Many Questions, Few Answers in Latest Author Earnings Report
First published in 2014, the second edition of the controversial “Author Earnings Report” was released this week. Written by the mysterious “Data Guy,” the report claims that traditional publishers, particularly the Big 5, have experienced a significant slump in ebook sales on Amazon in 2015 while indie-published authors surged ahead. According to Data Guy, “The Big 5 now account for less than a quarter of ebook purchases on Amazon, while indies are closing in on 45%.”
The report also claims that indie authors are earning more on Amazon than traditionally published authors. These earnings are measured as daily revenue to authors from ebook bestsellers on Amazon. Data Guy reports that of the roughly $1.7M generated in author earnings from ebook bestsellers, indie authors earned 44% while traditionally published authors earned 43%. The report states: “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.”
The report and its research methodology are problematic for a number of reasons, which Porter Anderson explained extensively in a recent article on Publishing Perspectives. The report is also clearly driven by an anti -traditional and pro self-publisher agenda. In fact, the Author Earnings Report was launched in reaction to a 2014 Digital Book World survey called “What Authors Want.” Author Hugh Howey and the unidentified Data Guy asserted the DBW survey presented a skewed picture of author earnings and was biased in favor of traditional publishing. The Author Earnings Report was created in order to prove that self-published authors earn a significant amount from their book sales.
Simply put, the report and its results are suspect, not least because of the mysterious methodology, anonymous authorship, and the myopic understanding of indie and traditional publisher earnings based on only on Amazon sales. It would be better, which Anderson also asserts in his article, if a third party conducted this research.
A reliable report could create a true dialog between authors and publishers on what constitutes fair earnings from book sales. It would also make clear what distribution channels are proving most profitable for authors and publishers.
Because the Author Earnings Report focuses only on Amazon sales, it ignores publishers’ increased efforts in D2C bookselling and their purposeful participation in a greater diversity of distribution channels. So could a downtick of Amazon sales actually be an indication of a successful pivot in sales strategy? It’s worth considering.
It is interesting to note that DBW has invited Data Guy to give a keynote at the upcoming Digital Book World Conference. According to the conference agenda, the keynote will reveal Data Guy’s “deep understanding of the many statistical unknowns of Amazon's growing but opaque marketplace.” But how can the book industry discuss the meaning of this data when the collection of it remains suspect and the interpretation of it clearly biased? To me it seems like a tactic to stoke controversy within the industry, creating an emotional buzz rather than answering questions that would benefit the publishing industry as a whole.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.