What’s Really Going On in Publishing

If you keep up with the publishing “news,” you may be confused by recent contradictory indicators. Some sources claim that eBook sales are declining, but any popular-fiction authors who’ve looked at their royalty statements lately sees a different story. The NYTimes consistently suggests that Amazon is the Antichrist and destroying literature, but a growing number of independent authors credit Amazon for the ability to work without a corporate overlord. Who’s right?

Good numbers are hard to come by in the book world, because the Big Five ¬†play their cards close and Amazon won’t release sales figures at all. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the statistics coming from AuthorEarnings.com are, while perhaps not perfect, the most reliable statistics we have. Why? Because by using computer data-gathering bugs to collect sales information, they take into account Amazon sales, which is currently more than 50% of all books sold in the US and about 75% of all eBooks. Those articles about eBook sales declining are based upon data from the AAP or Neilsen–so they include the Big Five but not Amazon. EBook sales are declining at the Big Five, because they’ve raised their prices, which you’ll recall they fought hard for the right to do. At Amazon, the far bigger share of the pie, eBook sales and independent authors are increasing.

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So gross unit sales are rising, but…

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…the books that are selling are increasingly those from independent authors, not the Big Five. The Big Five have (somewhat) larger gross profits, due to the higher prices, but of course most of that money does not end up in the hands of authors:

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As a group, independent authors are taking home more money than Big Five authors. Remember, an independent author can claim a 70% royalty at Amazon, whereas a traditionally published author will get somewhere between 4-15%. So you can sell far fewer books but still take home more money.

I urge you to visit AuthorEarnings.com, read the report, and draw your own conclusions. Read May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the Definitive Million-Title Study of US Author Earnings.


4 thoughts on “What’s Really Going On in Publishing”

  1. Insightful! We are certainly witnessing a seismic shift. With the big 5 I feel like I’d be a red-shirt. Much better to be cast as an indie gold-shirt with phasers on kill!

    1. Nothing better to get my attention than a Star Trek reference or two. I do think we’re going to see the Big Five’s market share decline progressively as time marches on.

  2. Thanks Bill,
    I expect to finish my new novel by September. The question of eBook or print edition is one I have yet to answer. This may well help steer me in the right direction.
    Thank you also for the Red Sneaker Newsletter – always good value.
    For your readers who have not yet bought some or all of your fine books on writing, note:
    See my review on Amazon, but to recap: This is the best ‘writer’s package’ I have found in 50 years. If you read these books, digest them and make them your own, you cannot help but improve the finished work. My new novel, THE PRICE TO PAY, is definitely better for those reasons.
    Thanks again, Bill – Have a great year ahead.
    Eric J Drysdale (ericjdrysdale@gmail.com)

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