they gain a fan following, they are free to self-publish their next few books and earn more profit on their own.

  48. Maren Hayes says:

    A great read–and more encouraging news for indies. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting of quantifying the sea change roiling the publishing industry. Candor like this will shift the conversation from spin and wishful thinking to real. Real is good–for readers and writers. Looking forward to updates, refinements and expansion.

  49. Wando wande says:

    Interesting report.

    I was wondering, how do you guys tell which book is self-published and which isn’t? For some books, it’s easy to tell, but many other self-published books are published under author-owned imprints.

  50. Joanna Penn says:

    Thanks so much for doing this Hugh and Data Guru – my husband is a statistician and we’ve talked before about doing some kind of bigger data analysis, because I am always talking about the trad/indie/hybrid thing and he always says ‘case studies don’t count.’ :) So it’s great to see some more analysis and a brilliant start to this Author Earnings journey.

    (1) Please think about a way we can all support you in this – perhaps through a Donation button – as we all would love to see this continuing but it has to be sustainable for such an amazing amount of work

    (2) In terms of data I’d like to see – it would be something about the non-US markets for digital through Kobo and iBookstore as well as Amazon. Lower prices will be more important in growth markets and as we have seen in Germany in the last few weeks, it’s like 2011 in the US, where low prices undercut traditional publishing and all top 10 books on Amazon Kindle charts were indie.

    It might also be interesting to take one genre (because of the amount of data) and use a larger depth to see if indies at the lower end are making more than trad pub authors at the lower end of the rankings (since many of us sit down here too!)

    Thanks again for all your hard work.
    Joanna

    • Hugh Howey says:

      Hey Joanna,

      Thanks for the kind words. I don’t need the money; I’m happy to give to someone besides Uncle Sam.

      Love your ideas for reports to run. We’ll tackle what we can. Hopefully others will jump in as well. Going to be an exciting year, I think. (And thanks for all the amazing work you do!)

      Best,
      Hugh

  51. A brilliant report, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to compile all the data and share it with us!

  52. Just what everyone else has said — thanks to Hugh and his data guru for this terrific piece of work. The big publishers must surely know what’s going on, hence the recent PR blitz by Maass and the others.

  53. I’m unclear on whether I’m a “Indie Published” author or an “Unclassified self-publisher.” Not sure what the difference is. Anyway…

    I’m interested in your view on the “bands” of earnings self-published authors get. You seemed to be saying that most authors earn “enough to pay a few small bills.” Then earning hundreds, or thousands, a month is unusual. (I’d agree that more than that is lucky and probably far from the norm.) I started thinking, “hey, this seems to be working, people must like this stuff” when I got a couple of thousand (dollars) in sales per month. Are you saying that I was being hard on myself? I should have been happy with tens of dollars? (Or tens of dollars should have indicated I was doing okay might be a better term.)

  54. This is fabulous data. Thanks for not only pulling it together but sharing it.

    I still suspect you’re missing another segment of the market though. I doubt that I’m alone in having many more than three titles selling steadily (in excess of 20 republished backlist, plus new indie releases), and most of it humming along steadily below the 5000 ranking point on Amazon. There may be a lot of authors with deep lists who are making good money yet doing so without huge visibility. FWIW I just love this. I can focus on writing in a way that hasn’t been possible since I first sold to a traditional publisher in 1992.

    Thanks again for the survey results!

    Deborah
    also writing as Claire Delacroix

  55. “Data drives decisions” is common business wisdom. Writers, as a group, have not always been stellar in the biz arena. That’s changing of necessity as indie exapnds.

    This report will help writers make better decisions. Well done, Hugh.

  56. Stunning report! Have tweeted it. I am especially interested in that 3% children’s books figure… is it a growing market or a shrinking one? Food for thought.

  57. hi, hugh…….after 50 million books sold, i learned more from this report than i had learned from almost a half-century of stumbling through this business….thanks, warren murphy

  58. Rob Cornell says:

    Yet, already, the legacy apologists are moving into denial mode, criticizing the data without even really looking at it. Absolute Write (supposedly a pro-author forum) wouldn’t even let their community discuss it. They shut down the thread with the link to the data and article after only 7 responses.

    Sad.

    But the rest of us can see the writing on the wall. And the writing is in giant capital letters in Hugh Howey’s hand. Thanks, Mr. Howey. This truly does make it loads easier for writers to make the right decisions about their careers in this changing world.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      That site does more to harm writers than even publishers, which is saying a lot. Very sad. I just have to keep mentally hugging those people and hoping they find peace one day and that they stop being cruel to others.

    • Absolute Write shut down the thread for very good reasons:

      “Since the OP didn’t stick around to offer her reasons for starting the thread[1], and since everyone[2] seems to find big problems with the math and handling of the statistics referred to, and since as I posted upthread we’ve had numerous discussions here lately on this issue[3], I am locking this one for now.”

      [1] Between the post where they asked the OP to come back and provide “reasons” why the report is relevant, and the post where they locked down the thread, exactly 60 minutes elapsed. Clearly OP wasn’t coming back after a full hour had elapsed.
      [2] “Everyone” = 2 people.
      [3] And it’s not like there’s been any new data to discuss since then.

    • That site is the absolute worst bunch of head in the sand ostriches that exists. I can’t remember who coined it but a better name for them is “Absolute Wrong.” I realize they are pro-traditional – but to constantly suppress anything but “the party line” is shameful and a disservice to the authors they are trying to help.

  59. Wando wande says:

    And interesting report definitely. It gives me a lot to think about.

    I think the report would probably be more explicit and less finicky if the data is analysed by sales rank rather than by sales. I can’t quite trust the sales conversion ratio you use.

    I was wondering about a few things. The pie chart showed the top 100 genre books breakdown by format. You say that “…92% of the Top-100 best-selling books in these genres are e-books!”

    How do you define “Top” genre books? Which ranks to do you use? The ranking system for ebooks is different from the ranking system for books, which by the way, doesn’t differentiate between hardbacks and paperbacks or even books without paper versions depending which level sublist you look at. Not to mention, a lot of bestselling ebooks don’t have corresponding paper versions.

    More troublingly, there are titles that have a high book rank seemingly because the ebook version ranks high, but their corresponding paper books versions ranks very low! E.g. The Anonymous Girl (Count of Monte Cristo) ranks #74 in the overall kindle store and has a book rank of #15 in thrillers/mysteries/suspense list. However if you click on the paperback(the only book version it has), it lists a bestseller book rank of 218226. And note the title Gods of Guilt with an overall kindle rank of 82, its hardback lists a bestseller book rank of 540, but with a thrillers/mysteries/suspense book rank of 17, and that’s ranked below The Anonymous Girl in the thrillers book list.

    With an example like that, I do wonder what you mean by “Top” or how you could make those pie charts that shows “top” books by format.

    I just looked back at the comments. It seems Miguelito already echoes my concerns.

    Anyway this is an interesting study. If you look at strictly ebook data, then I can agree that your conclusions are less debatable. Making sales conclusions hardbacks and the like is a bit more complicated.

    • The Amazon Best Seller lists rank books by Unit Sales in Last 24 Hours, so ebooks and print books compare side by side on an even keel. However, they rank products by ASIN, not by title or ISBN. Thus, each edition of a book is ranked independently. You can often find a title listed twice on a bestseller list, almost always with the Kindle edition ranking better.

  60. Doug Gibson says:

    You guys are doing a wonderful, fantastic service to authors everywhere. Thanks so much!

    One little thing, though: it’d be nice if you could, either in a footnote, or in the body of the report, or on the “home” page, define your categories.

    “Indie” is an especially vague term. For most posting here, I gather an “indie” is an author publishing independently—but that raises the question of what data is missing that prevents you from categorizing the “uncategorized single authors.”

    Adding to the confusion is the fact that “independent” is a term that some small presses use to describe themselves. For example, the sort of presses eligible for the “Ippys,” Independent Publisher Book Awards.

    Finally, it would probably be useful to indicate—again, at least in a footnote—which publishers you count in the “big five,” and whether that includes all imprints of those publishers.

    Again, though, these are small things compared to the enormous service you’ve rendered. Thanks so much!

  61. Harvey Black says:

    A real eyeopener. As an Indie (using a Self-Publisher) author I have found this data and the conclusions resulting from it fascinating reading. I track my own sales on Amazon via Novelrank, but I am dependent on all other feedback from my Publisher. With five novels, two of them classed as Amazon Best Sellers in their genre, my sales have steadily climbed. I have moved away from printed books to the POD system and find 80% of my sales are now eBook sales. Keep up the good work, I shall certainly be tracking your output. Harvey Black

  62. “6 For works priced above $2.99 and below $9.99, Amazon takes a 30% distribution fee and leaves 70% to the self-published author. For works priced above or below these thresholds, the distribution fee is 65%, which leaves 35% to the author.”

    Writers,

    Is the reason AMZ does this, (leave you with 35%-instead of 70%) is because they WANT you to price in that bracket, OR, because that’s where most ebook prices fall?

    I’m confused, because there are still plenty of, “BIG books,” by BIG authors that regularly price above ten bux on AMZ, and unless you’m selling by the zillion, them numbers don’t make sense.

    Or maybe AMZ have a different rate for the really large sellers? I dunno.

    brendan

    • Ann Christy says:

      Brendan – I’m sure there are obscure and wonderful reasons why that is happening. However, one person very logically pointed out to me (because I’m new so I price at .99 and 1.99 depending on length) that they don’t charge for the download, regardless of book size, when you are priced lower. Hence, that would take up a bigger percentage of profit. Just my 2.5 cents – Ann

    • David I says:

      BIG e-books by BIG authors that are self-published, and more than $10?

      Im not really aware of those. There’s plenty of $9.99-$12.99 e-books in the Kindle store, but they are usually from the Big Five. Right?

  63. Isobel kay says:

    If I were an agent or big five publisher I’d be very worried by now… Or take your advice. This info is dynamite and thanks so much for sharing.

  64. Wow. What a comprehensive analysis, Hugh. I wish most (or ANY) news outlets would report with this much detail. Thanks for this.

    Michael

    p.s. — I’m in the middle of “Shift” now. Blown away.

  65. Terri Reid says:

    Thank you for taking the time to create this report. As an indie author with books ranked in the top 100 of my genre – I am frustrated by the “paper ceiling” created by traditionally published authors. I recently was interested in joining a writer’s guild of writers who I thought were “like-minded” until I read their requirements. Unless you were published by a traditional publisher (and they were specific with their terms) you were not invited. I clicked on a number of the members of the guild and found they had published less, were ranked lower and have a lower number of reviews than I had. When are we going to get over this silliness and give credit to the creation and not the path through which is was created?

