The State of a Genre Title, 2013
Posted on January 16, 2013 Posted by John Scalzi 129 Comments
Yesterday Redshirts, my most recent novel prior to The Human Division, was made available in trade paperback format, which formally ended its hardcover format era. There are still hardcover editions out there, but Tor isn’t printing any more of them; from here on out its print presence will be in trade paperback. Aside from switching formats, this offers an interesting point in time to take a look at the Redshirts sales numbers and see what, if anything, they mean for me, and what, if anything, it means for the genre of science fiction in a general sense.
So, below, please find the North American sales numbers for Redshirts, dating from June 5, 2012 (the day of release) to January 14, 2013 (the last day of the hardcover run).
For those who don’t want to pull out your calculators, the sales total across every format — hardcover, eBook and audiobook, was 79,279.
1. These are healthy sales, and importantly they are healthy and reasonably balanced across the formats the book was available in. This is an important thing because while people like to talk about eBooks being the future, or audiobooks increasing in popularity, the fact of the matter is that print sales continue to be important, and a solid author presence in physical book stores also continues to be important. For me to lose any of these formats — or to discount their importance — would represent a substantial loss of sales and income. I expect each of these formats to continue to be important to my overall sales for some time to come, and intend to make sure I’m adequately supported in each.
2. This sales profile also indicates to me that choosing to work with established publishers — in this case Tor (for print and eBooks) and Audible (for audiobooks) — is a smart decision for me. There are arguments made for self-publishing, and many people will make them, but at this point, for the majority of self-published authors, self-publishing primarily gains you access to eBook sales. Print sales are difficult (because it is difficult to place books into bookstores, particularly chains, on a non-returnable basis), and by and large self-pubbed audiobooks are still an emerging market. Working with established publishers gets my work into as many sales channels as possible. Aside from everything else they do — including editing, design, artwork, marketing and advertising (hey, did you see me on tour? Or see those Redshirt ads in Times Square?) — the market access these established publishers provide is reason enough to keep working with them.
3. The sales profile of Redshirts in its hardcover format run is vastly different than the sales profile of Old Man’s War, released eight years ago this month. Old Man’s War sales for its first year were totally supplied by hardcover sales, because neither the eBook version nor the audio version was available until years later, and both the eBook market and (to a lesser extent) the audiobook market were not as fully developed as they are today. It would be specious of me to make too many direct comparisons between my debut novel and my eighth, because my personal circumstances have changed significantly in the time between their publications. But a debut author today would still be very unlikely to have her book presented only in print format.
4. My sales profile here is nicely diversified, but it’s also clear that the largest chunk of my sales are in eBook. I attribute this primarily to two factors: One, my personal presence and history online, which presents me as an “online native,” with a core fanbase of similarly tech-savvy readers; Two, science fiction as a genre tends to have a tech-friendly readership, which is likely to have adopted electronic readers early. A third factor is that eBooks tend to priced more cheaply than hardcovers, which is not insignificant. That said, the healthy sales of the Redshirts eBook at the $11.99 price point suggests that readers are willing to spend at that level, which argues for publishers to continue at least initially to peg their eBook prices to their hardcover prices, lowering them as the print format shifts.
(I would note, incidentally, that my eBook sales profile doesn’t come as a surprise either to me or Tor; we’ve been watching these sales for a while now, and it’s one of the reasons that we are initially sending The Human Division out in weekly eBook episodes. But also note that we are very quickly following up to serve the print market with the compiled novel — because print is important now and will continue to be in the future.)
5. My audiobook sales I attribute to a number of factors: One, healthy sales of previous audiobook titles; Two, an excellent and marketable narrator (Wil Wheaton) who has his own significant fanbase; Three, a strong marketing push by Audible for me and the book. It’s clear to me that audio is not just an aside to my print and eBook versions but a core aspect of my sales profile, which needs to be considered and tended to.
6. My own guess, based on watching my sales profile over the years, is that print, eBook and audiobook do not inherently cannibalize each others’ sales — it seems to me that for each there is a class of reader that is “native” to each — that is, there is a group of readers who strongly prefers print over eBook or audio, another group who prefers eBook strongly to the other formats, and a third group (correlated, I imagine, with people who have long commutes) who strongly prefer audiobook. I don’t think I lose a print sale by selling in eBook, or an eBook sale by selling in audio — rather, that selling in each of these formats is allowing me to expand my overall audience. Once again, this is an argument for remaining actively involved in all of the formats rather than throwing one (or more) overboard and putting all my chips on a single format.
7. This is a bit of inside pool but it’s a significant point and it matters: The fact that the absolute majority of my Redshirts sales came in formats other than hardcover means that the large majority of my sales were not tracked by Bookscan, the service offered by Nielsen that tracks book sales primarily at various brick-and-mortar stores. Bookscan tracked just under two-thirds of my hardcover sales, which is par for the service (a number of independent bookstores don’t report to the service, and I sell reasonably strongly in those stores). But overall it tracked just 21% of Redshirts‘ total sales, missing almost all the electronic and audiobook sales.
The reason this is significant is that Bookscan vastly underreports my sales record as an author — and yet Bookscan is the primary point of reference for sales for publishers and booksellers. I’m not in the market for a new publisher at the moment, but if I were, Bookscan’s report of my sales wouldn’t be doing me any favors. It also doesn’t do me favors with booksellers today when it comes to them making decisions about which books to stock. If bookstores look at numbers that don’t even accurately estimate how I sell in bookstores — much less my overall sales (which are indicative of a larger, overall sales potential), then my job selling to them gets tougher.
While my total sales profile is in many ways idiosyncratic to me, I suspect that science fiction, as a genre, is likely finding its sales underreported by Bookscan in a general sense, primarily because of lack of information about electronic sales. To be clear, as I understand it this is not solely the fault of Nielsen/Bookscan, as it’s difficult to report electronic sales if certain significant retailers are not exactly forthcoming with the data (and this is a whole other level of bad, because it makes it even tougher for authors to get an accurate idea of their sales — but I’ll address that some other time). But it does suggest that if one is looking at science fiction sales only through the lens of Bookscan, the image one is getting is distorted indeed.
8. For those who are curious, I gross roughly the same for each format (I believe that I gross more from audiobook for each individual sale because the unit price is higher but I would have to dig out a contract to check). So from a financial point of view it’s all the same to me whether you prefer hardcover or eBook or audio. Get the format you prefer. One nice thing for me on the royalty side of things is that the book went into the black in the first week of sales — this was a side effect of using Redshirts to cash out a long-unfulfilled contract for a different book I never wrote (on account of someone else publishing a book with almost exactly the same idea first). It was nice to have the book earn out that early.
9. On the personal side of things, I have a number of takeaway points from the sales of Redshirts during its hardcover run, of which I will now highlight two. The first is that I think I’ve successfully posted a relevant data point against a longstanding shibboleth that — aside from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy — humorous science fiction won’t sell well. Clearly, it sells just fine, or at least can. I like this because I have some more humorous ideas I want to turn into novels.
The second is that my basic philosophy of writing accessible science fiction, stuff you can follow even if you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool literary science fiction fan, is one that continues to work out pretty well for me. Redshirts is obviously designed to tickle the pleasure centers of geeks, but it was also designed to bring in the people who consume geek culture without identifying as geeks themselves — the same people who go see science fiction films in the theaters or watch Big Bang Theory at home or play Mass Effect or Bioshock, but don’t carry that geek enjoyment into other aspects of their lives. I’m happy to make the argument to these folks that they can enjoy science fiction books as much as they enjoy other forms of science fiction entertainment. It’s working so far.
10. Science fiction books often sell more in paperback. I won’t mind if that’s true here, too.
Thanks. Also, wow, I really am becoming a dinosaur :-)
The deciding factor for me when picking between ebook and hardcover was Tor’s decision to drop DRM
As one of the print fans, I’m waiting for the hardcover Human Division – is there a sales-tracking/recognition benefit for you and your publisher if I preorder now with the episodes coming online weekly?
I do imagine Redshirts did benefit from being Tor’s first official DRM-free title, but how much so is hard to quantify.
