I always have great admiration for any author willing to share such data, because it helps inform other indie authors about the true challenges that lie ahead. It also takes guts for any author to admit how little most authors really make from their hard work.
All told, Ms. Chambers, an author of young adult thrillers, brought in revenue of $637.00 since starting her indie publishing adventure in July, 2009. Due to expenses associated with purchasing ISBNs and paying for certain print book services, her net profit for the year was $142.48.
What caught my eye was how the sales were distributed. She sells her titles as print books via CreateSpace/Amazon for about $13.00, and as ebooks in the Amazon Kindle store for $7.00, and as as multi-format ebooks on Smashwords for $5.00.
Considering that ebooks account for only about 3 percent of overall book industry sales here in the U.S., I assumed 97 percent of her sales would be of the print book, and then the remaining 3 percent would be divided between the Kindle store and the Smashwords store, and of course since Amazon gets at least 10,000 times more traffic that Smashwords each month, I assumed they'd sell quite a few more ebooks that Smashwords. I was wrong.
Here's the breakdown:
Print (Createspace/Amazon): $273.62So in other words, the books at Smashwords outsold the other two. Like many indie authors, V.J. does her own marketing and operates her own website and blog. On her website, she gives all the different formats equal promotion and lets the customer decide if they want print, Kindle or Smashwords. Smart.
Kindle store: $56.54
Smashwords store: $307.32
I asked V.J. to share her thoughts on the results above. To ensure I was viewing her results apples to apples, I also asked if all titles were available via the multiple outlets for the same period of time. Her response (excerpted):
Yes, most of the books have been available via smashwords, kindle, and amazon/createspace for the same amount of time. Only one has been available longer on createspace/amazon/kindle than it has on smashwords.I think V.J.'s results are fascinating for a number of reasons:
Overall, I LOVE smashwords, for several reasons. One of course is the bigger royalty I make from smashwords than I do anywhere else. This enables me to price my books cheaper, but make more money. I think the books sell better on smashwords because I sell them for cheaper. I sell kindle books for $7 and smashwords books for $5. I do this because (even at seven bucks) I only make like $2 royalty from Amazon.
Um...but your question was how do I account for the results. So...A) Smashwords books are more affordable. B) My audience clearly has no problem reading books on a computer screen, so they're willing to buy an inexpensive e-book before they'll buy a trade paperback. C) E-books trump print books in instant gratification. D) Smashwords trumps Kindle since it offers multiple ebooks formats.
I think all publishers, large and small, have a lot to learn from the indie author pioneers. The more I learn about publishing trends, the more I believe that the future of publishing truly lies in the hands of authors like V.J.
- Lower cost books can actually help authors/publishers sell more books - Large NY publishers are fighting tooth and nail to protect higher prices for their ebooks, fearful they can't profitably run their businesses with lower cost ebooks. Many publishers are upset Amazon is helping to establish $9.99 as a price expectation among its customers for ebooks. V.J.'s experience provides one datapoint supporting my belief that publishers should consider offering some of their titles as lower cost ebooks, under $9.99. I blogged about this at Huffington Post a couple months back with my column, "Why We Need $4.00 Books."
- Publishers can make more money with lower cost ebooks - Since Smashwords pays authors 85 percent of the net for sales at Smashwords.com, authors can price for less but still make more profit per copy sold. I've been talking about the virtuous economic dynamics behind low cost/high margin ebooks since we launched Smashwords 18 months ago, so I'm gratified to see the numbers play out in the real world.
- It pays to offer customers choice - Any publisher, large and small, can follow V.J.'s lead by offering customers a choice of formats, prices and retailers. When customers have a choice of low cost ebooks vs. more expensive print books, the 3 percent ebook marketshare data above doesn't hold water. In the real world, if a publisher gives the consumer the choice, ebook sales represent a much higher percentage of sales than you'd expect. This actually confirms Amazon's own reported sales results: For books available in both print and Kindle format at Amazon, Amazon reports 48% of those sales go to the Kindle version. Amazing.
- Ebooks can be more profitable than print books - If it weren't for her ebook sales at Amazon and Smashwords, V.J. would have lost money for the year. Print publishing can be more complicated, and more expensive, than ebook publishing.
- Authors/publishers have the power to direct customers to favored retailers - As an indie author, V.J. is directly engaged with her readership, and as you can see in her web site's store, she offers links to where her customers can find her books.
- Self-published books need never go out of print - At first glance, $637 in royalties may not seem like much, but annualized over a year they're closer to $1,200, and if you consider these books will never go out of print, it's quite possible she'll continue earning the same or greater income for many years to come, even if she never publishes another book. Yet she will write and publish more books, so it's more likely she'll see her earnings rise in the years ahead as she builds her readership.
To learn more about V.J. Chambers (and buy her books!), check out her author profile on Smashwords, or visit her personal website or blog.
Are you an indie author or publisher? Feel free to share your own results below, even if you don't publish or distribute through Smashwords.