    Anyway – thank you and congratulations. Oh, and thanks for taking a scissor to the paper ceiling!!!

    Terri Reid

  66. Chris Eboch says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. As a now hybrid author, I like to see solid evidence to help me make choices (and to remind me of why I made those choices, when the self-publishing sales are very slow). I write for both children and adults. The evidence seems clear for adult genre fiction, but less clear for children’s books, since they make up such a small percentage of bestsellers. School and library sales can be important, which means distribution channels are important, and there are still gatekeepers (sometimes with biases) preventing access to readers. I would love to see a more detailed analysis of children’s books. I know self published books and e-books are growing for kids, but I’m not sure how close the numbers parallel adult genre fiction.

  67. C.S. Lakin says:

    Thank you so much for all your effort on behalf of writers! I’ve been self-publishing for two years now and decided to target genre and careful use of keywords to launch my historical romance. Just my one title is earning me more than $3k a month and often rides into the top paid #100. I test I’ve been doing (and charting daily) is to use keywords on the product pages to hit the tops of ranking lists (even before selling any copies) because I feel discoverability is all in having your book show up in those top 20 books when keywords are searched.

    My genre experiment that went a bit viral last month (on Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer Site:Genre vs. Author Platform) explored the relationship between sales and writing to fit the genres that sell. Since then many authors have asked me just what are the top genres, so this is really helpful. I’d like to know if there are ways to examine the sub genres of these main sellers to see which have a better supply/ demand ratio. Some seem to have a huge demand but not that many great books to choose from. Any thoughts on that?

  68. Thank you so much. I was wondering what I would be reading at half term…. now I know. So much great data here to take in and absorb.
    Thank you again
    Emma x

  69. I made the decision to go Indie with my novel “Starfish” after reading Hugh Howey’s story in the WSJ last spring. I’ve never looked back. Howey’s “Wool” sits on my bookshelf right next to a copy of “Starfish”, but the biggest thrill has been connecting, personally, to a growing readership. Indie has facilitated an ongoing dialogue that has greatly enriched the writing experience for me. Thank you, Hugh, for encouraging the rest of us!

  70. Excellent! Tweeted key facts today. Reblogging 2/15. THANKS!

  71. Thank you. Having been a traditionally published nonfiction author with modest success, I struggled and delayed far too long to return the backlist to life. This information would have made that decision so much easier at the time. Well done!

  72. Excellent data. Glad to know as I begin my self publishing efforts that I might be on the right track for this brave new world and not wasting my time.

  73. Thanks for all this data info that will unite writers (whether Indie or trad) and help drive our businesses. Mostly, thanks for the support to make it possible for writers to continue doing what we love (for decent remuneration).

  74. Minx Malone says:

    I posted this somewhere else but I wanted to post here because I think it’s important to point out that the earnings aren’t the most important part of this report. These numbers are going to be pretty raw since it’s hard to make huge leaps based on a small amount of data. However for me the most important thing wasn’t “look how much $$ indie authors are making”.

    It was “look how much$$ indie authors are making vs. their trad-pubbed counterparts.”

    The graphs that show the blue section for author earnings and then on the trad-pubbed line you see how small the blue section for the author is and how HUGE the red section for the publisher is – these are astonishing to look at next to each other. Not that publishers don’t deserve their cut but should it be that much? And should it be so much more than the author? These are the questions…

    I think that’s why this info is making such a huge impact. It’s not about the hard and fast dollar figures. It’s the RATIOS that are jaw-dropping. I make THIS vs. I could have made THAT is pretty wild.

    It’s nice to see what I’ve been experiencing over the last 3 years borne out in data.

  75. I work with a lot of new indie authors, doing developmental and final editing for them, helping them to get their books published and to set up a promotional platform. We have SO needed this type of data! So much has been media hype — big or little numbers — based on those outliers or publishers’ reports from legacy publishers. Makes it hard for aspiring authors to have realistic expecations.

    THANK YOU!

  76. MJ Summers says:

    Hi Hugh,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to research and write this article. As a new author, I am appreciative of anyone who is willing to help others through the publishing jungle.

    I am currently enjoying a great deal of success with my first novel and am one of those authors staying awake at night trying to figure out my next move. I am currently only published on Amazon so even though my sales rank has been in the Top 100 Paid for weeks, I won’t be adding “New York Times Bestseller” to my covers anytime soon. With the changing times, maybe those achievements don’t boost an author’s career as much as they used to. If you have any thoughts on that, I would love to hear them.

    It is an exhilarating time to be an author. It seems to me that the possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The industry seems ripe for a new type of publishing company to emerge that has the power to distribute paper editions but will offer more flexible terms to suit the needs of the author and would even allow them to maintain their e-book rights. Maybe we’re about to see the Big Five reinvent themselves.

    All the best to you and yours,
    MJ

  77. I’m curious when this data was run (maybe I missed the date)? At any rate, I made more in a month off of one title than one of my author friends made off their entire advance. My print rights are for sale-publishers still have markets reach and abilities I can’t touch. My ebook rights are not.

  78. Jim says:

    Hi Hugh and Data Guru,
    First, I appreciate this insightful report for aspiring authors to give them a sense of the business behind doing what they love. Data will only grow in availability and richness going forward, if you choose to leverage it.

    Do you have analysis in hand or planned to determine if an author benefits from cross-publishing the same book in multiple formats, such as e-book published as audio book? And, if there is a correlation between the number and type of formats published (widest choice for reader) vs. an increase in sales?

  79. Julia Hidy says:

    You are a gem, Hugh Howey! And are a true authors’ advocate. As a self-publisher, I’m very appreciative of the thoughtful work you’ve done to prepare this report. It is excellent. I had a hunch that the numbers and percentages you’d cited were the case, but your research confirms it. I’ll be re-reading your report many times.

    My hope is that C-level management at Amazon, iBooks, Play and Kobo, etc., will read your report as well. To me, it’s clear that the financial tipping point has arrived. May online booksellers finally dial in self-published authors so we can gain equal access to front end uploading multi-media, enhanced edition (rather than back-end or side-loading) and new media content directly onto their platforms, rather than have to go through aggregators, as we do now.

    It would also make it better for us if we could produce our own audio books without having to hire and provide a royalty cut to a producer and/or narrator. A few of us actually know how to produce our own audio books and content and shouldn’t have to take on useless partners who cut into our profits.

    Self-publishing always was the future of publishing. The critical 50% mark has been reached. Further change will be inevitable.

    Mille grazie.

  80. Susan says:

    Hi, Hugh and Anonymous Data Monger:

    First of all, thanks so much for all your hard work. This is important for all writers to consider when they’re deciding whether to self-publishing or sign that next book contract. Congrats! This is the most relevant data I have seen since I started my own self-publishing journey.

    I’m not a statistician, but I was a program analyst for government for almost a dozen years and worked with data on a daily basis. I didn’t compile the data but I did request it and worked with our stats mongers to formulate it to meet my needs for reports I wrote, briefings, etc. I listened carefully to their provisos and warnings about the stats and what they can and cannot tell us. I think you’ve shown the same caution with this data.You’ve made a point of stressing that this is just a day in the life of Amazon, and represents a slice of that day — the top selling books in genre fiction. I think the data looks pretty damn good and the conclusions to be drawn are startling.

    However, I am a bit reluctant to extrapolate from this slice of a day to yearly income and tax brackets. While there is much to learn about the bestsellers in genre fiction and what proportion is indie vs. legacy, and what their respective slices of the pie amount to be, extrapolating from that day to annual income from sales is a bit dicier.

    For example, if you picked November 9th, I would have been the #2 bestseller in Contemporary Romance and would have sold ~3300 ebooks that day. Pick a day three weeks later and I was around #600 in Contemporary Romance and sold a couple hundred books. My place in the top 7000 books in Contemporary Romance fluctuates widely, depending on a number of factors, such as the place in the new release curve, the monthly pay cycle, and the weekly book-buying cycle. It also fluctuates based on whether I have a current or recent sale ongoing or if some bigger book blogger has reviewed my book or series.

    If you took November 9th and extrapolated to the year for me, you’d wildly overestimate my yearly income. If you took a day when I was around #1200, you’d wildly underestimate my yearly income.

    If you took a release month, you’d overestimate, if you took a date three months after a release, and just before a new release, etc. you’d get a different estimate. I’m sure you and your data monger, bless his/her soul, know this as I’m sure all self-published authors who watch their stats over time will know.

    How to get around this? Pick a month and collect data for sales for each day. This would be great to know, but would still be partial. But it would show a bigger slice of the life of Amazon bestselling genre book sales. Of course, a year of data would be spectacular. One can dream. :)

    I also wonder about legacy’s ability to buy coop at Amazon — legacy publishers buy space in bookstores for their bestsellers and new releases that they think will take off. Does anyone know if Amazon does this as well? Do legacy publishers pay for visibility of their books on Amazon’s various lists? If so, that would affect rank and sales. It might be something to ask the data — do indie-published books show more volatility in rank and sales than legacy?

    Just a few thoughts from someone who loves data and would like to see more.

    Once again, kudos and thanks to you both for your work.

  81. Alan Spade says:

    What hasn’t been enough commented, in my opinion, is the incredible “86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon store are e-books”. It means, if I understand clearly, that ebooks are overselling paper on Amazon: when you have 10 books sold on Amazon, nearly 9 are sold as an ebook, and only 1 or two as a book.

    It’s clearly a revolution, even if Amazon just weighs 30% of the overall market of books. Paper has really become subsidiary.

    Of course, we cannot deduce from such a study the Big 5 are nearly dead. We can deduce if the authors act logically (which they don’t seem always prone to do, for prestige reasons, because of social circles and social pressure), Big 5 in these domains of fiction are on a virtual success, and should fall very loudly in the years to come.

    They have other assets, though, Amazon doesn’t represent all of the market, far from it. But it’s likely the Big 5 importance in fiction will shrink more and more with each year.

  82. Hugh,

    One of my blog reader just sent me to this post, which I promptly added as an update to my last post about bookstore sales. You’ve done a truly brilliant job here, and I say that as an early student of sales rank based data, who published a sales rank equivalency chart for paper books going back to the late 90′s. Being neither a bestselling author or a genre fiction author, I never had access to enough data in the top 1,000 ranks to draw conclusions about fiction, though it’s been clear all along that Kindle is a fiction platform.

    You’ve done a much better job with the data than I ever would have, so kudos, and if you and Konrath ever decide to run a publishing convention to replace the now defunct Tools of Change, I’ll make an effort to show up and buy you a beer.

    Morris

  83. Unquestionably insightful, probably truthful, but most of all hopeful … and great news for all indies who chip away tirelessly at the word face, trying to strike the mother lode.

