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Author Topic: May 2016 Author Earnings Report  (Read 4566 times)

Offline Raptori

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May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« on: June 03, 2016, 04:24:50 PM »
They've used some new techniques to gather data on over a million books this time, so the statistics are doubly interesting to look at. You can read it here: authorearnings.com/report/may-2016-report

From a writer's perspective, all the charts like this one are pretty compelling:



In short, if you want to earn money from your writing, it's an increasibly bad idea to go the traditional publishing route. That holds true across the higher income groups too - even the $1,000,000 per year threshhold.
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Offline zmunkz

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2016, 05:18:09 PM »
Wow that is interesting... so indie is statistically the way to go these days looks like.
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2016, 05:35:14 PM »
like most things, however, just because you go indie doesn't mean you'll instantly make money.

quality still matters.

Offline Raptori

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2016, 05:52:16 PM »
Yeah of course, that goes without saying.  :)
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Offline zmunkz

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2016, 09:06:16 PM »
Upon reading this more carefully, I think there is something to note...

First, they do mention how brick-and-mortar sales in traditional publishing is as-much-as 50% of the sales an author will get. They handicap the results later on by basically doubling the revenue numbers of traditional publishing to account for this, at which point indie and traditional are more comparable ... but most of the graphs do not include this correction.

What they don't do at all, which seems necessary, is compensate for the difference in volume of the samples.  If you look at the first appendix, they show that of the 1M titles they sampled, 13% are Big-5, and 31% are indie.  This is important. They have twice as many samples of indie work, and yet all these graphs are only looking at total number of authors from a given category to make a certain amount of money. Of course there are more indie authors IN TOTAL making more money... there are more indie authors period!

The question is not about total number, it is about proportional number... in other words, does one publishing route give you a better overall chance of making money (for whatever complicated reasons).  In order to answer this, we need to normalize the data set.

An easy way to do this is just to double the big-5 bars on the charts. 13% is about half of 31%, so really we want to know what we'd see in our totals if we had another 18% on our big-5 sample set. If we had twice as many big-5 titles as the data set currently has, we could expect twice as many authors in a particular category than we are counting currently.

Then you need to (slightly-less-than-)double the big-5 bars again to include the brick-and-mortar sales.  Once you do double the bar twice over, it is no longer clear that indie publishing gives you any statistical advantage of making more money when compared to traditional publishing. It seems like your odds of being a major hit in either group are about the same, and maybe slightly less in indie. This also explains why traditional publishing is not out of business, which is a question I was curious about after reading the article the first time.

So I guess the moral of the story is, worry about writing a really good book instead of which method of publication to pursue ;-)

In any case, thanks again for sharing, this was a very interesting article.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2016, 09:27:07 PM »
Yeah that's a good point, might be worth asking what the ratios are!

However, what that argument doesn't take into account is that a larger proportion of the indie stuff will have noticeable flaws which put off readers. From what I've understood, their analysis is not saying that anyone who indie publishes whatever they've written has a higher chance of earning money than anyone who publishes traditionally, it's saying that given a book of a certain quality (i.e. good ) you'll make more money from it if you publish indie.

I'll comment now and ask...
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 09:34:13 PM by Raptori »
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Offline zmunkz

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2016, 09:31:38 PM »
Hmm, yeah that would be a good point to clarify. I guess the real-real question should be, given a specific new book, are you more likely to make more by publishing indie or traditional.

To an extent I think we can go by proportions to answer that, although as you point out, maybe not. You might have a higher proportional success rate in traditional because they are more exclusive and do good editing... whereas indie is "watered down" so to speak.  But for an author who can write to the caliber that would get acceptance traditionally, do THEY stand to make more by going indie.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2016, 09:37:31 PM »
Yep exactly, and since that's such a subjective thing it's hard to see how they could pull that kind of information just from sales data. I'm too tired to actually think it through right now though...  :P
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Offline cupiscent

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2016, 01:39:45 AM »
Unfortunately I don't have time to read through the whole article, but what I'm not seeing in that graph or the quick skim I did of the article is what percentage of all published authors those numbers represent - i.e. sure, that many indie-published authors earn 10k+ a year, but how many indie/self-published authors earn almost nothing?

Because that's the thing that bothers me so much about the idea of going it alone. I could spend heaps of my own money and my own time (arguably much more valuable than my money, because I could be spending time on my writing or my family instead, whereas money just spends on things) producing a quality product and trying to bring that product to the attention of readers... and still not earn very much.

And sure, with traditional publishing, I also may not earn very much, but I haven't laid out money, I've laid out less time (though obviously I will still need to spend time to supplement the marketing and distribution efforts of the publisher), and at a base minimum I have my advance earnings. Plus there's just something reassuring about not being the only person taking a risk on this book.

But hey, I'm a nervous bunny. More power to those who find all of that invigorating and energising. :)

Offline zmunkz

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2016, 02:12:03 AM »
Unfortunately I don't have time to read through the whole article, but what I'm not seeing in that graph or the quick skim I did of the article is what percentage of all published authors those numbers represent - i.e. sure, that many indie-published authors earn 10k+ a year, but how many indie/self-published authors earn almost nothing?

