This post, by Simon Owens, originally appeared on The Next Web, Media section, on 3/7/11.
At first it was just an experiment. Blake Crouch, a mystery and suspense novelist, was not lacking for a traditional book publisher. His last few novels were put out by St. Martin’s Press and he has a literary agent dedicated to selling the rights to his work. But early last year, intrigued by success stories with Amazon’s Kindle store, he decided to release a collection of his short stories as an ebook without the aid of a publisher.
Though sales started off slow — maybe a few hundred a month — within the last two months he’s been averaging 5,000 purchases a month. With his 70% cut from Amazon, that means a $2.99 ebook has generated upwards of $10,000 a month, money that bypasses a traditional publisher completely and goes straight to his pocket. Five thousand sales a month, he told me in a phone interview, “is far more than I’ve sold traditionally.”
Crouch is among a growing list of authors who are forgoing the traditional publisher route to sell their work directly to consumers. Though self-publishing is nothing new — it has long been referred to as “vanity publishing,” typically a disparaging term — the rise of the ebook market has allowed authors to eliminate the high infrastructure costs of a print product. A typical print run of a few thousand books can cost a vanity publisher a hefty five figures, whereas the actual publishing of an ebook (not including the production costs) amounts to virtually nothing.
The ebook also allows authors to skip over other hurdles, including the very cold reality that most offline retailers won’t stock a self-published book on their shelves. Though online retailers like the Kindle and Nook stores can still give preferential treatment for major publishers, they’re able to provide a wide swath of inventory from the long tail.
Recent figures released by Amazon indicate that its ebooks are now outselling their print counterparts. Most the top sellers in the Kindle store also have print editions, but there are dozens of “indie” authors who are selling thousands of ebooks a month without a print version. Most the authors I spoke to for this article noticed a drastic increase in sales in the last few months, but none of them knew exactly why. “Something happened after the new year,” Crouch said. “I don’t know if it’s because more people purchased ereaders or what. But in January sales almost doubled what they were in December, and it was just a huge upswing.”