    Good job, Hugh. And hats off to your unnamed programming guru. Nicely done.

    Keith :)

  84. Michael Hendricks says:

    What is the difference between Indie Publishing and small medium/small publishing?

  85. Bryn says:

    Very poor analysis.

    Simple factors like the strong inverse correlation between number of ratings and average score are ignored. This means indy books with small ratings numbers will score high on friends/family & fanatics, whereas big 5 books with a large public will be more reasonably rated. Watch any big 5 book come out – it’s rating will steadily decline over the course of the first thousand ratings. Most indy books never get past that first thousand.

    Ignoring factors like that invalidates your observations.

    • Steve says:

      Posters on Absolute Write also focused on the ratings discussion, as if that were anything other than a tangential finding in the report, which was mostly about sales figures. Curious.

      I didn’t see your link to data showing the relationship between ratings and review volume, nor your analysis of the raw data Hugh provided.

    • Susan says:

      “This means indy books with small ratings numbers will score high on friends/family & fanatics, whereas big 5 books with a large public will be more reasonably rated.”

      Interesting point, but you make a huge sweeping generalization about indies and the big 5 without any supporting evidence, just an assertion.

      I did a quick and dirty look at the books ranked top 100 from Hugh’s database (which in the case of this data, includes only 81 books):

      Of the 81, 27 were categorized as ‘Indie’ and 54 were either Legacy Big 5, Amazon Imprints and small/medium publishers. I lumped in the small and medium publishers because I wanted to separate indies from everyone else. I also lumped Amazon imprints with the Big 5 because they are ‘big’.

      Most books do not pass 1000 reviews whether indie or big 5. However, the big 6 have a higher percent of 1000+ ratings. Average # ratings for Indies was 458. Average number for the rest was 2,055. The range for Indies was 0 – 5,238 ratings vs. 0 – 23,202 ratings for everyone else.

      44.4% (24/54) of the non-indie books had over 1,000 ratings vs. 18.5% (5/27) of the indie books.

      So, yeah, it is true that the fewer ratings, the higher the average. Indie average rating was 4.28 vs. 4.17 for non-indies.

      I’m willing to grant you this point — that non-indies (the big 5 or 6, depending on if you add in Amazon imprints) have proportionally more 1000+ ratings and that # of ratings are inverse to score.

      However, you suggest that the reason for this is that indie authors are gaming the system and having family / paid reviews.

      I would like to suggest there might be other factors involved, such as time on the bestseller’s list, time since new release, etc. A book that is really hot with lots of press and buzz may rise quickly to the top 100 and not have yet garnered a lot of reviews. Conversely, a book that has been around for a very long time, will have garnered a lot more reviews.

      For example, Barry Eisler’s Graveyard of Memories is currently #20 on the Kindle eBook Bestseller’s list (Congrats Barry!) but has only 17 reviews with an average of 4.9 stars. It was published on Feb 11, 2014. Contrast that to Divergent by Veronica Roth, which is #1 on the same list, but has over 9,000 reviews with an average of 4.6 stars. It has been published since May 2011. For indie books, The Ex Games by the Coopers is currently #15 in the Kindle store and has only 115 reviews, with an average of 4.2 stars.

      Point in time data like this is can provide interesting info and food for thought, but it is unable to say a lot about this particular question because you have to dig a bit deeper to fine tune your conclusions.

      You jump to the conclusion that it’s cheating on the part of indie authors that results in high average ratings. As an indie author, I find that insulting. But yanno, I’m an indie author making a six-figure income off my sales, a number of my books have been in the top 10 in their categories and top 100 in the Kindle store so I’m really crushed…

      • Susan says:

        I should clarify that you </i.did not claim that indies were paying for reviews, but that is a claim made my a lot of critics of indie publishing.

        • Mackay Bell says:

          Whose to say that the big 5 don’t pay for fake reviews? And whose to say that Trad published authors don’t have friends and family who might write skewed reviews?

          The bigger point is that if self-published books really are as bad as some critics have been saying, there should be some evidence of that in the ratings. Fake reviews aside.

  86. What an amazing job. Just a few things that I think would be great for the future.

    1. The rankings to unit sales are going to vary greatly based on seasonality. When I was #17 at Christmas time I sold 4,700 copies. When at the same ranking in June it was 3,400 copies. What would be amazing is if you could provide an app where KDP authors could input their ranking and sales. I’m not sure what is the best way to do this….Maybe mobilize people to do 24-hour snap shots where they use novelrank to see the range of rankings and the sales made in that 24-hour period. Then we could get some really precise data for the “yellow part of the data” which is so essential.

    2. Can we have genre added as a column for each title. I would love to break out and analyze each of these major groupings on their own.

    Again – amazing work guys – you are really going to shake things up with this.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      I had hoped to have that feature at launch. The only thing I worry about with a database that people can feed numbers into is the ability to game the system. It might be better if such a program was by invitation only. Not to be exclusive, but to reduce the risk of griefers who would rather obscure the truth than just stay out of the way.

  87. Oh…and one last thing…I can’t thank you enough for supplying the raw data. I can’t wait to do some diging in it.

  88. JT Sather says:

    Great article, Hugh. I’ve only been at this for about two years now, and I’m lucky if I make a few hundred a quarter at this point, but I have recognized much of what you’ve compiled already. I’m signed by one of those small/medium presses, and I truly enjoy working with them, but the hard fact is money must be spent to make money. Without some sort of promotional budget, most books published (regardless of how) will lament on the proverbial shelf. I’ve kept an eye on your success, and I must say, congratulations. I plan to emulate.

  89. Excellent job Hugh!.

    I second Michael J’s request: I’d love to see how these numbers break down within the individual genres you reported on.

  90. Fascinating, and for one of those “small to medium” publishers well worth setting aside some time to read it thoroughly.

    I would like to suggest one mitigating factor to consider in your future studies. As an ardent ebook reader since 1999 and a publisher since 2003, keeping atop what’s going on in the industry has always been important to me. So, I want to offer the following information, in case you find it useful.

    Small digital publishers are included in the same category as self-publishing individuals. However, as we submit our own formatted files, we don’t have access to some of the marketing techniques offered to self-publishers, such as the ability to offer a book for free. At this time, the only way we can do that is via the Match Book program.

    Use of the Select program isn’t an option for publishers. Our goal is to help our authors sell as many copies as possible, which precludes our restricting titles solely to Amazon. If Amazon uses Select titles in developing rankings, that would place another skew in the data, since those are technically not sales.

    Finally, I have noted Amazon does marketing support for self-published books by including them in “daily deal” offerings and “recommended” lists. This, too, isn’t available to small digital publishers, and that has to have an effect on final sales data. For example, we have a cozy mystery series that sells as well as many on best-seller lists, but it has never once appeared on any Amazon promotion.

    The currently-informal Digital Publishers Association comprises many small digital presses, some of which have been selling ebooks since before the turn of this century. If you would like me to contact them about providing nonspecific sales data, you can reach me at the above address.

    • David I says:

      I’d like to see more high-quality small digital publishers, and see them have more clout.

      Some people enjoy flogging their own wares and doing thier own publicity. Others would rather just write.

  91. Blake Stanley says:

    Interesting info. Will you be doing more follow ups with additional info added into these projections? I’d LOVE to see the same thing with more than just e-books since the other 75% of top sellers aren’t included. I think I’d have a better idea of what the publishing world on Amazon is like if it looked at all publishing, not just the e-book portion.

    Thanks and keep it up!!

  92. Hi,
    Thanks for all your work on this, and for passing the information on. I’ve just finished my first historical fiction, 1860 Old West, Pony Express, girl rider, etc… and am nearly 70K into its sequel, where the heroine and hero head for 1863 New Zealand, at the start of the Waikato Wars…
    Your information has helped me make a few decisions.
    Thanks so much,
    Regards from NZ,
    Lizzi Tremayne

  93. To me it seems that, while part of what you set out to do was use a broader swath of data to give a more realistic interpretation than can be had by examining only a handful of outliers, your entire data set is outliers—most published titles will never be bestsellers, not top 100, not top 2500, not top 7000.

    Perhaps it is a separate issue you aren’t interested in the examination of, but with software like you describe I suspect you could capture these data: How many new titles are added to Amazon per day? How many of those show up in the “top books” rankings (ever)? Thus, what proportion of books is earning even enough to “pay a few bills”? (And how do traditional and self-published books compare in terms of that proportion?)

    It seems like what you’re really looking at is, “If you’ve got a top book, where will you make the most money with it?”, which while certainly valuable to a couple thousand authors, leaves out many hundreds of thousands of authors. We know that traditional publishers (big 5 + small press) publish almost 300k new titles/editions every year (in the US alone) and I suspect (this is a piece of data I’d love someone to capture) that indie publishers put out even more new eVooks than that. It’s pretty straightforward math that at least 99% of all titles are not accounted for in your figures.

    What proportion of all sales does the long tail represent? (Preferably both in units sold & income earned.) What proportion of the long tail do the big 5 represent? If you’re not counting on winning the top-2500 lottery, would you be better off self-publishing and earning a slow pittance, or getting a small advance that never earns out?

    As an author with a “deep backlist” of dozens of self-published titles that rarely (some never) make it out of sales ranks in the millions, I know I have more company (literally millions) than you’ve got in your top 7k, and I would love to see *that* part of the reality of self-publishing better represented by real statistics.

    • Blake Stanley says:

      That occurred to me, too. In the intro, he states that reports on outliers is in accurate and then launches into a report consisting of almost all outliers… huh? Probably a reason, but I’m not sure.

      • This data goes 7K deep and soon he has promised 50K deep data.

        Books ranked over 50K rarely stay where they are, because the Amazon algorithms help not at all once you’re down there. So if an author has 20 books all ranked 50K or worse, odds are that the author has 1-5 total sales a day. Yes it would be interesting to have specific data on say the top 1 million ebooks in the kindle store. But it would be much more difficult to estimate sales the way he did on this article – you’d need data over an extended period of time. Once you get to 1 sale or less per day, you have to have data over a period of time to do you much good, tracking spikes in specific books (this is what NovelRank does)

        All this is to say that it makes a lot of sense that he was unable to provide that data. It would require an order of magnitude additional effort over time to get anything useful.

        • Blake Stanley says:

          Yes, but even with the sample group used, outliers are still in effect. So we have 100 or 1000 or 5000 available to us now… why not eliminate outliers from what we ARE using. The median of the available data is well below the top sellers and therefor, the numbers of the ‘average’ are treaty misrepresented. That field of single sales is closer to the median than Stephen King, yet for some reason, he would be included in this estimate of averages.

