The publishing industry is in a state of growth. According to the annual report of the Association of American Publishers, published July 11, 2016, the U.S. publishing industry’s annual survey revealed earnings of nearly $28 billion in 2015. The market showed an increased return to print purchases, and a significant growth in audiobook sales while the growth of eBooks sales lagged compared to previous years.
“The area of largest growth for the trade category was Adult Books, which grew by 6.0% from $9.87 billion in 2014 to $10.47 billion in revenue in 2015. For the second consecutive year, Adult non-fiction books, which includes adult coloring books, was the category that sold the most units and provided the most revenue in the trade category. Within the Adult Books category, the fastest growing formats in terms of units sold were downloaded audio (up 45.9%), hardback (up 15.1%) and paperback (up 9.1%).” Ebooks still comprised 17.3% of the market.
In this publishing world, what share of the market is claimed by Indie book sales? In October 2016 Author Earnings reported that overall, Indie sales were down. In my view, this is to be expected, because eBook sales were down, and most Indie sales are in eBook format. It is the availability factor—Indies have trouble getting their work into places like Walmart and Target, which are the big booksellers in America, right behind Amazon.
Author Earnings reported:
Amazon’s 2016 online print book sales are nearly 18% higher than they were in 2015.
When we integrate the area under the two curves, we find that:
Amazon sold over 255 million print books in the US in 2015.
Amazon is on track to sell well over 300 million print books in the US in 2016.
The above totals include at least 13 million annual print sales of non-expanded-distribution CreateSpace POD books by self-published authors, which Amazon does not include in the numbers they report to Nielsen Bookscan.
The implications are numerous:
In 2015, more than 40% of Nielsen Bookscan’s 652 million total reported annual US print sales–and the majority of Nielsen’s Retail & Club sector–were online print sales from Amazon.com, rather than brick-and-mortar bookstore sales.
The fact that Nielsen Bookscan reports only 5% growth in the “Retail & Club” sector, when Amazon’s half of those “Retail & Club” numbers is up 18%, can only mean one thing:
The other half of the Bookscan Retail & Club sector, US physical bookstore sales, must be down by at least 8%.
What do these numbers mean when you are trying to decide whether to self-publish or attempt to go the traditional route? In my opinion, they really mean nothing. Authors, either Indie or traditionally published, rarely earn enough in royalties to support their families. Publishers, large and small, don’t waste budgets promoting work by unknown authors the way they do the few who have risen to the ranks of their guaranteed bestseller lists.
This means you will be doing the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. What are the perks of going traditional if you’re an unknown? Why go to the trouble of wooing an agent and trying to court a publisher?
- The traditional publishing industry offers many valid perks to those who get their foot in the door.
- Once you are in their flock, you have an editor who works with you personally. Most of the time you can forge a good working relationship with this editor. If you go Indie, you must hire a copy editor, which is not cheap. (And should not be.)
- While they may not treat a new author the way they do Stephen King, traditional publishers will dedicate a small budget to marketing your work for its launch, and it will be more money than you might be able to pony up as an Indie.
- Traditional publishers can get your work into markets like Target, Walmart, Costco, airports, and grocery stores. That is a huge thing, assuming your publisher considers your work worthy of such a commitment on their part. Their confidence will have to be earned. You must expect to find your work on the slow track for a while as the publisher tests the water and sees how well your work is received at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
- Once you are an established author, you will have a wider distribution, make far more sales. With those sales, your work will meet the criteria to be considered for industry honors and awards, which will help sell your books.
- There is an air of ‘respectability’ that still clings to being able to claim you’re traditionally published.
These are all extremely valid reasons for attempting to go the traditional route.
However, there are equally valid reasons for going Indie:
- Your book will be published. If you seek a legacy book contract, you must pass a gauntlet of gatekeepers: literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, and publishing-house CEOs. These people must answer to the international conglomerates that actually own the majority of American publishing companies. This is why you are most likely to be stopped by a rejection letter. It’s not the quality of your work, it’s their perception of what the reading market will purchase and what it means to the accountants, who in turn must answer to their share-holders.
- You may not become a bestseller, but you’ll make more money on what you do sell. In most standard book contracts, royalty terms for authors are terrible, and this is especially true for eBook sales. Most eBooks are sold through online retailers like Amazon. If you’re a traditionally published author, and your publisher priced your eBook at $9.99, this is how the Amazon numbers break out (and remember, Amazon is still the Big Fish in the Publishing and Bookselling Pond):
- Amazon takes 30% of the list price, leaving about $7.00 for the publisher, agent, and you to split.
- The publisher will keep 75% of that $7.00, or $5.25.
- The publisher will pay you 25% of that $7.00—just $1.75.
- You then must pay your agent his 15% commission—or 26 cents.
- You net just $1.49 on each $9.99 eBook sale. This is assuming your publisher honestly reports your sales and royalties and in my personal experience, some do not.
If you self-publish your eBook at that same price, for each sale of your $9.99 eBook, Amazon takes its 30%, leaving you $7.00. I don’t recommend such a high eBook price, but at $4.99 or even $2.99, you stand to sell books and make a decent profit.
- You’ll get paid quickly. When a publisher accepts your book, he offers you an advance against sales. These are often paid in installments stretched out over long periods and are tied directly to how well or how poorly your book is doing in real market time. Publishers report sales and pay royalties slowly, as royalty statements are usually issued semiannually. Your royalty checks arrive later, so you can’t rely on this income until you have become an established author in their world.
Conversely, most eBook distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and print-on-demand services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, report your sales virtually in real time. Best of all, they pay your royalties monthly, with just a sixty-day lag from the time sales began.
Finally, and from my point of view, most importantly:
- You retain all rights to your work. Legacy book contracts are a terrible danger zone for the author. The sheer complexity of negotiating a contract can be confusing and intimidating. You must hire a lawyer specializing in literary contracts, or risk unwittingly signing away secondary and subsidiary rights to your own work forever.
Quote from the Authors Guild post of July 28, 2015
Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.
As I said before, you must do the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. You must still work your day job to feed your family either way. Both paths are valid, and both have positive reasons for choosing that direction, as well as negatives. This is a critical choice for an author to make and is one that deserves deep consideration of all the many pros and cons.
CREDITS & ATTRIBUTIONS:
Annual Report, Marissa Bluestone © Copyright 2016, The Association of American Publishers http://newsroom.publishers.org/us-publishing-industrys-annual-survey-reveals-nearly-28-billion-in-revenue-in-2015, accessed March 5, 2017
A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever, The Authors Guild, © 2015 https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/a-publishing-contract-should-not-be-forever/, accessed March 5, 2017
Do I Really Need A Literary Attorney, Arielle Ford, © 2011 Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/do-i-really-need-a-litera_b_927120.html
Image: Quill Pen, PD|by author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.
Image: Who Are You © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 Life in the Realm of Fantasy
4 responses to “#amwriting: publishing overview, Indie vs. Traditional”
“Authors, either Indie or traditionally published, rarely earn enough in royalties to support their families” So true. So maddening. So part of life.
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I know. But that is life, sadly. Art, music, and literature flourishes when times are hard, because we create for the joy of it and expect no thanks. Society can ‘unfund’ the arts, but they can never completely stifle our voices because we create whenever we have a free moment. 🙂
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Wow, this is well researched. I wish you were in Seattle. I’d love to have you share this with my fiction writing classes at the UW.
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Aw! Thank you for those kind words, Scott. 🙂