There’s A Major Revolution In The Book Industry That’s Letting Novelists Make A Living

Hugh howey
Hugh Howey Amazon

NPR reported Friday that authors are increasingly able to make a better living for themselves by ditching big-name publishers and selling their books themselves through Amazon.

Self-publishing used to be associated with failure. But that stigma is going away as many authors say they’re making more money through self-publishing than their counterparts doing it the traditionally more accepted way, according to NPR.

The NPR story came a few weeks after the novelist Michael Stephen Fuchs (brother of BI Senior Editor Erin Fuchs) wrote a post on his blog explaining his positive experience with self-publishing.

Fuchs published his first two books with Macmillan, but he didn’t make a living from writing until he began self-publishing his works through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, according to an appreciative open letter he wrote to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and shared with fans in a post on his blog. His earnings have increased so much he can support himself in London by writing alone.

Fuchs had this to say in critique of the big traditional publishing companies:

They generally pay us only 12.5% in digital royalties, compared to the 70% we get from Amazon. They insist on taking control of our copyright not for a reasonable term, but forever. They have done all they can to try to keep the prices of books artificially high, which hurts consumers and costs authors money. They have a record of zero innovation. And they have run the industry for decades in a way that has benefited the few while stifling new opportunities for the many.

A self-published (and bestselling) author named Hugh Howey has published a report backing up those claims, arguing that writers like him make more money from electronic books (e-books) than authors who have contracts with the five major publishing houses.

Howey published this chart as evidence, showing that as of this month self-published “indie” authors are earning 39% of all e-book royalties on the Kindle store, more than that of authors with the so-called Big Five publishing houses combined — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster — which account for 37%.

Author earnings

The share of royalties for self-publishing authors has risen steadily since February, when it was at 35% compared to 39% for the Big Five publishers.

Howey also estimates that 31% of total daily e-book sales are written by self-published authors, making that cohort the largest e-book publisher on Amazon when it comes to market share.

Publishing expert Mike Shatzkin has criticised a previous analysis that Howey did, contending that it neglected to include cash publishers pay authors through book advances. The analysis also underestimated print sale earnings, Shatzkin says.

Even if his data may not be perfect, it shows that self-publishing is becoming increasingly lucrative for many authors. Authors who publish the traditional way, Howey contends, are losing out on an increasing share of the profit.

For his part, Fuchs seems happy to be writing full-time without having to deal with his publisher.

” … I have, not at all incidentally, been freed from the cartel practices, unconscionable contract terms, and not to mention soul-crushing rejection and frustration, of the Big Six publishers in London and New York, and the literary agency system,” he wrote on his blog. “Now I write books for my readers, who buy them.”

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.