          What I really don’t understand is why look at only e-books. They make up 25% (according to the article), so if we are going to single anything out to interpret this data with the goal of helping authors find the truth, it shouldn’t be the minority that we use to make points, but that dropped 75%.

          • Blake Stanley says:

            Oops, my mistake. 25% isn’t ebook sales, but self-pubbed. Not sure what the ebook % is, but it isn’t 100%, I know that. I’m assuming paper sales were included in the data grab, so why was it eliminated?

  94. Alan Tucker says:

    Looking deeper into this — and thank you and the anonymous programmer once again! — and I’m wondering about Prime member borrows through the Select program. I know those count and affect sales rankings and I’m wondering if they show up in your data as Kindle “sales” or not. If we figure an average of $2 per borrow (seems like it’s been right around that figure most months) that’s about 600,000 sales a month (based on the monthly pot announced by KDP) that fall into a nebulous area. Low priced books earn more from a borrow than from a sale and, of course, the opposite is true for books priced above 2.99 or so. Do you think this has an effect on the percentages, or is this already taken into account in the figures?

  95. Hugh and all, spectacular job!! With six self-published books and two on the way in the thriller genre it is still about discoverability. Maybe a puppy on the cover next time. Will watch for the follow-ups.

    All best and thanks.

  96. Awesome job, Hugh. I knew the stats we’ve been getting from Industry publications were wrong, because this didn’t jive with what I was seeing, but I didn’t have the hard facts to back up my opinion. So excellent to see actual data, hard numbers, not skewed by anyone. Writers need the whole picture, whatever it is, so they can make informed decisions about their own career. Of course there are variables in terms of sales per ranking on days and in different seasons, but this is a great start. Adding in other book selling outlets will make the data that more valuable.

    Thanks!

    Barbara

  97. This is absolutely great news for the industry, and it’s in keeping with what we are seeing at The Editorial Department. We know from 34 years of experience with editing and publishing that it takes a lot to get a book to the final stages regardless of which route you decide to go. It’s word of mouth about the quality of any product that leads to its success. The success of your book starts with a concern for making something as close to perfect as possible. Check out our blogs on some of these issues here: http://www.editorialdepartment.com/blog

    We also offer a wide range of services for both traditionally published authors and those that decide to go indie–everything from manuscript development and editing to book design: http://www.editorialdepartment.com/services

    Connect with us on facebook or twitter: https://www.facebook.com/TheEditorialDepartment?ref=br_tf

  98. Matt says:

    I think your sampling is seriously biased. Publishers select their authors, while anyone can self publish, which makes it intuitive for me to think there are considerably more self published works. If you take the X highest quality books (“quality” measuring appeal to readers, collectively), from both books to be self published as well as books selected for publication by a publisher, the average quality of the former will actually be higher (of course, publishers select the works they will publish, but it is doubtful that they will use the exact same criteria as the readers). So even if publishing through a publisher gives an individual book a significant advantage, due to marketing muscle, we could still observe the result that a large proportion of best-selling books are self-published. That 50% of top X sellers are self published does not imply that a given manuscript (of a fixed quality) will do equally well independent of the publishing route.

    Or am I missing something?

    • Wayne McDonald says:

      One point is there is no guarantee that a publisher will accept a novel, so comparing routes can be complicated. For example one of the most successful books ever, Harry Potter book 1, was rejected by 12 publishing houses and it was only a year later it was accepted for a small advance. There are a number of similar stories of books rejected for years going on to earn quite a lot by either self-publishing or eventually landing a traditional contract.

      Luck is a critical factor in publishing, traditional or self.

  99. Jimmy Casale says:

    Thanks Hugh. Do you have any data that would help us non-fiction writers?

  100. Im an aspiring author who just finished the first draft of my first book. Since I started this process I went headfirst into researching the best way to write my genre (Romance), the best way to create an author platform, and the best way to make connections to get it published. Throughout that learning process I kept stumbling upon articles talking for and against self-publishing and the battle between which route I should take began. I want to go with a big publishing company for the chance to say I was published by a big publishing company but I also want to make a profit off of something that I’ve already spent countless hours on.
    Thanks for posting this data and breaking it down for us. It really has given me a lot to think about.

  101. Douglas B. Snell says:

    My “raw data” is missing some stuff. All data “collected” would be the “raw data”, not just data used to make the graphs. All the stuff you decided not to use is missing–paper sales, lit-fiction, non-fiction, etc. For transparency and for people to be able to crunch the numbers themselves, that, along with formulas/algorithms/and any other details used to derive this data would need to be included. With the “raw data” supplied, we are destined to get the exact results presented here.

  102. I have added some additional analysis of this data here:

    http://www.lonetrout.com/authorearnings

  103. Ian Campbell says:

    Data is always difficult to get hold of and therefore worth its weight in gold for without it, we are guessing in the dark. So thank you for sharing this valuable commodity.

    Currently, the publishing industry is passing through an era of great changes similar to the record and video tape industries of a few decades ago. Traditional book shops are disappearing off the streets and have been replaced by coffee shops where a book of your choice can be printed especially for you in the time it takes to drink your coffee. The printing machine is called the ‘espresso’.

    At this moment we are approaching the time when the new super super DVD will have enough capacity to store every book ever printed in the English language.

    We are incapable of looking ahead into the future of our industry further than possibly five years.

    Meanwhile, Amazon doesn’t divulge their algorithms which they use for their rankings and, should anyone fathom out what they are and publicize them around the author groups that exist, Amazon will change them and make them irrelevant.

    You have provided us with a snapshot of our industry and for that I am most grateful. I have published by the traditional route and as an Indie suthor and I know authors who have done the same and what I am told by the trad route authors is not welcoming as they received very little if any support from their big publishing companies and had to handle a lot of the publicity campaigns themselves, We Indie authors take that as read.

    Thanks for sharing such interesting data and observations.

    Regards,

    Ian Campbell.

  104. Hugh,

    Great stuff. I realize that this is the infancy of this project, however, to truly help up and coming authors, expanding the data out to a big pool would be beneficial. The author making less than $10,000 per year is the author that doubts the self-publishing path. There are many reasons they might be making less than 10K per year, but with your help, I think that author would find that they are on the right path.

    Thanks for your efforts!

  105. Love to see this information gathered all in one place. There is no disadvantage to having a clearer picture. Hopefully, publishers will look at this and really analyze it instead of trashing it. If they see fallacies, hopefully they’ll provide some data for everyone to come to a clearer picture.

    I know this took a lot of work, thank you, Hugh and everyone else, for all you put into it.

  106. Thanks from the bottom of my artichoke heart. Every year, my CPA tells me that Artichoke Press LLC has again lost money. But, I have worked my butt off. And I love to write books that inspire and assist others to live a better life.

    This is great information and deep appreciation for sharing it.

    Keep writing, someone is waiting for your message, Judy Helm Wright

  107. Thank you so much for all your hard work on behalf of all of us! This will be invaluable information to share with my author clients and publishing network. It’s a real eye opener.

  108. RWB says:

    Great stuff, and thanks for all your hard work (although I did have a little trouble distinguishing between some of the color schemes in the charts…)

    Def some food 4 thought.

    R

  109. JOHN T SHEA says:

    “Manuscripts in hand, some writers today are deciding to forgo six-figure advances in order to self-publish [link]. Are they crazy? Or is signing away lifetime rights to a work in the digital age crazy? It’s hard to know.”

    A false dichotomy surely, particularly from an author who is not alone in obtaining a six figure advance without signing away (digital) lifetime rights. Hybridization seems to be the future for authors, agents and publishers, and is strongly advocated by your own agent Kristin Nelson, among others. Ms Nelson has also praised the creativity of big publishers, while rightly lamenting their secretiveness. 25% of ebook net revenue forever is no more written in stone than was ‘No Print Only Deals.’ Likewise non-compete clauses.

    Indie authors outselling the Big 5 publishers in unit sales of genre ebooks through Amazon does not surprise me in the least. I am more interested in the monetary value of all genre sales, paper and ebook, through all channels, which I understand you will address in the future.

    I also agree with Victoria Strauss that Amazon is now really Big Publisher #6.

    I still lean towards querying agents for my YA Steampunk/Dieselpunk trilogy, but will certainly give this interesting and provocative article serious consideration. Many thanks, Mr. Howey.

  110. Outstanding article, Hugh. Greatly appreciated. For the past four years I have relied on previous experience in the comic books I self-published. Novel writing didn’t take off in the same way, but I knew it was not only possible but probable. Hard choices needed to be made, but your report adds strength and assurance to that choice to self-publish.

    7 books and counting.

    Look forward to seeing this information evolve!
    Thanks again.

    Jaime Buckley

  111. Hugh,
    Thanks for tackling an analysis of Amazon sales. Despite all the qualifiers people have offered, it’s a fascinating snapshot. I second all the various suggestions for future reports, especially doing an analysis of a month or quarter or even a year of sales on Amazon.

    I’m sure you’re aware of it, but others might want to keep in mind one of the misleading aspects of the oft-quoted industry stats that ebooks are 25% of the market right now. What’s often forgotten or confused is that this claim is that ebooks account for 25% of the DOLLAR AMOUNT of sales. As we all now, ebooks are almost always priced lower, often way lower, and self-published authors even lower than that. So you might need to sell three or four copies of an indie ebook to equal the dollar amount of one hardcover. When publishers nervously admit ebooks are 25% of sales, chances are that ebooks are more like 50% of unit sales at the very least. And that’s just for the publishers. Look at just the fan favorite genres like mystery, sci-fi/fantasy and romance and it would be surprising if ebook UNIT sales weren’t well into the 75% range or more. And that’s just for the top publishers.

    Looking forward to the next report! Thanks for the data and the analysis.

    Michael

  112. As a writer who’s gone both routes, I have to say self publishing is so much more gratifying and lucrative than publishing with the big houses. Getting the rights back to some of my romances, and publishing them myself on Amazon, etc, has been both financially rewarding and challenging.

    Granted, it’s hard work–but not half as discouraging as having editors change the very tone of your book, decide that a proposal won’t sell because it’s not the flavor of the month, have the completed draft languish on someone’s desk for months, wait five months after the book’s published for a first advance, or learn that you, a prolific Canadian writer, aren’t being published in Canada.

    Of course it wasn’t all bad–I was fortunate enough to have some great editors, be flown around the country for promotions, and be invited to write for special publications. But all in all, I’ll take self publishing any day.

    Kudos for a report that tells it like it is.

  113. Caleb Mason says:

    Terrific info, thanks. The analogy I dine out on is why should I pay $30 for a hardcover novel when I could see three movies for that price? The old photo industry in denial only measured and reported from the established insiders. Now we have Smartphones and Facebook. Denial and rationalization may numb the pain in the short term but it takes open minds to invent a new future.

