The Book of Numbers
September 22, 2017 10:07 AM   Subscribe

US Trade Publishing by the Numbers. An intensive dissection of the book industry with breakdowns by digital vs print, traditional vs indie, price-points and genre. Bonus: A Definitive Study of Amazon Author Earnings (2016).

Some takeaways:
Romance e-books are dominated by indie self-publishers.

From the Author Earnings report:

9,900 authors are making more than US$10,000 selling books on
4,600 authors are making more than US$25,000.
2,500 authors are making more than US$50,000 and 1,340 over US$100,000.

"Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate."
posted by storybored (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Note for digital book-buyers: Apprentice Alf's DeDRM for Calibre can help you keep your purchases, even after the store that sold it to you goes under or changes its policies. Don't get stuck when publishing industry norms change again! (B&N and Amazon have both changed policies and removed a lot of their customers' previous purchases.)

I'm delighted to see these numbers; they match what I'd understood the trends to be - that the "PRINT REVIVAL" was number-shifting and dodging awareness of indie publishing trends.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I made 125 dollars! Yay! I'm the long ass tail!
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:54 PM on September 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

.... I wonder if they're counting comic sales at all?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:55 PM on September 22, 2017

A note about DeDRM - the new Kindle format of a couple of years ago is impervious to its DRM breaking charms. But if you download your Kindle ebooks from the website direct to your PC or MAC it works just fine.

Or so I've heard.
posted by COD at 12:57 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can avoid the new Kindle format by using an older version of Amazon's Kindle-for-PC (or Mac, presumably); the new Kindle software is incompatible with Calibre. Versions 1.17 and older should work fine; linked article has links for both PC and Mac versions.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:04 PM on September 22, 2017

Wow, this is pretty grim. Only 1300 authors are earning 100,000? In the SF Bay Area, that is basically the low middle class. I know 100,000 goes farther in some parts of the country, but this is really bad.
posted by latkes at 1:09 PM on September 22, 2017

Great FPP.

Can somebody ELI5 this slide?:
posted by shalom at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2017

Latkes, I read that as making $100k on Amazon. Amazon might be the biggest fish but it's not the only fish--it doesn't count other physical bookstores, libraries, other e-retailers, etc. Still not great, but not quite as grim as it looks.

It also makes the self-publishers look a lot better--really, they ONLY make money on amazon. It's like going to a farmers' market and saying "organic produce farmers are making millions and Monsanto is making nothing!".
posted by AmandaA at 1:15 PM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Shalom, that slide says:

Why sales of print books rose in 2015-2016
"Agency" pricing blocked discounts on ebooks (previously), so Amazon discounted print books. Bigger discounts = more sales.

May 2015: average 3% discount on print books. Sales same as 2014.
Sep 2015: average 8% discount on print books. Sales 2% higher than 2014.

My conclusion: They sold more units; they likely didn't make more money.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:27 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some factoids from the slideshow:
  • 1,045,570,000 total books were sold in the US in 2016
  • 36% of total sales were ebooks, 60% were print
  • 22% of total sales were from non-traditional publishers, including 54% of ebooks vs. 3% of print
  • 69% of all sales were online, including 43% of print sales
  • Adult Fiction accounted for 511,579,000 sales, i.e. 50% of total books sold
  • Adult Fiction sales were 42% non-traditional, 67% ebooks, 70% sold online
Online adult fiction sales by genre:
  • All genres: 400M
  • Romance: 156M (66% non-traditional)
  • Thriller/Suspense: 64M
  • Mystery: 38M
  • SF: 21M (52% non-traditional)
  • Fantasy: 21M (47% non-traditional)
  • YA Science Fiction & Fantasy, not included in above: 32M
  • African-American Fiction: 12M (74% non-traditional)
  • Other General Fiction: 32M
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2017

COD: Can confirm. I've turned off updates for my Kindle PC app. Have not had any problem downloading new purchases and removing Amazon DRM. I don't expect this to last forever, but I'll use it while I can.

