February 22nd, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 31 Comments
There has been a ton of discussion over a report on author earnings by ebook authors (which you can find here: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/), the response to it (http://tinyurl.com/pcebsd5), and the responses to the responses (two of the best are http://tinyurl.com/kbjts5s and http://tinyurl.com/omkjz6v ). If you follow this discussions in our industry, you already know what’s going on: successful self-published author of Wool, Hugh Howey, did a bunch of research and came to the conclusion that self-published authors are selling more books and making more money than those publishing with traditional publishers. It was quickly pointed out that there were some problems with Howey’s work — he sells his books on Amazon, did all his research on Amazon, and (surprise!) came to the conclusion that Amazon is a great place to do your ebooks. Nevertheless, there were really some interesting things that showed up in his research:
—Indie-published ebooks have generally higher ratings on Amazon than Legacy-published ebooks.
—Indie-published ebooks generally cost less than Legacy-published ebooks, possibly leading consumers to the sense of getting better value from indies.
—Indie-published ebooks may be outselling Legacy-published ebooks (this is more inferred than proven).
—Indie-published ebooks constitute a larger percentage of books sales than we’ve been led to believe in the past (Howey estimates it’s more than 50% of all book sales, though his methodology lacks stringent validity testing).
—Indie-published authors of ebooks are earning more per book than Legacy-published ebook authors. (Though his argument that Indie-published authors are making more overall is based on very shaky evidence.)
It’s all fascinating stuff, and I believe his conclusion that publishing’s brightest days are ahead is spot-on. As an agent, I’ve never felt I was one of the people who needed to protect the status quo — the fact is, I believe in authors self-publishing.. Unfortunately, the debate that arose after Howey released his findings was considerably less than insightful. It’s become a fairly rancorous debate, with authors and pundits picking sides, pointing fingers, and making their case with angry words and often impolite rhetoric. Those who want to defend traditional publishing seem to want to dismiss the study, and those who are staunch publishing revolutionists can’t stand the thought that Howey’s work might not actually hold up to critical analysis. Dana Beth Weinberg, who runs a Master’s program in Data Analytics and might know a bit about data analysis, has come under a scathing attack for daring to criticize Howey’s methodology. (The criticism is basically this: ”We don’t want to hear from experts, we want to hear from people who agree with us!”)
Again, I thought Howey’s study was interesting, since we rarely get to see this sort of data. His premise that Legacy publishers paying a 25% ebook royalty is unfair to authors is obviously true, and he states that one of his goals is to push publishers to change that — something I’m very supportive of. His assertion that traditional publishers have skewed the data over the years to protect their market share isn’t really a surprise — both sides in this debate have done that. And his conclusion that publishers are making more than authors isn’t really “news,” in my view, but it’s a good reminder. So I’m glad he took the time to do the report.
Still, there are some real problems with his work. The study was only done with one company, all the data is from one day, and he admittedly relies on friends and conjecture for many of his conclusions. In other words, his sample size is way too small. He breathlessly reports that 92% of the bestsellers are Amazon ebooks… um, somebody apparently forgot to explain to him that Amazon uses their bestseller lists as promotional tools for the company, so they’re notoriously unreliable as industry examples. And you don’t get “trends” from looking at one point in time, you get them from looking at several and creating a trend line (even my one class in statistics in my PhD program at the University of Oregon taught me that).
So, just because I want you to understand exactly what I’m saying, I’m going to make this very clear: In today’s publishing market, I think nearly every author needs to consider being a “hybrid” author. That is, I think most of the authors our company has the privilege of representing need to consider having a combination of publishing deals. They need to consider doing some books with a traditional publisher, who can pay an advance, give you broad exposure, get you introduced to major media, and get you into every Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and independent bookstore in the country. You also need to consider working with some niche or indie publisher, who can pay you a much better royalty and hopefully draw an audience of readers who like exactly the sort of book you write. And you need to consider self-publishing some of your work — certainly your out-of-print titles, but also shorter works that won’t attract most traditional publishers, and even new book projects that can reach your core audience. Those self-published books will pay a much greater royalty than your traditionally published books, and you’ll get paid faster, so there’s a nice benefit to working with Amazon and B&N.com and the iBookstore.