  114. Paul says:

    As someone who spends his days running data analysis for a consulting firm, I see reports on topics like these all the time. What you’ve done here to find new data sources and to analyse it in useful ways is trly admirable. It’s incredibly rare to see reports with this level of insight. Very sincerely, thank you.

    I can’t believe you linked the actual dataset. +1!

  115. Michal says:

    Cool! Thanks!
    I’ve recently advanced to the group earning a few hundreds a month and there is NO way I would have it done via traditional way.

  116. I used to be able to find good info from your blog
    articles.

  117. Dean says:

    As Amazon gets more and more important for self-published authors, it gets less and less important for authors using publishing houses. Amazon has created a platform for self-published authors, using the products of traditional publishers to build their customer base. The products of traditional publishers are marginally profitable for Amazon. The products of self-published authors are highly profitable for Amazon. Thanks for playing.

  118. Sam M-B says:

    I commented this over on Scalzi’s blog, but thought I might as well put it over here, too. Hugh’s first two graphs mean that star-ratings are becoming increasingly useless for me. I get the idea of rating for value (experience vs. cost etc.) but if so many people are rating so strongly on cost, it’s not helpful information to me. By far it’s my investment of time not money that would drive my own star rating skew. And Hugh’s assertion that (for him) “As someone who reads both self-published and traditionally published works, I can tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two.” Doesn’t bear out for me at all. Of the top 50 books I read about enough to judge last year, for example, self-published books account for 2, or roughly 4%. (Andy Weir’s The Martian and Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light, if anyone cares, which I doubt. For some examples of the big-5 published top 50 books for taste purposes: KSR’s Shaman, Nicola Griffith’s Hild, Joe Lansdale’s The Thicket, The Shining Girls by Lauren Buekes, Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, River of Stars by Guy Gavariel Kay, American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett, and Karen Lord’s The Best of all Possible Worlds. From small/medium publishers, A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar and Ben Winters’ Countdown City, and No Return by Zachary Jernigan. Amazon-published, The Zombie Bible.) I got very few pages into 95% or so of my self-published purchases before deciding that they were not worth my time to continue. (Some of that, perhaps interestingly, is that these titles were free or $0.99 or $1.99, meaning I suppose that I had less to “lose”, sunk cost analysis wise, in tossing it aside when it became apparent it was not a book worth reading. But I also get piles of free review-if-you-want copies of big-5 published works and the “through rate” is much, much higher.) Anecdotally and unstatistically, it’s probably the small/medium publishers which have the best “through rate” for me — Small Beer, Tachyon, Apex, etc. They publish fewer books and they’re almost all worth reading, whereas a big-5 publisher may put out hundreds that I don’t care for at all amongst another huge pile that is compelling and worth reading to the end. In self-publishing, the pile that is not worth reading is a Tower of Babel reaching to the sky, with only a few armloads of the kind of books I want to spend my time reading.

    • David I says:

      Well, that is the critical question, isn’t it: How do you find the good stuff? (And, if you have written the good stuff, how do you make people aware of it?) As Sturgeon’s Law states, “Ninety precent of everything is crud.”

      My impression is that with self-published books, this runs higher, perhaps to 99%.

      But what Hugh was analyzing were top sellers, not everything published. And there I tend to agree with him: the good self-published, widely read books are becoming indistinguishable from good traditionally published books.

      Indeed, an increasing number of e-books seem to be self-published versions (or re-releases) of traditionally published books!

  119. Thanks, Hugh.

    “Pricing e-books higher than mass market paperbacks used to cost is having an even more deleterious effect on reading habits.” Stephen King’s books fall into this category. I so agree with you on this point.

    I’ve stopped reading five-star reviews. I’ve found that the fours and threes tend to be more honest. As a matter of fact, I’m more likely to read one- and two-star reviews than fives. I very rarely award five stars to a book.

    Readers need to look at the online previews before buying. Unfortunately, some authors aren’t activating that feature. Why?

  120. This is one fantastic report, Hugh! Just as I and many other indies had suspected, the future only gets brighter and brighter. This report is a good kick in the pants to get more books written, and add to our library of titles. Quality–of course.

  121. One way that traditionally published authors still can make more money has to do with the sale of Rights and Permissions – film rights, reproduction rights etc. However this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. Bowker is already allowing self-published authors to assess, clear and register their Rights on-line and other self-publishing sites are looking at making similar opportunities available. This really evens the playing field although it is an area the Big Five is particularly skilled at cultivating. But as more IIndies build broader audiences Film, TV and other industries will look their way too…. if they can find them.

  122. Wow – what an exciting time to be a writer! Thank you for all this research. I keep going back to examine it over and over, trying to wrap my head around everything.

    Now I’m curious to see how book size fits into these numbers. Some indies price very low (.99), but they’re putting out serials – small novellas. I’ve hesitated to do that because as a reader I don’t like it. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of this picture.

    This had to be a lot of work. Thank you!

  123. It has been a lonely road to self-publishing. I would have loved paying an agent their percentage to help guide me through all the decisions that had to be made. It seems that the self-publishing revolution could actually offer agents more opportunities to make a living instead of fewer.

  124. David Peterson says:

    Thank you for this, Hugh.

    As an aspiring writer that has six months of serious writing and twenty years of dreaming about writing under my belt, this kind of information is invaluable.

    I’m not looking for a guarantee of success, but I need the potential for success. The idea of spending years to perfect my craft only to spend years to beg my way into print (through agents and publishers) in the hope of making my way on to a bookstore shelf only to die in obscurity was depressing, to say the least.

    Thank you for taking the time to show those of us that have a dream, but no numbers to back it up, that there is an opportunity out there. The efforts of you, Konrath, Eisler and others are invaluable. There aren’t many industries that the outliers help pull up the rest of us without mention of “three easy payments.”

  125. What a great job, and a great deal of information! As a self-published author, I have often wondered about seeking an agent rather than trying to market my work on limited time. I’m pretty sure I should stay on the indie route. Thank you!

  126. Areevalacan M Jox Akqa says:

    Great info. is it not possible to go for a total strike against anyone who with holds data concerning author and his books. lets start with the big 5.. .

  127. Areevalacan Jox Akqa says:

    Thanks for all the work to you and your data guru, from the bottom of my heart…..

  128. I’m thrilled to see this data, more data is always a good thing. But I hope that we don’t over-generalize because of any report. This data comes from genre fiction. Genre fiction is very different from other parts of the publishing universe.

    Genre fiction is roughly 1/8 of the publishing picture. Non-trade publishing is roughly half. Trade publishing is roughly half fiction and half non-fiction, so all fiction is roughly 1/4. And genre fiction is roughly half of the fiction piece.

    The picture for self-publishers has always been decent in most of the non-fiction part of the business, as long as the self-publisher did his or her homework and put in the time and effort to learn how to publish well.

    If you’re an author or a publisher trying to figure out what to do, you need to investigate the numbers in YOUR market segment, and think about YOUR goals, manuscript, skills and resources.

    You need to crunch your numbers, including the fact that traditionally published books sell very well in places other than Amazon and in formats other than ebooks, while self-published genre fiction still faces the same (or worse) uphill battle that it always did.

    This is a business, and if you’re going to be an author (professional) rather than a writer (for personal satisfaction), then you need to approach it as a business. Your spreadsheets should be your best friend. Unverified assumptions will bite you in the back.

    After more than a decade working with self- and micro-publishers and more than two decades doing publishing finance and ops, I have seen more authors and publishers crash and burn because of assumptions and lack of number crunching than for any other causes.

  129. Ketan says:

    As a reader I will give other side of the argument.

    I would personally judge the book by value-over-time, which is nothing new and everyone does it either consciously or not.

    When I book classical text book then I will prefer to keep it in paper which can be referenced, book marked, moved around and shared. I have tried to use digital books for some latest technology but even those are hard to use, however feasible. On the other hand when I want to read a fiction I don’t care much about the format and keeping it digital saves precious physical space around me.

    So genre, content and book’s value over time decides the format for me. Why do you think people go to library to read all fiction books?

  130. Phillip Ross says:

    It would be interesting to do a study of advertising/marketing costs, venues, genre, and sales.

  131. Thank you for an excellent article. I have been traditionally published author of textbooks for over 20 years and while I have made a very good living from these books and am grateful to my publisher, I have chosen to go indie for my fiction. The operative word is “chosen”. I’m going indie because I have first hand experience of the difference between traditional and indie publishing, and while traditional certainly has been great for me and put my daughter through college, I’m well aware of the disparity between what the publisher makes and what I make.

    But it’s not just about the money. As pointed out in the article, a vital benefit of indie is control. I have complete control over what I write, who I hire to help me get it ready for the world (and I’ve hired some amazing people), and how I distribute the book to the most important person in the publishing equation–the reader. I’ve spent four years writing and editing the novel I just launched on Amazon and I am slowly seeing the pay off – not necessarily in big sales (yet!) but in great feedback from readers and isn’t that why we’re writers in the first place – to reach readers?

    But we still have to eat. Your report confirmed what I have suspected based on my own experience–that I will, potentially, make a lot more money going indie than I would if I waited many many more months to snag an agent and then a publisher. If I fail as an author, I will with or without a publisher and I’d much prefer to fail without one (or, of course, succeed on my own).

    Thank you. Now please do the same with data for the historical fiction and literary fiction genres … !

  132. kate scott says:

    Reading this article makes me feel like my decision to fire my agent and go the indie route was a good call. I’m happy with my decision so far. As someone who used to have an agent and is now happily agent free, when I hear about writer friends querying agents I always want to ask why. Going the indie or small press route is so much easier than trying to deal with the big five, and according to you more profitable too.

  133. As a “new” author, who is considered dead in the water by the traditional publishing industry because of being chronologically “old”, self/indie publishing is a no-brainer. Plus it gives me complete control over editorial process, cover design, etc. First mystery in the mill and will be launched soon…

  134. Dear colegues!
    How lucky you are all! You have a whole industry, giving you a nomber of oppotunities. You can get a professional education in creative writing, you have agents, broad net of publishing houses, and finally self-publishing services.
    Here, in Russia, we have no agents at all. The largiest publishing house covers over 70-80% of our publishing market, it also owns several nets of thw bookstores. The rest 20-30% is sharing by several
    small publishers, hardly living off. Just pair of dozens the most famous writers can get income from their writing. Pirates causes such sites as Amazone to be out of Russia, so we haven’t self-publishing, because it’s useless here.
    So, I learn English hard to be a ESL-writer. It’s hard, but interesting, it’s a kind of challenge for me. I see my chances for traditional publishing are tiny,so I consider a self-publishing the only chance. This article is much hopeful for me, so thank you very much, Hugh Howey, for it. I’m having years of hard work with non-guaranteed success, so I need such piece of hope.
    I’ll be appreciated for support to everyone. Just add me in FB: https://www.facebook.com/eva.stalukova?ref=tn_tnmn (Eva Stalukova) Good luck in your writing and publishing!

