Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The DBW website is focused entirely on the business of ebooks and digital publishing. Because one of the most interesting and relevant stories in this arena is the rise of self-publishing (also known as indie publishing), we cover that, too.
To that end, I was a bit taken aback when I saw this tweet directed at DBW from prominent indie author, Hugh Howey:
— Hugh Howey (@hughhowey) July 11, 2014
The tweet* was in context of a discussion of whether DBW was biased against indie authors. I’m not really even sure what this means, to be honest, to be biased against indie authors, but notwithstanding, in my opinion, DBW is anything but.
(Disclosure: I have reached out to Howey about this comment and the rest of what I say below that concerns him and Author Earnings.
When I did so, it was late at night — but I eagerly await his response and would love to engage him on these topics. I think it’s the right thing to do when you write about someone or something to give them a chance to respond. We have made contact, as you can see below, though he refused to respond to my points about Author Earnings data despite my asking repeatedly.)
We have breathlessly tracked the stunning rise of self-published authors onto the ebook best-seller list, something nobody else outside of Kindle was doing — although our list tracks across multiple retailers. (Here’s the first time a self-published best-seller hit No. 1 on our list.)
We’ve created two very complex surveys about what authors do and want with our partners Writers Digest to try to help publishers and self-publishing service providers better serve them — and when we could, we brought to the forefront information that can help authors:
These are just three of the pieces we put together for authors compiling data from real authors about real outcomes that will help authors navigate the publishing landscape. Before you dismiss them, read them and then tell me we’re “biased” against indie authors.
And I have publicly said on NPR, in multiple comments online and in front of live audiences, a version of the following:
The democratization of access to wide audiences is one of the greatest developments of our time in book publishing. It personally heartens me to see people who wouldn’t have before have the opportunity to publish books. For many authors, based on my many conversations with them and our surveys of thousands of them, the ability to bring a book into the world and share it with even a few people is a dream come true. The fact that some people are making a killing doing so is wonderful; and the fact that a few more are paying bills with their work is even more amazing.
But here’s the “but,” and it’s the “but” that I think has made some indie authors angry at DBW: Most authors — both those who self-publish and traditionally publish — don’t make a living doing it. This is borne out in the DBW survey data from two years now (first year, second year — paid content, but we will likely make this public soon). It’s borne out in the Author Earnings data (more on that later). It’s borne out in the new data coming out of the UK. It’s borne out in other creative industries. There’s nothing but a few very vocal outliers claiming that it isn’t so.
And so what? So what if upwards of 95% of the 391,000 tracked self-published titles from 2012, for instance, didn’t make thousands of dollars? First of all, that means there were thousands that did very well, that gained huge audiences and made enough money so people could pay a few bills and in some cases quit their jobs and become full-time writers living off their income — and in some cases become millionaires. That’s amazing.
And that’s just the titles with ISBNs. There are likely many more — many more that sell a handful of copies if any, and many more that go on to great successes of varying sizes.
I’d say that beyond not being biased against indie authors, we’re in fact quite supportive of them and try to give them all the resources we can to help them succeed.
Now, as for the topic of Amazon, which Howey mentions in his tweet, talk to the folks there who deal with us, the press people, the sources we have. I think they’ll tell you they think we are completely fair in our coverage. We are in near constant contact with them, gaining information that we share, responding to feedback, etc.
In fact, and I’m quoting here, Howey himself said of my moderation of a webcast this week with New York Times reporter David Streitfeld and GigaOm news editor Laura Owen about Amazon-Hachette: “You’re killing it.” I was asking them both pointed questions about the issue, probing about both company’s positions.
I don’t understand how in the webcast, Howey could say that we’re doing a good job being even-handed and then publicly say that DBW has the most horrid and obvious bias. How can you be “killing it” on Wednesday and “horrid” on Thursday.
But, beyond that, again, I have written and spoken in public, on public radio, saying a version of the following:
Amazon is the most dynamic company in book publishing today. It sparked the ebook revolution and continues to pioneer new business models and ways of thinking in publishing.
I even published something alluding to this just this week.
Probably most compelling of all, Amazon’s head of Kindle Russ Grandinetti will be speaking at our upcoming Digital Book World 2015 conference, talking to publishers, authors, agents and all the digirati about Amazon and book publishing. I’m sure that isn’t happening because of how “horrid” DBW has been toward Amazon (or any company for that matter).
Lastly, what we don’t deliberately do is mislead people. And I’m sorry to have to say so here again, but the Author Earnings data is bankrupt and very misleading. It’s the worst kind of misleading because it masquerades as truth. Here are some very sober points made about how the data misleads those trying to understand what’s happening in the broader market about how much authors are making.
Taking a sample of the top 1.5% of authors and claiming its representative of how much authors make is both false and classist. The vast majority of all authors never hit that rarefied status and to assume that those folks speak for all indie authors is condescending and, frankly, as someone who writes about the space, insulting. Take some of the authors I spoke with for this story for USA Today — a handful out of the dozen I spoke to for the story. They’re very much not in that 1.5% and to say that that group of people represents all authors is just wrong.
