A Bookseller article today reports that ‘less than 10% of self published authors make a living‘, based on a survey of around 1000 self-published authors. But the remarkable thing about this story is the intensely negative spin it gives to the data it presents. It could easily read “Holy Fuck! A percentage of self-published authors actually make a living!!!!!!” OK, it couldn’t read like that because the august pages of The Bookseller would never use that many exclamation points, but you get my meaning.
There is a clear argument that a self-publishing model, even one that continues to be complimented by a stripped down legacy publishing framework dealing with the very top authors, could deliver a far higher percentage of the revenue of the creative economy to writers. Why? Well put very simply, much of the revenue of publishing ends up in things which are extrinsic to the creation of good books. Some of that expense sits in things like the distribution framework for print books. But much of sits in tiers of executive management and of course the profits that go to owners and shareholders of the media conglomerates that own major publishers.
Let’s say that writers in the legacy publishing model receive a total of 10% of the revenue of publishing, not an unreasonable guess based on existing advances and royalties. Now lets say that in a self publishing model writers received 35%, the lower tiers of royalties paid by Amazon. Even at that low level, its quite easy to see how a much larger number of writers might make a living in a self-publishing model. What if the percentage were 50% or 70%, not at all impossible. I’m not frothing at the mouth to have mid-level regional marketing executive ousted from their jobs in publishing, but I would much rather see writers getting that money in the long run.
The conversation about self-publishing often turns around the argument of quality control. Perhaps at this point its more interesting to talk about the liberating creative potential in a model where writers who can achieve the quality have a much better chance of making a fair living from their work.