  135. Wow. A real eye opener for the non Math person. I don’t base my decision to read a book solely on reviews. I like to glance to see what others think but i’ll read the summary or book description to make my choice..

    Good that somebody analyzed the data for us. Thanks.

  136. Book author says:

    So in short, self publishing on kindle is the way to go?

  137. This is important work and I followed the Eisler/Konrath thing very closely when it first came out.

    The thing, I believe, both of those analyses fail to examine is the author motivation to begin with. Each appears to assume that revenue is the primary motivator for any/every writer seeking publication.

    My experience was different. It was critically important for me to get shelf space in libraries. I wanted the credibility to be able to speak in schools. I gave up a larger advance to be able to work with a publisher that would better bring those to the table (rather than go with the big 6 offer on the table).

    If money is what counts, this report is going to be discussed for many years. But money is not always what counts.

  138. William Ash says:

    I certainly give an A for effort. I really thank you for try to take a stab at figuring out what is happening with the market. But I think your data are flawed.

    My biggest problem is it is one day. In that short timeframe, the data are going to be noisy. We don’t know influences like promotions, whether a book is new or old, whether people buy on specific days of the week or time of year, what a book’s sales life trends like. Imagine taking a daily snapshot of the stock market and then trying extrapolate its performance over the long term or even to state that that day is somehow “normal.”

    The second problem is you are taking only the top books. It is kind of like sampling Hollywood actors and then saying that somehow applies to all actors.

    I think if you can keep extracting data over a year, you will have a better set with which to make better conclusions. I don’t know if you can follow books over their rankings to try to figure out if there are some typical trends. That would give a better why to predict book earnings over time.

    This is really great that you are doing this. I have been trying to get answers myself and it is very hard. While I don’t know how much your data are going to help me–I don’t do genre fiction and I am not a writer–I really would like to get clearer insight into how the ebook market is functioning. And I can appreciate the difficulty in working with data and getting data. Thank you.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      Even a single day shows market share between publishing paths. That noise is frothy, but consistent. Sure, authors move up and down, but the percentage of indie/trad/small/Amazon remains the same (from the snapshots we’ve taken).

      Market share is the key to driving competition and bringing about industry change. The Big 5 have 1/3 to 1/2 market share in the most lucrative genres. That’s huge. Who suspected that before this data was released? Or the preponderance of e-books over other formats? I think it’s great that we are already accepting that while worrying about whether each author’s income can be extrapolated.

      • William Ash says:

        Hugh, how do you know? One day of sales data in the camera industry would not show market share. Well, it might if you you picked the right day, but how do you know if you have the right day? Perhaps the data are right. But from what you presented, I feel there is too much uncertainty. I don’t know any fields where a single measurement would be statistically valid in showing the state of a complex system, except for the state of that day. You can prove it with other measurements over time, but to claim accuracy without proof is a weak claim. So are you collecting data daily and will you carry that through the year? That will be interesting.

  139. You are my hero. So happy to have come across this report. Math is satisfactory, ain’t it?

  140. J.A. Marlow says:

    What great information, and THANK YOU for making the raw data available. I’ve had lots of fun making pivot tables to look at it in different ways. My word count has suffered because of this. :P

    One thing I do wish had been included was main genres (although I know that would present extra programming). This is especially valuable when it comes to studying different genres, as each one seems to have a different ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to pricing. From what I’ve observed in my own limited studies, each genre has its preferred pricing range. One size does not fit all.

    Keep up the good work!

  141. This was a fascinating article. It certainly says a lot, even if there are flaws in the snapshot selection of data that would make the conclusions statistically questionable at best. I’m still impressed.

    I do have a lot of questions and some general comments that are a bit on the edges of what you were trying to communicate here.

    I find your categories confusing. When you say indie published, do you mean self-published? Because that’s not the traditional definition, and your groupings may be misleading. Or when you say indie-published, are you referring to the traditional definition of small independent publishers? I somehow don’t think so, since you show no publisher revenue for indie publishing. But then your small publishing section misses the fact that royalties for small independent publishers are often to similar formulae as Amazon.

    And how do you know it’s a publisher who provides a service to the author or just a name? A lot of self-published authors make up their own publishing company name but that’s pretty much all it is, a name, yet the author may have structured it as a business with its own takings. In addition, there are “publishers” out there who are nothing but a name that a co-operative of writers uses to add respectability to their books.

    And isn’t self-published and Kindle-published more or less the same thing for e-books? Because pretty much if you do it on your own, you post it onto Amazon and get 70%, right? Or are you differentiating between people who solely publish on Amazon and those who do it on other sites, too?

    Where did you get your revenue breakdown values? Again, this misses the fact that small (indie) publishers often pay formulae similar to Amazon. Also, Amazon pays 70%, but your graph shows the author’s portion being much less. What’s with that?

    You made some statements at the end that are pretty important but you hurriedly tried to brush them away with the big hurrah for self-publishing. I think these things are pretty important.

    If you’re self-published, you must pay for services that you get from a publisher for free. You’re stuck trying to market in a huge and expanding competitive field without a name behind you if you’re in that obscure category you refer to as uncategorized single-author, which I would prefer to call first-time published author.

    In my experience as a reader, at least half of the self-published work out there suffers dramatically from an author with an ego bigger than their ability to use a semicolon. Of those, the majority are tolerable in their lack of proper editing, but it’s not difficult to find work where research standards suck, the formatting is poor, or worse, writing that misses the importance of things like plot, characterization, POV, and on and on it goes. This is making the title of self-published an embarrassment because it’s become synonymous with poorer quality. Basically, vanity publishing has just gotten more accessible and lower cost.

    Of course, readers may be more willing to put up with your typos and bad grammar because they didn’t pay much. If it’s only a couple of bucks, people will gamble on an e-book, which will affect comparable sales since a great deal of lower-quality product will be sold where big publishers can’t afford to have that happen to their reputations.

    Your comments that an author is better off self-publishing are really great if you’re a good recognized author. And it’s equally great if you have the skills, time, or money to edit, create cover art, do a proper layout, effectively market, etc. your book. Or if you happen to like doing those things, which is sometimes the case.

    Traditional publishing will always have a place, whether big or small, and there are lots of authors who are pleased as punch to have gone that route and had someone who valued their work make it the best it could be before it hit the shelves.

  142. The information here validates what I suspected all along. And correlates with my personal experience as an indie author. Thanks for sharing this — I’m not insane or crazy after all. Once I made the decision to indie publish, I never looked back. Letting readers be the gatekeepers is the surest way to encourage competition and fairness for everyone. I look forward to self-publishing more books.

    I did have one question — maybe I missed it. What is the difference between Amazon published and indie published? You listed these in separate categories.

  143. BP says:

    Survey Results Spreadsheet: In the survey results, one of the author entries was for $13M revenue/yr, whereas the monthly revenue entry would indicate this probably should have been $1.3M (unless it is Hugh’s entry and includes a well-negotiated advance for Wool: The Movie: Part 1). ;) So, just an FYI to make sure the data is “clean” before creating any graphs with the survey data. I would recommend adding a field in the survey for the primary genre of the author–or, better, a list of genres and the author fills in the percent of income that is generated by each genre. Also, the survey asks for “ballpark income” from self-publishing, but it would be nice to define this as either income (net revenues minus all expenses) or net revenues or royalties (for example, the check you receive from Amazon and other points of distribution). I am not in the game yet, so maybe ballpark income is clear to all participants. However, I think some people may report net income and some gross revenues.

    Thank you so much, Hugh & Co., including the 766-to-date wonderful survey participants! It is inspiring to see the writing community working together to clear the fog in this industry. The more writers participate in the survey, the less important it is to mine the Amazon data. Also, I think this data can become incredibly valuable to the community over time, and that’s why I have recommended tweaks. But I don’t think Hugh & Co. need to address everyone’s suggestions in the very near future–in fact, I feel guilty every time I see Hugh make a new post on this site. So, Hugh, please don’t think anyone is putting pressure on you for this or that chart. It’s a marathon, dude. We are all in it for the long haul. Whether or not you and your crew tweak this or that, the important thing is that the survey is available for input 24/7. Value is being added as you sleep.

    BTW, I have not published yet, but am well along on two novels. So, I hope to nestle into one of the rows on the AE spreadsheet by year end.

  144. Angela Hoy says:

    Authors should know the pitfalls (and downright scams) to be wary of with regards to Print on Demand and other publishing services. See Print on Demand Secrets Revealed here: http://www.writersweekly.com/selfpub.php

  145. A.R. Harvey says:

    You both have collected amazing data that helps put the mega success stories in perspective. I was just wondering in your charts what is indie published, as apposed to Amazon published?

  146. Paul says:

    [url=http://writerunboxed.com/2013/06/22/a-major-publisher-jumps-the-shark/]I wish this HC report about the profit margins of ebooks was not taken as gospel[/url]. It appeared in a roadshow to prospective investors when Newscorp was splitting off its entertainment and publishing business into two public companies (now Fox and Newscorp, HC being in the latter).

  147. A . R. Harvey says:

    I see now that you have said that Amazon published means from their imprints. In that case, does indie include self-published on Amazon?

  148. KS says:

    One thing that makes me nervous about this report is pulling back and looking at the relatively paltry numbers of actual successes. Filtering on “Indie” in the raw data gives about 2,300 or so hits, but only about 2,000 actually had any sales. That means the report couldn’t find any more indie sales after about 2,000. That’s depressing! (I mean, good for those 2,000, but still). If we’re going to let readers be the new gatekeepers, then we need to recognize that they might be even stingier than the traditional gatekeepers, most likely rallying around a few big names. Hundreds of thousand of books are traditionally published every year with advances setting a sort of floor, (although a very low floor!) vs. a couple thousand indie books making something, and hundreds of thousands with the writer out significant money on editing, covers, etc.. I was really thinking about self-publishing, but after seeing this data I’m getting resigned to querying, and that’s depressing as well.

    • Veronica says:

      KS, these are the top selling 7000 books on Amazon. They all had sales. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of indies are selling books everyday. Visit thepassivevoice.com or jakonrath.blogspot.com or hughhowey.com to learn more

      • KS says:

        They did not, in fact, all have sales during the period Howey has gathered the data. That’s quite clear from the raw data. Go to the report. Sort by “Indie.” Scroll down and you’ll find sales trail off until they’re in the 1s, then no sales at all. In short, the report runs out of authors who actually sold books pretty quickly.