Tor will be happy to see the episodes do well, but honestly, buy it in whatever format you prefer. This is a long-term experiment and all data are relevant.
Nice! Really enjoyed both Redshirts and Human Division. I have recently re purchased the Old Man’s War series on ebook format, so I could reread before Human Division. Had the paper backs, but had given them away. Love the stories, love the writing, and truly appreciate the fact that you put your words into the formats that I would like to consume and fit into my life… like the e reader. Keep up the great work, cant wait to read the next Human Division story!
My biggest complaint on e-books is when they price them at the same price point as the hardcover itself. The profit margin is MUCH higher in a digital format, so that savings should be translated in a retail price savings.
Too many publishers (especially comic book companies) are selling e-books as if they had to print, ship, and cut in a retailer. While there are some retailers taking a cut of an e-book, as a whole, the price for e-books should be greatly reduced. Full retail price is really highway robbery.
Especially when you have ZERO tangible items in the end. I can’t take a file to a used bookstore or sell it on half.com.
Do you think your data indicates that Harriet McDougal is making a mistake by delaying the eBook version of Memory of Light by one month?
Is the trade paperback for Redshirts a new thing? How does that get tracked? For some reason I thought everything was tracked via ISBN but that just underscores my ignorance more than anything.
Also, I think it’s funny that on Amazon the trade paperback is currently a dollar cheaper than the eBook version.
And now I know the second definition of shibboleth.
Regarding humor, my favorite series are scifi/fantasy + humor (or at least witty and/or snarky). I doubt I’m alone in this. So, you’ve got at least my vote to go forth and produce that sort of material in large quantities. :)
Shadye, et al.
What I really don’t want this thread to become is a general kvetch-fest on eBook prices. Bluntly put, it bores me at this point, and typically reflects people’s own sense of entitlement more than concrete aspects of sales or understanding of the publishing industry. Also bluntly put, the right price of an eBook is very much like the right price for any other commodity: What enough people are willing to pay for it.
I think Harriet McDougal has a very specific goal in mind, and eBook sales at the moment don’t enter into it. The book is going to be huge regardless, so withholding the eBook really isn’t going to make a dent in that.
Good point, it’s too bad that it’s upsetting so many Wheel of Time fans. I picked up the hard cover day 1, but I do wish I had it as an ebook as well.
Have you read the Wheel of Time books?
I think the most interesting thing about ebooks is how popular they are among hardcore readers. The WSJ’s recent pro-print article had a nice nugget that only 23% of readers have read an ebook. So, even though ebooks are the most popular format now, they are read by a minority of readers. So that minority buys a lot of books. But, 89% of readers buy print. I take that to mean that ebook readers double dip.
I think for such an established and know author, you are able to secure sales from both hardcore readers and more casual readers and that translates into a more even distribution of sales. I am curious if this distribution holds true for lesser known authors.
Regarding cannibalization of sales between one format and another, here, have an anecdotal datapoint. In the days before ebooks, I would never have bought the hardcover because I simply never buy hardcovers — I hate giving those things shelf space. (I’ll borrow one from the library or from a friend, but if I have to still own it after I’m done reading it, no.)
I was quite eager to read Redshirts, though, and would certainly have bought the mass-market paperback edition when it eventually came out. Thanks to ebooks, I was able to buy the novel on day one, instead of waiting, so you made an extra sale early, but you’ll make one fewer next year. I’m guessing that’s a good deal for you, but if there are many other readers with my peculiar aversion, it may turn up in the form of sales tailing off faster than they used to in the pre-ebook days.
I wanted a hardback, but being in the UK, we didn’t get it. Paperback only over here, at least from all the retailers I checked, so I got that.
An interesting analysis, though. :)
Are there further breakdowns of sales into sub categories? IE are the physical sales from dedicated bookstores (small or large) or from big box stores (walmart or costco)? I’m assuming amazon is responsible for the bulk of ebooks, but are there other competitors who made up a significant chunk? Does audible have any competition?
@Nick Bodmer – I would bet not – I buy ebooks (almost) exclusively (my eyesight is going so that font size feature is VERY nice) but I bought A Memory of Light immediately – I couldn’t stand waiting a couple of months after sticking with that series for 13 freaking years and I doubt I’m the only one.
Thank you Mr. Scalzi. That was a great analysis of the business side of being an author. And the problem of getting real numbers about sales, especially e books, solved a question that I would get many times a month in the public library, where I was a librarian. How many books did Title X sell?
I wonder how many people buy both the hardcover and the ebook? I know I’ve done so for certain book series I’ve previously collected or certain titles that I end up really liking. I’ve also purchased the ebook for a physical book I already own; mostly my favorite books I like to always keep with me on my e-reader (Patrick O’Brian’s publisher made lots of money off of me purchasing the Aubrey/Maturin books TWICE!).
The question of how and to what extent eBooks bite into paperback sales is one of deep and abiding interest to the publishing industry at the moment.
Yup. I have no tracking info on my UK/Commonwealth sales, alas.
There is more information to be had, but I’m not sharing it at the moment because one, I didn’t ask for it and two, that would be more work.
Personally speaking, I’ve seen a lot of Redshirts promotions for the ebook/audiobook versions (on amazon, on various geek or sci-fi sites I visit, Times Square, etc.) but I frequent a lot of bookstores and haven’t seen the same kind of promotion for the hardcover version (which I own) in the brick-and-mortar world. So two questions:
1) Have John and others seen this kind of split as well?
2) Was this a concious move on the part of Tor/Audible/the author to market the digital versions more than the hardcover?
I would be curious, when you know the answer, whether the paperback sales trend more or less in the way you expected them to. Specifically it seems to me that ebook sales would be more likely to cannibalize paperback sales than hardback, by drawing in the “value” consumer early.
In my case, I bought the hardcover to give to my husband. I would have bought the ebook for myself but I wasn’t comfortable giving an ebook as a present. I’m not saying it makes sense but I’m probably not the only one who feels that way. What would be excellent is to buy the hardcover or paperback and get a ebook version, just as they are doing with DVDs these days.
I believe Brandon Sanderson talks about the decision to delay the ebook on his blog. At the very bottom of this page:
Apologies on my part–I wasn’t intending to go there. I just saw the markdown and thought it was funny. For the record I bought the eBook and was completely satisfied with it, which makes it money well spent for me. It also spurred me to purchase the hardback for my father (birthday present) and I was completely satisfied with that purchase as well.
Those of us who write humourous science fiction thank you for point eight. Are publishers listening?
John, thanks for a peek behind the publishing curtain.
@RiverVox I doubt that will ever happen. Although the question of how much ebook sales bite into hardcover sales is still being looked at, one thing is for certain right now: some people (maybe even a lot of people) are double-dipping, and publishers sure as hell don’t want to cut into that.
Any chance you would expand on the book idea that you didn’t get to? What I mean is that I enjoy your writing and the ideas in them, so if you had an idea but someone “beat” you to it, I personally would be interested in potentially finding a new author to read.
It wasn’t meant to be a kvetch, just more of a statement on e-books overall. I’m a “creator” and I know the mentality of “what the market will bear”. I don’t begrudge you making every penny possible for any of your books.
When you have two almost-identical experiences, priced exactly the same, you actually get less in the end by buying an e-book as a consumer. Which is ironic since as an author/publisher you make a higher profit with an e-book.
I think the industry as a whole is limiting the growth of e-books by not cutting a couple bucks off the retail price. I think it’s done on purpose to help keep bookstores alive. Especially in the comic book market, selling e-comics at retail price is protectionism.
For e-books to really realize their potential, then the price fixing needs to stop.
Fascinating stuff. I’m curious by your statement that you gross roughly the same for each format. Shouldn’t the profit margin for e-books be more than for hardcover when you take into account the cost for paper, the printing process, the delivery of the physical books, left-over inventory, etc. I know that hard-cover books are priced higher, and I know there are also costs associated with e-publishing, but still, that seems peculiar to me. Sorry if that’s a naive observation on my part.
