Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Author Earnings Report: Traditional vs Self Publishing

Knowledge is power. Informed decisions are almost always better than uninformed. That is part of the reason for the firestorm that has surrounded the recent Author Earnings Report that has been backed by author Hugh Howey. The one thing that I commend about the report is the fact that the raw data has been made available. In the current "information age", there is a lot of misinformation. The information surrounding the debate on self or traditional publishing is no different. In today's blog post I want to post my thoughts on the report and one of the reactions to it. 

My own journey is still in progress. I was just informed that I have made it to the 2nd round of The Writer contest based off the Liquid Perception story. I am about 75% of the way through editing chapter 11 of my novel. The Ghost is popping up on the rankings randomly on Wattpad for Horror and Fantasy. I am not an expert in publishing in the least, so I can only try to make an informed decision based off the information provided.

The Report

The information in this report is a valueable weapon for authors. The problem is what do you do with it?  Interpreting the data can be tricky.  A few things from the report seem to be obvious. People who pay more for a book or ebook expect higher quality. Traditionally published books are priced higher on average. Traditionally published books ranked in the top 100 in sales have an average review score lower than other ebooks that are priced lower. There seems to be a correlation, but I'm sure there are more factors that are involved.

A good portion of the report debunks a few myths about self publishing. The data suggests that traditionally published books earn more revenue. The next section in the report shows that self publishing authors earn more in royalties than traditionally published authors. That makes sense when you consider that in most cases self published authors get a much higher percentage of royalties, and traditionally published books are more epensive. This doesn't mean that authors who self publish earn more. This is strictly talking about royalties.

At best this data is incomplete. It's interesting to look at, but it's not a definitive look at the debate. The data mostly ignores print which has been touted as being up to 70% of the business. It also only accounts for sales on Amazon. This is only the first step towards something much bigger. The next link is just as interesting.

Print vs Digital

This article looks at the sales figures of the top 100 books in print, and compares it to the sales figures of the top 100 ebooks sold on Amazon. This also breaks down the royalties for authors who are self vs traditionally published.

The most impressive thing I took out of this is that the self published author still comes out on top when factoring in print. Even with that 70% of the industry now factored in. This doesn't even account for ebooks sold on Kobo, Nook, and iTunes. According to Apple iTunes may account for up to 20% of all ebooks sold. While every advantage was given to tilt the results in favor of print, ergo in favor of traditionally published authors, the self published authors came out on top.

Now don't go jumping off a bridge now. There are problems with this comparison. It only accounts for the top 100 success stories. There are probably thousands if not tens of thousands of other authors who are both traditionally and self published who aren't represented here. This information is still impressive.


I originally wanted to include several reactions to the data, but this blog post is running rather long.  I wanted to include this one because it seems to be the most well thought out of all of the negative reactions I had seen.  I did want to make a couple of comments about it.

"Getting paid for doing the work of publishing which goes beyond authoring."

The author of this article talks about editing and cover design here. This section I see as being the most and least relevant at the same time. The cost of getting a good editor and cover designer is much more reasonable than it used to be.  Also having experience in choosing an editor or cover designer doesn't make anyone an expert. At least as a self published author you have the power to fix it if the editor or cover designer sucks. With a traditional publisher, if the editor or cover design suck, you're powerless to do anything about it.

"The apparent reality: flow of authors is self- to traditionally-published, not the other way around."

This makes me think the author of this article is missing the point. His assertion may be the case, but part of the reason for this report is to give authors some leverage when negotiating with traditional publishers. I'm talking authors in general no matter how they decide they want to publish. Publishers need to wake up to the reality of the direction things are heading before they become irrelevant. Deals like the one that Hugh Howey has negotiated with his publishers should be more the norm than the exception. I'm not saying the same numbers that were involved, but rather some of the more unique aspects of it. I'm sure Hugh Howey would agree that no author in this day and age should give up their rights to digital publication without fair compensation. 

My Thoughts

I feel like this is a great first step towards something bigger. The data pulled is just for one day in the life of sales on Amazon in the industry.  While this may be a large chunk of the entire industry, it doesn't include precise sales data from any other source.  I would like to see more of these snapshots taken to see if they can establish a pattern. That would be even more compelling evidence than these initial reports. Showing growth or decline in author earnings based on a longer timeline could help answer a lot of questions in a more definitive way.

Until publishers, booksellers, etc. decide to share sales numbers, we will never know for sure what the full truth is. This report is the closest we have right now. As I wrote before, knowledge is power. Traditional publishers are holding their cards close to the vest, and it is not likely they will release those numbers anytime soon. It's as if they want us to be ignorant of what is really going on. What are they so afraid of?

It seems to me that Hugh Howey and his as of yet unnamed partner are trying to prove something that many self published authors already know. They don't have the evidence to prove it because of the lack of data available. As Lindsey Buroker (@goblinwriter) tweeted to me "All the indies are nodding and saying, duh, we knew this." Proving it is validation. It's showing authors everywhere another option when some still believe there is none. There are people on the side of traditional publishing who are still using the same arguments against self publishing. Arguments that were valid before the beginning of the ebook revolution. Arguments that are not nearly as relevant as they used to be.  They are still repeated as if they are the gospel handed down by some ancient diety.

I will do my own research into the matter. The people who are trying to approach the debate rationally are providing the best arguments. They are trying to collect evidence to find the truth. If the traditional publishing establishment wish to continue to spread disinformation without providing any evidence to back it up then why should we listen to them? 

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