So, having now been a part of the first (but almost certainly not last) Humble eBook Bundle, I’ve had some folks curious about my thoughts on it, particularly as it relates to money. Here are my observations on the matter, and how those observations might relate more generally to authors. What follows relates specifically to the Humble eBook Bundle; I don’t know if my observations would be more widely applicable to any other possible eBook bundles.
First: I’ll probably make a lot of money on the Bundle, but possibly less than you might expect (and less per unit than I otherwise would). People are naturally interested in how much money I and other authors will make from the Bundle. Well, for the first week at least my default cut was 7.9% of money coming in (my default cut was in there independent of the fact that my book has considered a bonus book for people who paid more than the average). I didn’t check after the first week when the Web comic books were added but I suspect my default cut went down a bit, probably to something like 5%. Let’s say for the sake of easy math that when all is said an done my default amount of the bundle was something like 6.5%. That would mean that my default gross cut of the Bundle would be something on the order of $78,000.
Now, here’s why I won’t get that much in net. One, while the Humble Bundle had default percentages, people could change those defaults and probably did. I assume that if they did change the defaults, they were not in my favor (I am assuming they would be in the favor of the non-profits, which would have been just fine with me). So the likelihood I’ll get that that total $78k seems small to me. Additionally, Old Man’s War is published by Tor, which has the rights for electronic versions of the book, and which will take its (totally fair) cut of the proceeds.
When all is said and done, if I end up with $20,000 (before taxes) then I figure I will have done well.
And to be clear, $20k would be a nice sum of money. I would not look askance at it. I will take it. Don’t cry for me, really. But that $20k will be a substantial discount, per unit, to what I usually make for the book electronically. The Humble eBook Bundle sold 84,219 copies, which is great; my book along with Neil Gaiman’s and Dave McKean’s was offered as a bonus book for people who paid more than the average price, so for the sake of simplicity (i.e., math people, don’t bug me with mean vs. median), let’s say OMW was in 42,110 of those bundles. For electronic books, I make 25% of the net to the publisher, and Old Man’s War currently sells as an eBook at $7.99. Unless I’m doing my math incorrectly, my cut is about $1.40 per eBook for OMW (no, $1.40 is not 25% of $7.99; remember, I’m working off of net). If those 42,110 copies were sold straight up, I would gross $58,000.
So, basically, if I gross what I expect to gross from the Humble Bundle, I’ll be taking a roughly two thirds cut in my income per unit than what I usually do.
(Again: This is all back of the envelope math, unencumbered by actual verified numbers and sums. This is just me speculating on what seems reasonable to expect, given what I know.)
Does this mean I’ve gotten ripped off by participating in the Humble Bundle? Of course not. One, I don’t usually sell 42k copies of Old Man’s War in two weeks, so I’m having volume compensate for per unit sales, and it doesn’t seem to have had a negative impact on OMW’s weekly sales in any event (i.e., it’s additive, not subtractive). Two, Old Man’s War is the first book in a series, and many of the people getting OMW in their bundles haven’t read it before. If they read it and like it, the additional books in the series are going to get bought and I get full freight on those, and otherwise it raises my profile as a writer.
Three, I knew going in how Humble Bundle does things so none of this was a surprise. I signed on knowing that, theoretically, everyone could slide my slider over to “$0.00” and I would ge nothing. Four, I did it mostly to help funnel money to the non-profits who would benefit (including SFWA), so anything I eventually get I figure is a nice bonus. For three and four, OMW is already well into the black and is the book of mine best designed to generate attention and interest, so it made that book an ideal candidate to be included in the Humble Bundle.
What does all this mean for authors participating in future Humble eBook Bundles?
1. Authors participating should know they are likely to get less per unit than they would in retail. That may be compensated for by a large number of sales (there are no guarantees, remember), but at the end of the day it’s still a fact to consider.
2. They should be understand that given the variable nature of the sliders, that they could get substantially less than what the “default” amount would be (they could also get substantially more, but that seems unlikely to me).
3. They should probably come in with a desire to have their book help the designated charities/non-profits, not to get a hot tub full of cash for themselves.
4. In the end, it’s probably best to consider the participation to be low-margin (but also low risk) advertisement for one’s name as an author and for one’s other works.
5. If possible, select a work of yours whose presence will benefit you and the Bundle best.
I was delighted to participate in the Humble eBook Bundle, and especially delighted to help drive so much money to the non-profits who were designated recipients. I would do it again. But I do want to be sure other authors thinking of participating know what they’re getting into if they are asked to participate.
(For more general thoughts on the Humble eBook Bundle, see this entry.)