The importance of backlist sales

More analysis of the May 2016 Author Earnings Report

The AuthorEarnings (AE) May 2016 report studied one million titles. That covered 294,091 authors, broken down as follows:

  • 123,371:  Small/Medium Publisher Authors
  • 75,943: Indie Authors
  • 35,457: Big Five Authors
  •  1,822: Amazon Imprint Authors, and
  • 57,498: Uncategorised (either single title authors or those that AE could not categorise as one of the above)

One of the subsets of the report looked at how much of a boost non-listed titles add to a bestselling author’s bottom line. This is an interesting question. Essentially, it is a look at backlist sales and how much they add to an author’s bottom line.

According to AuthorEarnings, the answer varies by publisher type. Indie authors and Big Five authors with one or more bestseller listed titles benefit the most, gaining an additional 30% and 21% respectively in sales. Authors with small to medium publishing houses get an additional contribution of 13%.

The AE report doesn’t comment on when these backlist sales are highest, but I would think that authors get the biggest boost to backlist sales at launch or shortly afterwards when you are top-of-mind with the reader in question. Promotions of backlist titles within two to six months after launch of a new book could be very beneficial. Of course, this is all based on the premise that your new book was a ‘bestseller’ and made enough of an impression for readers to remember you favourably.

Here’s a graph* reflecting the boost backlist sales give an author by publishing category.

Blog graph

The data for Amazon-Imprint Published authors with listed bestsellers is of an anomoly. Their other non-listed titles only contribute an additional 5% to their bottom lines. AE speculate that this

  • Either reflects the small number of both authors and titles that Amazon Imprints publish,
  • Or that superior Amazon marketing strategies and solutions keeps a higher percentage of these authors titles visible on the bestseller lists in the first place.

AE also pulled related Amazon data on 900,000 top-selling print titles and 67,000 top selling audiobooks, including every format of every single title by any author who had even one title of any format on any Amazon bestseller list. This made it the most comprehensive AE report ever.

They say that their report is very representative of the US market, and that, in fact, in the American market, Amazon accounts for 50% of the sales of all traditionally published authors and 85% of all indie authors.

However, I have some quibbles:

  1. The AE report authors do not say how they know that 50% of the sale of all traditionally published authors and 85% of the sales all indie authors go through Amazon. I would like to know where that information comes from, especially on traditionally published authors. Most publishing houses are not listed companies and like most private companies, they are notoriously shy about giving away information. I have asked them the question and will let you know when I get an answer.
  2. They acknowledge that their study does not include the sales: print sales through brick and mortar bookstores and other mass merchandisers; ebook sales through Apple iBookStore,, Kobo, and Google Play; audiobook sales through iTunes; print books sold online through retailers; library sales; publisher-direct sales; author-direct sales; non-US digital and online print sales through other Amazon stores such,,, etc.; and other foreign sales.
  3. They are not overly fussed about sales in other markets as they say most US authors earn the majority of their income in America. However, that applies equally for Australian authors; most Australian authors will make the bulk of their sales in Australia so if you are not an American author, you have to be aware that other factors may be different in your market, including the percentage contribution of other retailers and outlets.

I’ll keep looking at the results from 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.

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