Are you an author who wants to make money on the Internet in 2016?
Okay, that was a foolish question.
Everyone who dreams of writing a book hopes (at least secretly) to find that magic combination of elements that make for a best seller. Who wouldn’t want to be A.G. Riddle, selling over a million copies of his debut SF novel, Atlantis Gene (at the top of my must-read list!)? Or, thriller writer, Mark Dawson, who Amazon pays $450,000 a year to for his sales?
(Note that Riddle signed with HarperCollins for his fourth novel, Departure, which is also being developed by 20th Century Fox for a feature film.)
In fact, the Author Earnings report titled Individual author earnings tracked across 7 quarters, Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015 found that 40+ indie authors who debuted in the last decade now earn over a half a million annually just from their best sellers.
Let’s assume you have a book already written looking for a “home,” an idea for one, or perhaps some out-of-print traditionally published books that you know will still appeal to readers. Should you join thousands of other authors waiting to be discovered in the slushpiles of traditional publishers or pursue independent ebook publishing? Can you make money with an ebook?
Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the world’s largest e-book distribution company, predicts that indie e-book authors will gain a bigger share of the e-book market in 2016 at the expense of traditional publishing. That’s good news for unpublished authors, and undeniably, even better news for authors posed to become hybrid authors with one foot in traditional publishing and one in indie publishing. If you check out Coker’s article, you’ll find that he’s predicting a growth in hybrid authors no matter which side of the publishing industry they started in.
E-Publishing in 2016
Opinions on what’s happening in epublishing range wildly from the pending demise of the ebook as a fad that has come and gone, to the disappearance of paper and traditional publishing in favor of a completely digital book world.
Neither is going to happen in the near future.
According to K-Lytics, 75,000 new books are added to the Kindle store every month, so publishers seem convinced that e-books are here to stay. And they’re selling.
Author Earnings gave a great update on exactly how ebooks are selling in their November, 2015, report.
- The U.S. has over 50% of the world market for ebooks (compared to 30% globally for all book formats)
- The United Kingdom is the world’s second largest market for ebooks
- In the U.S. market over 1/3 of all ebooks don’t have trackable ISBNs, which has resulted in the erroneous reports of a falling ebook market
- Traditional publishers discourage the purchase of ebooks by pricing an ebook (that can’t be loaned or resold) the same, or even higher, than paperbacks — thus traditional publishers have noted a sometimes sharp decline in ebook sales
So where should ebooks be priced? Smashwords indicates in their 2015 report that $2.99 to $3.99 for an average length book (for its genre) is the sweet spot. Books at $1.99 fall into a black hole, while buyers will pick up those short books at $.99.
However, the big consideration for authors struggling with their publishing options is whether or not the move in traditional publishing to force readers back to paper impacts on their potential earnings. Should they indie publish and take 60% to 70% of a low list price or hang in with traditional publishing and take a tiny share of a high price? My research indicates that it all depends on the genre and the book–I’ve gathered a lot of the facts together that you’ll need in order to decide what’s best for you and your books.
Now, let’s look at some startling statistics from that Author Earnings report.
Startling Facts On International Best Sellers
Ebooks have a global marketplace, unlike print books that get caught up in the actual delivery costs and inconveniences associated with a product you can hold in your hand. In fact, the very characteristic that makes many authors ignore the ebook marketplace is the one that keeps print books from easily becoming international sellers.
The fact of the matter is that by self-publishing your own book in digital format on Amazon and using Smashwords as a distributor for the others, you can have your book sold in over 100 countries in a matter of hours.
So what are the odds that your book will be an international biggie? Author Earnings set out to figure that out with their November, 2015, report.
Indie publishers, it’s time to cheer on this one. Sales statistics indicate that an indie best seller e-book in the US is nearly twice as likely to be a best seller internationally than a Big 5 traditionally published ebook. Likewise, for books coming from the UK to the international market.
In fact, more than 50% of indie published ebooks that sell well in either the US or the UK also do well internationally, compared to fewer than 25% of ebooks from the Big 5 traditional publishers in either country.
Stunning Data About the Top 5 E-Book Sellers
We all know Amazon leads the world in book sales–and since it’s an online company, it makes sense that it has a huge advantage in ebook sales.
But just how big is Amazon’s share of the ebook market? According to the Author Earnings October 2015 report, Amazon accounts for 74% of all US ebook purchases and 71% of all US consumer dollars spent on ebooks.
Of course, if you’re an author you’re mostly interested in how that translates into earnings for authors. This research concluded that indie authors earned 43% of the revenue from 165,000 books comprising 60% of Amazon’s daily sales of fiction and nonfiction.
Now let’s situate Amazon with its competitors:
As you can see from the graph, the next highest selling ebook stores in order are: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Books.
Author Earnings turned up some fascinating facts in their first research into sales in these top three markets (excluding GooglePlay).
- Between 1/5 and 1/4 of the ebooks sold daily by each of these markets is by an indie author
- Nearly 1/3 of the daily e-book earnings in these markets goes to indie authors (due to the indie author getting a much higher percentage of revenue than authors with traditional publishers even though traditionally published ebooks are priced much higher and Apple doesn’t reduce royalties on books over $9.99)
- Indie e-books uploaded directly to the iBookstore sell on average 3.5 times as many copies as those distributed by Draft2Digital and over 6 times as many copies as those from Smashwords
Now lets take a look at one of the key factors (beyond being well-written) that impacts on ebook sales–genre.
