Numbers from another point of view.

Earlier today, Jim Hines posted some info about his backlist sales. He’s got some good points about building a backlist (which also feeds into this post by Mike Stackpole about literary authors and working one’s butt off). I twist Jim’s point completely, so please don’t think this is a response to his post.

I want to tease out one small number from Jim’s post. Today’s number is 4.3% That is the percentage of digital sales for Stepsister Scheme among all sales… and with that one single number comes an interesting model.

Royalties are complicated things – apparently the concept of a flat royalty is too easy. There’s a decent breakdown here that mirrors what I’ve been told in the past. Jim doesn’t say what his percentages are, so we’ll pretend that he gets 10% of gross sales. 1

On Amazon, Stepsister Scheme sells for $8 2 in paperback and $7 for a Kindle edition. Let’s pretend. Jim sells 1000 copies through Amazon. 43 of those are digital, 957 are print. It seems like a clear-cut thing that digital is kind of a waste of time, right?


Ten percent royalties from those thousand copies is $766 + $30 = $796. Not shabby. But what if the digital copies had been sold through what Mr. Stackpole calls “Vertically Integrated Publishing” (self-publishing, folks)? That’d be $300.3 Over 37% of the total royalties … from 43 sales. Or put another way, if he sold 114 copies himself, he’d make as much as from 10% royalties on a thousand sales.

This is a blinding oversimplification. I’m well aware of it, thanks. The real point here is to note that digital publishing can put a lot more money into the hands of authors. Despite my reluctance to link to him 4, JA Konrath makes a good point here.

Would Jim have moved that many copies of his books without DAW’s advances and resources? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that starting in about 2008, it became possible to do so. The resources needed to produce a digital book – while still non-zero – are much lower than the cost of a print book. It seems strange to think of royalties this way – that we could make the same amount of money by selling fewer works (or more money by selling the same amount). But it’s attractive.

And it should be attractive to publishers as well. So they’re losing money on literary authors? Then streamline your production costs so they more closely resemble the kinds of things that self-published authors have to do. When a book “earns out” with far fewer copies, it means that even the cool, risky things can be profitable as well.

Comments (and telling me I’m wrong), as always, are welcome.

1 As mentioned in the breakdown, that’s horribly high (points on gross sales!), but it makes the math easier. Which makes this example all the more potent, since it means this is probably an over estimation.
2 Numbers are rounded, obviously.
3 I didn’t subtract Amazon’s fees anywhere throughout this example – it would really be $210 after they took their 30%. If Jim sold it from his own site, then he’d pocket those $90.
4 Because I’ve seen him get frothier than I do, which is saying something. And he’s snarkier than he has to be here, and tends to view publishers as “bad”, which I don’t.

2 thoughts on “Numbers from another point of view.

  1. Hines's ebooks are priced at $6.99. That's too much, and for the past 20 months my numbers bear this out. I'll sell 150 copies a month of a $7 ebook, and 1500 of a $2.99 ebook.

    If his published priced them at $2.99, they'd sell more than 4% overall, and make up a much larger percentage of his royalty check.

  2. You've got a point – but Jim's not controlling the price. His publisher is.

    I've actually got an example of that which I'll talk about later this week as well.

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