I’m always a little stunned at how low sales are for *successful* books relative to other entertainment media. Less than >100k over several months, when the corresponding figures for “best-selling” movies, TV or video games would be an order of magnitude or two higher.
The typical North American’s entertainment budget must be very different than my family’s!
I wonder if these numbers are purely retail or account for all types of distribution such as books sold to public libraries. It seems to me that libraries, while obviously trying to react to the trend towards eBooks, are likely to lag behind the times and drive some portion of physical book sales.
First, thanks for another great article. It’s unfortunately rare to see an author be so forthright about lifting their skirt and showing us their book sales. But to new writers, info (especially the commentary) like this is priceless – a general mix of awe and horror at the same time. :)
I do have question regarding Bookscan though. If other authors in the Sci-fi genre have a similar audience profile as you (tech fans and early adopters), wouldn’t their sales profile trend in a similar way? And if all of these like author are similarly handicapped by Bookscan – then doesn’t it all net out at the end anyway?
That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues with sales report in general – but, it was just a thought.
My anecdotal experience supports #6. My husband likes audiobooks, and I like e-books, so there are a number of titles that we own in both formats, Redshirts among them.
The flipside of that is that a novel does not typically cost $50 million to produce, like a modestly budgeted film would. The economies of scale are vastly different. This is also why all the major movie studios combined put out fewer than 250 films a year, while the major book publishers release a large multiple of that in book titles.
Royalties for books have very little to do directly with the cost of production materials. This is a common misperception.
You’re still trying to kvetch about eBook prices, there. Again: Let’s not.
Even if other SF authors trend the same direction, there’s likely to be a wide range of variance, which still means a far-too-large possible margin of error.
Do you have an ETA on when the Mass Market paperback will be out? I’m not a fan of the larger paperback size.
I specifically looked for the paperback of Redshirts yesterday while I was running errands for my family. I guess I will have to make a trip to an actual book store, because the big-box stores I was grocery shopping at didn’t have it.
You definitely have a point about each format having its own niche. I’m ok with ebooks, but they are not my favorite format and I won’t spend money on them. I collect and devour paperbacks. That’s not going to change unless publishing gives up on paper altogether. If that happens, hopefully it is after I am long dead and buried.
For the record, I triple-dipped. That’s not uncommon for me. (I will admit I have a large amount of disposable income.)
Nowadays, my purchasing habits go something like this: if it looks like the book is worth a shot, I’ll buy the ebook. It’s immediate, and it doesn’t take up space. Given that I go through ~5 new books a week, the “not taking up space” thing is significant.
If it’s a book I really, really liked, liked so much that I’ll want to “reread” it over and over again, I’ll buy the audiobook. I generally listen to audiobooks when I am doing something that requires my hands to be busy but not much mental space. I don’t like my initial foray into a story to be through an audiobook, though, because I can read much, much faster than the audiobook goes, so I get impatient unless I know the story. Thus, audiobooks I buy are invariably a “double-dip” — I’ve already bought to book, either in ebook or print format.
If I really, really, REALLY like the book, or if I think I am likely to share the book outside my family (who all share the same Kindle account), I’ll buy the paperback. (I *HATE* hardcovers. I did buy the hardcover of Redshirts because I went to your book signing, but that’s extremely rare for me.) Print copies are usually triple-dips — sometimes I’ll be in a bookstore and happen across a new novel and pick it up, but usually, I buy the print copy because I like the book so much I want to have it on my bookshelf as well as in the ether. Or if it’s part of a series where I already have the previous books in print format — I’m still buying Terry Pratchett paperbacks, regular as clockwork, because I have all the Discworld novels in paperback and I’m not going to stop now. (He’ll stop before me, alas.) I’ll end up buying the Great Compiled Paperback of The Human Division when it comes out for the same reason.
So, you have a tendency to get three separate purchases from me, as do all my favorite authors. While I can’t imagine triple-dipping is common, I also doubt it’s unique. In other words, yet another reason why publishers are not likely to be quick about cutting off one publishing format or another. (Hell, if publishers started putting out DVDs of my favorite novels as interpretive dance, I’d probably pony up for them, too.)
PS Speaking of item #9 and the above-mentioned Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett has been putting out humorous fantasy that sells quite well for close to thirty years. Did people seriously not believe that that would work just over the border in sci-fi? They’re generally read by the same people.
I guess it would be impossible to track how many of any two (or all three) formats of any given title are owned concurrently. I find I have a real hard time purchasing an audiobook of a title I am unfamiliar with, so that all my audiobooks are duplicates of (mostly) dead tree books or ebooks I have previously read (either by ownership or from the library). And depending on the circumstances, I may be “reading” the audio and ebook simultaneously, say on a long car trip where I can just switch them out alternatively (yeah, optimizing the tech but not my finances).
There is another format in which Redshirts appears that you might want to look at if you are interested in how big your readership is and not just your income, and that is the Library of Congress recorded books for the blind and physically handicapped. These downloads are free for qualifying people, like my legally blind husband, and he was delighted to be able to enjoy Redshirts from them when our SF book group discussed the book. We have an Audible membership for books they do not record but we very much appreciate the NLS service; Audible can be EXPENSIVE. To soften the fact that your tax dollars are used to record the book and thereby taking money from your income, let me reassure you that I bought Redshirts for my Kindle, and we would have shared a copy if he could read print. The NLS readers are not a big “market”, but they are by and large an appreciative one. Thanks for sharing your work with them.
I guess I was surprised to find the an NYT bestseller might only move 80,000 copies, I would have thought it had to sell many more. I’m also surprised, and a little bit saddened, that in a nation of 350MM only 80k copies sold. Even considering SF may not be the most popular genre, this book should have a wider audience. Its, as you suggest, fun even for the non-SF fan (my wife thought it was a hoot and raved to her friends, particularly about the codas).
I’m OK with that though as long as it keeps you producing!
Well, I would have been an NYT bestseller if I had only sold a fraction of that, as what the list notes is sales in a particular week, not sales over time. If I had never sold another copy after the week I was in the list, I would still be a NYT bestseller.
On the flip side, Old Man’s War has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and has never once been in the NYT bestseller list; it’s merely sold a solid number of books, week in and week out, for eight years. Likewise, Redshirts has the potential to sell substantially more over time and I’m perfectly happy to have it be a solid seller for many years, as opposed a title which sells a lot for a very short period of time.
Which is to say: Sales is a complicated beast.
I haven’t seen hard evidence that ebooks are cannibalizing sales of paperbacks but paperback sales are trending downward, but not in a tight correlation with ebook gains. That is probably what the publishing industry is watching. Hardbacks seem to be trending up and appear healthy.
My opinion is that book collectors will buy hardbacks or limited editions, keeping that format strong. Ebooks have expanded the market and as such haven’t adversely affected paperback sales yet, but that could change in the future.
I bought my wife a Nook Tablet for her birthday last year. Even though she is a constant reader, she only uses the Nook to play games. She checked out an eBook from the library, but I don’t think she read any of it. My kids got Nooks for Christmas, and they only use them for games as well.
Most of our literary consumption is in the form of audiobooks. We listen to them during long car trips. The audiobooks keep the kids entertained without feeding the glowing screen addiction that is afflicting kids today. (Of course the Nooks are now canceling that out that benefit.) I often find my kids reading the paper versions of the audiobooks at home.
I also like listening to audiobooks during housework. I’ve been through the Harry Potter series several times while washing dishes. Jim Dale is the gold-standard, in my opinion, of audiobook narrators.
I tried Audible a while back. I wasn’t a fan of their subscription payment system. We usually just buy the audiobooks on CD’s or borrow them from the library.
@Frankly, the “low” sales number for a NYT bestseller do as much to indicate how many books are available for sale as how few people buy them. So I would take those figures with a grain of salt.
Thanks for the response. I knew the weekly part of the issue but In my tiny world I thought you would need 10’s of thousands a week to make the list with a first run over time in the 6 figures someplace. I guess not though. That explains why books are not a lot cheaper!
I went looking to see if I could find sales numbers for some of the ‘airport’ novels (you know the only one you can find at the airport by authors whos names you know even if you have never read a thing they wrote) but so far I have not found the right site. I bet those guys do a lot better in paperback then hard cover though.