Beyond that, the way the report calculates sales figures for all authors and earnings for traditionally published authors shows little understanding for the logarithmic nature of best-seller lists (the No. 1 title often sells many more times than the other ranks and can technically sell infinitely more) and for how advances work or how list price versus royalties work. The most egregious example of this I’ll take from the May Amazon report:
The No. 2 book on the list a Hachette title for $7.50. I’m going to assume it’s The Goldfinch, since it was priced there in May, is published by Hachette and was hovering around the No. 2 spot on our own list. This is a pretty solid assumption. (As I said earlier, I reached out to Howey for comment and sent him this section. Hugh — correct me if I’m wrong here.)
First mistake: Author Earnings assumes 6,250 in unit sales. We have absolutely no way of knowing this.
Second mistake: It is then assumed that Amazon takes 30% of the $7.50 charged for it and the publisher and author divide the rest. That’s absolutely not how it works. The publisher gets 70% of the digital list price, which is likely $14.99 (that’s what Barnes & Noble lists it as). Amazon would actually lose money on each sale, taking in $7.50 and having to pay the publisher 70% of $14.99, roughly $10.50. So, the publisher and author get double what the Author Earnings report estimates, skewing all the of findings. This is done for all the traditionally published titles.
It’s common practice for retailers to price some goods below what they cost to bring customers in the door to sell other goods. It’s widely believed Amazon does this with best-selling ebooks. So why this incredibly erroneous and misleading calculation in the Author Earnings report? I know we’re not the first person to raise this objection.
And, last, who is this mystery data person doing all the calculations? Where are this person’s bona fides? They obviously know how to do basic Excel work, but don’t have formal training in data in statistics and likely don’t understand how list price and royalties work, as explained above. Again, here’s a more authoritative look at the data.
UPDATE: I’ve gotten confirmation from Howey that “data guy” who helps produce Author Earnings is Paul Draker, an indie author and former start-up guy. Check out his website here.
UPDATE 2: After confirming to me through email that Draker is “data guy,” Howey later wrote, “Dude, I was f@!#ing with you. Trying to make you write a story that you’d have to retract. I should have added a winky face. :D”
When I asked him to confirm that he’s not the guy, Howey responded, “Of course not. I’m not going to out the person. They can decide when they want to reveal themselves. The fact that you are looking for a data guy mean’s you’ll never find him.”
I’m flabbergasted. My source on this info, however, seems fairly certain. I’ve emailed Draker. He can deny it for himself.
UPDATE 3: Draker has gotten back to me and has denied that he is “data guy”:
Do your homework next time. I considered agreeing that I’m “Data Guy” just to make you look foolish when the real Data Guy decides to share his identity. Five years ago, I *would* have led you on just for laughs. But it would have been irresponsible of me — almost as irresponsible as you randomly slapping my name out there.
As it is, you might as well have used “I. M. Gullible” instead. But I don’t really mind the 15 seconds of fame 🙂
I have my own suspicions about Data Guy’s true identity, because he’s a pretty frequent commenter on publishing sites and alludes to doing other large-scale statistical analysis related to the book industry. But I’m pretty sure if I whispered my suspicions to you, you’d slap his name out there with “Paul Draker confirmed!!!!”
What do you think, readers? Share, please.
Until then more on Draker, who is not “data guy,” he says, but is a pretty neat guy all the same:
Here’s part of his bio that references Draker’s technology credentials:
Paul has worked in the aerospace/defense industry on a variety of classified and unclassified programs for DARPA, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps, ranging from strategic national missile systems to technology augmentation for small-team tactical infantry units. He has also led a Silicon Valley technology startup delivering massively-scalable custom Internet software to Fortune 500 clients including Hewlett Packard and Robert Half International, and headed a leading videogame studio developing mobile games for top-tier publishers such as EA, Disney/Pixar, Sega, Warner Brothers, THQ, and Glu.
I don’t see any data or stats background here,
but I will reach out to him and ask him.
So “data guy,” if you’re not Paul Draker, who are you? Show thyself!
Who analyzed this data for DBW? Who helped craft our survey and our report?
Her name is Dana Beth Weinberg. She is clearly qualified to do such analysis, as you can see from her bio below. And if you want to ask her questions, challenge her methodology, her motivations, etc., she’s very easy to reach. Oh, and by the way, she’s also an indie author trying to make it and figure out the best ways to do so. She’s not part of the 1.5% elite authors as far as I know:
Dana Beth Weinberg received her doctorate from Harvard University and is Professor of Sociology at Queens College – CUNY, where she directs the MA program in Data Analytics and Applied Social Research. Her research focuses on organizational behavior, work, and occupations. Inspired by her own personal experiences as a novelist, her current research examines the way that digitization is changing the book industry for readers, writers, and publishers. Find Dana at danabethweinberg.com or @DBWeinberg or https://www.facebook.com/danabethweinbergwriter
At DBW, we’re here for you — publishers, authors, agents, librarians, etc. And we’re open to feedback, criticism, questions, etc.
I can’t think of a better way to support indie authors than to give them the best information we can without any cheerleading or fanfare and then be open to discussing it afterward. If you can, let me know.
* The tweet above was originally paired with the tweet that preceded it. I removed it by request of the author.