Surprising Self-Publishing Stats
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Statistics are funny things. Sometimes they teach us a lot, sometimes they are confusing, and sometimes they are intentionally misleading. Some of the sta- tistics from two recent self-publishing surveys, however, are starting to shake up the conventional
wisdom about indie authors—at least a little.
The first survey is the third quarterly “Author Earnings” report, compiled by bestselling indie author Hugh Howey to
“gather and share information so writers can make informed
decisions.” The report concludes that “the indie movement in
literature is not a blip and not a gold rush.” It is definitely here
The “Author Earnings” report takes its data from 7,000 top-selling digital genre titles on Amazon’s category bestseller lists.
Among its findings:
; The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of
the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.
; Digital rights management (DRM) “harms e-book sales at any
; Self-published books now represent 31% of e-book sales on
Amazon’s Kindle store.
; Indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going
; Self-published authors are “dominating traditionally published
authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres,
but—and here is the surprise—they are also taking “significant
market share in all genres.”
Not so surprising is the finding that sales of literary fiction
are fairly weak. This, the report says, is because literary fiction
is “an anemic segment of publishing overall” (the study, though,
does not reflect sales of print books).
It’s clear from the report that, though the upward trend in
sales of indie titles for the past three quarters may slow or even
reverse during the upcoming holiday season, strong indie sales
will continue, and indie books are now a significant and permanent part of the book publishing landscape.
The second survey is from Mark Coker, founder of the e-book
distributor Smashwords. He has also come up with some sur-
prising findings. For example, what would you guess the sweet
spot for e-book pricing is? Just last year it seemed that 99¢ was
the magic number and that giving away free books, at least for
a while, was almost guaranteed to jump-start future sales. Not
so anymore. At least not in the way it used to be.
In his 2014 survey, Coker took a look at aggregated retail and
library sales data for Smashwords books. Smashwords’ catalogue
offers more than 250,000 titles from over 70,000 authors and
publishers. Coker examined $25 million in customer purchases
through retailers that include Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble,
Diesel (now closed), Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony
(now closed), and public libraries. Notice that Amazon is not
on the list.
Here are some of the key findings from the 2014 survey:
; $2.99 and $3.99 are currently the pricing sweet spots for most
e-book bestsellers. In general, authors who price their books
modestly earn more than those whose prices are higher,
but 99¢ is “no longer the path to riches.”
; Readers prefer longer e-books. In fact, bestselling books tend to
be over 100,000 words. This was a big surprise to us.
; Series books outsell standalone books, but series books under
50,000 words are at a sales disadvantage.
; Free still works as a marketing tool, especially when an author
offers the first book in a series for free, but it is much less
effective than before, primarily because so many authors are
taking advantage of it.
; Preorders give authors a sales advantage. “I think preorders
today are where free was five years ago,” says Coker. “The first
authors to effectively utilize preorders will gain the most
advantage, just as the first authors to enter new distribution
channels gain the most advantage.”
; Nonfiction earns more at higher prices. This was a real shocker
for us. “Nonfiction buyers are less price sensitive,” says Coker.
“It appears as if most nonfiction authors are underpricing their
works, and they should experiment with higher prices,” he says.
Coker is quick to point out that this analysis is based on his
own interpretation of the findings, and should only be used to
provide authors with possible clues to help them make informed
decisions about how to market their own unique books. ;
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of Book Works.com.