More inside baseball, but perhaps someone will be interested: As per #8, your per-unit royalty does fluctuate somewhat. And, despite the large a-la-carte prices on audiobooks, the amount of receipts and the per-unit royalty you receive for audibooks is probably not as great as you would think. For physical audio, the per-unit royalty is actually pretty good for copies sold through regular retailers, but those sales are really a fraction of the sales made (most sales are made at discount, or to libraries, etc.). Even smaller are the amount of sales of online audio made a-la-carte. Most of the receipts you’ll see from Audible are from subscribers, and the receipts for those sales are usually lower (nearly half as much as a-la-carte sales). It’s a bit harder to peg (because calculating a mix of a-la-carte digital sales, subscription receipts, and physical sales complicates it), but I’ve got your overall audio per-unit royalty pegged around 1.00-1.50 per unit sold. Your highest per-unit royalty, likely comes from hardcover sales, where you’re drawing 10 to 15 percent of the list price (around $2.5 to $3.75 per unit sold). Depending on the price your per-unit e-book royalties are probably probably top out at around $3.00 a book with a basement of about a $1.00 per unit but are more like $2.50 per unit on average. If Macmillan ends up having to settle with the Justice Department and accept modified agency pricing you could lose a couple cents per-unit on the e-book side.
Evan – that raises another question. Does the voice, Wil in this case, get a flat fee for reading or is he on a per sale basis?
Not that I will ever have an audio book, just curious.
And, as long as I am hogging the thread with 20 questions; who audits the publisher to verify that they number they claim are sold is actually right? I have read about movie producers playing games with sales numbers to cook the books. Do publishers get checked?
Love it love it love it when writers/musicians/artists/etc. do income breakdowns.
And hive mind: is there a SFWA for genre musicians, or am I going to have to create one?
John, you note that one of the benefits of taking the established publisher route is the availability of editors (among others), which is something I greatly appreciate as a reader; I’ve stopped purchasing self-published work because of the general lack of editing.
However, in previous posts, you’ve mentioned that when sending a book to an agent, fresh (presumably also established) authors should not send their book until it is “polished.” By this, I assume you mean that an author should make at least some attempt at editing, not just spell- and grammar-check, but also consistency checks and the like? Do you have a (paid) editor outside of Tor?
While I think that ebook sales are offsetting the decline in paperback sales (and that the format may eventually replace the mass market paperback) I don’t know how much it’s cannibalizing those sales. It’s the same with hardcovers, I think the lower price point does grab some of the “I don’t care about format, I just want to read it NOW!” hardcover sales, I think it also captures some of those same group who’re less emphatic and might have forgotten about the book by the time it dropped into their price range (whether through remainders or paperbacks).
Also, given the fact that some people refuse to read ebooks, while others won’t read print, I have to think it’s likely that ebooks are creating their own niche,. It may take some sales from other formats, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it adds to overall sales, too. Pity we can’t release the same book in several parallel universes to get good comparative data.
Are there also any rough estimates as to how many were books were sold outside of North America? Or for your other books maybe to serve as any kind of indication? I’m just curious as to how those two compare…
I bought the ebook living in the Netherlands, but I have a US Amazon account due to my US in laws (most books are cheaper that way), so I guess it’s one of the 80.000 up there..
Your book copy should be as clean as possible, is all. I have not myself ever hired an outside editor.
No idea, and not especially relevant at this point. Only a couple of my foreign publishers have published Redshirts yet.
Out of curiosity – for dead trees hardback editions, do you have a rough breakdown for how many of those were online sales – via Amazon.com or BN.com pr the Powells website or… versus in-store?
Relevant to the point you made about self vs publisher publishing, the POD self-publisher companies can sell dead trees to/through the electronic retailers pretty easily, but seem not to get any books in bookstores (or vanishingly few).
I’m frequently a “double-dipper”. I prefer reading on my ebook reader, but for favorite authors I want a physical book on my shelf. I’m a re-reader and many times I want to go back and revisit a favorite scene and that is much much easier with a physical book than an ebook.
Every once in a while I “triple dip” but that is rare. I have a hard time keeping track of something that is strictly auditory so the few audio books I have are books I’ve already read (either in dead tree or ebook) so I don’t have to worry about losing the plot.
It would make me ridiculously happy if there were a way to buy the hardcover and for an extra couple bucks also get the ebook. Something like buying a CD and then ripping it to get the mp3s.
Huh, Nielsen does terrible book sales tracking in much the same way it does terrible TV viewing tracking? (That is, they ignore all non-traditional methods of media consumption, such as ebooks and services like Netflix.) Unsurprising, yet distressing given the kinds of decisions made with such data.
@George William Herbert
POD/Self-Publishers are always going to have a hard time getting books into stores. There’s a whole layer of sales and marketing aimed at getting books into stores, and without that self-publishers are going to find it really hard to compete (especially as shelf space is a finite resource).
Frankly: There are auditing clauses in every good publishing contract, but they hardly ever need to be exercised. The publishers (for the most part) send us fairly transparent royalty reports, and you can easily do the math to figure out whether the royalties being paid are fair according to the contract, and comparing it to the published sales price. There are tricky situations when it comes to high-discount sales, or remaindering, but those circumstances are rare, and we can always reach out to the royalties department for clarification.
As for Wil, I don’t know what his deal with Audible is (I’m not his agent). His fee and royalties wouldn’t come out of the author’s share if that’s what you’re wondering. The audiobook publisher is the one who incurs that cost.
A question on the hardcover numbers above vs. Bookscan. (If you’re willing.) Are those hardcover numbers above Tor’s sales to book stores (minus whatever amount they hold back in advance of returns)? Or are they actual point of sale to consumer numbers?
I ask in order to better understand how wide the gap between Bookscan and real sales numbers is. Bookscan nominally is tracking consumer sales, so if your hardcover numbers are the sales to stores that would explain some fraction of the gap, right?
Count me as a paperback buyer on the first day. I used to buy more hardbacks, but prefer paperbacks now because they seem easier to read when you’re drinking coffee in the morning. Plus I don’t feel quite as guilty when I mark in it. Underlining in a hardback makes me feel as if I’m vandalizing a library book.
Anyhow, congrats on the numbers! And so far, I like Redshirts.
Also, put more pie charts in your posts. That way it looks as if I’m working at work. :)
Double-dipper here as well (hardcover then ebook.) I figured it was easier for John to sign my hardcover than for him to sign my tablet, and less likely to wear/rub off.
For me, physical books have the advantage that they can be lent to friends and will stick around even if an eBook provider goes out of business or needs for legal reasons to revoke the electronic copy (see Amazon, 1984.)
Also for me, ebooks have the advantage that I can carry the whole Wheel of Time series plus the Song of Ice and Fire series plus the Death’s Gate cycle plus … a lot more on my tablet easily. [I don’t know exactly how much my ebook collection would weigh if I carried each one in paperback, but I can estimate.]
I also have plenty of books that I DON’T have electronically, either because they’re not available (yet) or because I’m unlikely to need/want to have access to them all the time, and some books I have electronically but not physically, for example if I’m trying out a new series or they weren’t available at my local bookstore for whatever reason.
Those are the copies that went home with someone.
Another bit of anecdata here about different readers preferring different formats. My husband is a slow reader and tends to get most of his narrative fix from movies and videogames, but he bought the audiobook of Redshirts and listened to it in the car and while doing chores around the house. I bought the ebook version because there is a seriously limited amount of shelf space in our house for books, and I like to save it for books that require a physical version because I need to page through them quickly: reference books, art books, cookbooks. So, different versions, and one more sale than you’d have gotten previously because there would be no need to buy two copies if we both consumed stories in the same way.
John, Thank you for the best piece of news I have seen regarding publishing in 2013! I saw your posts yesterday about The Human Division and was sad because I didn’t see any mention of print editions (It was most like there, and I missed it). I love your books and can’t wait for this book. But, I am old fashioned with my reading habits.
re Dave Robinson’s comment –
I’m aware of that. My point was, if say 60% of sales are now online, someone who’s considering self-publishing can analyze whether 0.6x sales online-only without the traditional publisher or 1.0x sales with the traditional publisher and in-store representation are better for them as an author/publisher. And if it’s worth trying self-publishing something that, say, traditional publishers pass on, from an economic standpoint.
