Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Good News About Self-Publishing is Actually Bad News For Authors
A USA Today article that talks about how self-publishing has changing the world notes that author Michael Prescott had 5 books in the USA Today bestseller list for 42 weeks, and earned $300,000 in a year by selling 800,000 books. Once again, that's a lot of money, but on a per-reader basis, authors have never had such poor compensation. Prescott he is one of only 30 self-published authors to sell more than 100,000 books. Remember, if you sell 100,000 books at $0.99, you earn $35,000.
In 2009 and 2010, J A Konrath and Amanda Hocking made real money selling e-books for $2.99 at a 70% royalty rate, but those days are over. Market competition has pushed the price-point for "indie" books by unknown authors down to $0.99. You cannot sell these books at a price that yields a respectable per-copy royalty.
In the USA Today article, Konrath notes that it's tough to find an audience for self-published e-books, but he argues that it's also tough for traditionally published books to find their audience. But the legitimacy of being backed by a publisher and stocked in bookstores is a big help toward reaching the audience, and there's a better chance to get noticed among the few thousand books in the bookstore than there is to be noticed among the 133,000 books that were self-published in 2011. Further, the audience a traditionally-published novel has to reach in order to be remunerative is much smaller than the audience an "indie" author must find.
If you sell 25,000 copies in hardcover, you earn a hundred thousand dollars. Is it easier to find 300,000 people willing to pay $1 than it is to find 25,000 willing to pay $16? The dearth of authors who have actually found a mass audience selling self-pubbed books suggests that it is not.
Under the current traditional publishing model, you can earn real money writing a book for 10,000 people. If you self-publish a book that reaches the same audience, you get $3,000. Anyone who says that e-publishing is reinvigorating the midlist must necessarily be relying on false assumptions, such as the common misperception that unknown, self-published authors can sell their books for $2.99.