New Author Earnings report shows indie writers earning 27% more than trad authors

The latest Author Earnings survey of ebook sales from Hugh Howey and his Data Guy reveals that self-published authors are earning 27% more than traditionally published authors for ebooks published since 2011.

The first full report on Amazon ebook sales and author earnings was published three months ago and looked at unit sales and earnings by various publishing paths. Howey says the long-term goal is to collect and assess data every quarter to spot developing trends.

This figures gleaned from the latest data crawl, covering the quarter to May, show that self-published ebooks and ebooks from small and medium publishers have captured sales lost by the Big 5 and Amazon’s own imprints compared with the previous quarter’s survey.

But despite the Big 5 having the lower number of daily unit sales, their revenue has gone up by 1%, probably due to average price of a Big 5 ebook rising by nearly 3% between reports, while self-published ebook prices went up by 1%.

Self-published authors earning more than Amazon imprints

In the daily author earnings section, the figures reveal that self-published authors earned 2% more than the previous quarter while Big 5 authors held steady. Amazon Publishing imprint authors saw a 3% decline, which might be due to the volatility they have as a small number of titles can see a large number of sales.

Self-published authors are clearly earning as much as traditionally published authors on the biggest ebook sales platform in the world. Howey says a few months ago, this seemed impossible but is already beginning to feel like old hat.

Backlist to the future

The new survey adds a look at churn – the rate at which books fall off the lists as new books take their place.

The findings illustrate higher volatility for self-published titles compared with other sectors while traditionally published titles tend to have more stability.

A closer look at the data reveals it is the Big 5 backlist that is providing the stability as it is well established Big 5 authors (those who debuted before 2009) are the ones that are sticking around.

New releases by established authors, as well as backlist titles from those same authors, make up the vast majority of the Big 5′s market share and the Big 5′s stable sellers. Traditionally published titles by newer authors, with Kindle debuts after 2009, show far less stability and similar volatility as titles by self-published authors.

Howey’s Data Guy also analysed the link between daily author earnings and yearly author earnings, taking the top 1,000 earning authors for each publishing type and ranking them by combined earnings from both of the data sets to look at earnings’ fall-off over the previous quarter for which we have data. If a book had dropped substantially, it would drag the average for that publishing type down.

The top 1,000 self-published and traditionally published authors seem to be equally affected by the churn of the bestseller lists. The fall-off toward the long tail normally seen with demand curves is less than might be expected and while the extreme ends in both sectors earn most of the income, there is health and wealth down the long tail for self-published and Big 5 published authors.

The survey looked at author revenue by publication date to assess the phenomenon of diminished sales outside of the first month of publication, as ebooks fall off the “hot new” lists. Daily sales were  broken down by month of publication to give 30-day snapshots and also capture pre-order data for books.

The chart shows that major publishers are reliant on blockbuster bestsellers and are also heavily reliant on their backlist, which is illustrated by the massive bar on the far left of the graph, showing all books published before 2011.

Excluding pre-orders, the author revenue for Big 5 books published before 2011 is equal to 31% of the earnings on all books published since then.

This backlist predates the self-publishing revolution, which suggests self-published authors have a lot of room to grow as these writers establish backlists of their own.

It also means  the parity we see in our author earnings charts between self-publishing and Big 5 publishing has a lot to do with the latter’s existing titles and not their new releases.

Self-published authors are not just holding their ground with Big 5 authors when it comes to releases after 2011, they are outearning Big 5 authors by a 27% margin.

This is shown in the chart below looking at author earnings only for books released since January 2011


The survey is carried out using a custom software spider to crawl every Amazon bestseller list and pull information from each book’s product page. The data goes into a spreadsheet to give the price, ranking, average review, and more for every ranked ebook on Amazon. Using established ranking-to-sales data from numerous bestselling authors (including our own works), the survey can present author earnings by title and publishing type.

Another great survey from Hugh Howey and his team, with more to come next week. The full report and graphs can be seen at Author Earnings Report.

Analysis reveals startling truth about self-publishing