When Data Guy and I put the first Author Earnings reports together, transparency was our primary goal. I think it’s because we’re both scientists at heart, but also because we are both children of the open-source, crowd-sourced, wiki generation. In addition to our complete transparency on methodology, and our sharing of the source data so others could duplicate or challenge our work, we also included complete transparency on our bias.
It’s true: We think individual entrepreneurs are cooler than mega corporations. We also think: 70% going into the pockets of artists is more awesome than 12.5%. And finally: We think a full breadth of titles being available online is superior to the draconian curation efforts of major publishers and physical retailers.
The data we gathered aligned with our biases, which we suspected ahead of time. You see, the market forces of 70% > 12.5% have made the digital disruption inevitable from the creation side. And instant access to affordable titles made the disruption inevitable from the consumption side. Down in the trenches, we heard from dozens and then hundreds of authors who were making a full-time living without being a household name. This shocked me, personally, because I worked in bookstores for years and hosted NYT bestselling authors who were making peanuts and working full-time jobs to support their craft. Something was going on. Something that aligned with my love of democracy and disdain for totalitarianism and censure.
My personal investigations into this consisted initially of talking with authors everywhere I went. And asking readers what they were reading and how they were discovering those books. It then moved to polling writing groups online, and receiving a flood of anecdotal information. This was just a hint, but not proof. Then Data Guy took these efforts and supercharged them with his arachnid awesomesauce.
We didn’t manufacture what we wanted to see; we knew something was happening and we attempted to measure it. When the results came in, we were STUNNED. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the first pie charts. When we had to make a decision to favor the numbers one direction or the other (like where to lump the small presses that were likely self-published but it was unclear), we tilted the field toward traditional publishing. We did this to account for our bias, but also because indies didn’t need any help. They were trouncing any other method of publication.
When we released this information, we wanted our bias right up front. And we expected others to take our data and show us where we were wrong. To date, no one has been able to show our daily earnings percentages to be off. Self-publishing is simply a more viable path to earning a living and reaching readers than sending query letters to agents, and it isn’t even close.
As Kris Rusch recently wrote, this is something we all knew from personal experience. Not just our own experiences, but from being plugged into the writing community on both sides. Now we have data to support what we already knew. And that’s a good thing.
To say that I’m anti-traditional publishing is also a bit of a stretch. I want major publishers to stick around and thrive. I want them to improve their business practices. I’ve devoted a lot of my time and energy into these efforts. I’ve worked with three of the top publishers in the world, and 40 publishers overseas. I have books launching this week with a traditional publisher. Many of my closest friends publish with the Big 5. I’m busy working on all sides of publishing, and fighting my ass off to win better terms and conditions for all authors.
But make no mistake: I’m still pro-author and pro-reader above everything. If Amazon and the Big 5 all go out of business tomorrow, all I’ll care about is whether and how writers and readers can commune. The middlemen are only useful in how they serve these two parties.
What I don’t get is the obvious and crazy bias the publishing rags have for publishers and physical book retailers, and their complete disregard for the only parties in publishing who matter. They don’t seem to care about books, how they are written, how they are read. They only care about how both of these parties can be squeezed in the middle and profited from. How can publishers make the most off the efforts of artists? And how can retailers take advantage of readers? There’s no other way to understand their biases than this. I doubt it’s even something most of these pundits have asked themselves. It’s telling enough that their blathering rarely mentions either the author or the reader. Mostly, they spend their time angry at Amazon for catering so well to readers and writers.
Want to know why Amazon is eating everyone’s lunch? Because they started with a maniacal focus on the needs of the customer (the reader). They then followed this with an unheard of dedication to the needs of the writer (whom they also treat like customers). All publishers would need to do to compete is embrace the same philosophy. STOP caring what the media thinks. STOP caring what retailers think. FOCUS on the writer, the reader, and no one else.
If this philosophy could permeate any of the major publishers, that publishing house would trounce their competition. But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve worked with these publishers, and they primarily care about retail accounts, the media, and their own tastes. The reader and the writer are dead last on their list. I shit you not.
Hence my bias. Get with the program, everyone. Publishing is about she who writes and she who reads. Everyone else can lend a hand or fuck off. According to our data, publishers are mostly doing the latter. I hope they turn that around.