25% of Kindle books are self-published, but not for the money

So remember when I said that there was a whole boatload of self-publishing going on in 2012?  Turns out there are a lot more best-sellers than you might think.  Self-published books distributed through Amazon KDP made up a quarter of the top 100 titles on Amazon last year, The Guardian reports, which is a pretty clear indicator that indie authors are entirely capable of putting out quality content that people want to read.  And they’re not doing it for the money, either.  Only 10% of self-pubbed authors publish books purely to rake in the dough.  Mostly they just want to be heard.

The data is pretty interesting for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it proves fairly conclusively that self-publishing is not a bubble that’s going to pop any time soon.  People are interested in indie authors.  Readers are buying indie books.  Given the choice between a Big Six production and a novel published from the comfort of a local Starbucks, one in four will go with the unknown imprint.  That’s huge.

At the same time, a survey conducted by Digital Book World found that just about 60% of self-published authors make between $1 and $5000 a year.  I strongly suspect that if you broke it down further, at least half of those would make less than $500 a year – and they don’t seem to mind.  Self-pubbers are in it for the glory, mostly, and to provide readers with something they will enjoy.  That pretty great news, too.  While there’s certainly a big market for formulaic romance and thriller money-makers to read at the laundromat, authors get a lot more creative and interesting when they’re not thinking about smooshing their stories into the bland, repetitive mold often necessary for commercial success.


One fifth of self-pubbers do it to satisfy their own ambitions, and 20% want to produce something that people are willing to buy, which is sort of the same thing in my opinion.  A little more than ten percent think they have an experience or expertise to share with an audience, but only 2% publish a book in order to promote their brand for something other than writing (think sales people and consultants).

Both readers and writers are going to benefit from these trends.  Readers only want to buy good things, and self-publishers are capable of producing them on a large scale, even if the industry will always throw out any number of poorly-edited stinkers.  The cream is rising, and it will continue to do so no matter how much skim milk lies underneath.  It’s time to drink up.

13 Replies to “25% of Kindle books are self-published, but not for the money”

  1. Seems this is a trend in more than just books. Indie music is slowly taking over radio stations. Maybe you posted on this previously, but what do you write for? I want to make it a job because I love it, but at the end of the day, I want people to just read me.

  2. I want to be read, too, but mostly I just enjoy the process. One of the reasons I never seriously pursued traditional publishing is that I really like bringing a work from first word to finished page all on my own. There’s a joy to completing something – something that contains your own thoughts and passions and adventures – that you can’t get in any other way.

  3. I didn’t think of it that way, but I definitely agree. There’s something nerve wracking about having other people step in and tell you what is or isn’t to be done. But very cool.

  4. I believe that if you looked at most traditionally published authors, you’d find much the same thing. The standard traditional advance is somewhere between $2,500-$5,000, paid in increments over a two-year period. Do the math and you’ll realize they aren’t doing much better (and in many cases, worse) than self-publishers. And most traditional books never sell through, so that small advance is all the author ever sees. They’re also usually restricted by their contracts to one book a year, which is why most authors have day jobs.

    I’d also argue that while there aren’t many indie authors making millions, many more of them are making a good living than their traditionally published counterparts. It doesn’t take much research to see how many indie authors are selling thousands of books per year (I was fortunate enough to sell around 80,000 books over the last fourteen or so months) at a 70% royalty rate on book prices that typically range from $2.99 – $5.99.

    So the good news is that its very likely that many more indie authors consider book writing their full time job. The bad news is that for most writers, traditional or self-published, the profession doesn’t pay.

  5. As a fan of Progressive Rock, I buy a good amount of self-published or small label music. Same with books. I like the big name, big label books but sometimes I want to read something that wouldn’t be published by a large publishing house. Something edgy. Something, dare I say, a touch more erotic than what any big name would produce. Maybe something that most here would go, “Ew. You like that?” I guess for an author like that, making $5000 buck in a year is a big enough deal to keep it going.

  6. some are not for the money at first but being a self-published author would also mean being an entrepreneur since you are the one responsible for all your expenses in publishing your titles, so as time goes by, self-publishers would become so concerned about royalties and earnings too.

  7. This to me is the problem with Amazon. Most authors do not intend to make money because Amazon has created an environment where buyers of kindle books are encouraged to buy stuff for free.

    Look at the KDP Select program. Customers can “borrow” your books from the lending library for free. They can also hope that some author puts out their book for free for five days and take advantage then.

    Authors have stated on posts that they receive about $1.70 – 2.04 per borrow. If you read the KDP Select contract, it states that Amazon does not have to pay you anything for it. It leads me to believe that Amazon can cancel or decide not to pay you at any time.

    But I believe that authors have to be better business people. There was a post on Amazon where a person stated he had 5000 free downloads that lead to 85 sales. He seemed happy by that. Huh? He said he needed reviews for his book. I thought he had lost his mind.

    Free downloads only works if you are releasing book one of a series. Obviously, then it is a good idea because people will get hooked by the first book and then order the second part once it comes out. This author was not doing that. I think he sacrificed too many sales.

    Too each his or her own end. I just think people should prod Amazon to stop giving stuff out for nothing. Also, there return policy on ebooks is awful. Seven days to return a book? That just leads to abuse. I guess Amazon just worries about selling its Kindles. Unfortunately, maybe that is why they lost millions of dollars with quarter even though they made record sales for their company.

Comments are closed.