Most Amazon bestselling authors aren't making minimum wageS

Yesterday we posted a chart from Hugh Howey's new report on author earnings, showing indie and self-published authors pulling ahead of people published by the "big five" in terms of total unit sales. Now here's another chart from an e-book publishing expert who's calling some of Howey's conclusions into question.

Writing in Digital Book World, Dana Beth Weinberg points out that there are a number of questions about Howey's data, even beyond the potential flaws that you'd already noticed. For one thing, Howey isn't representing all self-published and indie authors — just the top 1.5 percent, or the cream of the crop. There are also some questionable assumptions in Howey's methodology, writes Weinberg, and some statistical problems.

But leaving that stuff aside, even if you accept Howey's data and his conclusions, it's not clear that most of his indie/self-published authors are doing better than people published by the big mainstream publishers, argues Weinberg. What is clear, though, is that the people who are doing best, on Amazon e-book sales, are those published by Amazon's own publishing imprints.

The really depressing thing? Weinberg estimates that most of the authors in the survey, whether self-published or published by a New York publishing house, are not making minimum wage:

In Howey's data, 944 authors out of the 3,439 authors of the almost 7000 Amazon best-sellers (with estimated sales greater than one book per day) were estimated to have earned above federal minimum wage ($7.25*8 hours=$58/day) from their best-selling books on data collection day. This number represents more than a quarter of the top-selling writers in the selected fiction genres (27.42%), but it is an extremely small percentage of the writers in these genres with books for sale on Amazon.

Certainly, there are more indie than Big Five authors earning above minimum wage in this daily snapshot (486 vs. 302), but to know the probability of hitting the right place on the list, we would need to know the distribution of publisher types across all of the ebooks in the selected genres. What we do know for sure is that there are more indie authors than Big Five authors. Since fewer authors make it through the Big Five gatekeeping process to begin with, it's entirely possible that my overall probability of hitting a higher point on the list is far better if I squeeze through the Big Five gate at the outset.

One thing that's clear from all this debate: We're looking at a snapshot of a moving target here. Publishing is changing fast, and the impending mergers at the big publishing houses will change the landscape in ways that nobody can predict. A decade from now, the Big Five could be the Big Three. Or the Big Two, maybe. And ebooks will have a much bigger market share at that point — and the way we browse and buy them could look drastically different than it does now.

[Digital Book World]