In what is perhaps the single most telling example of why the traditional publishing fails to address the needs of authors, The Guardian posted an interview with Phillip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, and Nicola Solomon, general secretary of the UK’s Society of Authors. While the Bookseller is a publishing industry news source and the Society has recently spoken out about the poor contract terms that traditionally published authors are forced to accept, both representatives made some laughable remarks about both self-publishing and the Author Earnings reports in particular.
According to the most recent report, self-published titles make up more than one-fourth of the books published on Kindle, yet indie authors make 40% of the royalties, which is more than the Big Five publishers receive combined. Despite having fewer books published, these authors earn more.
But Jones dismissed the AE report on the grounds that (wait for it), we don’t really know who this “Data Guy” is who claims to work with author Hugh Howey on compiling the numbers.
Yes, Jones is willing to overlook the multitude of pie charts and bar graphs that are included in every single AE report, and instead would prefer to shed a disparaging light on the source of the mathematical equations. Jones actually implied that “Data Guy” may be just an Amazon employee whose mission is to spread bad information about traditional publishing.
“The fact that we don’t know who this ‘Data Guy’ is or where he’s come from suggest that we should take the Author Earnings report with a large pinch of salt,” Jones said. “I think of it more as part of Amazon’s PR effort, rather than an objective overview of the digital marketplace.”
Of course, never missing an opportunity to bad-mouth Amazon, Jones continued by saying that Amazon holds all of the sales data and refuses to share it, so how can anyone possibly make a sound decision? As though the traditional publishers don’t know how many books they’ve sold and also aren’t sharing that information?
Solomon was slightly more forgiving as she applauded Howey’s efforts to arm authors with solid data and knowledge, but even she went on to state that publishers earn a significant portion of their revenue from print sales, and Author Earnings only takes into account ebook sales. This is true because most indie authors will earn more from their ebook sales than print.
What Jones and Solomon didn’t grasp is that this isn’t about publisher revenue, it’s about how much of that revenue trickles down to the authors. While Big Five print titles, for example, may sell more than the average indie author’s work, a self-published author has to sell far fewer copies than a traditionally published author to earn the same amount of income. Solomon did graciously point out that publishers’ royalty terms barely produce a living wage for authors, and that change needs to happen before traditional publishing becomes obsolete. What the industry hopefully will recognize is that change doesn’t have to happen as long as authors are kept ignorant of the possibilities for better royalties and equal sales, a fact that AE reports are trying to remedy.