What E-Book Genre Will Make You the Most $$$
Not all genres sell equally well. Readers have preferences, and the choices they make turn into sales statistics for bookstores and $$$ in the pockets of authors.
The most popular genre is romance–no surprise, right? It’s given as the top selling genre by Smashwords as well as Amazon. In fact, the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!
E-books also find many romance readers due to the many sub genres available. How many? Well, this detailed article from Darla D. Genton names dozens, although interestingly enough she lists 23 sub genres in print books and just 18 in e-books.
This 2014 Author Earnings report on Amazon’s sales gives you an idea of how genres break down there:
It’s obvious from these stats from both Amazon and Smashwords that fiction writers have the most opportunity to sell e-books.
That doesn’t mean everything is all roses for romance writers trying to break into the business, since it’s the third most competitive in the number of titles available. Coker noted that romances take 87% of the top 100 selling spots with reason–romance authors are the “Smartest authors in the business • Most organized • Most professional • Most sophisticated • Most experimental.”
Mark Coker’s latest report (see the slideshow), though, had some intriguing information for nonfiction writers. The great news is that biography led there–interesting, since a significant number of students who’ve taken my ebook publishing course were working on their personal stories. This was followed by health, wellbeing and medicine, then business/economics and self-improvement.
According to research from K-Lytics, five of the 30 main book genres have seen above-average growth in ebook supply in 2015:
- LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) eBooks +200%
- Comics & Graphic Novels +119%
- Teen & Young Adult +63%
- Romance +42%
- Children’s eBooks +41%
More supply means readers have more options, so typically the price must go down for new entrants into the field. That seems true given that K-Lytics indicates prices have dropped with LGBT (22%), romance (20%), comics and graphic novels (12%). While falling prices aren’t good for publishers, readers often find them appealing, which resulted in a corresponding increase in sales for LGBT (11.1%), romance (6%), and a drop in comics and graphic novels (-5.9%).
Next, we’ll take a look at Kindle sales based on the November, 2015, K-Lytics report.
Kindle Sales and Author Income By Genre
All of the current research on ebook sales is being done based on best seller lists, most frequently for the Amazon Kindle store. Here’s what K-Lytics found in November, 2015, listed in order of sales volume followed by the estimated daily sales for the #1 bestseller in the category.
- Romance (6245)
- Science fiction and fantasy (3871)
- Teen and YA (2170)
- Religion and spirituality (1650)
- Children’s (1033)
- Self-help (979)
- Biographies and memoirs (946)
- Health, fitness and dieting (816)
- Business and money (778)
- History (754)
- Science and math (754)
- LTBT (518)
- Art and photography (465)
- Sports and outdoors (459)
- Cookbooks, food, and wine (439)
- Humor and entertainment (427)
- Craft, hobbies, and home (391)
- Politics and social science (375)
- Reference (309)
- Parenting and relationships (265)
- Engineering and transportation (204)
- Medical ebooks (160)
- Travel (104)
- Education and teaching (95)
- Computers and technology (88)
- Comics and graphic novels (66)
- Law (52)
So, to put this in earning perspective for authors, if you had a romance novel and a nonfiction law book that both hit #1 in the period above, and earned $1 per book for each sale, you’d earn $6245 a day for the novel and $52 a day for the law book. Quite a difference, isn’t it?
If you want to keep on top of these types of statistics, K-Lytics does in-depth research to collate such things as genre and price to help writers respond to the market–their reports are for sale (they also offer occasional free condensed reports, which is where this data came from) on their website.
Here’s the video report for their November, 2015, period from YouTube.
Summary: 5 Points to Take Away
After reviewing all of the recent research and data, I have five points you can take away.
- E-publishing has reached maturity–sales have stabilized.
- E-publishing is here to stay, with the seeming “decline” in sales reported by traditional publishers being, as Fortune magazine pointed out, simply the loss of high priced books from traditional publishers being replaced by lower priced indie authors.
- More authors are venturing into e-publishing, some as hybrid authors also using traditional publishing, but many as first-choice independent authors.
- Readers have confidence in indie publishing as evidenced in the various genres where indie published books have significantly more sales than Big 5 published ebooks. While the Big 5 and other traditional publishers continue to charge paperback level prices for ebooks, the average price of an ebook is still $6.74.
- Romance is still the leading e-book genre, but many others are gaining a substantial foothold with readers.
You Can Become an Indie Author
Indie publishing can seem incredibly confusing from the different ebook formats to figuring out how to get your books into the bookstores after you have them created. It doesn’t have to be.
Here are some comments from students who have taken my Publish and Sell Your E-Books course through their community college or library:
I thoroughly enjoyed this course! Linda Aksomitis is a thorough educator who not only answered my questions promptly but also gave resources and examples directly related to my queries. She also created cool interactive tools that help me retain information. Call me the teachers pet with a barrel of apples for Ms. Aksomitis! Thank you for this course!
This course was exactly what I needed to pursue my writing journey. My instructor did an excellent job of sharing the information that I needed. I am looking forward to taking more courses with Ms. Aksomitis.
Check out the course syllabus and find a course offering near you.