A new approach to charting authors’ earnings reveals the earning opportunities for self-published indie writers and shows that in the past five years of the ebook revolution new indies now lead recently published traditional authors on earnings from Kindle ebooks.
The analysis also shows the new indie strength in the $1 million a year Kindle earnings’ bracket, with 13 indies out of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and eight indies out of the 10 authors who debuted in the last five years, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000 or more a year from just their Kindle ebook best-sellers.
Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings’ operation has conducted seven quarterly reports covering half a billion ebook purchases, $3 billion in consumer ebook spending, and $1 billion in author earnings, but the reports have been cross-sections showing the ebook market rather than the prospects of an author along any particular publishing path.
AE decided to make a longitudinal study of author earnings tracking the earnings of individual authors over the seven quarters from February 2014 to September 2015
The analysis matched up author names to create a single, merged data set which included more than 200,000 authors and their cumulative seven-quarter sales and author earnings from the subset of their Kindle books which appeared on any Amazon best-seller list or sub-list during any of the AE snapshots. It also included their Kindle best-seller sales and earnings broken down by each individual quarter.
That left 5,643 authors in the longitudinal data set — about 2.8% of the original 200,000 — whose Kindle best-selling ebooks appearing on Amazon best-seller lists were consistently earning them $10,000 a year or more.
Howey points out that the 5,643 number is only the tip of the iceberg and there are many strong-selling authors and books that never appear on Kindle best-seller lists as they are in highly competitive genres where even dozens of sales a day are not enough to reach the top 100 on any sub-genre best seller list.
He adds there are many ‘non-best-selling’ mostly-indie authors who earn five-figure or six-figure incomes from ebooks that never appear on any best-seller lists.
Also, many of those 5,643 authors whose visible earnings from Kindle best-sellers topped $10,000 a year had other Kindle books which were not visible on the best-seller lists and so their overall Kindle ebook author earnings were higher than shown, plus, of course, any additional earnings from ebook sales at other retailers, audiobook sales (10% of the audiobooks on Amazon’s best-seller lists are indie), and print sales.
The Kindle Mid-List
There are thousands of consistent five-figure-earning ‘Kindle Midlisters’ — both traditionally published and indie. Over 2,200 are consistently making $25,000 a year or more on their Kindle bestsellers and more than 1,200 authors in the data set are making $50,000 a year or more on their Kindle best sellers alone.
Focusing on authors who debuted in the post-2010 ebook era, the analysis shows at each annual earnings level, there are far more indies than traditionally-published authors who debuted in the last five years.
Among the most recent debuts of authors whose first Kindle book was published in the last three years or so, the disparity grows, with less than half as many trad published authors as indies now earning consistently at the $25,000 a year level or $50,000 a year level from Kindle ebooks.
Above the so-called mid-list tier, moving into six-figure-earnings, the contrast between indie and trad earnings is even more marked.
The AuthorEarnings’ analysis shows:
Far more indies earning a consistent six figures a year or more from just their Kindle best sellers than traditionally published authors who debuted any time in the past decade.
Over 240 indie authors who are consistently earning $100,000 a year or more from just their Kindle best-sellers.
Over 85 indie authors who are consistently earning $250,000 a year or more from just their Kindle best-sellers.
Over 40 indie authors who are consistently earning $500,000 a year or more from just their Kindle best-sellers.
The pattern is the same in the million dollars a year bracket where indies comprise 13 of of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and eight of the 10 authors who debuted in the last five, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000 or more a year from just their Kindle ebook best-sellers.
Howey points out that although the odds on making a full-time, high-paying career out of writing are still long and always have been, the chances of achieving success as writers are better today, and there are more ways to make it happen, than at any previous time in history.
All figures and charts courtesy of AuthorEarnings.