“The Report—Author Earnings”: hard numbers, without the hyperbole

Publishing Business
revenue chart

One of several charts in the report from Hugh Howey, illustrating how revenue splits out to authors and publishers in these major genres.

Something amazing hit the internet today: The Report – Author Earnings, a new data-crunching analysis provided by Hugh Howey and an unnamed database engineer.

We’ve already seen a lot of anecdotal information about how much authors are making these days. Here’s something much more methodical.

This data pro­vided one piece of a com­plex puz­zle. The rest of the puz­zle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I re­ceived an email from an au­thor with ad­vanced cod­ing skills who had cre­ated a soft­ware pro­gram that can crawl on­line best­seller lists and grab moun­tains of data. All of this data is pub­lic—it’s on­line for any­one to see—but until now it’s been ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to gather, ag­gre­gate, and or­ga­nize. This pro­gram, how­ever, is able to do in a day what would take hun­dreds of vol­un­teers with web browsers and pen­cils a week to ac­com­plish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from sev­eral best­selling genre cat­e­gories on Ama­zon. Sub­se­quent runs have looked at data for 50,000 ti­tles across all gen­res. You can ask this data some pretty amaz­ing ques­tions, ques­tions I’ve been ask­ing for well over a year [link]. And now we fi­nally have some an­swers.

When Ama­zon re­ports that self-pub­lished books make up 25% of the top 100 list, the re­ac­tion from many is that these are merely the out­liers. We hear that au­thors stand no chance if they self-pub­lish and that most won’t sell more than a dozen copies in their life­time if they do. (The same peo­ple rarely point out that all best­sellers are out­liers and that the vast ma­jor­ity of those who go the tra­di­tional route are never pub­lished at all.) Well, now we have a large enough sam­ple of data to help glimpse the truth. What emerges is, to my knowl­edge, the clear­est pub­lic pic­ture to date of what’s hap­pen­ing in this pub­lish­ing rev­o­lu­tion. It’s a lot to ab­sorb, but I be­lieve there’s much here to learn.

This is definitely worth a read. We hope that data crunchers will download the raw data Hugh has provided and do their own analysis. We need more of this.

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