Indie or traditional publishing for me? Part 2 – the Author Earnings Report

On my second day at LBF I attended the Introduction to Publishing seminar, taken by Patrick Janson-Smith (publisher, Harper Collins); Hellie Ogden (literary agent, (Janklow and Nesbitt); Tim Whiting (editor, Little Brown) and Sheryl Shurville (owner Chorleywood Bookshop).

I came away with a good understanding that agents/editors/publishers do a lot!  I asked the bookshop owner about stocking indie-published books – and was surprised by her animosity towards them.  She liked dealing with publisher representatives who offered good discount and had professionally produced titles.  She did not like dealing with individual authors.  I sought out Hugh Howey again to ask him about the benefits of being traditionally published. 

I was surprised that he was so positive about it, given the flack he has drawn from parts of the traditional sector.  His biggest positive was the self-validation being accepted for a traditional deal gives – seeing your book in the bookstore.  Also, from his very busy point of view, having a publisher to handle the professional side of writing – editing, production, marketing and so on – gives him freedom to write.  However he emphasised two things strongly: firstly: if he hadn’t been indie-published, he might never have been offered a publishing deal; secondly, there is little money for authors in trad-publishing.  Hugh pointed me towards his author earnings reports – produced because, astoundingly, Amazon, B&N and the other major retailers do not publish e-book and indie-publishing sales analytics to allow writers to compare markets and reach informed conclusions about the options open to them.  The Author-Earnings-Report findings that have the greatest bearing on my question:

  • Indie-books currently account for 25% of Amazon’s top 100 sales [note: this is for Amazon US – but to quote Howey, ‘Where America was a couple of years back lays the way for where the UK is headed now.’]
  • There is a cost versus satisfaction link that leads to better reader reviews online for indie-published books.  Traditional publishers charge too much.
  • Genre fiction accounts for 70% of the top 100.
  • Indie-authors outsell the big five traditional publishers.
  • e-books account for 86% of the 2500 top-selling Amazon genre titles and 92% of the top 100 titles – with indie-authors making up 39% of these totals
  • Amazon is a highly effective market place for its own indie-published product.

The reports are extensive and exhaustive.  Space does not allow for a more detailed summary.  The reports can be found at the link above.

Howey’s reports have drawn heavy flack from the trad-publishing world, (eg Guardian on 14th February 2014).  They have also won much support, with bloggers analysing and finding flaws in the critiques of Howey’s methodology.  Since Howey’s first data-trawl of Amazon’s top 7000, he has published a 50K report and a Barnes and Noble report, both of which reinforce his findings.  The next report is due out on Monday 19th May 2014.

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