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.

units per day by publisherThis is accomplished, one supposes, through its enviable power to market its own titles. But that is only part of the story. When you look at gross sales dollars, the Big 6 take the lead.

gross per day by publisher

This makes sense when you take into account that Big 6 books are priced Big. Below are the average prices of their titles.

average unweighted sale priceHere it would appear that Amazon is undercutting legacy publishers on price. When one looks at the price weighted by volume of sales, the gap narrows.

average weighted sale price

Amazon is thus pricing the more popular titles higher, as one would expect. This puts the average price of a book sold by Amazon higher than that of indie or small press sales.

Another way of asking the original question is, “What publishing route sells the most per title?”

average units per day by publisher

Now Amazon becomes the clear winner. They have few titles, but those titles sell extremely well on Indies do, however, have the advantage of higher royalty rates than either Amazon or legacy publishers.

royalties per day by publisherEven so, indies tend to be priced low. The net result is that while indie titles outperform small and large publishers, they are beaten by Big 6, and eclipsed by Amazon.

It is also interesting to look at how customers of the various publishers rate those titles.

ratings by publisherOne might expect Big 6 titles to garner some negative reviews from buyers disappointed by the book’s value given its high Big 6 price. It is perhaps surprising that Amazon titles bear the lowest ratings, despite being more modestly priced. Indies do best in ratings here, and while some have suggested that indie books often have sock puppet reviews, I have seen no evidence that this phenomenon is widespread or indeed confined to indies.

Others have surmised that – when looked at statistically – ratings have little effect on sales. This is counter-intuitive to anyone who uses ratings to guide purchasing.

In a future post I will look at whether and how ratings correlate with sales.



Filed under Indie Publishing Business