Because that's the thing that bothers me so much about the idea of going it alone. I could spend heaps of my own money and my own time (arguably much more valuable than my money, because I could be spending time on my writing or my family instead, whereas money just spends on things) producing a quality product and trying to bring that product to the attention of readers... and still not earn very much.

And sure, with traditional publishing, I also may not earn very much, but I haven't laid out money, I've laid out less time (though obviously I will still need to spend time to supplement the marketing and distribution efforts of the publisher), and at a base minimum I have my advance earnings. Plus there's just something reassuring about not being the only person taking a risk on this book.

But hey, I'm a nervous bunny. More power to those who find all of that invigorating and energising. :)

All good points. The article estimates they've captured the top 85% of Amazon's sellers, but as you point out, there are TONS of indie authors that post stories that don't sell at all, ever.  None of these would be factored in, making the indie playing field potentially huge. I think the premise needs to be, assuming you could get published traditionally, what is your best option.

Also, as you point out, going traditional is really a whole different animal, and there are other reasons people might like that route aside from strict revenue potential.  Not worrying about copyediting, or cover design, getting an advance, being able to focus on actually writing... these are all other factors to consider that these charts don't touch upon.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2016, 03:16:20 AM »
It's absolutely an interesting chart, and it makes sense ... for the few indies who do WELL, they're going to blow the traditional authors out of the water. It's the same in gaming ... Notch made Minecraft as an indie, with no publisher, and then sold it to Microsoft for like a billion dollars. If you compare the money Notch has made to the average indie game developer, it's like 10000% more. But success like Notch's is rare.

So, I think this chart is deceptive. All other things being equal, if a book does well and takes off, an indie author is always going to outperform a traditional published author - they're taking home waaaay more money per sale. But the chances of breaking out as an indie are very low.

In addition, the average traditionally published author is still doing waaay better than the average indie author. They may not be making enough to quit their day job, but they're definitely making more than the vast majority of folks who indie pub and sell a few books a day a week, at $0.99.

So my take remains - exhaust every traditional publishing avenue out there and then, and only then (if you're still confident in your book, and have the money to pay for a copyeditor and cover) go the self-pub route. And remember what a huge amount of work your self-publishing is going to be.

Offline Raptori

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #11 on: June 04, 2016, 09:10:09 AM »
Relevant comment from Data Guy:

Quote
Roughly half of the sub-$10,000 earners were indie. The other half were traditionally published (including nearly 100,000 Big Five authors earning less than $10,000 a year).

But even that’s a false equivalence, no more meaningful than comparing the average incomes of all lottery ticket-buyers in one lottery (the indie one) against the average incomes of only the lottery winners in another lottery (the traditional one). After all, every one of those sub-$10,000 traditionally-published authors beat long odds to land an agent and secure a publishing deal. For each one of them, there are dozens of other traditionally-aspiring authors who are still querying unsuccessfully, and earning $0 from their work.

A fair comparison would include in traditional publishing’s tally every single one of those zero-income aspiring authors still stuck in the slush pile.

The reality of authorship is, and always has been, this: only a tiny fraction of those who want to earn a living doing this ever will. It’s still a single-digit percentage at best. But today, given the superior author-economics of indie publishing, the number of authors who can earn a living from their writing — while still tiny — has grown severalfold.

All my best,
Data Guy

Still feel like it deserves a bit of a closer look, will have to come back to it later.  :-\
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Offline JMack

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Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #12 on: June 04, 2016, 11:19:05 AM »
I wonder if there is an underlying increase in book consumption involved as well. If there's been a several fold increase in those who can earn a living, are they a reduction in the big 5ers who were making too little, or a part of an overall increase in sales?
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #13 on: June 04, 2016, 03:20:48 PM »
But for an author who can write to the caliber that would get acceptance traditionally, do THEY stand to make more by going indie.

this is undoubtably what is showing up in that chart.  traditionally published, midlist authors are leaving publishing houses in droves led by folks like joe konrath and barry eisler.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/03/backlist-then-and-now.html
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html


I wonder if there is an underlying increase in book consumption involved as well. If there's been a several fold increase in those who can earn a living, are they a reduction in the big 5ers who were making too little, or a part of an overall increase in sales?

i can't find a chart with unit sales.  granted, i didn't look *really* hard.

this one has sales revenue:
https://www.statista.com/chart/1159/ebook-sales-to-surpass-printed-book-sales-in-2017/

it says revenue is slightly down overall.  however:
1) ebooks account for half the revenue
2) ebooks are substantially cheaper
3) most (probably?) ebook authors are earning 75% instead of 15%

so, i would imagine, yeah, unit sales are up, dollars-to-publishers are way down, and dollars-to-authors is way up.

Offline cupiscent

Re: May 2016 Author Earnings Report
« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2016, 01:53:16 AM »
My understanding is definitely that established-midlist is a much greener field in indie than in trad. Rachel Aaron showcased some examples on this on her blog last year.

Data Guy's comment is definitely relevant and a great way of looking at things - however, I would point out that being a querying author cost me zero dollars and no work on producing a book-as-product (design, cover, professional copyedit, etc). Sure, I wasn't earning anything, but I also wasn't spending anything.