Indie author icon and champion Hugh Howey and his anonymous “Data Guy” friend have just released their latest “Author Earnings” statistical report analyzing book sales on Amazon. Using a “spider” data-mining program, they’ve been crawling over and collecting statistics from the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists to determine the truth about such things as: Are print or ebook sales dominant? Which authors — traditional or self-published — are making the lion’s share of earnings? What are the trends in the book business?
Their past reports have shaken the publishing industry, indicating that indie authors are faring much, much better than the industry spokespersons have claimed. But their latest, January 2015 report skewers some of Big Publishing’s biggest myths. Data-mining the top 120,000 bestselling titles on Amazon — which controls 67% of the U.S. ebook market – Howey and “Data Guy” discovered that . . .
* 30% of the ebooks being purchased in the United States do not use ISBN numbers, and are thus invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports. This means that all the ISBN-based estimates of “market share” — reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen, and constantly cited by the publishing industry — “are wildly wrong.”
* At least 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on Amazon.com are indie self-published ebooks. That percentage has been growing consistently.
* Most significantly for authors, an astonishing 40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on Amazon.com are earned by indie self-published ebooks. Authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined (i.e., by all the many imprints of Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster) have slipped into second place at 35%.
This is big news, because Big Publishing sources like “Publishers Lunch” and much-cited industry consultants like Michael Shatzkin have been relying on woefully incomplete data to make unsupportable claims. Because they are counting only those ebooks that have ISBNs, they fail to count the whopping 30% that do not – books that are produced almost entirely by self-publishing authors. And this skews all their conclusions about the book marketplace, such as the “stalling” of the ebook market, its size relative to print books, and the earnings of self-publishing authors relative to those of traditionally published authors.
This and previous “Author Earnings” reports demonstrate conclusively that total book sales are much higher than the publishing industry reports, and that claims that ebook sales have stalled or are headed downward cannot be supported by the data. Likewise, ebook sales are much bigger, both numerically and as a share of overall book sales, than Big Publishing either realizes or reports. Moreover, indie authors, as a group, have surpassed in earnings published Big Five authors, as a group — which demolishes one of the biggest “talking points” of Big Publishing.
If you are a writer who wants to make truly informed publishing decisions, you’ll want to read this latest report – then take the time to study the other eye-opening reports on the Author Earnings website.