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Viral Report on Self Published Earnings Crashed This Server

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by danr62, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    Ok, so there was this report released by Hugh Howey. Apparently some software engineer made a web crawler that was able to pull all kinds of cool stats about how much money self published authors are actually earning. All the previous data was based mostly on surveys and data released by the publishers, but Amazon and most other retailers have not released data so it was always inconclusive.

    But now with this new web crawler, they are able to collect a lot of that data from Amazon and other retailers directly. The implications are staggering. The site the data was originally published on is down now due to heavy traffic:

    http://www.authorearnings.com/

    But the report is also available on Joe Konrath's site, who reposted the data in a blog post:

    A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Me, Hugh Howey, and Legacy John on AuthorEarnings.com

    Definitely worth checking out.
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Please pardon me for being skeptical, but this sounds a lot like one those adds that go "Lose weight quickly with this one simple trick."

    My apologies if it isn't - but the whole idea sounds a bit dodgy.
     
  3. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    No ad here, but I am trying to learn how to write headlines.

    Nothing for sale at all.
     
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Cheers, thanks for clarifying. I got worried someone might have hijacked your account - unlikely as it may seem. :p
     
    danr62 likes this.
  5. I may be one of the only people alive NOT shocked by the results. But I have the advantage of having done this research already, on a more limited scale (and by hand! God help me, I wish I had been able to code a program to do this!).

    Got roughly the same results a year ago. And not too different a year before that. This is all stuff we've been fairly sure of for a while now, but it's AWESOME to have stats that are solid at least.

    So...no shocks for me. But a really nice day for writers.

    This data set ought to make the "indie or not" decision process a lot easier for a lot of writers.
     
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Look all surveys and studies in the field of what writers earn are flawed. This one is no exception. It begins by starting with a skewed distribution, only looking at the top 2500 books in a number of selected genres. That means that you have to assess the findings against the population studied.

    What this study clearly shows is that if you as an indie can make a decent fist of making a decent book with proper cover, blurb and a moderately desirable story etc, then you will probably earn more than a comparable trade published author. That's no great surprise. Look it's simple maths really.

    If I as an indie can put out six books in a year at say four bucks, and a trade pubbed author can only put out one because of the road blocks in the trade publishing industry, then I'm already on a six to one advantage. Then throw in the fact that 70% of that four bucks is mine and our trade published guy gets say 15% and my financial advantage grows. The trade published author then has to make up his dollars in terms of having a solid publisher behind him allowing him to charge more for his book - say eight bucks, and then by them selling more books. So lets say I sell a thousand of each of my books and earn $2,800. That's $16,800 to me. To equal my income our trade published author with his single book has to sell 14,000 copies. That's not an inconsiderable number. But some will do it and some won't.

    Average incomes for indies will still plummet because there are a great number of poorly prepared books out there which never sell anything bringing the numbers down.

    What each author has to decide for him or herself, is whether they believe that the advantages of trade publishing, i.e. more sale chanels and higher prices, not to mention in house professional cover design and editing outweigh the advantages of indie publishing, i.e. just being able to publish books. If you are able to produce a good book, cover blurb etc, then I would suggest that in most cases you would be financially better off going indie. If on the other hand your skills in some areas like covers and marketing fall short and you don't want to spend the time and effort upskilling but rather just writing more books, than trade is the better option - assuming you can find an agent and publisher.

    The one thing that is certain however is that no matter which road you take quality must be your byword.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  7. This isn't just a survey of people; it's a survey of data. It's a grab of the actual data from the actual retail website. VERY different from past surveys. But yes, you have to keep in mind the data source when analyzing it. :)

    Except the data took that into account, and showed that indies were out-earning trad pubs on the average even on a book by book basis.

    Again, on average, indie books out-earned trad pub books per book. So ignore the "4-6 books per year" advantage, and the average indie book in the same still did better.

    Well, sure. If you write a bad book, it won't sell to a publisher, too. And if you indie publish a bad book, or don't put a good cover on it, it won't do well. No shock for anyone there, which is why the study didn't look at bad books. It looked at successful books. Listen, putting a good cover on a book is now pretty elementary... There are buckets of excellent cover artists out there willing to do the work. Sure, some people don't bother - and almost always, they fail. They're like the folks who typed their manuscript on pink paper and dabbed scented oil on the pages before sending it to a publisher. People who don't do what they're supposed to do don't generally succeed.

