Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

It’s Hard to Take You Seriously When…

For the record, I totally agree with folks who’ve said that the much-discussed, ballyhooed, and denigrated Author Earnings report way overreaches the conclusions that can be drawn from the current data set. Both Dear Author and Courtney Milan have done excellent posts on the subject, so I won’t belabor the point.

But the defenders of the traditional publishing model who are so eager to discount the Author Earnings data are just as guilty of overreaching or misrepresenting data to support their viewpoint. I don’t bring this up to “take down” traditional publishing. I do it because I think, if traditional publishing really isn’t worried about the long-term effect of self-publishing on its bottom line, it’s probably \because it’s not getting the real picture. Instead, it’s getting “guesstimates” from the likes of Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch, who wrote this doozy:

(Smashwords) total sales were $20 million.

If you posit that Smashwords is only reaching a third of the market for their authors (so triple their gross, to $60 million), and then you postulate the total self-publishing market is three times bigger still (500,000 KDP exclusive authors, plus 275,000 Smashwords authors), you’ve talked your way to a market of $180 million or so.

(Sadly, this doozy is in Part 2 of the article, which is located behind a paywall, so I’m not going to post a link that will take you to it. If you want to read more of what’s behind the paywall, Joe Konrath has excerpted a lot of it here.)

Now, I don’t know anything about Michael Cader and I have no personal axe to grind with him, but his “positing” here is just plain loony tunes. It’s also not the first time I’ve seen folks who aren’t familiar with self-publishing assume that Smashwords represents a huge share of the market and/or that the only available options for authors are either Smashwords OR Amazon KDP Select (which are your “KDP exclusive authors”). Neither of these comes close to accurately depicting the truth.

Authors who self-publish can upload their books directly to Amazon, Apple (iBookstore), Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Granted, some authors use Smashwords to distribute to Apple, B&N, Google Play, and Kobo (non-US authors can’t get to B&N any other way and it’s also the only way to list a book on B&N for free). There are also some smaller outlets that accept self-published books for upload, if you want to take the time, including All Romance eBooks (aRE) and Xin Xii (big in the overseas market, I hear). I’m sure there are others I don’t know about.

The notion, therefore, that Smashwords represents a third of all sales of all self-published books (edited to add) OUTSIDE OF AMAZON is just plain ridiculous. Folks who have their books on Smashwords and distribute to Apple, B&N, and Kobo through them ALSO often have their books on Amazon, Google Play, All Romance eBooks, etc. A lot of authors who have books on Smashwords upload their books directly to Apple, B&N, and Kobo and thus, those sales aren’t showing up in the $20M that supposedly represents all sales on those retailers, however.

I’m teaching a class at a client site right now, so I don’t have time to parse out the percentages of revenue based on my actual experience in self-publishing, but I will say with absolute certainty that Smashwords doesn’t represent more than 2-3% of my revenue. If I distributed through them and had the same percentage of sales as I do directly on those retailers, the slice would be much bigger, but it’s not like I only have the choice of Smashwords (edited to add) and the retailers they distribute to OR Amazon. I can have both.

And that means it’s pretty hard for me to take this estimate seriously. Because frankly, it’s based on both an incomplete data set AND a complete misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.

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