Indie Authors Dominate in Million Title Study of Author Earnings

AuthorEarning's May 2016 Report employs an enhanced methodology to get at books sales data that is often hidden:  "So for this report, we went deeper. Instead of just looking at Amazon’s bestseller lists, we had our spider follow links to also-bought recommendations and also through each authors’ full catalog. This resulted in a million-title dataset, our most comprehensive and definitive look yet at author earnings. We were able to tally up precisely how many indie authors, Big Five authors, small/medium press authors, and Amazon-imprint authors are currently making enough from sales to land in a number of 'tax brackets'."

The results are fascinating. Over the last 27 months, Big 5 publishers' market share by units has fallen from 39% to 23%; their share in gross $ sales has dropped from 53% to 40%. Independent authors' market shares have risen from 27% to 43% (and they now have the highest share) and from 15% to 25% in gross $ sales.

What this means is that independent authors are selling more books, though at much less cost per unit.

AE's report, even though it explores more in-depth than ever before, is still based upon Amazon sales and "18% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales remain unaccounted for in our data." It is nevertheless worth a good look by librarians, supporting at least two tentative conclusions:

  • We knew the eBook market was changing with the entry of Indie authors, but this report suggests how very much it is changing, and how very much much we need to learn more about those authors' offerings. A world of potentially worthy titles at lesser costs than we are paying the big publishers awaits exploration but generally remains undiscovered by traditional library acquisition processes. Titles may only come to our attention if they have some local interest. How can we track and offer access to titles of interest?
  • It spikes the guns of those who say eBook sales are slowing. The American Association of Publishers claims of stagnant sales are true in one market segment but not the entire market. It's not time to lower eBooks share of our budgets--in case the continued growth of library eBook circulation left anyone believing that.

EBooks are only one part of library services, but surely it is to our advantage to understand in a larger market than our own what drives their sales and consumption. Sales on smart phones are increasing. A price point much less than what the Big 5 charge consumers (never mind the ruinous prices they charge libraries) drives sales. Could we be offering more titles, at a lower cost and perhaps with better muse models, but exploring a growing market?