    - More sales channels is 3-6 months where you hopefully get into B&N stores and maybe a few indie bookstores.
    - Higher prices are NOT an advantage; they are a disadvantage. And indies can charge as much as traditional publishers, if they want to. In fact, many indies do charge $6-10 and do just fine at those levels.
    - Editing and cover art remain an advantage of trad pubs; you're looking at $1000-2000 to truly replace that value, if you hire professionals yourself. (Many indies cut corners on this; some do OK, others don't.)


    Honestly, at this point, I would suggest that no writer hoping to make a living can afford to NOT go indie, for at least some of their work.

    The work that you wrote that no one wants? Indie publish it.
    The work that you just got rights back on? Indie publish it.
    The short story that just came back to you after the six month exclusivity from the magazine was over? Indie publish it.
    EVERY writer is going to run into times when they will benefit significantly from putting the work out themselves. Which means the skills you list are no longer really optional: like writing a synopsis used to be a mandatory skill, indie publishing skills are now essential components of a career writer's tool kit. Some folks might get away without doing any indie publishing over a career, but I suspect they will be rare birds.

    And if you're going to learn the skills anyway, because you'll need them sometimes...why would you not use them more often? ;)
     
  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I think you need to understand the purpose of this report, which is pretty obvious.

    There have been a lot of surveys and studies that go around claiming to represent the reality of the book industry. But they all have problems. Some of them are conducted on an amateur level and have a small or very select data set. Often by authors who just want some data to base their business decisions off of but no one is giving them any useful data so they do their best to gather it themselves. These can be illuminating, if you look at them with the proper frame of reference.

    Then there are the professional studies and surveys that make grand claims about the way the industry works but have major flaws. For instance, how can any data set that is missing the biggest book store in the world (Amazon) be taken seriously? On one hand it's not their fault, since they don't have access to Amazon's data. On the other hand, they're still drawing conclusions they expect to be taken as truth from their studies, flaws and all. Furthermore, as this report points out, they draw conclusions from data sets that contain a lot of irrelevant data. So not only is their data flawed, their method of analysis is as well. On top of it all, if you want the raw numbers to look at yourself, you usually have to pay for it.

    This report is an attempt to counter balance some of this flawed methodology, not necessarily to provide a comprehensive picture of the industry. It's also an attempt to provide data that is necessary to writers considering whether to go the traditional publishing route or self publish. You can't get an accurate idea of how well you might to as a self published author unless you can look at Amazon sales data since there's no question that the vast majority of indie sales happen there. This is not only to correct an imbalance of data out there about the book industry but also to help aspiring authors make key business decisions.

    Futhermore, this is only the first report. There is a ton of data they collected and it takes time to analyze and it takes time to digest. Hugh said he's been working on the analysis for this report for 2 weeks. The website allows you to sign up to receive future reports directly so this is by no means the end of it. Also, if you have any issues with Hugh's analysis of the numbers, you're able to download all of the raw data they collected completely free and analyze it yourself. I know plenty of indie authors are doing just that right now and I'm sure with some time (remember, Hugh took 2 weeks to look over the data in the report!) there will be a lot more analysis out there in the indie community to consider. Hugh and his colleague aren't saying "Here's our analysis, accept it!" They're saying "Here's the data we collected and here is our analysis. What do you think?" Because that's how the indie author community rolls. This is a great age for sharing data.

    Personally, I have huge respect for Hugh and what he and his colleague have done. Hugh is very well known throughout the literary and indie community. He's had great success as a self-published author, so much that he was able to sign a print only deal with one of the Big Five. He's a great advocate for self-publishing, even though he has the seal of approval of traditional publishing. He's smart, experienced, and very measured in his approach to this changing publishing landscape (unlike some of us *self-deprecating smile*). There's almost no one I would trust more to lead this experiment, which is probably why the unnamed data guru approached him about it.

    I think everyone should read every word of that report and give it serious consideration. And if you have issues with it, why not ask Hugh? He's very approachable. Or get the raw data and go over it yourself and tell us all what you think.

    I think the next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

    Edited to say:

    I was just looking through some of the comments on the report and see that Hugh responded to someone questioning the usefulness of data from only Amazon by saying "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)" So this is definitely just the start, just the tip of the iceberg of data collection that is possible and that can now be shared thanks to the power of the internet and the indie community. Really, everyone, stay tuned!
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
  9. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    I want to highlight this, because trad authors income also plummets if you count all the bad books that get submitted but never picked up. Comparing trad published books to all indie published books is apples to oranges. Taking the top ranked books is an attempt to weed out the bad indie books which would have ended up in a slush pile at a publisher.

