Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Real Data about E-books and Self-Publishing

The world of publishing is changing. I think everyone can agree on that without too much fuss. The part where everyone gets their panties in a bunch deals with where and how is it changing the most. The Big Five Publishers, Amazon, B&N, etc. aren’t sharing their sales data, so it is difficult to get a clear picture on the state of change.

Hugh Howey shared their analysis of data that he and an Anonymous Data Guy collected through 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.” (He explains it much better than I could.)

One of the most interesting graphs I saw was regarding the percentage of genre e-books (mystery/thriller, science fiction/fantasy, and romance), which accounted for 70% of the top 100 Amazon bestsellers and over half of the top 1,000 bestseller list. If you are a new author or thinking about trying this writing gig seriously, this would be where I’d put down my books roots.

The other graph I would point out is the Amazon top 100 genre bestsellers by format. The Kindle e-book edition makes up 92% of total sales, followed by 4% Audible audio sales (which was a surprise to me). If you expand the list to the top 2500 genre bestsellers, the percentage only drops by 86% Kindle sales.

And for some real fun, go to the bottom of the report and read the author earnings numbers. I’ve said before that I have a hard time wanting to take 25% net sales from a legacy publisher instead of 70% gross sales through indie publishing. Self-published authors are making twice as much profit as legacy-published authors, despite the fact that their books only have half the gross sales revenue!

Check out the data for yourself. Obviously one size does not fit all, but I would be very wary of what the pillars of the legacy publishing industry are preaching. Of course they want to slow down change and deny it as much as possible. That is how all those professionals are employed, and change in the industry could be a direct threat to their livelihood. If authors self-publish, they can’t make any money off of you.

But when authors such as Hugh Howey, Brenna Aubrey, and Chuck Wendig start talking about turning down huge deals to self-publish, their only agenda is to educate and inform other authors. They’ve made their money. Whether or not another author is successful would not put any more money in their pocket. In fact, they could keep their mouths shut and save themselves a lot of effort and aggravation arguing with the legacy publishing machine. But they are sharing their experiences, and for that I thank them and all the rest.

I look forward to continued change in the publishing industry, and I hope you do too.

15 comments on “Real Data about E-books and Self-Publishing

  1. evanatiello
    February 21, 2014

    Thanks for sharing.This was eye-opening indeed! I have to admit I was shocked by:The other graph I would point out is the Amazon top 100 genre bestsellers by format. The Kindle e-book edition makes up 92% of total sales, followed by 4% Audible audio sales…” Where does that leave the paperback? With a teeny-tiny little sliver of the pie…wow! Very surprising. This might change the way I publish my forthcoming suspense/thriller (boy,am I glad it’s not a humorous western!).

  2. H L Fatnassi
    February 21, 2014

    Very interesting, indeed! Thanks for the share and insight.

    I am curious – are there any stats out their on self-publishing, e-books, and libraries? It will be interesting to see how libraries are going to handle this shift and how self-published authors will deal with the public lending scheme.

  3. mrschmoe
    February 21, 2014

    An eye opener indeed. I think one of the reason why Kindle ebooks are doing well. For starters, their e-book readers doesn’t conk out early as other competitors. I suspect their marketing strategy.
    They say every scrap of information no matter how trivial is useful in a digital world.

  4. Joe Owens
    February 21, 2014

    Wow Tracy, this is some fabulous information. I continue to have an internal debate with myself as to the best way to make my splash into the world of books. What is your personal experience?

  5. chrismcmullen
    February 21, 2014

    Reblogged this on chrismcmullen and commented:
    This is highly fascinating and amazingly detailed (especially, if you also click on the link in this post). You’ll be glad you looked. :-)

  6. arranbhansal
    February 22, 2014

    Reblogged this on Confessions of an aspiring author and commented:
    Good information!

  7. Jnana Hodson
    February 22, 2014

    As someone who’s been long active in the small-press scene, let me say the change is long overdue. Literature is a labor of love that ill fits the model of mega-conglomerates. Genres, however, are another matter … at least we now know where the readers are.

  8. Arlene
    February 22, 2014

    This is excellent info – thanks for sharing!! It definitely helps having access to those numbers. Retweeting!

  9. Lori Ericson
    February 22, 2014

    Reblogged this on Lori Ericson, Author and commented:
    This is great information about the publishing industry. I think a publisher gives some credibility to debut novel, but once a writer is out there and established, self-publishing is a good choice. I really do like some of the small press options these days. They offer a lot to less established writers, i.e. credibility, guidance and editing!

  10. oldpoet56
    February 23, 2014

    Thank you for all this information, I appreciate you taking of your time to help others. I am almost 60 now, when I got out of school even the offices didn’t have computers in them. To say the least I am not computer savvy but I have about 200 poems I have written through the years that I would like to get published before my demise but have no knowledge on exactly how to do things. Because of my lack of knowledge what I really need would be a bulleted word map, you know, #1, #2, etcetera. Do you know of where I could find such a guide?

    Thank You,


  11. FH7 Productions
    February 25, 2014

    Reblogged this on Frozen History Seven and commented:
    Good ideas.

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Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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