I buy most of my books from Amazon. I don't give books away, except to (rarely) share with my wife (we don't have a very big overlap in reading tastes). I remove DRM because I bought the book, dammit, and Amazon will not take it away from me, and I convert them to ePub in case I can't use them on my Kindle anymore.
posted by lhauser at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2017

I've generally taken the Author Earnings reports with a grain of salt, because at least initially their methodology obtaining their information was sketchy to me (I haven't looked at their current methodology in any detail, but looking at the 2016 report there still seems to be a fair mount of "and then magic happens" to it), and because their eagerness to sort of hand wave over the sales/earnings areas they're not interested in order to paint a picture of an indie (and by "indie" I really mean "Amazon-dependent") ascendant future to the publishing industry means in my experience they're, if not directly misrepresenting the overall universe of potential author earnings, at least willing to hustle everyone along so they don't linger for enough time to start asking inconvenient questions.

But even taking the data presented at their word means, as others have noted here, that you're still only really hearing about what's going on at Amazon (to the extent their data scraping is accurate at all). Even with noting the outsized position that Amazon has within bookselling, there's so much more to the potential universe of author earning that the implicit "Amazon is the be all and end all" messaging here really obfuscates the extent to which there is an economic life outside of that store front.

As an author who is "traditionally published,"* I tend to think of my author earnings as having four quadrants: Print, electronic, audio and foreign sales. Of these quadrants, two of them have the majority of their sales go through Amazon: electronic and audio (by dint of Audible being owned by Amazon), although I can say that in both cases my income from other retailers is significant enough that noting only what sells via Amazon is non-trivially incomplete. Amazon has less than half of my print sales (I sell very well in bookstores, particularly in indies that don't necessarily report to Bookscan, and via Subterranean Press a small but again non-trivial number of my sales are direct). Amazon barely registers my foreign sales at all. Estimating my total sales based on my Amazon sales will lead you astray.

And it wouldn't tell you my earnings anyway. This "earnings based off Amazon sales" scheme also obfuscates a very important point about my earnings and the earnings of many traditional authors: They're very often not directly related to sales at all. A substantial amount of my earnings every year, and of the earnings of many "traditional" authors, are in the form of advances, which while usually predicated on how one's publisher thinks one's book will sell over its sales life, do not track to individual sales (or sales over a limited period of time) to any significant extent. My earnings in any particular year will include both advances and royalties, and in any particular year those earnings will not correspond to the specific number of books sold.

(And also, these estimations don't take into consideration a fifth "quadrant" of potential author earnings, which are ancillary earnings based off of, but not directly relating to, book sales, like film/tv options, merchandising and speaker's fees. This "quadrant" generally requires a substantial bit of luck to achieve, but if you are lucky, this fifth "quadrant" can be a substantial portion of one's earnings.)

All of which is to say that a) the Author Earnings reports in my opinion oversell the importance of Amazon to authors' potential earnings, particularly to "traditionally published" authors, b) undersell some of the disadvantages that come with being an indie/Amazon ecosystem author, among them the relative difficulty to exploit foreign sales, audio sales, non-Amazon-related print sales, and ancillary earnings. When this presentation talks about "earnings" and strongly implies that traditional authors are not earning as much as indie/Amazon ecosystem authors (particularly newer authors), I'm aware of how much of my earnings this formulation misses, and how little those earnings have to do with the earnings methodology laid out here.

*I will note here that one of my "traditional publishers" in this case is Amazon, with whom I have a long-term contract via its Audible audiobook arm (which includes advances, royalties, etc). Lest anyone think I am reflexively anti-Amazon, I'll note I'm really not -- Amazon has done very well for me, and Audible in particular is a joy to work with. They're just not my whole earnings universe.
posted by jscalzi at 2:09 AM on September 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

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