    This data is still somewhat flawed, because I believe they are still estimating volume of sales by bestseller rank, so it's imperfect in that respect, but still much more comprehensive than the surveys done before.
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    If I understood their methodology correctly, I bet their estimates are pretty solid. They have access to authors who are saying, "My sales rank is this, and that corresponded to me selling this many books." If you have enough of those authors, no reason why you can't get a pretty durn good idea of sales based on rank. If you then know the price of the book and the royalty rate, getting a dollar figure isn't hard.

    All in all, it's not perfect, but I'd trust it for order of magnitude, which is all they're really looking at.
     
  11. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    I agree, but it's still imperfect. Daily sales at Amazon can fluctuate quite a bit. I think indie authors normally report a slow-down before Christmas, and then it picks up again when people get all their new shiny Kindles and such. But for large amounts of data those fluctuations don't have as much of an impact as if the data population were smaller.
     
  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Understood.

    The net result of the article, for me anyway, is to make me work harder today on writing than I have in the last month :)
     
  13. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    Amazon is big in factoring in total sales, but it's only part of the picture. Several established big five published authors I know, sell okay on Amazon, but their main source of royalties are via print--think independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets such as Meijer. Those outlets are where the majority of their sales are. While it's a shrinking portion in the entire sales arena, it's still significant, and one where self-published authors are virtually non-existent.

    That's not to say that what are termed Indie Authors can't do well, but when comparing reaching readers, and income, such things have to be considered.
     
    danr62 likes this.
  14. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    This is very cool. I don't necessarily think writers should be making decisions based on any of this kind of stuff, because I don't think a writer attempting to tailor himself towards the market is going to end up being a happy writer anyway.

    But on the other hand, as a programmer I admire the acumen needed to create this program. And I'm always stunned by the power and predictive capability that data interpretation gives us. This is only the beginning of what I'm sure will be a running attempt to digitize information on trends in the publishing and book-selling worlds. Again, I don't think it will mean much to any individual author - but it is super freaking neat.
     
  15. There are always some folks who do better than usual on any platform. I make almost half my sales between Kobo and B&N - that's HIGHLY unusual. I know a writer who makes 3/4 of her sales on Apple - which has a single digit market share. Some writers are reporting Smashwords is where they make the most sales, and they sell less ebooks than Apple!

    So yes, some writers are still selling more print books than ebooks, especially on the trad pub side. Why? Because traditional publishers tend to price their ebooks high (higher than many readers are willing to pay) which hurts sales volume there, and those same publishers have distribution to bookstores that indies and smaller publishers lack, giving them a big boost in print sales.

    That said, I regularly chat with consultants to "big five" publishers on Linkedin, and together have been over the math... Ebooks passed the 50% mark for fiction sometime last year, and are continuing to grow. In some genres, ebooks are significantly more than 50% of all sales volume. Now, growth is slowing...but I think it is reasonable to expect genre fiction on the whole to approach or pass 75% ebooks over the next couple/few years (by volume, not revenue). That's a best guess, based on available data - not a certainty.
     
  16. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    I'm kinda kicking myself for not being more dedicated to writing years ago when Indie started to pick up steam. Or even more dedicated NOW.
     
  17. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Yeah, I sometimes regret not jumping in at the magic hour as well, for both writing and indie game development. I've never been much of an early adopter, generally preferring to wait and examine systems and consequences.

    Still, both of these new distribution realities have resulted in what I believe will be a permanent opening-up of the respective industries, and that will ultimately be a good thing for me even if I didn't have the guts to get in on the ground floor, as it were.
     
  18. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    My point was that what's being considered in this article, mainly Amazon, is only a piece of the puzzle in reaching readers--yes, a dominant one--but that self-published authors are not really competing in the area I discussed, and many traditional authors do very well there. I agreed in my original statement that it is an area with a lessening impact.

    You're right, each author that markets and has interesting and good stories and a quality product can find a niche where sales might be better. I do very little (not a lot of sales/readers) on Kobo/Sony/iTunes, some on Smashwords/B&N/Audible, a little in bookstores, but mainly my readers get my works through Amazon.
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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  20. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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