October 20, 2019

Kindle Digital Platform, iBookstore, and Top Earning Authors

Top Earning Authors, Kindle Digital Platform, iBookstore, AppleNot a Gold Rush: The Taleist 2012 Self-Publishing Survey by Dave Cornfield and Steven Lewis is chock full of information from over 1,000 self-published authors.

Among top earners–the top 10 percent who judge they could live from their earnings–they have books for sale in more places (as of February 2012):

  • Kindle  +43% more than non-top-earning authors; total = 99%
  • Nook  +20%; total = 66%
  • For sale on own website  +20%; no total given
  • Smashwords  +10%; total = 72%
  • iBookstore  +5%; total = 40%

Kindle Digital Platform was introduced about two months before the survey. About 60 percent of authors reported already having at least one of their titles on Kindle. Sixty percent of those (about 36 percent of all authors) withdrew their titles from other outlets in order to meet KDP Select’s exclusive requirement.

Smashwords, developed and operated by Mark Corker, recently offered advice about selling through iBookstore, the Apple outlet. Corker discloses in his blog that Smashwords authors have always done well. In fact, “Apple is today the largest retailer for Smashwords authors.”

The obvious question, then, is should authors go with KDP Select (an exclusive arrangement) or use a service such as Smashwords and its other outlets?

First, the Cornfield and Lewis study caught the market at a shift moment, but its data ends in February 2012. Top earners surveyed at that time reported an average of eight titles for sale (N=800 titles); all others reported an average of four (N=4,000 titles). Only 60 percent of authors had one or more titles in the Kindle program (N=about 2,880?).

Second, it may be helpful to recall that going with KDP Select’s exclusive requirement is a three-month decision, which can be changed. Such flexibility may encourage more authors to experiment with their sales channels.

Third, how authors changed their prices may give some clues as to how they adjusted their outlets:

  • Changed retail price as often as monthly (6% of authors)
  • Never changed retail price (42% of authors)
  • 52% (of authors) changed retail price when the sales declined; of these:
    • 25% reduced retail price and kept it there
    • 25% raised retail price and kept it there
    • 43% reduced retail price, then raised it
    • 7% raised, then reduced retail price

When faced with a sales decline, a plurality of authors reduced the retail price and then raised it again. I think this is a good strategy, namely, to operate the levers–price and place–authors have in their control.
Corker notes that Apple is now selling in 50 countries and suggests that this is a key factor for author success through Smashwords. Multiple forms and places of access can be helpful in reaching the widest range of potential book buyers.

Image credit: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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