Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Book sales and earnings - the numbers

Last week I read a fascinating post by Stroppy Author on earning out - including the information that just because the author's royalties never add up to the advance (earn out) this does not mean the publisher is not making a fat profit. This is because the publisher makes so much more per book than the author. Obvious when you think about it, but something I'd never considered. (Tell me I'm not alone, please.)

This got me thinking about sales and earnings in general. It is often asserted that most indie authors make negligible sums, with a few famous exceptions, Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, John Locke et al.  Should we attempt to correct this misinformation, we are accused of bragging. Chuck Wendig said, "Stop using your sales numbers as a bludgeon. BUT I SELL FOUR BILLION EVERY TEN MINUTES may or may not be true, but what it most certainly is is irrelevant." In what way irrelevant, Chuck? Isn't it what the discussion is about?

I've noticed that traditionally-published writers are far more reticent about their sales and earnings than indies. They will tell you if they have just got a six-figure deal, but that's about it. The exception to this is when trads go indie, and blow the gaffe about the appallingly stingy royalties and advances they have decided to leave behind.

What writers as a group need is more openness from the traditionally published. As long as they keep quiet about the measly nature of the contract they have just signed, focusing instead on the fact that they are about to be published at all (Squeeeeeee!) then publishers will continue to get away with offering the same stringent terms and low pay. Terms that, spookily, are identical among all the big publishers, almost as if they'd got together to agree on them...

But publishers would never behave like that, would they?


  1. I'm amazed by your sales figures, Lexi. It's inspired me to have a go with one of my books: nothing to lose, and potentially lots to gain.

  2. Go Keef!

    Many find me an inspiration. Or quite irritating, it can go either way :o)

  3. I can't read that phrase without hearing "Harris Fowler, the personal injury solicitors", Keefie :)

    Lexi, this is what the record industry has been notorious for for a long time - producers and managers getting rich whilst the artists see barely a penny. I think we were kidding ourselves if we thought publishers are any different.

  4. One can't help thinking there is something about creative artists that brings out the worst in business people.

    And too many artists collude with their own bad treatment. I frequently read in writers' blogs - the last time was a few days ago - that writers shouldn't care about the money, only the writing. They'd never say that about lawyers, plumbers or policemen. Or anyone else working in the publishing industry, for that matter.

  5. You're not alone. I don't have a brain for business!


  6. But K, I like business. After all, I've been running my own small jewellery business for a long time. And I may say a knowledge of overheads, capital investment, mark-ups, VAT, tax, profit, pricing and middlemen makes it clear just how oddly the publishing industry is run.

  7. I rarely find anything to disagree with here, Lexi, but today's an exception. Forgive me! :-)

    According to Konrath, who misses no opportunity to criticize the old publishing world, "under the wholesale paper model, the author's profit ($3.75) and the publisher's profit ($4.50) on a standard $25.00 hardback book were pretty similar."

    That varies with the agency model and ebooks, admittedly, but the idea that "the publisher makes so much more per book than the author" was not generally true and it remains the case that unit profits are not massive.

    We ask publishers to take a huge risk and invest substantial sums of money into print production and distribution and to produce a product the unit costs of which will be far higher than most indie ebooks sell at.

    Thanks to Amazon's fabled 70% "royalties" there is a feeling that publishers are evil for only handing out 15%-25% royalties.

    But the Amazon payments are NOT royalties. Amazon are NOT our publishers. They are our distributors and retailers. They charge us 30% for the privilege, which is also what they charge the big publishers under the agency model. The 70% we receive is not a royalty, but our change from the sale after their commission and fees.

    It's comparing apples and cabbages to compare KDP self-publishing with a fully published and distributed print book.

    Secondly, you observe rightly that "traditionally-published writers are far more reticent about their sales and earnings than indies."

    Maybe that's because trad published authors respect their contract, whereas indies either believe they are above the law, or have never read the KDP contract.

    Pretty much all publishing contracts have clear confidentiality clauses about discussing advances, earnings, sales numbers, etc.

    So does KDP.


    You will not, without our express, prior written permission: (a) issue any press release or make any other public disclosures regarding this Agreement or its terms; (b) disclose Amazon Confidential Information (as defined below) to any third party or to any employee other than an employee who needs to know the information; or (c) use Amazon Confidential Information for any purpose other than the performance of this Agreement... “Amazon Confidential Information” means... including, without limitation information relating to our technology, customers, business plans, promotional and marketing activities, finances and other business affairs, (2) the nature, content and existence of any communications between you and us, and (3) any sales data relating to the sale of Digital Books or other information we provide or make available to you in connection with the Program... Without limiting the survivability of any other provision of this Agreement, this Section 7 will survive three (3) years following the termination of this Agreement.


    In fact the terms of KDP are "spookily identical" to the terms of many trad publishing contracts.

  8. I confess I was thinking mainly of ebooks, which is where Big Publishing is making its profits these days. The publisher gets 75% of the profit from ebooks, the author 25% of which the agent takes 15%.

    I don’t get WHY there is a huge cost to a publisher of producing a print book. I’ve done it myself, and it’s not that big a deal. If the ridiculous returns system is responsible for those costs, they should abandon it. If it’s their lavish offices, they should move, and/or get their staff to work from home. And there is no reason for the process of publishing a novel to take eighteen months or more.

    I’m not surprised that legacy publishers want their contracts kept confidential. The reading public is on the whole unaware of how unfair and mean they are. Amazon does not enforce the clause you quote, probably because disclosure of the figures makes them look good, not bad. They disclose figures about the success of KDP themselves. The terms that matter, i.e. remuneration, are nothing like those you get with legacy publishing.