Data on the Ebook Revolution
I’ve said before that I’m a data-hound. I don’t like airy statements that lack any real numbers to back it all up – I prefer solid statements based on actual, verifiable data. There’s a lot more of the former than the latter in discussions of digital self-publishing and ebooks and related topics. So some new, solid data on industry trends is a real treat for me.
- Pew Internet on the Rise of E-reading: The study shows that one-fifth of Americans read an e-book in the past year; those who use e-readers read more and are more likely to purchase books than to borrow them. This research gives a good sense on the direction of the broader market for e-books and how things have evolved.
- Dean Wesley Smith and Mike Shatzkin each comment on the data unearthed by the Pew Internet survey. A key take-away is that e-readership is growing. But there are some surprises in there as well: like the fact that e-reader owners are still more likely to be reading a print book than an e-book.
- Self-published Author Lindsay Buroker argues that more authors are making a “living” self-publishing than you might think. To back up her claim… she points to a small number of authors who appear to be doing well (i.e. anecdotal data). She goes on to offer advice for making it big based on doing the same thing that these folks are doing….
- But then along comes a new survey from Taleist on self-publishing that will disabuse you of the notion that there’s easy-pickings gold in them thar hills. The key take-away from this (1) the median income for self-published writers is a more instructive statistic than the mean (i.e. average) and (2) the median income of survey respondents was $500. In other words: half of all self-published writers made less than $500. What’s more, about 75% of all self-publishing income was reaped by just 10% of self-published authors. Or in other words: Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath et al are not illustrative: they skew the numbers and make it look like self-publishing is great (bringing the average up to $10,000). I haven’t read the survey report itself – as you’ll have to pony up for that, which I’m not keen on doing (and besides, the report is mostly the author’s interpretation of their own data, but they don’t offer up the raw data itself) - and have relied instead on reporting about the report, but I do wish the information available included the 75th Percentile as well as the median (although I have my suspicions on what that would look like). What that would tell us is the dividing line between the bottom 75% (i.e. a convincing majority) and the top 25% make (i.e. the number that 75% of self-published authors would be making less than). Another datapoint of the survey was very telling, and supports something I’ve been saying for a while: self-published authors who used to be traditionally published earn about 2.5 times more when self-publishing than non-traditionally-published authors. In other words: you’re more likely to be successful self-publishing if you’ve been traditionally published first. There are a lot of reasons for this, of course, and I could go on at length (and I believe have done so in the past)…
- Some of the self-published authors who participated, and various others, are weighing in on the results of the survey: for example here and here. Of particularly interesting note is Victoria Strauss’ take on Writer Beware, where she covers not only the Taleist survey but a through-the-looking-glass survey of traditionally published authors by Writers Workshop that gauges their attitudes about the other side of the coin. The key takeaways: for the most part, traditionally published authors like being traditionally published, and really like the editorial feedback, layout, design, and other such components of putting together a great book. But there is a significant warning sign for traditional publishers: many traditionally-published authors are unhappy with the seeming lackluster approach to marketing that traditional publishers take, and only a small minority of them expressed any long-term loyalty either to their current publisher or to the traditional-publishing paradigm – signalling that many of them would consider dumping their publisher altogether under the right (or perhaps that’s wrong) circumstances.
- There are caveats to both the of the above, of course. The Taleist survey is self-selecting, for instance, and only a slim majority of respondents reported their income figures. What this means for the true, underlying data is anyone’s guess. There will be some who don’t report because they think they’re doing well and don’t want to share that data. That might possibly skew the data downward. There will be some who don’t report because they’re doing very, very poorly compared to the anecdotal Amanda Hockings of the self-publishing world. That would skew the data upwards. And the Writers Workshop survey has a comparatively small sample size of around 300 compared to just over 1,000 on Taleist. Ultimately, there’s no way to know how scientifically representative either survey is.
So, I’ll leave these interesting surveys and data-points for you, today…