I am not sure I personally like where I’m going with this – until all the major bookstores dissapeared from a 15-mile-radius around me, I bought several hundred to over a thousand dollars worth of books a year in stores, and I enjoy going and hanging out and browsing in person. But from the author’s perspective, it’s still a valid analysis to want to make.
I know when I worked at a bookstore that reported to Bookscan, we reported actual consumer sales, not purchase/return
One of my favorite takeaways from your Fuzzy Nation book tour stop in Seattle was when you said something to the effect of ‘The general concensus is that only two and a half authors can sell humorous fantasy/sf: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman when he’s writing with Terry Pratchett. I have to include Neil in there or else his Gothic Ninjas will kill me.’
1 – do you happen to remember your exact line (if it’s part of a regular presentation)?
2 – congrats on making it 3 1/2.
I don’t buy hardback fiction *, be it online or at the ever-decreasing number of physical bookstores (The only bookstores in my town of >200,000 are used — I miss the days we had a Borders AND a B&N). So publishers and authors are actually getting more money from me via eBooks, since I will preorder and buy their novels and poke the buttons anxiously till the book appears.
This means I’m cannibalizing paperback sales, I guess?
I don’t care for trade paperbacks — they seem to cost too much and be too big. However, that seems to be the way publishers are going, but it’s damned annoying when you’ve bought volumes 1 and 2 of the Arglebargle Trilogy in MMPB, and then the 3rd only comes out in trade.
So, dammit, we need more MMPB publishing. People still buy those. Grocery stores, airports, bookstores. They fit in your pocket or purse and need no electricity. You can still get ’em for less than a Jefferson.
And eBooks can be autographed. Sort of. I have a cover for my Nook that only covers it when I go to cons. I get authors to sign it. When it fills up, I’ll buy another. I don’t know about mundane authors, but your SF/F writers don’t bat an eye at autographing those. I got Connie Willis, GRR Martin, Peter Beagle, MR Kowal, etc. Just find a cover that accepts Sharpie ink and collect ’em like Pokemon.
*The only hardback fiction I’ve bought in the past N years is the Chicon 7 commemorative collection of the Mike Resnick stories, and that was just to get it signed by Mike and his pals who wrote the introductions. Reference books are about all I get in hardback nowadays, and those rarely — it’s the only genre I prefer trade paper in.
Ramez Naam asked one of the questions I wanted to ask, so thanks to him and to John for answering
Another question I have regards this claim:
“… science fiction as a genre tends to have a tech-friendly readership, which is likely to have adopted electronic readers early.”
Has this been demonstrated by reliable numbers? I know that it *seems* logical that the people who like to read about gadgets would be more likely to use them, but so far I only see anecdotal evidence for it.
I was blogging about this earlier in the week, and I met a number of people who claimed that SF sells a larger proportion than other genres, but none of them could point to a study. I know ebooks sales have been growing, but have they been growing proportionately across genres?
Similar to Harry’s question, does anyone know how the stats are looking cf. ebook sales in fiction vs. non-fiction? I buy a lot of ebooks, but they’re almost invariably fiction. I buy a fair number of non-fiction (reference, cookbooks, etc.), too, and for them I prefer print because it’s easier to look things up.
I’m the blue!
I’ve purchased five of your books, including this one, and all as audiobooks. I’m a cartoonist, and I like listening to books while I’m drawing. It helps keep my ass in the chair.
I have a subscription to audible, and now the only physical books I buy are graphic novels (I just got an ipad and have downloaded a couple ebooks, for plane trips).
I really hope that you continue to write humorous science fiction. I love the genre. Android’s Dream was the first book of yours that I had encountered. It hooked me. Redshirts has kept me.
What was the book published first with almost exactly the same idea you had? I want to read that!
@Frankly, in the case of Tor, it would be the IRS that checks if they sold the number of books that they did. If they under-reported to an author, there would be a slush pile of money sitting around or else they’d have to carefully cook their books.
As for NYT Best Sellers, books differ from movies in that movies count individual users and have a shorter shelf life, whereas books tend to get recycled much more. One million people might watch “Zero Dark Thirty” in a week, but 10-12 weeks is a long run; John sold 79,279 copies in the first ‘year’, which means probably around 160,000 have ‘read’ it and it will continue to sell well for at least another year (people like me that wait for the paperbacks to come out). Once you look at those two factors, you get around 1 in 3 people read compared to watch their entertainment.
I think point #6 is valid. I prefer real, tangible books that I can sit in a quiet (as possible with 3 kids and 4 great danes) corner of my house and get lost in. Plus, e-books just don’t have that smell. Am I weird because I love the smell of books?
I had no idea that audiobooks sold so well. I do know that I don’t have the patience to listen to one. Keep up the good work!
Hi John, Re: audible books – does the narrator get a flat fee for the job or is there an ongoing trickle of money per book sold?
Just curious and since you sometimes don’t mind discussing money matters……………
Thanks for sharing this, John!
Very interesting, enlightening stuff — especially as I’m new to the business, having just sold my debut sci fi thriller (DISSIDENT, Simon & Schuster, January 2014). I weighed a few options before signing, and in doing so nearly drowned in a deluge of advice, any given pieces of which proved as polarized (and often confrontational) as political hot button issues.
Your breakdown is refreshingly specific and real, and your analysis makes solid sense through and through. Again, thank you.
My favorite part of this post is the second half of section 9. For years, I’ve been shouting this from my lonely post. Accessible, accessible, accessible! It seems so much writing — especially in sci fi and literary circles — is intentionally difficult. Takes the fun out of it… and kills the readership. I still love the older sci fi writers, their professional yet accessible writing, their expert storytelling, and, yes, their occasional humor!
Which might explain why you’re my favorite working sci fi author. I’m only halfway through your books, but I’ll own and read them all soon. For the record, I hit the pie chart like this: I own one paperback copy and four audiobook editions (one, OLD MAN’S WAR, is a double, as that’s the print version I own, too). Whatever…
Finally, please keep writing accessible, humorous sci fi. Please, please, please. You’re great at it, and you’re bringing a lot of us joy. Your ideas kick ass, your stories are perfectly structured, and your stuff is hilarious. Loved AGENT TO THE STARS, by the way.
I have no idea how the narrator side of things is handled; it’s not my department.
I ended up buying Redshirts in all 3 formats. The ebook for myself, the hardcover for you to sign and then gift to my dad, and my husband downloaded the audible version on his iPhone for one of our long trips to visit family.
Most of your books I have in ebook format. I’m getting the Human Division in audio, though now that I’m doing more knitting. I can watch TV and knit, I can listen to music and knit, but I still can’t read a book and knit…unless it’s an audio book!
Scalz: Any idea whether sales to libraries are included in the numbers for the physical units (audio and hardback) you reported above? If so, any idea what share they were?
Fascinating stuff. Tracking the early numbers for my (newborn) book, I had more digital versions at first, then print balanced them out. They’re now at 50/50, even though the digital is significantly cheaper, DRM-free and also on Kindle’s Lending Library. Must admit that surprised me.
It seems like us geeks would necessarily be the sorts to adopt digital media in overwhelming numbers, and to a degree, that’s true. However, I think among our ranks there’s also a contingent who consider themselves collectors/connoisseurs, and therefore want analog. Additionally, there are undoubtedly those who are big enough fans to want to get a new story the instant it releases, and if there are no digital versions to be had, they’ll readily spend the dosh on a high-end hardcover if necessary. That’s exactly what my husband has done with Wheel of Time installments, among other things.
For the most part, I think publishing has been a lot better at adapting to digital markets than audio/video has been, with the exception of that Nielsen thing you mention (which is also a problem for TV, of course.) I think a lot of that can be credited, for better or worse, to Amazon. Before digital books were even really a thing, they’d already established themselves as a top retailer, which meant that as long as they controlled most of the digital market, they couldn’t be hurt by a new format. So, hello, Kindle. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, of course, have been left behind in this, but they were left behind by digital retailing long before digital formats got in the way.
