Monthly Archives: May 2014

Stick With Me, Kid – Is Amazon the Publisher of Choice?

Note: start reading this thread on Amazon sales data with Scraping the Gorilla – Picking data off of Amazon

 

Much has been written about the merits of indie versus traditional publishing, whether it be with a Big 6 imprint, large press, or small press. While factors such as creative control and royalties push writers to one camp or the other, in actuality very few writers have the luxury of choosing. Those writing for niche markets or with  styles that may not be widely appreciated, may find it difficult to gain the enthusiasm of agents or publishers who are hunting for the next NYT Bestseller. It is, nevertheless, interesting to ponder just how sales differ between the various publishing routes.

To that end I analyzed the 13,000 Kindle titles contained in lists of the top 100 sellers in the 195 subcategories within Amazon’s genre categories of mystery, romance, fantasy & science fiction, and teen & young adult. (Yes, 195 x 100 is 19,500, but many titles appear in more than one list, and some lists have fewer than 100 titles because there are fewer than that number in the subcategory.) Here I use “Big 6” to refer to the various publishing arms of the following six corporations: Hachette, Holtzbrinck/Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These companies comprise over 300 imprints. “Large” is 20 or more authors among the 60,000 titles examined. “Small” refers to a publisher with between 3 and 19 authors . “Self” means that either the publisher has only one author, the author’s name appears in the publisher’s name, or that this author appears to own the publisher’s DBA. The “Unknown” publisher is an imprint for which I could only identify one or two authors. In most cases I imagine these are indie published, and may include an additional pen name. Likewise, some of the “small” presses may be indies with multiple pen names. “Amazon” refers to their twenty or so publishing imprints.

First, let us look at how many titles on these lists are assigned to each publishing category.

titlesClearly indie publishing is a major player here. One might be tempted to think that Amazon is a minor player. When one looks at units sold, however, Amazon takes on a larger stature. Below is the total number of units sold per day by the different publishers. Amazon has managed to sell a disproportionate share given the few titles it represents. Continue reading

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Sic Transit Gloria Mundi – The Fate of Classic SF

Note: start reading this thread on Amazon sales data with Scraping the Gorilla – Picking data off of Amazon

 

In a previous post I looked at a few top selling titles. Here I turn to authors, both current best sellers and renowned science fiction authors with a corpus of older, respected works. There is also a third category of indie authors who have been forthcoming about their success by indicating total sales. It is interesting to compare their long term sales with present estimated sales.

First, the current hot genre authors.  (See previous post for caveats.)

AuthorCategoryUnitsRoyaltiesRatingGenres
Veronica RothBig 624,614$33,122 4.3Y
Nora RobertsBig 67,968$10,159 4.2M/R/F
George R. R. MartinBig 65,408$9,809 4.1F/Y
John GreenBig 68,787$9,380 4.5Y
James PattersonBig 66,633$8,685 4.0M/R/F/Y
Terri OsburnAmazon4,124$7,141 4.3R
Donna TarttBig 64,553$6,983 3.6M/
Harlan CobenBig 63,811$6,788 4.1M/R/Y
Johnny ShawAmazon3,548$5,968 4.2M
David BaldacciBig 63,875$5,037 3.9M/R
Lee ChildBig 64,343$4,905 3.7M/R
Mary Higgins ClarkBig 62,830$4,838 4.0M
Stephen KingBig 63,304$4,038 4.2M/F
Liane MoriartyBig 63,469$4,024 4.5M
Janet EvanovichBig 62,730$4,003 4.0M/R
Jessie HumphriesAmazon2,285$3,990 4.3M/Y
James DashnerBig 63,323$3,585 4.3Y
Rick RiordanBig 62,104$3,455 4.5F
Suzanne CollinsBig 62,672$3,439 4.6Y
Debbie MacomberBig 62,538$3,203 4.4R
John SandfordBig 61,709$3,112 4.0M/R
Dr. SeussBig 62,937$3,083 4.6Y
Cassandra ClareBig 62,545$2,942 4.5Y
Stuart WoodsBig 61,740$2,928 3.8M/R
Gillian FlynnBig 62,333$2,841 3.8M
Daniel SilvaBig 61,342$2,599 4.2M/R
John GrishamBig 62,636$2,491 3.8M/R
Diana GabaldonBig 62,386$2,464 4.3R/F
J. S. CooperSelf2,262$2,398 4.3R

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Scraping the Gorilla – Picking data off of Amazon

Note: this is the first in a series of posts on Amazon sales data as gleaned from the Amazon website.

 

There is little doubt that indie* publishing has given upcoming writers new options. They now can choose not to battle gatekeepers at publishing houses, or accept the onerous publisher contracts with their low royalties and rigid publishing schedules. Whether indie publishing is inconveniencing the Big 6** publishing houses is debated. That debate requires data, which publishing companies are loathe to reveal. Some of this data can, however, be gleaned from the 500 pound gorilla in book retail: Amazon.

Some questions that such data might answer:

  • How often do indie published titles earn royalties comparable to those of Big 6 titles?
  • How many indie authors earn royalty incomes rivaling those of Big 6 authors?
  • How many authors can make a living from their writing?
  • What are the relative sales in each genre/subgenre?
  • How important are online customer reviews/ratings to midlist sales?
  • Do series outperform standalone titles?

To answer these and other questions, I set out to scrape gather data from Amazon’s website. There had been discussions on the internet (ex: kboards.com) about what Amazon’s book rank means in terms of sales. Many authors have posted their rank vs sales figures, which helps to roughly deduce sales from rank.

Early on, I discovered authorearnings.com, a project led by the much admired and successful indie author Hugh Howey. This project sought many of the same answers and published not only reports on project findings, but the raw (although anonymized) data on individual titles. Data mining has always fascinated me, and one thing I’ve learned from many years of analysis is how data can be tortured into confessing – confirmation bias. I wanted to analyze the data myself so carried on writing scripts to pull and parse pages on around 60,000 titles. This included the top 100 titles in the various fiction categories (there are over 400 categories), as well as the complete corpus of around 200 authors that included the 100 top ranked Amazon authors, authors on NPR’s 100 best SF list, and around 20 indie authors known to have enjoyed success. Although I am an indie myself, I did not set out to make a point about indie publishing.

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