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Did the World Just Change?

Hugh Howey, breakout indie author of Wool and other stories, may have just set the world on fire. The publishing world, that is. Not by making gobs of money (which he has), but by extrapolating data from the Internet and exposing the deep dark secrets of the publishing industry.

I’ll post the link below, but first I want to say a few things. It’s more than just interesting, it’s eye opening. It’s jaw dropping. It’s amazing and redeeming. And it’s very, very flawed.

Hugh had a super-secret programmer that build up a program to compile a massive amount of data was pulled together by crawling through Amazon’s bestseller lists with a computer program. They then asked the data questions and it answered, breaking out earnings and volume of units sold. Author incomes were calculated and market share was determined. Not only by author, but also by publisher and publishing type (e.g. indie, small press, traditional, amazon, etc.).

The results? Fascinating. And did I mention flawed? It exposes that more books were sold as ebooks than print books. It shows that more money was made via ebooks than print books. It also definitely indicates that indie authors make more than traditional publishing authors do (overall, there are outliers that vary). Or at least it shows all those things if only the top 7000 bestselling titles are analyzed.

That’s the flaw. At the time of this snapshot of data (Jan 28 – 29), I had no books inside the top 7000 bestselling books on Amazon. I have some that are close, and I have a few that are in the top 10 bestselling subgenre lists, but from my understanding these books were not included. Aw, poor me, right? Not really. (EDIT: I discovered that the list of books involved were selected specifically from genre lists (mystery, romance, scifi/fantasy), and in many instances the books may have an overall ranking up to 100,000 on Amazon’s grand chart. In short, that means I have no freaking idea which books are where since book titles and author names were excluded from the raw data report provided to the masses. Very, very frustrating.)

That 7,000 books work out to roughly 3,000 writers. On a whim I decided to check a book I co-wrote and saw that the low sale rate it’s enduring right now (1 sale every 2 – 4 days) has it ranked around 450,000. As high as that is that’s nothing, I’ve seen some books that are ranked well over a million. That means there are well over a million books out there. Possibly 2, 3, 4, or 5+ million books available on Amazon when factoring in ebook, print, and audiobooks. And how many writers? I have no idea, but if we take the same ratio (7 : 3) and assume a modest 3 million books, that means there are over 1.2 million writers.

So this study grabbed the top 7000 books and 3000 writers. That’s .23%, we’re talking a quarter of 1%. So how many other writers like me are in the mid lists and making money that is impressive, yet not cool enough to hit the overall bestseller lists? Maybe I’m not number 800 after all, maybe I’m number 8,000. Or maybe I have no idea whatsoever, given the lack of definitive data. The data is awesome for a sweeping view from orbit, but useless for pinpointing where we are individually.

Hugh responded to my critique though – they are running a new list going out to the top 50,000 bestselling books. That will include several of mine, but not all. In the first study I wasn’t reported at all. In this new study I’ll be underreported. But hey, at least 50,000 is approximately 1.66% of the books available…

What will really be undeniable will be when all the books are processed – or at least a decent sampling is taken. You can’t sample a population by trimming the top 1% (or less). That skews the results and makes everybody think that writing is the golden road to riches.

So far the findings show that 3,000 writers make 10k or more a year on writing. That’s less than 1% of the writers out there. Pretty dismal odds for anyone that wants to get into writing. My complaints about the lack of specificity aren’t designed out of a competition with other writers, rather a means of evaluating myself and my progress. Or maybe when I reach the point where I’m paying all my bills with my royalties I won’t care anymore. After all, I’m not a writer to do better than anybody else, I’m a writer because I love writing.

Here’s the link to the page. Yesterday it was up and down due to traffic. Hopefully today (or whenever this is read) it’s able to withstand the load of people checking it out: http://authorearnings.com

The part about changing the world? Well all this flies in the face of what the traditional publishing industry has been saying for years. Does this mean they lied to us? Well, um, yes. The years of anecdotal evidence have given way to real evidence now, and it’s only going to get better as more numbers are crunched. Or worse, if you’ve been grandstanding about how great traditional publishing is.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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