This post, by author and Smashwords founder Mark Coker, originally appeared on the Smashwords blog on 7/25/12.
Follow the ebook numbers. Unit numbers, that is. A close look at the numbers indicates that those authors who continue to publish via traditional publishers might be harming their long term career prospects.
Most ebook market watchers fixate on dollar sales, which, while important, mask the true tectonic shift now underway in book publishing.
In 2012, ebooks in the US will likely approach 30% of trade book sales measured in dollars, up from about 20% in 2011, 8% in 2010, 3% in 2009, 1% in 2008, and 1/2 of 1% in 2007.
These numbers understate the unit market share of what people are downloading and reading, because ebooks are priced lower than print. At Smashwords, the average unit price (not counting free downloads) of customer purchases is $2.99.
Back in April at the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago, I presented data (click here to access the presentation deck) that examined how price influences unit downloads and overall earnings for indie authors. It wasn’t a surprise that free books generated the most downloads, and lower priced books sold more units than higher priced books.
One surprise, however, was that we found $2.99 books, on average, netted the authors more earnings (profit per unit, multiplied by units sold) than books priced at $6.99 and above. When we look at the $2.99 price point compared to $9.99, $2.99 earns the author slightly more, yet gains the author about four times as many readers. $2.99 ebooks earned the authors six times as many readers than books priced over $10.
If an author can earn the same or greater income selling lower cost books, yet reach significantly more readers, then, drum roll please, it means the authors who are selling higher priced books through traditional publishers are at an extreme disadvantage to indie authors in terms of long term platform building. The lower-priced books are building author brand faster. Never mind that an indie author earns more per $2.99 unit sold ($1.80-$2.10) than a traditionally published author earns at $9.99 ($1.25-$1.75).