It’s been the week of Hugh Howey and AuthorEarnings.com, and there’s been an immense amount of coverage. Here are the main posts about the bombshell, both for and against.
BusinessWeek: Is Self-Publishing a Better Road to Wealth for Writers?
Howey’s data provide only one snapshot of a single market on a single day. Amazon may dominate the e-book world, but its sales data don’t cover the entire industry. Revenue streams that come to authors with publishing deals, such as advances, aren’t accounted for. The data are also focused on a particular corner of the market that may not move in lockstep with markets for other types of writing.
Taking the data at face value, Howey’s report seems to demonstrate a well-known dynamic in business: Higher rewards come to those who take greater risks. If self-published authors need editing, publicity, and other services for their work, they will have to pay for those things themselves or invest the time to do them….
Publisher’s Lunch: The Discussion Over “Author Earnings” (Part 1)
The most interesting starting place for Howey and self-published authors in general should be Amazon. The primary reason we do not have deep data and transparency about ebook sales, in both units and dollars, is because of Amazon. They keep their data private for competitive advantage in the marketplace, plain and simple. (BTW, if Amazon were to disclose their data in a Bookscan-style system, the other major players would happily participate.) If you want real answers, and real data, “so that up-and-coming authors can make better-informed decisions” as Howey puts it, you need to pressure Amazon to provide it. And it’s rather astonishing to us that this obvious point is not the rallying cry of Howey’s report and many comments and forum posts in support of it. Have authors simply accepted Amazon’s damaging secrecy, even as they take almost nothing else about the publishing process for granted?…
Futurebook: Hugh Howey’s Revolution
On Radio 4′s Today programme this week I overheard a discussion between climate change denier Nigel Lawson and the climate scientist Sir Brian Hoskins. It ought to have been a slam-dunk for Hoskins. Not only is Britain experiencing the worst floods in a life-time, but no serious person now denies that man-made climate change is a reality. But actually Lawson came out on top. Where Hoskins expressed quite reasonable scientific doubt, Lawson was confident, bombastic, and assured. Lawson’s best rhetorical technique was to use Hoskins’ words against him. Picking up on Hoskins’ uncertainty, Lawson said he agreed with the scientist that “nobody knows” whether there was a connection between the current weather and global warming. “I don’t blame the climate scientists for not knowing,” said Lawson. Hoskins’ hesitant retort, “we are very sure”, just didn’t cut it.
The conversation reminded me of the publishing industry’s response to author Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings website and his first report…
I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it — a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it’s even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. That’s not just bad, it’s catastrophic….
Damien G. Walter: The Principle of Digital Abundance – thoughts on author earnings
First let’s be clear. This data is pretty shonky. There’s no real way to tell how accurate it is. But, in the absence of transparency from the industry itself (either Amazon of the Big 5) it’s the best data we writers have access to. And the story it tells is shocking. Many people who like myself who have closely observed the rise of the indie revolution in ebooks suspected this story, but it’s never been so starkly drawn as in this report’s bar graphs and pie charts….
I don’t know about you, but this makes me wonder whether all the recent criticism of self-published authors has any basis at all. I know that I never agreed with the criticism, but TBH part of my disagreement grew out of a dislike for the condescending (steerage) and insulting (sh*t volcano) words used to describe self-publishing….
Digital Book World: Analyzing the Author Earnings Data Using Basic Analytics
Howey makes a bunch of assumptions to get us from sales rankings to author earnings. Using data he and his friends collected from their own sales rankings, he extrapolates from the Kindle ebook rankings to the number of units sold on data collection day. Then, based on the kind of publisher and the price of the ebook, he further assumes the royalty rate the author receives. Finally, to get to yearly income, he multiplies the daily author revenue by 365. This final calculation assumes a constant rate of sales per day with no fluctuation and no difference in the sales trajectory of books based on publication date, publisher type, or being part of a series. Finally, while there are close to 7,000 books, Howey aggregates author revenue in his last set of analyses, bringing the total to 3,349 authors and giving them credit for all of their books in the top sellers, assuming all of their books are represented there.
I’m not sure that any of these assumptions are good ones, but I’m not going to challenge them for the purposes of this post. Just note that changing them could also change the outcomes of the analyses….
The Brillig Blogger: The Missionary Impulse
After a lot of fuzzy math and bad statistics that occasionally intersect with the truth, Howey comes up with this conclusion: “Our data suggests that even stellar manuscripts are better off self-published.”
Sorry, Hugh. There is absolutely nothing in your blog post that justifies that conclusion. This is not the same as saying that your conclusion is wrong. Maybe it’s right. But if it’s right, it’s not because of anything — anything! — in your blog post….
Good Ereader: Us vs Them Rears Its Head in Publishing Once More
Has it really come back to this level? Are legacy publishers and professionals so threatened by self-published authors that this level of effort goes into picking apart an argument in favor of indie authors? Even more importantly, in the era of taking ownership and control over the process, why are these financial secrets still so…secret?…
The long story short is that Howey analyzed a bunch of Amazon rank data (apparently a single day’s worth, 1/28-29/2014, which has so many obvious problems associated with it that all by itself it raises questions about what of value can be gleaned) and from that extrapolated some breathtaking (and breathless) conclusions that go way beyond what the data could possibly tell anybody….
My problem with the whole exercise is that there is a long list of relevant facts not included in the data and therefore ignored in the subsequent analysis…
JA Konrath: A Case of the Shatz – Fisking Mike Shatzkin
Mike Shatzkin, sounding more and more like an apologist and less like the forward-thinker he’s been in years past, took a stab at poking holes in Hugh Howey’s new www.authorearnings.com endeavor.
In the comments, Hugh gracefully said he agreed with 86% of what Mike said.
I, however, found little to agree with. I’m also not much in the grace department….