Music, TV and movies, on the other hand, were still being distributed almost exclusively in analog formats and ways when digital versions of that content started springing up. Aside from DVDs/CDs sold by online retailers, most distribution for new releases was still going through brick-and-mortar stores, theaters and live broadcast. When the public started demanding being able to get these works on their own time, and in their own ways, they were completely unprepared for that, so pirates stepped in, and all hell broke loose.
I think another complicating factor is how accustomed consumers are to the established business models for different kinds of media: pay-per-unit, subscription or ad-supported. Switching business models for that kind of media, then, can be a struggle. People used to seeing network TV series for “free” so long as they expose their eyeballs to beer commercials can balk at the idea of being asked to pay for them through streaming services. But books have always primarily been pay-per-unit, aside from libraries and the occasional subscription book club, so getting people to do so for digital versions as well as dead-tree ones hasn’t been nearly so much of a struggle, as far as I can tell.
I think digital media in general will eventually become the standard across all types, but I also think there’s enough of an enthusiast contingent out there to keep analog formats in play for a while, yet (see: vinyl.) The only real roadblock to making this all smooth out is getting a standard revenue model across all types, and I think that’s starting to work itself out.
I’d really like to see how the sales pie chart looks in a year or so, when you can add paperback and reduced-price e-book sales (assuming e-book prices drop to match the average dead tree price).
One other little thought: I do think it’s sad that smaller retailers are becoming collateral damage as digital and analog duke it out. But I think once the format/revenue-model stuff is settled, there will be a new market for niche retail that quick-thinking folks can get in on. Think of it in terms of food service: yeah, multinational corps have a lot of the restaurant market, but there’s still a big demand for small cafés doing high-quality food. I think the same concept is also working for other things, too: indie music festivals, farmers’ markets, Etsy, etc. There’s a certain amount of democratization happening as extraneous middlemen slowly get pulled out of the artist-to-consumer path, and so long as niche distribution doesn’t expect to make the same kind of money the big, mass-market guys do, they’ll survive.
For what it’s worth, I’m on my third Kindle, and have given two away as presents. Right now I have a keyboard and a paperwhite – I like them both, though it’s a bit too easy to accidentally turn the page, and a bit hard to use the ‘go to’ function. I also have a Fire, but I absolutely do not read books on that. Tablets are bad for reading, in my opinion, because of the eyestrain from the backlit screen. Also, for what it’s worth, I do give ebooks as presents. I also buy hardbacks of some authors – those ridiculously expensive but breathtakingly beautiful Subterranean Press China Miéville editions, for instance, or Redshirts since you autographed it – but I always buy an ebook edition too. My apartment is overflowing with books, and the Kindle means I can put hundreds of new books into one tiny package, instead of trying to find more space to stack books in! Not to mention flying across country with a Kindle, instead of using up half a suitcase…
i agree with everyone that your humorous sci-fi is the BESTEST THING EVAR!!!
well, almost. you’re becoming something like sci-fi’s Terry Pratchett, ya know?
anyone, i have a note about electronic sales. in the U.S., B&N is the biggest brick&mortar chain, right? and they’ve got the nook. so doesn’t it stand to reason that B&N *knows* about the ebook issue, when it comes to reporting?
and a question, along those lines; *IS* there someone tracking ebook sales, in the same manner that physical copies are being tracked?
as for double dipping – well, there are four reasons i’ll get eBooks.
1. they’re FREE [yay Amazon Prime!]
2. It’s something that’s ONLY an eBook [and it’s SO AWESOME to be able to get short stories. i buy lots of anthologies, but not so many magazines, so the eBooks here rock]
3. to get something BEFORE the Hardcover – Baen does this, OFTEN. you can generally get an ARC of their hardbacks, for about half what the HB will cost, a month or three in advance. and THAT’S one time i double dip!
4. preview of a book, and OCCASIONALLY the preview is soo good, i can’t wait [the only other time i double dip]. this is rare; in he past 2 years it’s been less than a dozen. but i have LOTS of previews.
i keep being told that 35 is TOO YOUNG for me to be all “this newfangled stuff, gah!” but, seriously – Eric Flint ADMITTED to me that publishers *DO* put crack in the ink; i NEED my fix. also, i was one of the people who bought 1984, and that pissed me off; when i buy a book, i want it to be MINE. to be able to lend it, or wrte in it [i never do, but STILL] and i want it to be mine FOREVER. and… you aren’t BUYING an eBook, it seems. it’s more like you’re leasing it or something? because if i’m reading the “terms and conditions”, the seller can actually take it away whenever they want. that’s… not the way to encourage me to buy eBooks, na da?
this turned into a HUGE comment, sorry all
I love ebooks for the convenience. I read them on my smartphone which is always with me no matter where I go. And when I order an ebook online (there are literally NO brick and mortar bookstores within a reasonable distance of my home, save for a handful of Christian bookstores) I don’t have to wait for the UPS guy to drop it off before I start reading. At the same time, I adore physical books; they’re works of art in and of themselves in my opinion, so what I’ve been doing is buying most books in ebook format and when I read something that I’d like to see on my bookshelves for one reason or another, I go ahead and shell out for a hard/paperback copy as well.
In general, the absence of an ebook means I’m unlikely to read the book. There are just too many books out there and life is short. I’ll find a few paper books in the local libraries, but that’s a mug’s bet. I noticed an anthology (“Digital Rapture”) from your editor I’d like to read, but there doesn’t appear to be an ebook. Oh, well. Next!
It seems to me that anything Nielsen at this point in our media-consumption history is way, way outdated.
I, too, tend to double-dip, especially with books and authors I enjoy. I love the smell of books and holding them – it creates its own experience. However, I am also an avid knitter, and found that I can read and knit if the book is on my tablet. I read quickly as well, so the audiobooks slow me down to the point of irritation. I do own almost all your books in both paperback and in eReader format, as I do for all my favorite authors.
Ok! You win! I just bought my very 1st e-book. Or at least part of an e-book! But it won’t smell good.
Bear in mind that most established authors make most of their money off of their backlist, with the new novels (frontlist) serving essentially as the lures, which is one reason publishers discount heavily on the prices of new books. For example, my husband asked me to buy him the hardcover of Redshirts for a present. He loved it and then not only read my paperback version of Old Man’s War but bought the e-book of Agent to the Stars. He loves that book too, so likely we will be buying more of Scalzi’s backlist. Since the production/labor costs of backlist are somewhat less and Scalzi has probably earned out his advances against royalties on most of those backlist titles, that’s direct income. Further, with a new novel out and doing well, foreign sales of Scalzi’s backlist also increase and more foreign licenses for backlist titles in more countries may result. Offering The Human Division first as an installment e-book has much the same effect as will the print full launch. That’s yet another reason why the Bookscan numbers are woefully inadequate and I greatly dislike the attempt to depend on them by turning fiction publishing into the equivalent of t.v. ratings while not even being statistically similar in any way.
I’m one of those Franzen types with an antiquated preference for print, mostly because I like to do a sort of half-assed annotation of a lot of my books. Plus, what can I say, I like buying a shiny new paperback and then putting it on my bookshelf a week later, all beat up.
I’ve always believed that humorous sci-fi can sell as well as anything else with a good story and cohesive plot. And that’s where so many “humorous” stories fail. Please, be funny, but you still have to include the other important aspects of good story writing.
That’s a big part of why I think Redshirts did so well: John’s a sublime wordsmith and ensures his stories are well written and engaging, regardless of genre.
Cool that you share this. Several items to comment on. Accessibl sci-fi is a great way to put the sf you write. I am a fan of the more hardcore sf (Hamilton, Reynolds, Banks, etc) but I do enjoy OMW and Redshirts. Terry Pratchett is another humor sci-fi guy and there are others. They seem to have forged this along with Hitchhiker books.
