I’m not going to pretend to offer an exhaustive explanation of the indie-publishing market. Instead, I’m listing several resources I found that offer various snapshots of self publishing and the e-book market. I found these to be illuminating in learning a bit more about the landscape, and I give a short overview of each resource. This might be covering too much ground in a single blog post, but I’m giving this a shot.
To get the full story of each resource, you should click on the links to read the resources themselves.
If you want to add any other info in the comments, I welcome that, too. I’m new to self publishing and certainly no pro at it, so I’d enjoy hearing anything about it that you’ve learned.
“Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014”
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First, my thanks to James Calbraith for mentioning this post on his blog, as that’s where I discovered it.
I highly recommend reading Kris Rusch’s post if you’re interested in self publishing. Because she doesn’t just describe the current indie-publishing market, she gives an open talk about indie publishing. This is an author who’s published on many platforms sitting you down for straight-forward, blunt advice. The first four sections are an example of this: Writing Is Hard, Publishing Is Hard, Achieving Real Success Is Hard, and Making a Living Is Hard. No, she doesn’t sugar-coat it.
Instead, she offers information to help you get a sense of how the publishing world looks now. The “gold rush” of e-book publishing from 2009 to 2010 is kaput. Also over is the effectiveness of having free books or 99-cent books available in the hope of loads of new readers would become fans. She even calls 2014 The Year of the Quitter, and she lists twelve reasons writers quit trying to make a living through publishing.
Reading these reasons sparked wonderings if one or more of them would ever happen to me. Would they? I really don’t know. I haven’t been slogging away, trying to make it as a full-time author for a very long time. I’ve been writing for years, but only have self-published my work as e-books for a little more than a year. Yes, I’ve been discouraged (one of the reasons for quitting). And I’m sure I will be in the future. But I’m still pushing ahead to try to make my goal.
This post is not doom and gloom. I thought it was helpful, as it dispels the thought that indie publishing is an easy way to get rich quick. Because even though writing and making sales are hard, people are making a living from indie publishing. People whose books don’t become enormous bestsellers. People who have hit the “indie mid-list” to sell enough books to quit their day jobs. And that, to me, is a good goal on which to focus.
Ebook Sales Were Flat from 2012 to 2013
Article in Digital Book World, published June 26, 2014.
According to a BookStats report, e-book revenues stayed flat from 2012 to 2013, at $3 billion per year. 2012 marked a nearly 43%-increase in revenues from 2011, when e-book sales were $2.1 billion.
Looking at the industry as a whole: “Trade publishing revenues overall in the U.S. were also basically flat in 2013 at $14.6 billion, down slightly from nearly $15 billion in 2012” (quote from Digital Book World). By my math, this means e-book sales represented 20.5% of the trade publishing revenues.
What about 2014? Let’s see…
E-books Haven’t Taken Over the Publishing World Yet
Turns out that the death-knell of print books was premature. In an article on Publishers Weekly (September 26, 2014), Jim Milliot reported that paperbacks led unit sales during the first half of 2014 in the United States at 42%, followed by hardcovers at 25%, with e-books bringing up the rear at 23%. These statistics were provided by Nielsen Books & Consumer.
If you compare fiction to non-fiction, it gets more interesting: e-books had 30% of unit sales for adult and young adult fiction during the first half of 2014. For the same time period, this share drops in non-fiction, with e-books comprising 22% of unit sales in adult nonfiction and 13% of children’s non-fiction (excluding young adult).
Bowker Report: Self-Published ISBNs Increased 17% in 2013 in the U.S.
A thank you to Digital Book World, where I discovered the reporting of this report mentioned in an article posted on October 8, 2014.
Bowker came out with the report Self-Publishing in the United States 2008-2013: Print vs. Ebook last year, and it tracked the number of books with ISBNs that were registered between 2008 and 2013. Not every self-published author obtains an ISBN for their book (I don’t), but this report shows an interesting trend for those who do.
Because out of the 17% increase in ISBN registrations during 2013 compared with 2012, the growth was mostly due to print titles (29%) rather than e-book titles (a decrease of 1.6%).
Again, the printed book is not dead. The 29% increase in print titles is from indie authors who want to get their books out to indie bookstores, and not just publish e-books. Like saying Kindle Unlimited isn’t the end-all-be-all of publishing. I respect that a great deal. After all, the more outlets that carry your book, the higher the likelihood that a reader will find you, right?
In the press release of the report, Bowker offers this take-away from its findings: “Our general conclusion is that self-publishing is beginning to mature. While it continues to be a force to reckon with, it is evolving from a frantic, wild-west style space to a more serious business,” said Beat Barblan, Bowker Director of Identifier Services. “The market is stabilizing as the trend of self-publisher as business-owner, rather than writer only, continues.”
Info taken from this source and coupled with info BookStats (mentioned above) about trade publishing revenues staying flat from 2012 to 2013, it would seem that authors are publishing more books, and we’re competing for a pie that’s about the same size.
The July 2014 Author Earnings Report is one of a series of such reports from Hugh Howley (of self-publishing fame for Wool) and gang. These guys look at data for e-books on Amazon.com’s bestseller lists in loads of categories.
There are several reports on data in 2014, and these go into several different measurements. I’ll highlight some items from the July 2014 report here, but head on over to Author Earnings to really get the detail.
First, a couple of top take-aways from the July 2014 report:
- “… self-published authors now account for 31% of total daily ebook sales regardless of genre.” This looks at the number of books sold.
- “Self-published authors are now earning nearly 40% of all ebook royalties on the Kindle store.” This looks at the actual money earned, since self-published books tend to be priced lower than those published by big publishing companies.
Now let’s get into genre, because I found this graph extremely interesting:
So self-published authors are trouncing everyone else in two categories: romance and science fiction & fantasy. The “Big 5” publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) have a strong hold in three categories: mystery, thriller & suspense; childrens; and literary fiction. Nonfiction strikes a fairly even split among indies, Big 5, and small/medium publishers.
It would be interesting to see how this genre break-down changed from before this chart, and then after it. However, I didn’t find a corresponding chart in the other reports on this website.
Another note in the report pertains directly to me as an erotica author: “The data also disproves the oft-cited claim that ‘smut’ makes up a significant portion of Indie revenue. Erotica titles represent only 1.2% of gross Kindle sales. Both Religious & Inspirational Fiction and Horror sell better than Erotica.”
So erotica doesn’t have the greatest earning potential out there. I’ve experimented with other genres, including horror and romance, and I’ll keep doing this. It’s nice to stretch my creativity, and not just focus on sex in relationships — but on other parts of relationships. I’m posting a flash-fiction story a day in January to do this, and I’m working on longer stories to stretch more.
Whew! You made it to the end! Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you found this post helpful.
Also, please feel free to add any thoughts you have on self publishing in the comments. As I mentioned, I’m a newbie who’s trying to get a sense of the landscape out there.