        Now, it could be said that this is just a snapshot, and that the lack of any sales can’t be legitimately extrapolated to the full year. But that’s what the report itself does: Takes a snapshot of sales and multiplies by 365 to get the annual tax bracket. If it’s legitimate to do that, then it’s legitimate to multiply zero by 365 and get zero.

        So either the report’s methodology is fundamentally flawed, or the report shows precisely the opposite of what Howey intended, which is that there’s actually only a tiny sliver of self-published authors making money at any given time. If he expanded the data out from 7,000 to 100,000, it’d show the same thing: only 2,000 or so self-published writers made any sales in this slice of data. That’s depressing.

        • Veronica says:

          I did just that and I see that the Indie Published books in this data set had between 11 and 3600 sales on the day sampled.

          The green columns to the far right of the title data sheet show the sales number. All of the books in this sample had sales. That’s why they are in the top 7000 books on Amazon for that date.

        • Nirmala says:

          Even books in the 50,000-100,000 range average a book a day (http://www.theresaragan.com/2013/06/sales-ranking-chart.html). So even if books in his report did not have any sales on the day the data was gathered, the fact that they are ranked suggests they still are averaging some sales. So you cannot extrapolate the zero sales on the one day data was collected to the whole year, but based on their ranking, you can extrapolate the average number of sales per day to the whole year. For a book in the 50-100,000 range this means an average of 365 books a year, even if they did not have a single sale on the day the data was collected. And of course it is much higher for books ranked above 7000.

    • Nirmala says:

      I think there is another possibility. Judging by this chart: http://www.theresaragan.com/2013/06/sales-ranking-chart.html it would seem that even books ranked from 50,000 down to 100,000 are selling somewhere around a book a day. There have got to be a lot of indie authors in the top 100,000 books on Amazon. It is not like there are indie authors in the top 7000 and then all other indie authors are below 100,000. In fact my wife and I have about 20 self-published books between the two of us and right now, over half of them are ranked above 100,000 and the highest ranking today is 36,000. All of them have some sales every month in both ebook and paperback.

      Which points to another possible way to make money as a self-published author that might not be possible when traditionally published. With 20 books between us, my wife and I have been making 60-80,000 a year from self-publishing (including ebooks, POD, and self-published audio books). This is without a single book in the top 7000 or even the top 30,000 today (although we have occasionally cracked the top 10,000 for brief periods of time)

      So if you make only $100-300 a book per month (easily possible with say 1-3 sales a day), then with one book you do not register at all in the data in this report. You are only making a bit of money on the side. But if you have 20 books and average that much per book, you suddenly are making a fair amount from self-publishing without necessarily having any single book selling a lot.

      It seems this path to success is easier to do via self-publishing than through traditional publishing. If an author is published by a traditional publisher and their book immediately only averages a ranking in the 30-100,000 range with 1-3 sales per day, it is pretty unlikely that a publisher will publish their second and third books, let alone their 18th, 19th and 20th books. But a persistent and very modestly successful self-published author can keep at it and eventually “make it” with only books that sell modestly, again if they have a lot of titles.

      I doubt my wife and I are the only self-published authors who make a living this way, but I do doubt there are many authors who have been exclusively traditionally published who can make a living this way. The publishers would not keep publishing them, and even if they did then the lower royalties would mean they would need to have several times as many modestly selling books to make a living. Thank god we don’t need 80-100 titles to make a living…..although who knows, give us another 10-20 years and maybe we will have that many titles to our names….and still be making 4-5 times what a traditionally published author would be making.

      This is of course similar to how many traditionally published authors have leveraged their success through self-publishing their backlist. It is just that our backlist is also our frontlist!

  149. Pam Brossman says:

    This was very informative I would love for the report to be done for non fiction writers to give a clear picture of their earning potential from the 22% which fall into this non fiction category. Many of my authors write non fiction so would not find this data helpful to their niche market. Is there going to be a report for non fiction writers soon please?

  150. Great article and a wealth of information to digest. I am in the process of trying to get a self help/productivity book published traditionally. The hangover of being able to walk into a book store and see your book on the shelf is strong.
    I do believe the industry in changing, as you suggest.
    My question is that does this apply to the self help/productivity genre? People love to re-read their old copy of Think and Grow Rich, is the move to digital indie as strong for these books?
    I would be very grateful for your reply.
    Once again , thanks for the great article.
    Bryce

  151. Rebecca h says:

    So fascinating and I’m a data geek so I loved this! I wonder if you have any plans to do a similar analysis for non-fiction?

  152. Michael says:

    Hugh, can you clarify whether this data includes pre-release books as well? If so, is that indicated in the spreadsheet in a way I may have missed? Since pre-orders aren’t a firm commitment to purchase and can be (and often are) cancelled prior to the release date, it would be questionable counting them as sales from the rank Amazon attaches to them, or projecting potential sales from the pre-release ranking.

  153. I just thought of something else that would be interesting to see. Would it be possible for you to “redact” the author name by giving them each a unique number – then – when subsequent reports are produced we can see how they moved? In looking at bookscan data (which would be great to combine with this). I notice that many books spike the first week then fall off sharply. It would be really interesting to see if traditional or self-published books had more “staying power.”

    The snapshot is a great beginning – but I’m really interested in following this through as time goes on as an author that sells 100 books a week on a regular basis will ultimately earn more than someone who debuts at 1,000 books a week then falls off to 30 – 40 in the next 10 weeks.

    Just a thought.

  154. Hugh, Thank you for doing this and all the work you and the computer guy have put into this. Heard you on several podcast lately.

  155. I asked elsewhere but didn’t see an answer. Is there any chance we could get the data with a column for genre? Either in this report or subsequent ones? I would like to do a deeper dive on each genre to see how they compare to one another. My guess is Romance will dominate, Thrillers will be second and fantasy/science fiction will bring up the rear – but I would like to see that for myself.

    • Data Guy says:

      Hi Michael,

      Definitely. As soon as we can, we’ll release a spreadsheet with more granular genre tagging. Naturally, the genre groupings in that one won’t add up to 100%, as most books are multiply-listed in different genres (Thrillers > Technothriller + Science Fiction > Hard Science Fiction, for example).

      • Are you “THE” data guy – I’m honored to meet you – kinda. Thank you so much – and yes, I totally understand about books being categorized in multiple groups. As far as I’m concerned you can put all the categories in one field and we can parse it out.

  156. I appreciate all the details on self-publishing, but I would love to see what the real rate of return is for indie pubs. I have interviewed many authors and have asked them, off the record, what it has cost them to put out their books even without actually printing them. The cost still runs $2-3000 for editing, formatting, buying a cover, paying the copyright and other required fees. Let’s say you spent $3,000 and are selling your books as ebooks at $2.99. The author’s net after distribution fees is about $2.00. That means just to break even they would have to sell a minimum of 1500 books. How do you do that without paying more fees for marking and thus extending your break even point?

    • I can’t imagine someone paying $2,000-$3,000 for an edited and formatted e-book unless they are using a vanity publisher who overcharges for everything. I’ve published paper books with print runs of 1,000 copies for not much more than that. But you are right, an author has to be realistic about the return on investment. That’s why you DON’T spend more than you have to on the way to publication.

  157. betta tank says:

    I’ve the world business and Google has A number of numerous entries for it, all of those are usually completely wrong. Just how do i generate the right itemizing and erase the mediocre ones? Yahoo doesn’t present anyplace recommendations on ways to do that, will tell.

  158. Lou Leone says:

    The data is fascinating and over time the trends should be really interesting. I would ditto Michael Sullivan’s request for genre tagging for the 7000 in the set. I suspect there will be other nuances that can be gathered. Thanks and looking forward to updates.

  159. Susan Stec says:

    I appreciate all the time and work you put into this. And I thank you. The numbers are mind boggling. It makes me smile. I’d love to see ratios genre related.

    And I’d love to see indie sales based on an average deduction for cost to income ratio. But I know this will be difficult, if not impossible. I format, design my own covers, work through KDP and Createspace, and market myself with very little cost. My numbers are slowly rising. I often wonder if spending more would eventually net me more, and in the long run, faster. And where my money would be better spent.

    In reference to a few other comments on cost to income, to consider if published work vs indie published dramatically changes your numbers, you’d have to consider how much time and money published authors spend as well. I have many author friends – indie published, traditionally small press, middle market and higher. ALL are marketing, or required to market on their own. ALL vary in how much they put out for marketing.

    Thank you again – I’m tossing this out to my friends,
    Susan

  160. This summarizes my experience. I have gone full circle; Indie-Traditional-Indie. My first novel started Indie and then was published in hard cover by a traditional house. For many reasons it did not go well; the most glaring, it was ludicrously priced. It is on Amazon kindle for $13.49! With my second and third novels I did not even consider a traditional publisher. I now make more in a month than I have in 6 years with my first.
    Ironically, after resisting e-publishing my first novel for five and a half years; sales from #2 and #3 have drug it along even at the ridiculous price. I get a mere 10%. The only way I would ever consider a traditional publisher again is to give them rights to hard/soft cover only.

    Thanks for the effort on the study.

    • Hugh Howey says:

      I have received over a dozen emails in the past week with the same story. And I’ve seen dozens of others in various comments on blogs. It’s a problem for publishers if they can’t figure out how to retain authors.

  161. It is nice to have some confirmation of what I suspected. I believe the outlook for e-book authors will improve when there is one platform and one format instead of having to work our way through so many options.

  162. A revolution indeed! Yet another writer here very VERY interested in where this is going as it relates to kids’ books. It’s a safe market in that it’s less affected by the digital trend, yet as others have said, there are important gatekeepers to get past in this niche. Thanks for your in-depth coverage; love your own books, btw!
    Jennifer at WriteKidsBooks

  163. JD Worner says:

    This is an amazing article. Thank you so much for this information and I look forward to hearing more on this subject as more data becomes available.

    I think this is something that every indie, correction ,EVERY author needs to read and it gives hope to us new and struggling author’s in the marketplace.

    Thanks

    JD

  164. Milton Bagby says:

    Hugh —

    As someone who produces audiobooks, I was struck by the numbers you show of audiobooks sold against Kindle sales. The anecdotal figure for years has been that audiobooks are about 10% of book sales. Whether that is 10% of revenue or 10% of units, I don’t know.

    Your graphs above show audio as 4% of the Top 100 Kindle Books, but drops to 2% of the Top 2500. The top 100 will probably have an audio version available. That’s not necessarily true of the Top 2500, and even less likely when you take in larger samplings, such as the 50,000 list.

