A smashing example of how data can both clarify and obfuscate. On balance this is a fantastic piece that brings much-needed information to the discussion and what is more provides a free download of that very data. That’s almost unheard of! On the downside, I have some misgivings about the section dealing with income estimates based on unit numbers which are themselves estimates. This is further compounded by the fact that the royalty split is never as easy to assume as the current model assumes, for instance non-US authors may not earn 70% on all sales that would appear to be 70% sales for a variety of reasons. Even allowing for these complications the data gathered is very impressive indeed.
One of the most fascinating sections though is this conclusion here:
Our first thought was that top self-published authors can put out more than one work a year, while Big Five authors are limited by non-compete clauses and a legacy publishing cycle to a single novel over that same span of time. Indie authors are most likely earning more simply because they have more books for sale. Was this skewing our results? We ran another report to find out, and to our surprise, it turns out that only the handful of extreme earners have this advantage. Most self-published authors are, on average, earning more money on fewer books:
This suggests that the earnings discrepancy will grow greater over time, as self-published authors develop deeper catalogs.
More n the end of Sony’s eReading efforts in the US and it’s impact of Smashword, which in the very words of Mark Coker makes clear why this, although notable, is not that huge a deal:
Sony’s devices and ebook store predated Amazon’s, so when the history books of the indie author revolution are written I hope historians give Sony the credit they deserve as a true pioneer. My sentiments and appreciation for Sony and their awesome people aside, the impact on Smashwords authors today will be minimal. The Sony store, as most authors know, is one of the smaller retailers in the Smashwords distribution network. To put this in perspective, on a typical month, less than 2% of our authors’ monthly sales come from Sony.
You really don’t need to look hard for even traditionally published authors driving change:
The two authors, who will continue to write for S&S, are also skilled in other areas. Murray has an MBA from New York University and Billingsley is a former TV and radio news reporter who also has more than 25 years experience in marketing.
“We’ve been pretty successful and we’ve still got book contracts at S&S,” Murray said in a phone interview with PW. Murray told PW the notion to launch a publishing company began a year ago when her agent, Lisa Dawson, self-published some of Murray’s fiction as an e-book novel and the book sold about 15,000 copies with almost no promotion. “Just a little note on my facebook page,” Murray said.
Not terribly in-depth, nonetheless interesting. Especially when discussing the challenges of being too large (pointing to the value of imprints in the minds of authors) and responding to concerns about Amazon’s self publishing offering (highlighting in this case the ownership of Author Solutions, something I think indicates a lack of appreciation of what Amazon is doing in the digital self publishing space). Where he offers the most interesting note though is below:
At the time of the merger, you said one of the key areas of focus would be e-books . How do you plan to go about the shift?
We have to be guided by the preferences of the reader or the consumer. If they want to read a book on a smartphone we have to give it to them. It doesn’t make a difference if they are reading a physical book or an e-book . What does make a difference is channel substitution. The move from physical to digital books is not as important as the shift from bookstores to online stores. This really affects the way people find and read books.
Fascinating plan this one, and seems pretty sensible from a copyright perspective. It has echoes of the way that HarperCollins has been engaging with new subscription services (ie: breaking out frontlist and backlist titles). One thing this brings to the forefront of my mind however is that this increasing move to split out front list will reinforce the hit driven nature of the business:
The good news is that so far sales in bookshops do not appear to have been affected by the project. Instead, Bokhylla often gives a second life to works that are still under copyright but sold out at bookshops, said Moe Skarstein. “Books are increasingly becoming perishable goods,” she told AFP reporter Pierre-Henry Deshayes, “when the novelty effect fades out, they sink into oblivion. Many national libraries digitise their collections for conservation reasons or even to grant access to them, but those are (older) books that are already in the public domain. We thought that, since we had to digitise all our collection in order to preserve it for the next 1,000 years, it was also important to broaden access to it as much as possible.”
There’s so much in this piece I have to take two extracts. This quote in particular is incredible:
“Being an author is like being a shark, you have to keep swimming or you die,\” he says. “People don\’t want to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series, they want instant gratification.”
But there’ lots more, like this section:
To ward off the sloppiness that inevitably comes with such speed, Mr. Osso pays two editors and a proofreader to comb through his books for errors and typos. His content editor, Dorothy Zemach, a freelance editor who used to work for Cambridge University Press, says it can be taxing to keep up. “There are evenings when my husband says, ‘Don’t check your email, there will be another book from Russell,’ ” she says.
The trend towards author services is so unstoppable now that it I becoming increasingly important that those providing the service are accredited and capable. This has got me thinking lots again about the author/publisher/agent triangle and how things might change in the years ahead.
Mark Coker continues to be one of the smartest and most insightful thinkers on ebooks, what they mean and where they are going. His predictions post for 2014 is interesting but this point in particular strikes me as very relevant:
Ebook growth slows – Here comes the hangover. After a decade of exponential growth in ebooks with indies partying like it was 1999, growth is slowing. We all knew this day was coming. Year over year growth of 100% to 300% a year could not continue forever. The hazard of fast-growing market is that it can mask flaws in business models. It can cause players to misinterpret their success, and the assumptions upon which they credit their success. It can cause successful players to draw false correlations between cause and effect. Who are these players? I’m talking about authors, publishers, retailers, distributors and service providers – all of us. It’s easy to succeed when everything’s growing. It’s when things slow-down that your mettle is tested. The market is slowing. A normal cyclical shakeout is coming. Rather than fear the shakeout, embrace it. Let it spur you on to become a better, more competitive player in 2014. Players who survive shakeouts usually come out stronger the other end.