Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
A storm was created last week in response to Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings post. It was widely criticized by many but also praised. It started a lot of discussion.
Having read most of the back and forth, I did notice a few commonalities.
Some issues all sides generally agree upon:
1) Digital has demolished the distribution barriers to entry for self-publishing. Before digital a self-published author would have to pay to print and distribute books. That was an outlay of cash and inefficient. The author then went to indie bookstores to get distribution one book at a time. Hoping to eventually break through and signed a major deal. Today an author can upload their book and get instant distribution to the entire country. Sales can happen immediately. The goal may be to remain independent or to gain negotiating leverage with traditional publishers.
2) The data is incomplete and there is a definite need for more transparency. Amazon, B&N, Apple and Google don’t publically release sales data. There is no “Bookscan for ebooks” although Nielsen is working on it with PubTrack Digital. Self-published and the Amazon proprietary titles are generally felt to be under-reported if at all. This feeds into the debate of the size of self-published ebooks. By withholding the Kindle data, Amazon has created a massive hole in any analysis. Perhaps a company like App Annie could fill that void and be a resource of data and analytics.
3) Genres are by far the biggest ebook categories. Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Erotica and SF-Fantasy have the most self-published books and the numbers overwhelm these categories. These genres are filled with communities of readers/authors. Many genre writers put out numerous books in a year. The other categories are less populated with self-published. Because of the glut of titles and the appetite of readers, these categories are ripe for subscription-based selling.
4) Only those authors at the very top can “quit their day job.” There are enormously successful authors in both self and traditional publishing. But less than 5% can be a full-time author (possibly less than 1%). It is still tough, regardless of the path to market. There is a definite “95/5 rule” where 95% of the sales come from 5% of the writers.
5) BookBub sells books. In the past week, I have heard from a self-published author and a marketing director at a Big5 publisher that they find BookBub effective. Both would like to do more, but BookBub only accepts about 20% of the submissions. Room for others? Riffle, BookRiot, eBookSoda and bookshout! might be alternatives. This DBW post has a good look at 10 platforms for discovery.
6) Without Amazon, not much of this would be happening today. Amazon controls the content; the distribution; the terms of the deal and even the pricing of self-published ebooks. Amazon has an exclusive on many of the titles too. These books have given Amazon leverage in their battle with traditional publishers. It’s unclear what Kindle’s market share of self-published books is, but it is quite possibly over 90%. Without Amazon creating the ease to market, self-publishing would most likely be small and not mainstream.
This debate is fun for the publishing industry. It illustrates the growth and upcoming unknown. But in the end, there will always be great things to read. That it what ultimately matters.
(image from Shutterstock)