I typically buy e-books because of ease of use. However if the ebook is what I consider too expensive (>$10) then I will go buy the HB (if new release) at one of the several half priced bookstores that are around me. This happened with Redshirts, sorry John I realize that you do not benefit from that. DRM is never a issue because I rip that off of ebooks and audible stuff.
As far as double or triple dipping I may do that from time to time but only for very large books so that I can listen during commute and read in evening and weekends, other fans of Hamilton and Reynolds know what I am talking about here.
I became an audiobook fanatic several years ago when I had some since-corrected eye problems. I sometime peruse brick-and-mortar books stores for intriguing titles, then hurry home to check out their audio availability. I wonder how the presence of a book in stores drives sales in the ebook and audiobook markets, though I imagine any indication would merely be anecdotal, just like my story. Interestingly, I have found that I spend the same amount on audiobooks each year that I used to spend on hardcovers and paperbacks.
I was going to say that I don’t double dip that much, but then I remembered that I give audio books and copies of things to people at christmas fairly often, and personally accounted for… 5? copies of Flint’s “Mother of Demons” that I gave or gifted, and another friend another 3-4 of them, before he was cool and popular. I think I gifted Redshirts and the Fuzzy book and all of the Old Man’s War series to date, at least one copy to someone. So I guess I do double dip… But not in the “buying myself multiple media versions” sense.
Interesting numbers. Makes me think that Bookscan might be on it’s way to becoming as outdated as Nielsen is for tv ratings.
I’m happy that this particular title was out in ebook from day one. I gladly pay for an ebook I can take with me (I’m looking at you, giant-ass Wheel of Time book), but I’m not going to pay quite as much as I would for a hardback because I can’t resell it. And at this point (Redshirts excluded), many of the titles come with DRM, so I may not even access to it myself in a year! The publishing industry has a lot of variables to solve before ebooks truly can become “the future”. But I’m still glad to see that ebook numbers make up a significant portion of some book sales!
I don’t get the funny-SF-doesn’t sell thing, because it obviously does. I came up w/ a dozen names, but I forgot most of them almost immediately, because hello, booze plus a terrible day equals memory disfunction, but terry pratchett, robert aspirin, and spider robinson linger. Hell, Neil Gaiman is pretty fuckin’ funny, if you like it a little dark. Almost all of my favorite authors have an element of humor–crickey, has anyone read the Jack Reacher series end to end. Hilarious! Mr Adams had a certain special crazy, which was fantastically funny, but he didn’t create self-propelled luggage or L-space.
Is anyone checking on the impact (good or bad) pirating had on sales? i just checked PirateBay and saw that the audiobook (no ebook) version of Redshirts has seven seeders. Is there a Nielsen type service that reports on the popularity, or number of downloads, of torrents? Are publishing companies paying attention to those statistics?
As a kid I was never a big fan of reading, I couldn’t sit still long enough, I couldn’t get hooked, whatever the reason. It wasn’t until I became and adult and discovered that I had gone my whole life undiagnosed with ADHD as the real reason I couldn’t read books. I can’t read a whole page of a book without stopping to think of about 20 things I should be doing right at that second. So audio books are how I read. I read with my ears and not my eyes. The popularity and increased quality of audio books in recent years has made it so that I can read almost any book I want now. I devour a book in a day in some cases. Now when my brain is telling me to jump from task to task, I can take my book with me. I never knew how wonderful reading could be. I had always been a big movie and television buff because I love being taken to different worlds and now I have so many more worlds to explore because my ears can read. I am proudly on my 5th Scalzi book, it all started with Redshirts.
As for your #6, rather than cannibalizing each other, sometimes multiple formats lead to multiple sales. My wife and I own quite a few books in multiple formats, and I’m pretty sure my wife has one or more of your e-books while I’ve got the print editions. My wife is planning on getting the “Human Division” in serialized form, and I’m going to wait for the print edition.
Humorous SF/F I like uses humor to tell a good story, the ones I don’t like are the ones which don’t have an actual story.
[Deleted because Shayde still hasn’t picked up the hint that we’re not having the same old boring eBook pricing discussion here — JS]
You don’t know when to give up, do you Shayde?
John, I see some issues with your discussion on Bookscan, which I’m going to expand on, as we’re having this discussion elsewhere on a private mailing list.
One, bookstores, like B&N, primarily use their own internal sales data to determine orders, or reorders. They don’t use or have access to Bookscan, as that doesn’t help them determine how a title is going to do, necessarily. So it’s a moot point, indeed. (What it is used for is for sales comparatives, which is a separate thing altogether, and used in conjunction with the sales forces, but that’s a marketing tool.)
Two, and this is really important, Bookscan does not track library orders. This can actually be done through worldcat.org, partially, which gives a publisher (or author) a good idea of sales, through holdings. Once you subtract out those sales, then the Bookscan numbers actually do match up with booktrade sales, reasonably well. Bookscan does not claim to track the library trade. It claims to track the book trade. With 715 library systems carrying your book, along with their subsequent library branches, you can say, with some calculation, that they are carrying at least 7,000 copies. So . . . 26,000 – 7,000, you get 19,000 copies. The representation then comes to 89%, for the _ booktrade _.
Three, I don’t think most publishers use Bookscan, really, to determine whether or not to pick up an author necessarily. (If they are strictly using Bookscan as their only determining factor or tool, yes, that’s problematic, and that’s more reflective of their own problems.) It depends on their business model. If Tor Books, which is super-great at selling to the library trade, comes across an author who has previous sales history selling well into that market, then they might be willing to acquire a new book, knowing that the trade sales might not be as strong. However, if you’re Ace Books, and you primarily rely on the book trade (and mass), and the numbers on Bookscan are not promising, then, well, the trade sales reported to that agency actually are helpful.
That’s it. I just wanted to point that the importance of Bookscan is actually not as large as you’ve pointed, and that bookstores and publishers have a lot more useful tools at their disposal. I’m not entirely certain where Bookscan’s data would be good or bad, in the long run, along the publishing chain, but I can’t see it harming your books or career, honestly. If a publisher is going to drop you, it’ll be because of their own internal sales reports, and if a bookstore doesn’t order you, it’s because of previous sales history, again, internal sales reports.
I hope that all makes sense, and happy to clarify my thoughts, if I’m gotten anything wrong or stepped on any toes.
John, you’d mentioned that your per-sale income is roughly the same in each of the three “major” formats. What about paperback (both trade and MM)? MM paperback is my personal favorite because of size if not necessarily cost … admittedly they don’t wear well, but for books that are worth many re-readings (probably including the OMW ones), I’m quite happy to buy replacement copies repeatedly when needed as long as they’re still available.
Thank heaven for Amazon … I was delighted to find both of Bester’s classics and Blish’s “Cities in Flight” still available and in stock in trade paperback at reasonable prices, after futile repeated searches at my two (excellent) local secondhand shops.
John – thanks for giving us a candid insight into your sales figures and your personal analysis thereof. That’s a lot of good information that you rarely get from authors.
You can count our family in the hardcover + audio slices . . .
One note: SF/F fans are in many cases fairly slow to move to ebooks. As a group, we seem to like the physical books (we love our books!), and are only shifting to ebooks because of space issues. Many fans like to have something that authors can sign–authorgraph is out there, but it’s just not the same. OTOH, among the earliest adopters of ebooks were romance readers–for the most part (not trying to insult any romance readers or writers out there) they consider their books “disposable” and made the shift to ebooks very early.
I have all three! The signed hardcover was a very thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband (and you – thanks for making that available this year); the other two I bought for myself.
Elektra makes an interesting point about SF/F fans. I do love my physical books, but currently I prefer reading e-books. But I agree about the issue of not considering books “disposable.” That is why I still have so many, and sometimes buy both physical and electronic copies. Books are treasures, and I want to know I can still read mine in 40 years. E-books aren’t quite there yet.
After trying out Whispersync for voice I usually purchase a book in both ebook and audiobook formats. This way I can continue experiencing the book any way that is practical in my current situation. When at home I read on my kindle, while jogging or on the bus I listen to the audiobook. Amazon really has made the transition between ebook and audiobook work smoothly.
