Author Earnings: Springtime for UK indie ebooks

Image - iStockphoto: CaronB - Shrewsbury, UK, the Dingle formal gardens at Quarry Park, Shropshire
Image – iStockphoto: CaronB – Shrewsbury, UK, the Dingle formal gardens at Quarry Park, Shropshire

Welcome to the UK, Author Earnings

Unlike the US, where collective indie ebook earnings long ago surpassed that of all Big Five authors combined, in the UK indie-published authors and Big Five published authors are still earning neck [and] neck.

As we gather this morning (4th December) to open the fifth annual FutureBook Conference here in London, a new Author Earnings report from the author Hugh Howey’s technologist associate “Data Guy” acknowledges the UK as “the world’s second largest market (after the US) for digital books,” based on figures from the International Publishers Association (IPA).

He is called Data Guy because, he tells us, he is an author who fears there could be industry repercussions if his identity were known. Now with an “appearance” scheduled for the industry-facing Digital Book World conference in March, that cloak of invisibility, embroidered with his use of a spider image (see right) may begin to look more like shtick than stealth. But he or she remains, when in contact, a convivial person, always responsive and pleasant to work with.

I’m especially pleased to find that this report seems to have been written without so much of the us-vs.-them negativity that coloured a recent US entry at Author Earnings.

Taking the IPA’s figures as a basis for international rankings in ebooks seems curious, in a way, for Author Earnings, which normally mistrusts most numbers that the publishing establishment might disseminate about itself. (And if you’ve paid attention to reports of China’s ebook retail interests, it’s hard not to wonder whether that country’s ebook market may not be larger than the IPA suspects.)

Nevertheless, the next assertion seems a no-brainer: “ is the second largest retailer of English-language ebooks in the world.”

It’s good to see the Author Earnings formulation applied to This is something we asked Mssrs. Howey and Guy more than a year ago to consider doing. Until now, the Author Earnings effort (begun in February 2014) has remained focused on US-based stats.

As the author and commentator Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes in response to this report, “I do hope that Hugh [Howey] and Data Guy will eventually look at all of the retailers servicing the UK market—and maybe even the Eurozone—to get a bigger snapshot of the world market.”

And there are important caveats here.

For example, the Author Earnings approach is a comparative model that uses what the “spider” can see of sales-page records and what working authors report to be their experience of earnings. It’s a methodology that’s not universally welcomed. Many detractors are particularly sceptical of its sales-page data-“scraping” and one-day snapshots, which are extrapolated over time.

What’s more, the intent of the Author Earnings project is important to bear in mind. The goal of these reports is to demonstrate to authors that self-publishing might offer earnings that rival or surpass those of traditional publishing. Presenting indie publishing as a viable option is the interest here. And the inexorable march of indie ebook gains sketched by these reports’ results seems to be always quite close to what their producers would like to see. That does not mean that they’re wrong or incorrect, nor dishonest. But it does mean that Author Earnings does not seem to encounter significant dips or setbacks for indie ebooks. Things just keep getting better, according to these reports.

Nevertheless, fans point out that unlike info-gathering programmes that are dependent on ISBNs or on sales reports from booksellers and/or publishers, the Author Earnings effort spots its own version of core data for itself on the pages of online retailers. That much seems true, whether or not one may have reservations about the interpretations of that data.

In terms of what the new report announces, here are some highlights.

Market and unit share by publisher

“Compared to our recent look at in the US, the distribution of publisher types is almost identical—it’s so close that we almost couldn’t tell them apart. The breakdown of best seller slots held by every type of publisher lies within 1 to 2 percent of what we saw for that type of publisher in the US.”

While it’s interesting to see that there’s such a close parallel between ebook sales among major houses, Amazon, small or medium publishers, and indies, etc., Data Guy steps quickly on to look at where the unit sales lie, writing:

“Here, we see our first significant difference between the UK and the US markets. Ebooks by indie authors make up more than 26 percent of all ebooks sold on But even so, the indie share of all books sold on is far smaller than in the US, where indies sell well over 38 percent of the ebooks sold on”

Here’s an interesting observation:

Although the UK ebook market is less than a fifth of the size of the US market in unit sales or revenue terms— still sells more ebooks than any of the non-Amazon US retailers do in the US.

If you accept the figures that Data Guy is using, then this is an impressive description of Amazon UK’s dominance.

And along the way, some more proposed conclusions:

  • Kindle Unlimited, the Amazon ebook subscription service, accounts for 66 percent of bestselling independent books at, Data Guy writes, while in the states, it’s 68 percent.
  • Small and medium-size publishers in the UK, make up some 25 percent of unit sales, only 19 percent in the US.

​Big Five titles, Data Guy writes, account for more unit sales in the UK than in the US—31 percent in the UK vs. 26 percent in the US.

  • In the UK, Big Five ebooks on average sell for prices that are only 50 percent more than small or medium publishers’ UK ebooks, and just slightly over double what UK indie ebooks are selling for.
  • In the US, under the new agency contracts, the Big Five publishers are pricing their ebooks far higher…than they are actually able to sell them for in the UK—fully twice the average selling price of US small or medium publisher ebooks, and almost four times what US indie authors are charging.

There’s more: Read on

By Porter Ander­son  

The Bookseller: Author Earnings: Springtime for UK indie ebooks

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Info on the conference. The FutureBook 2015 

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