JD Holiday

Indie Self-publishers Account for More Than Twice The Number of Big Five titles: What Does Author Earnings Say to the Industry? by Porter Anderson

What Does Author Earnings Say to the Industry? 

by Porter Anderson

Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson has reported on the upcoming FW’s Digital Book World conference, March 7 to 9 in New York, where the mystery analyst, called,  Data Guy will present a keynote oration, Outside the Data Box: Taking a Fresh Look at ebook Sales, the Indie-publishing Market, and a Fast-changing Publishing Business.

As an author, I’m very interested in where indie self-publishers come down. So, this is what interested me from Mr. Anderson’s article:

Author Earnings asserts that on Amazon’s bestseller lists, indie self-published titles account for more than twice the number of  Big Five titles.

“What has changed,” the report tells us, “is the degree to which Amazon’s overall Top 20 bestsellers, and even the overall Top 10, have come to be dominated by self-published titles from indie authors—nearly half of which were not priced at $0.99 but rather ‘full-priced’ sales at prices between $2.99 and $5.99.”

From the date on which “our spider ran,” in Guy-talk:

  • Four of Amazon’s overall Top 10 bestselling ebooks were self-published indie titles
  • Ten of Amazon’s overall Top 20 bestselling ebooks were self-published indie titles
  • Fifty-six of Amazon’s overall Top 100 bestselling ebooks—more than half—were self-published indie titles
  • Twenty  of Amazon’s overall Top 100 bestselling ebooks were indie titles priced between $2.99 and$5.99

The most interesting question for us at this juncture is just what the trade publishing management attending DBW will make of this. Can it be that the “legacy” industry is being outclassed so substantially by “indie published” authors—the self-published sector?

Indeed, of interest to everyone, the report goes on to submit that it can tell us “how many ebooks a day Amazon.com is actually selling.” I quote the report:

As of mid-January 2016, Amazon’s US ebook sales were running at a rate of 1,064,000 paid downloads a day…

Total: 1,064,000

  • Indie Self-Published ebook KU full-read equivalents    155,000
  • Indie Self-Published regular retail ebook sales    293,000
  • Small/Medium Publisher ebook sales     204,000
  • Amazon-Publishing Imprint ebook sales     115,000
  • Big Five Publisher ebook sales     244,000
  • Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher ebook sales   53,000

Where the partisan nature of the Author Earnings effort always surfaces most clearly is, logically, in its claims about indie-author earning power, that original two-year-old agenda, “the pie chart that interests us the most,” as the report puts it. Here it is:

Ebook sales on Amazon.com, Data Guy tells us “are generating $1,756,000 a day in author earnings. But less than 40 percent of those author-earnings dollars—from the largest bookstore in the world—is now going to traditionally-published authors. And less than a quarter is going to authors published with the Big Five.”

What follows immediately is the bone that Author Earnings always wants to pick with the industry, with the Authors Guild, and with standard reporting methods:

“Is it any wonder that the traditional publishing media and historic author advocacy groups are reporting declining ebook sales and shrinking author incomes for their members? We humbly submit that, for author earnings, these organizations are looking in all the wrong places. $140 million a year in Kindle Unlimited payouts is going directly to authors, and yet that enormous sum of income is somehow uncounted by traditional author surveys. And as we are now able to measure, that sum is only the tip of the iceberg. There is also a vast swath of the market not being reported on at all, along with a whole host of authors not paying dues to author advocacy groups and simply going about the business of earning an income with their art.”

This is the language of self-publishing as what some of its champions call the “shadow industry,” a creative corps that cares nothing for the customs and concerns of the industry, and yet seems never to tire of carping at the establishment. It’s always worth noting that even some of the most-honored self-publishing bestsellers have taken contracts when offered.

And as anyone familiar with negotiating basics knows, by framing its results in ways that call out “the other side”—in this case, traditional publishing—Author Earnings repeatedly has hobbled its own efforts to widen the discussion. Rather than simply present an interpretation of the market and let that interpretation speak for itself, the material is served on a bed of right and wrong. Eyes glaze over, chips remain on shoulders, collegial exchange seems hard to come by.

For the first time, Author Earnings expands to print sales, and there, the Big Five are allowed a 47-percent dominance of daily revenue to authors from print bestsellers. The chart:

The commentary that goes with this one:

“It’s interesting to note here that the Big Five hold less than a quarter of print bestseller slots, and their unit sales, dollars, and author royalties are less than half of Amazon’s print business. This is a greater percentage than any other publishing type, but it again stresses the need for balance and perspective when the top publishers’ numbers are taken to represent the whole of the industry; they don’t even represent half of online sales in the format they are supposed to dominate. And self-published indie authors, who are already taking home 14 percent of online print author earnings, have captured a significant share of the author dollars from online print sales.”


1 thought on “Indie Self-publishers Account for More Than Twice The Number of Big Five titles: What Does Author Earnings Say to the Industry? by Porter Anderson”

  1. This is all well and good, but small press…indie publishers (the original indies)…are still selling 7% more ebooks than self publishing and the Big Five combined. Why do people constantly push small press under the rug in terms of publishing. We have the larger market share for ebooks.


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