It’s that time of year again: the Author Earnings Report is out. I urge you, if you are an Indie author, or if like me, you fall into the “Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher” category, that you go take a look at this report. It’s the fifth quarterly report of its kind, and well, it’s a huge validation.
Only seven months ago, the idea that indie self-published authors and their ebooks were outearning all authors published by the Big Five publishers combined was jaw-dropping heresy. Today, it’s boring — a widely-acknowledged fact among knowledgeable authors, if not industry pundits. Many authors who publish both ways point out their earnings disparity in favor of their self-published titles, and so this data is no longer surprising.
In other words, looking at the numbers, Indies are eating Trad Pub’s sandwich. In the graph above, showing the truth of author earnings, not publishers, we see the reality of what going Indie can do for you. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but the reality is that writing has always been a lot of work, above and beyond the act of creation. So the pie chart above is for a quarter’s data. How about the one year data, now that Author Earnings Report is old enough to (you’ll pardon me) show us the money? Anecdotally, the commentators on this blog have expressed that they appreciate the affordability of Indie authors, overall. When a trad-pub book weighs in at $9.99 and you can buy somewhere between two to four times as much reading material from Indie authors, the choice seems obvious. But wait, you say, you can’t treat books like a commodity! They are art, and quality counts for more than quantity, surely? I’m going to digress a little. Once upon a time there was a little girl. Yes, she had pigtails, a puppy, and a pony, but that really isn’t relevant to the story. She was also poor. She didn’t really know this, because she was happy. She had her family that loved her, and plenty of outdoors to run around in, and although there were a few bitter drops, a lot of her happy childhood centered around books. But there was never enough money to buy all the books she wanted to read, so she had to take into consideration how long the book would last, before she brought it home with her. So she never read comic books. Trad pubs are like those comic books. The might be bright, shiny, and attractive, but the true readers, the ones like that little girl, who had to read, they want more than quick and done. They want that quantity, and they are learning that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to get it. More and more, through word of mouth, trusted reviewers, and often enough, the friends I make in the industry, I can get more than I can read without breaking a monthly book budget. Yeah, I have one of those, I have had ever since I found Baen Webscriptions, and carefully managed to buy just that, every other month. Fortunately, my budget is a little bigger now (and it’s now a monthly bundle, but still worth the money most months). Switching hats from reader to publisher, I see this as encouraging. Just last week I snarked about the demise of the ebook. These numbers tell me that despite the cooked-book numbers you see through traditional outlets, ebooks are here to stay, and the readers are only just beginning to consume. It’s like a buffet. You see all the variety, go nuts… but the next night, you have a better idea of what to pick and choose. That’s what we are seeing, the slow sophistication of the reader in choosing authors they enjoy, and can afford. Sure, there are a lot of free books out there. I still pick some up for my kindle app from time to time. But increasingly they tend to be old books I am using for research (Aino Folk Tales, anyone? Greek and Roman Surgical Tools?). My reading for pleasure is split between KU, which I like as I can guilt-free pick up a book by an unknown and delete it if it reeks horribly, and buying authors I know and like. And the cherry on top is that every time I visit Amazon, I get this cool little scroll-bar of recommendations for me, based on my tastes. Oddly enough, they seem to think I’d like this Cedar Sanderson person… I’m just a little chuffed at being listed in the same span with Jody Lynn Nye and Chris Nuttall. Who is himself an upstart Indie sort of fellow. You will note, though, there isn’t a book on that list for more than $5 which makes it right in the sweet spot for affordability. But to return to the Author Earnings Report, I wanted to talk about the ISBN thing. Or rather, the lack thereof. Most Indie ebooks (and keep in mind, we are talking ebooks, not print, all the way through here) are sold without the ISBN that traditionally has been used to track sales. The result of this is what the authors of the AER call a Shadow Industry. For more complete data, they went through all 120,000 titles in the report, looking to see which ones had ISBNs. That is a huge amount of work, and I doff my hat to them. All the hats, from reader to author to publisher (I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins!). The results are hardly surprising. Once again, we Indies are eating that sandwich calmly, no muss, no fuss, just delicious earnings. Below you will see a figure comparing Indies to Indies, based on the ISBNs. Like the authors of the AER, I suspect that the reason is lower prices on the books where the author had not laid out a ridiculous amount of money on an identifier that they did not need. There is a huge amount of material to digest in the AER. I’m still contemplating it. But I’m also doing a little happy dance (very little, because I can’t dance) about this. For me, it validates the decisions I have made, to stay independent and to seek earning my fortune as an entrepreneur when it comes to writing. Persistence pays off. Now, I just have to persevere through finishing the novel in progress, and start the next one, because one thing I’ve learned about readers, you all are insatiable!