Yesterday, I found a blog post in my feed titled “Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon.” I decry this headline (not the author, who’s clearly thinking about this a lot), because it focusses on a really narrow definition of success for self-published writers (or any writer) and that pisses me off. “‘Making money’ here means selling more than one million e-book copies in the last five years.” Wow… a million copies in one format over five years? That’s a hell of an accomplishment for any author, regardless of format or publishing mode. But the idea that we all should be selling like Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking–regardless of format or platform–is a problem. It tempts so many worthy writers to see moderate success as dismal failure.
I wish there was more discussion of the “mid list” in digital–that segment of writers who are paying their bills with steady, moderate sales, but not going out and selling blockbuster numbers. That’s where most steady, commercial writers have traditionally stood, regardless of format or platform, but that slow-and-steady segment is shrinking (as is also noted later in the post) in the print world, and I’m not sure how it’s doing in digital (why won’t people talk about this?)
There are some other interesting numbers here, like, in spite of higher pricing, “legacy” publishers held 2/3 of the digital market and 36% of book buyers are print-only buyers. These things are related and they’re important. The blogger recognizes that digital only-authors are missing potential sales in the print-book market segment. She then goes on to talk about ways some authors have reached out to that segment. And she talks about the problem of “book discovery” in a highly saturated and volatile market. That last is one of the things I’ve been bothered by for years. How do writers reach potential readers in an information system that is now so huge and so saturated?
The discovery problem is part of the reason the Big Publishers continue to dominate the market even with a model that’s deeply flawed–they are “trusted sources” and have more control over current modes of book discovery and market penetration than independents, small presses, and self-published writers do. The combination of print sales, discovery, and market penetration are the real keys to making or breaking in the book industry. Over all, it’s an interesting post with some interesting links, and I’m amused by the ironic black-humor of the ending. (At least I hope it’s irony….)