    The most accurate data would be one in which you limited the sample to only those books that had audio available. You may have done that this time around, but I did not see it in the notes. If not, perhaps that might be the subject of a future spider crawl? And if you could shed some light on how you determine audio sales numbers. Audible is even less transparent than Amazon in that regard.

    THANK YOU! And keep up the good work.

  165. Tom Vetter says:

    Hugh,

    Your big fan Holly Lisle, herself a succeeding self-published writer and writing mentor, alerted me to this article. She convinced me, and many others, I believe, that self-publishing was key to financial success as a author. Now you have provided proof. Thank you so much.

    And this matters to me a great deal because I had only her advice on which to make my decision. Trusting it, I decided to become both author and self-publisher. My first work – historical fiction – will reach the e-book market this Friday, and like all authors, I have high hopes for it in the long run. How well I have done and will do, time and readership will tell.

    But at least I chose the best path to take, after all. Since the decision was a tough one, I am grateful that you have now made it much easier for those still confronted by it. Well done, and thanks again!

    Tom

  166. Hugh & DGuru this is outstanding information!

    This data puts authors in the place where they can now choose which pill they are going to swallow. If they choose to believe what they have known and are being told, well choose the blue pill, everyone else on board, the red pill is for the taking!

    Truth – “self-publishing is not a gold rush. It isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. There are no short cuts, just a lot of effort and a lot of luck.”

    Tweeting This- “Genre writers are financially better off self-publishing, no matter the potential of their manuscripts.”

    If there is anything I can do to further support this message and mission, please let me know!

  167. Clifton Hill says:

    Thanks for the incredible information, Hugh. You’re helping me to gain comfort with a decision I was *almost* certain of.

  168. Corine says:

    I would love to have a discussion with you on this on my radio show. You can check it out here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/empoweringnetwork. Feel free to email me to let me know, thanks.

  169. I think that one reason genera fiction is selling so well in e-book format is that with such a low price point, it is actually cheaper (and obviously faster) to download a romance or fantasy e-book than to drive to the library to borrow it. Once you find an author you like, you can read everything they’ve written – in order – without worrying about it already being checked out at the library.

  170. Michelle Gagnon says:

    Okay, so as a traditionally published author, I just want to chime in here on a couple of things:

    1) when you look at the format bestseller list on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, chances are that it will be unnaturally skewed toward eBooks. However, as someone published by a big 5 publisher, eBooks still only encompass about 10-15% of my total sales.

    2) Foreign sales. This is the bread and butter of most traditionally pubbed authors, and something that you have very little chance of achieving as an indie author. I make two or three times in foreign sales what I earn from my North American/English rights. Incorporate that information into these charts, and it will change the findings significantly.

    3) Film/TV rights: That’s anywhere from a couple grand/book to much, much more, and that’s just for the option. Not to say that indie authors won’t be optioned, but it remains far less common.

    I have plenty of friends who started in traditional publishing and switched to indie; and some friends who do both. There’s no one right way, But if you’re just starting out, and debating which path to take, make sure to factor in the money that might be left on the table.

    • Tam Francis says:

      Very interesting. Thank you for chiming in here. I always wonder if there is something missing in the equation. So, is you are only comparing American sales, no foreign and etc. Self-pub is the way to go, but if you have aspirations of foreign sales and movie rights, continue on the Trad-pub route?

      Just want to make sure I get what you’re saying.

      Thanks

  171. I’m a novelist who struggled that became a freelance journalist who earned, to an editor who earned a decent salary, to a marketing writer who did quite well, to a magazine publisher who lost it all because of 9/11, to a book publisher. It’s been a long haul, but I now have my own book publishing company, Flying Pen Press.

    I’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve when predicting trends. A couple of years ago, I recognized that self-published authors were going to be stiff competition. There is no more room left for middlemen and distributors in ghis current era of publishing. (Your data analysis is brilliant and matches my experience in lockstep.)

    Once I realized this, I made the decision to change Flying Pen Press’s way of doing business, to meet this reality head-on. We no longer think of ourselves as a company that wants to license publishing rights to novels (although we still keep an eye out for truly exceptional submissions). Instead, Flying Pen Press is going to put out novels series written by staff or work-for-hire freelancers and ghost writers, all working under each series allonym. In essence, rather than being a self-published author, we will become a self-authored publisher. We see that it is advantageous to go the self-published route, while retaining the ability to put print books into stores and sell foreign and dramatic rights.

    The “one allonym per series” is important, and our reason may pique your interest as we find our Kindle sales numbers get skewed by author name. Her’s our strategy and reasoning:

    The first novel in a series gets published as a print edition only. After about 6 months, we have given out samples and review copies until the book has enough positive, sincere reviews to awaken the Amazon marketing machine.

    Then, we release it on Kindle. As soon as the Kindle edition is linked with the the print edition and its reviews, we put the book on the five-day free Kindle deal. Amazon markets the giveaway to Kindle owners, linking to the product page. This goes on each page-visitor’s list of titles viewed. We see a few hundred copies given away.

    The next month, book #2 is published in print and Kindle simultaneously. We can usually get positive reviews from many of the same reviewers. This again goes out on the free Kindle deal. Everyone who has read the first book or who looked at its product page gets an ad for the second book. We give away about 2000 copies this way, and see a spike in sales of book #1.

    Another month later, we do it again with a third book. Amazon sees the author’s name and again advertises to the readers and prospects of books 1 and 2. There will be about 5000 takers of the giveaway, and the firt two books see a moderate spike.

    At this point, we start a new phase. The next month’s book, book #4, is no free giveaway. It likely climbs quickly to rank #30K to #15K.

    We put book #4 on the graduated “Countdown” sale after the 30-day launch period. Over a week, the price jumps from 99¢ to its original cover price at predetermined intervals. The book will sell very well, maybe as many as 100 in the first 48 hours of the sale (at 99¢). We make less per hour than before the sale, by about a third, at this price point.

    However, at this price point, the Amazon Sales Rank approaches the precious #7000 position, as Amazon is advertising to all those previous readers and prospects.

    Most interesting is the way Amazon advertises. When the book gets a reasonable number of 4 & 5 star reviews in its first 30 days, it hits the first level of Amazon marketing, which isn’t all that much. Somewhere between rank #25K to #10K, it seems to hit the next level of promotion. When it ranks #10K we seem to see yet another level, including a flurry of email ads. And on the various “major category” genre bestseller lists, promotion hits high gear for books that make the list. We’ve yet to find out, but I’m guessing there are three more promotion levels: rank #1000, top 100 Amazon-wide bestsellers, and the awe-inspiring top 10.

    Because of these promotions, books that hit the higher ranks, #25K and above, tend to stick to their ranking. Once it eventually drops below that, the stickiness seems broken and sales become quite erratic.

    Another thing we’ve seen with Amazon promotions is what the ad promotes.

    One type of recommendation is for “Other books by this author.” For this reason, one author name is crucial. Even a co-author’s name seems to register on the marketing algorithms as not the same author.

    Another type is “Recommendations based on browsing history.” This is why we see a logarithmic increase in sampling and sales with each new book, we think.

    A third type is “Other people who bought this also bought…” People tend to follow series more than they follow authors, so series novels is part of our equation.

    However, Amazon does not market books based on series. So series alone is not enough. “One author” is the biggest factor.

    “Books on sale” is another marketing factor. Other than reduced cost, this is the main reason a Kindle book should be given away or placed on sale.

    The promotion sales seems to be monthly. Skip a month, and Amazon seems to place the author back on the cart. Thus, it feels like only those authors who have breakout novels get constant marketing attention. The monthly release schedule we use, however, gets the same results.

    Because that is an impossible schedule for any one author, having a group of writers is key, although for the reasons stated, they must write under one allonym to keep Amazon’s attention.

    And when we release book #5, we see greatness. The book starts in at #7K-#8K, and with the sale, usually hits its genre’s bestseller list rapidly, and hots top 2000 rank by the sale’s second date. And as all the other titles are promoted as well, the entire series rises, usually ranking #30K to #10K for each of the four titles.

    All of this is still in the hypothesis stage, mind you. We’ve not run this program enough times (well, once and a half) for us to be 100% certain it is a reliable process, but the results have made one thing clear:–previous success of an author’s books have much to do with the success of the author’s new book. This is probably good to consider in your analysis.

    Another thing you’ll find noteworthy: sales of print books are not responsive to sales of Kindle. I believe this is because the Amazon marketing machine takes advantage of the rapid “ad to buy to receive to consume” cycle: click and read.

    Print customers have days or even weeks in the ad-buy-receive-consume cycle. It’s conventional wisdom (which doesn’t necessarily make it true) that the longer the ad-buy-receive-consume cycle, the lower the ROI and the less sales that result. This is why in bookstores, print still rules: pick and read. Just as fast as Kindle, provided you’re in the store.

    This may impact the SP vs. TP comparisons. SP authors don’t suffer the ridiculous delays that TP authors face: layers of minutiae editing, marketing and sales conferences, catalog seasons and the annual holdup of Book Expo. SP authors can and do publish as soon as each draft is completed, shortening the period between books.

    Also, SP authors are very heavily weighted to Kindle-only or Smashwords distribution, and as such have a zero-length distribution chain and an instantaneous ad-buy-receive-consume cycle. Amazon even tracks how fast readers read a Kindle edition, and reportedly use that information to plan promotions in advance and begin marketing to similar readers. TP authors write to a print format, while SP authors are trying hard to service Kindle as efficiently as possible (Many editors at Big 5 publishing houses don’t even know how to format a Kindle file).

    Prolific SP authors may be better practiced at netting Kindle-optimized reading speeds and other subtle tricks that keep Kindle readers happy. This is another theory to test concerning the difference in review stars between TP and SP.

    I don’t know if this helps. As I said, we’ve just begun trying out the hypothesis. But I also formed the hypothesis from watching Quirk Books operate as one of the fastest growing book publishers despite being a “self-authored publisher” itself for so many years. And by tracking Amazon’s various lists and rankings to the point of obsession.

    However, if any of this is true, “synergistic Amazon promotions” might be included in your data mining to see if it affects the analysis.

    In any event, thank you both so very profusely. Despite the controversy it has created (or because of it), your report will have a lasting impact on publishing. This presents as big a paradigm shift as “The Long Tail” did in 2007. I can make use of this report in my personal battle against the Ivory Tower international corporate media-giant publishing and water-utility empires.

    –David Rozansky,
    Author,
    Publisher, Flying Pen Press,
    Author’s Business Manager,
    And Consultant for Author-Owned Publishing Ventures

    Email: Publisher@FlyingPenPress.com
    Twitter: @DavidRozansky (moderator of #SciFiChat on Fridays, 2-4pm ET)
    URL: FlyingPenPress.com

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