I’m late to respond to this post because I was late to reading it. It’s the kind of post I like to spend time with as my professional role as writer, rather than, hey, I’m a writer wasting time on the intranets who really should be working.
I don’t know if you’re quite there yet – and this refers to your final point about writing humorous SF – but I’m inclined to think you’re one of those rare authors, or will be eventually, who is not identified as an SF/F writer, but as JOHN SCALZI (caps are not mandatory). This is somewhat like pointing out that Stephen King has not really been a horror writer for a very long time. He’s just Stephen King. You don’t pick him up to read a horror story, you pick him up to read a Stephen King story, which may have horror, maybe have SF, may be suspense, thriller, mystery, or whatever.
So, go you! Keep up the good work.
And on the numbers game, your audio numbers gave me pause. Those are very significant numbers for audio, I would think.
I would just like to go on a very typical hot-button tangential rant sort of thing. I hope you’ll all bear with me. You will? I am eternally in your debt and your indulgence is appreciated. (This is largely copy-pasted from another comment I made somewhere else a few days ago, sorry.)
Our esteemed host points out the difficulty of getting books into bookstores on a nonreturnable basis and that it is a significant advantage of being tradpublished. I hasten to agree. In my opinion for the average writer this is the ONLY significant advantage of being tradpublished. It’s not that bookstores buy books from tradpublishers because they “trust” tradpublishers to give them books that will sell. They *don’t* trust them to do that, because they don’t *have* to trust them to do that, because of the returns system.
But the returns system is one of the greatest rottennesses of the whole tradpub system. When it rears its pustulant head, even just to reconnoiter, I attack.
Whole essays can (and have) been written about this disgusting relic, but the short answer is, if your customer needs you to finance her business, she is not a customer: she is an employee (or, at best, a distributor.) I don’t usually allow my employees to set the terms of their employment and I certainly don’t accept that they should receive more of the profits from the sales of my products than *I* do.
A famed licensing attorney of my acquaintance taught me this valuable phrase for responding to a licensing contract which was too one-sided on the licensee’s side:
“I didn’t know we were establishing a joint venture.”
The returns system turns publishers (including indie publishers who are stupid enough to participate in it) into joint venturers with bookstores – only without any joint return. Anyone who argues that lack of return privileges hurts indiepub books is, regrettably, correct. And that factor should be considered. But to do so without explicitly condemning it, to do anything but indicate that it is a legal form of extortion, is to buy into the whole sordid thing. Don’t buy into the whole sordid thing.
I’m not shilling for the company I work for (Bowker) but I think our PubTrack product tracks both ebook and physical sales.
This just in: ebook sales cutting into paper sales big time. http://io9.com/5977221/a-chart-that-shows-a-dismal-trend-in-sales-of-print-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books
Will there be a mass-market paperback coming out in future? It seems that lately many books never get published that why, and I don’t know why.
Regarding point 6. There is another type of consumer, one that buys the book in multiple formats. I do like the physical enjoyment of reading a actual book, and for books I enjoy desire to own the hardcover. I also re-read my favorites periodically and sometimes a hard cover just is inconvenient to carry around. Also as military member I have the most time to read when deployed away from home, but have the least amount of space to store physical books. Hence e-books are a god send.
Let’s not even get into the fact that my wife own reader that use different formats and for some series that we both read will some time by the same e-book in different formats. So in short multiple formats can lead to increased sales overall.
Science Fiction has a long history of humor. Asimov wrote a fair amount of humorous SF and even his more serious writing often had humor in it. I am reading an anthology from 1982 edited by Stanley Schmidt called Analog’s LIghter Side that contains stories by Padgett, Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Joe Haldeman, Gordon Dickson, and others. Connie Willis has always written SF with humor. Carrie Vaughn also frequently has a humorous twist to her stories. Stross’s Laundry Files have a strong dose of humor. I loved Red Shirts, please write more humor.
It’s too bad it’s such a social taboo to talk about money as I can’t help but think there is more money in self publishing for authors, even if it does mainly translate into ebook sales. Certainly publishers offer an author a lot of valuable services, but at the moment, publishers seem still to be too bloated, offering too little and taking too much. I am trying to introduce new adults interested in popular romance to a bit of science fiction. I try to keep my prices extremely reasonable, so I make about $2 per ebook, a bit less for print books, though I may increase the price a bit (so many more readers are ordering the print books than I ever anticipated). I don’t think publishers will truly change their ways until more big-name authors decide to self publish. A shame, really. I think there is a very nice market for publishers who publish more books, promte books better, and keep prices more consumer friendly.
@Sue Knott: There was a link recently over at The Passive Voice wherein it was demonstrated that under almost any reasonable analysis E.L. James gave up at least two million dollars in lifetime earnings (and probably much more) when she sold The Books Which Shall Not Be Named to a traditional publisher. It was pretty convincing, and it would apply to a whole lot of traditionally published authors/books.
Money isn’t everything, and if people want the validation of being traditionally published (it *is* a pretty impressive accomplishment in many contexts, *insert snarky comment about Snooki being a bestseller here* never mind that, bad Marc) it’s fine by me. But arguments to pretty much any actual non-psychological advantage of the thing seem to be falling like ninepins.
Reblogged this on Matthew Sylvester.
Wow, if you would’ve published that book yourself, you would’ve made over $300K from the ebook alone.
On the topic of Wil Wheaton and his fan base – it is because of him that I discovered your body of work. I am a GIGANTIC fan of The Bloggess, and through her, I was introduced to all the awesome that is Wil Wheaton. I’d never heard of you until I began following Wil on Twitter and learned that he had narrated a handful of sci-fi books. Though not my usual genre, I picked up Ready Player One by Ernie Cline on Audible and gave it a shot. Shortly thereafter, I went on a mission to own every audio book Wil has narrated, which led me to you. Now – please don’t shoot me – but I’ve NEVER seen a single episode of Star Trek… and I’ve only become aware of said “Redshirt” conspiracy since the release of your book. I’m obviously not your target audience, and there were probably MANY jokes lost on me, but I loved Redshirts just the same… So much so, in fact, that I’ve since purchased not one, but TWO copies of the paperback… one pre-ordered from Amazon for a friend and the other just yesterday from Vromans (one of the copies you signed earlier this week – they are shipping it to Orlando for me!!). I just wanted to let you know that you have converted me to your sci-fi geekery, good sir, and I look forward to working my way through your previous works, as well as all the new things to come :-)
This post made me really happy. Thank you.
I’m sad to see hardcovers face extinction, but that’s the natural route of life I guess.
Lovely post with really intelligent and well put remarks, thanks for this!
“10. Science fiction books often sell more in paperback. I won’t mind if that’s true here, too.”
That makes a lot of sense. The majority of science fiction readers that I know tend to be voracious readers. You allocate a certain amount of money for hardcovers that you just can’t wait to read, paperbacks for those you can hold off on, and then the library/used book stores for a lot of the classics you haven’t gotten to yet. eBooks are a welcome addition, priced right in the middle of hardcovers and paperbacks and are perfect for instant gratification.
I’ve become primarily an eBook reader because I always have my iPad. I used to carry multiple books in my bag at all times. I normally am reading one book for enjoyment, one for betterment (home improvement, cooking, etc.), one or more for work reference, and until recently all my work for grad school. So the allure of having it all in one device is extremely appealing for me. I still buy paperbacks now and then but its more the used markets where an eBook is either unavailable or the paper is cheaper.
I would be lying if I said I was spending more or even as much on books but money is really tight right now and “entertainment” takes a backseat to “food and heating oil.” Thank God for libraries. The Boston Public Library has a great eBook selection on Overdrive and I stop by my local branch to fill the gaps. I hope to be a bigger book-consumer again one day.
thus i usually wait until after paperback release and ebook is <10 before I buy a book. If I need it sooner then I go to half priced books in which case author and publisher get nothing.
I’m curious to see how Amazon’s kindle match program might affect format sales. I know I’m buying more hard/paper books now thanks to kindle match as my husband prefers paper, I prefer kindle, and we can loan and/or donate the paper version after we’ve read if its not a must keep. Our physical number of books is currently more than we can comfortably house in 7 rooms.