I’m sure you’ve seen this news already. We’re not breaking a story here. The goal at Nothing Any Good is not to break news. Not in the least. The goal is to support indie authors. So since we’re not breaking news, let’s instead break down what does this news actually means. What does it mean when Amazon says that only 40 self-published authors are making money.
Well first, let’s go over what was revealed last week. In a New York Times article about Meredith Wild and the 1.4 million ebook copies she has sold of her self-published erotic novels, the article revealed that only 40 authors have managed to sell more than one million ebook copies in the last five years on Amazon.
So the first thing that we should note is that Amazon never actually said “only 40 self-published authors make money.” If they did say that, now that would be news. Amazon earns $5.25 billion (with a B) a year in book sales. At any given point, roughly 30% of that can be allocated to to ebooks. Why in the world would Amazon want to dissuade more and more authors from self-publishing on their platform? They wouldn’t.
Still, for some reason this news of 40 authors has sent some minor shock waves through the world of indie publishing, and I’m not entirely sure why.
It should be no secret to anyone that self-publishing is hard. As revealed by a study by New Guild from the end of last year, the majority of authors earn below the poverty line. For years authors have been struggling to make ends meet, even well before ebooks became a thing. Starving artist doesn’t just apply to painters and photographers.
So then the question in my mind becomes is self-publishing worth it knowing full well that it is difficult and that only 40 self-published authors sold over one million ebook copies in the last five years.
Let’s unpack that some more. The first thing to notice is that this number is strictly limited to ebook sales. This data doesn’t include print numbers at all. Despite projections a few years back that ebook sales would surpass print by 2015, ebook sales still only make up about 20% of the book market.
The second thing to notice is that this number of over “a million” copies is limited to those sold on Amazon. Yes, Amazon is a behemoth in the book market, but a not-so-miniscule number of sales are attained through a lot of other sales channels.
Probably most importantly, however, is that a million copies is A LOT OF COPIES. Yes, it would be wonderful if you sold a million copies of your book, but I’m not sure about your current financial status in life, but for most people that’s get rich money. Let’s say that I sell a million ebook copies of my book Pieces Like Pottery. (From my lips to God’s ears, right?) That would generate $4.99M in earnings. After Amazon takes its cut, I’m sitting with an estimated $3.49M in revenue from ebook sales.
Like I said, I’m not sure what you make each year, but that’s get rich money.
So the fact that only 40 authors have sold over a million ebook copies on Amazon in the last 5 years is not as significant as some have made it sound. Even if your goal is to be an author to make a good living, there is a lot of room to do that with less than a million copies sold.
But this brings us back full circle. Making a good living as an author is rare. The majority of authors earn less that $10,000 a year from their books. I’m not going to lie, making a lot of money from my writing would be great, but it’s not why I do it. I always have to remember why I write in the first place. And you should too. Don’t lose sight of why you wrote that book. Always remember why you started working on that series. If it was purely to make money, I wish you the best of luck, but the statistics are not in your favor.
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