A million-title study of US author earnings from Amazon.com reveals indie authors outperform Big Five authors in terms of percentage market share of ebook unit sales and author income but Big Five still hold edge in gross $ sales, despite declining percentage.
For some time now I have been on the mailing list of AuthorEarnings, a website by authors for authors whose purposes is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions.
They’ve taken on a big challenge given how difficult it is to extract data from different sources within the publishing industry to cover the sales of all book formats – hardbacks, paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks. As they say in their most recent report, ‘Data in the publishing biz is hard to come by. Without widespread sharing of data by retailers, publishers, agents, and authors, we are all left like the blind to describe different parts of the same but seemingly disjointed elephant.’
However, AuthorEarnings has made enormous strides, especially in the area of ebook sales data, and are gaining respect and credibility amongst publishers, agents and retailers as well as authors. This year they were asked to present the keynote speech at the Digital Book World 2016 conference.
Their methodology employs a software spider that crawls across Amazon’s bestseller lists. The 200,000+ titles on those lists make up roughly 60% of Amazon’s daily sales. However, AuthorEarnings acknowledge that this leaves an appreciable number of titles and sales unaccounted for.
AuthorEarnings say, ‘Independent authors familiar with our data have claimed to be making a livable wage without a single one of their books appearing on any Amazon bestseller list. These are the truly invisible among the already difficult-to-discern. We wanted to see if they could be found.
‘So for this report, instead of just looking at Amazon’s bestseller lists, we had our spider follow links to also-bought recommendations and also through each authors’ full catalog. This resulted in a million-title dataset, our most comprehensive and definitive look yet at author earnings. We were able to tally up precisely how many indie authors, Big Five authors, small/medium press authors, and Amazon-imprint authors are currently making enough from Amazon.com sales to land in a number of “tax brackets”.’
They ended up with daily sales data on a million of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks — nearly a third of all titles listed in the US Kindle store. They captured practically all of the titles selling with any frequency whatsoever, the vast majority of the infrequently-selling titles, and many, many of the non-selling books. Their dataset includes:
- Nearly every single Kindle book selling 1 or more copy per day (98.5% of them)
- 90% of all Kindle titles selling at least 2-3 copies a week
- 81% of all Kindle titles selling 1 or more copies a week
- 64% of all Kindle titles selling 2 or more copies a month
- 32%of all Kindle titles listed in the Amazon US Kindle store.
With this report, Author Earnings is now capturing and breaking down a full 82% of daily Amazon Kindle ebook sales. Only 18% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales remain unaccounted for in their data — and they say that 18% is coming from titles selling less than a copy a day and most of that coming from titles selling less than a copy a month. These are books by very lowest-selling authors on Amazon, who have no other titles making any significant sales either.
Obviously Amazon is only a proportion of the market, but it is a significant proportion of the market. The AuthorEarnings report is US-centric, but I do think it provides an interesting analysis of trends that are relevent to Australian authors, especially those who have books for sale in the US. This particular report breaks down sales and looks at trends in terms of five groups:
- Big Five published authors
- Small to medium-sized publishing house authors
- Indie authors
- Amazon-only published authors
- Uncategorised single author publishers
The data confirms what so many long-standing authors tell newbies: the more books you have, the more readers you will gain, the more success you will have and the more money you will make.
Ebook Market Share: 27 month trends
The first AuthorEarnings report was published in February 2014. For the May 2016 report, they had a look at trends over the last 27 months: how has the distribution of ebook unit sales, gross consumer $ spending, and author earnings changed among publisher types?
Indie-published author sales continue to grow at a significant rate, by approximately 17% over the 27-month period to 43% of total Amazon ebook sales. Big Five published author sales continue to drop but seem to have bottomed out at around 23% of Amazon sales as the average price of their books has dropped from $10.31 in January this year to $8.67 in May. Big Five author earnings continue to drop to reflect their lower market share.
How much of a boost do non-bestselling listed titles give to a bestselling author’s bottom line? The answer varies by publisher type. Indie authors and the Big Five are the beneficiaries of these additional sales. Indie authors on average receive the highest increment of additional revenue – 30% – versus Big Five authors who make an additional 21%. The contribution for authors with a small or medium publishing house is 13% on average. The data for Amazon-Imprint Published authors with listed bestsellers is particularly interesting. Their other non-listed titles only contribute an additional 5% to their bottom lines. AuthorEarnings speculates that this either reflects the small number of both authors and titles that Amazon Imprints publish or that greater Amazon marketing adeptness of their books keeps a higher percentage of their titles visible on the bestseller lists to begin with.
I’ll continue to explore the results of the Author Earnings May 2016 over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you would like to read the full report, you will find it here. You can also sign up to receive their reports of follow them on Twitter: @AuthorEarnings
Note: Graphs provided by AuthorEarnings.