On a weekend when I’m removing my Loose Id books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.
Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There’s been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors’ annual income below minimum wage. For many it’s much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you’re mistaken.
What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I’ll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let’s say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that’s not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don’t forget possible taxes but that’s another subject I won’t throw into the equation for this post.)
As a rough example, let’s say we’re walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I’m setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book’s cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that’s £2.70 and 30p respectively.
To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we’re talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.
If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.
I’m not saying don’t buy from bookshops. I’m saying do. I’m one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can’t discount the same way as supermarket chains.
Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let’s set the author’s cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.
If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don’t forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don’t overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.
On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 – 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.
If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential ‘loss’ on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn’t mention those, and I won’t, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.
In that scenario, you’ve got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.
Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 – 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.
To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider ‘going it alone’ (not without its problems) there are reasons I’ll address another time.
Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.
And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual ‘file’ rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a ‘click’ because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why Loose Id and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.