The 299 Author Movement
This article is a follow up to my last post, We MUST Have a Voice. Everything in this article is based on the sources I’ve noted and my personal opinions. It is not intended to vilify any group, but to spread awareness in hopes that we might find a solution together.
Is it time to make some waves?
Over the past week, I’ve seen an uprising in the author community regarding the devaluation of books and the impact it’s having on the industry. Author Mia Downing wrote a poignant article on the subject which can be found HERE and I followed her story with my own article to let Ms. Downing know she’s not alone. The response was overwhelming. Over 150 post shares in under 24 hours. Obviously, this topic resonates with the struggling author community.
Any search on the “devaluation of books” will prove that this trend has become an epidemic and many are suffering. But we are not just devaluing books. We are devaluing authors. The culprit? It’s us–the authors. Yes, there are other influences at play, but in the self-publishing industry it is the author who has sole autonomy over the price of their product.
How does it work? Here are the basics…
FREE books = $0 Rolyalties
$0.99 to $2.98 = 35% Royalties*
$2.99 & up = 70% Royalties*
*Based on Amazons Direct Publishing policies.
What do those numbers mean?
Books priced below $2.99 are hurting authors. The market is saturated. We are drowning. What used to be a marketing technique now is just a waste of time. Why? Because almost every single indie author is lowering their prices in hopes of gaining exposure. But when a tactic becomes the norm, that tactic no longer acts as a way to “stand out”. It’s not a sale if it becomes the expected cost.
Books, which were once valued between $5 and $30, have devalued to FREE or $0.99. Of course this is not all books, but it’s happening to enough that something has to change. Technology took a toll, but I’m grateful for the age of eBooks. It opened up a lot of opportunities for authors and readers and even publishers. With out the cost of print, producing books has become a very achievable goal for many. But with the rise of indie authors came the necessity of freelance industry professionals. Indie authors (authors who self-publish) are responsible for the production costs. And there is a cost–even for paperless eBooks.
Here are some industry price averages:
Developmental Edits: $200-$1,500
Beta reading- Free-$300
Cover Art- $30-$400
Cover Artist- $75-$300
What’s the cost of writing?
Good question! Let’s try to figure that out…
A full length novel (roughly 80,000 words /350 pages) takes months to years to write. For simplicity, let’s say it takes 1,000 hours. That’s 125 eight-hour days. The minimum wage in the US ranges from $5.15 to $10.50, so let’s average that to $7.82 an hour.
$7.82 x 1,000 hours = $7,825.
Based on the numbers above, if we are pricing our books below $2.99 we would have to sell somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 copies of that new book to earn a minimum wage income for our time. Unfortunately, the average author is not making that many sales. (FREE books don’t equate, because they don’t produce a royalty.)
What are authors ACTUALLY selling?
According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, the average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Not good.
250 copies of a $2.99 book earns a 70% royalty of $523
When the cost of producing a book ranges from $555.00 to $3,700.00, authors are coming up very short. We are not even close to breaking even or earning a minimum wage for our time.
Now for the clincher…
If books are sold under $2.99 (35% royalty), the author is looking at a return between $86 and $260 over the course of a year!
Really consider those numbers for a minute.
Jeans can cost $86 (not my jeans, but still…).
$260 wasn’t enough to buy a refrigerator during the 1920’s. It’s the cost of a bicycle today.
Tell me, could anyone survive on $86 – $260?
The answer is no.
So what is this doing to your books?
Well, some are cutting corners. Editors are losing clients. Unpolished work is clogging the market. I think I speak for many when I say, we want to give you our very best, because we want to earn your trust and faith in our product. And we also want to give readers a fair price.
The competition is fierce! According to Leonid Taycher, a Google software engineer who works on the Google Books project, 129,864,880 books exist. Every year the number of books published increases. We authors have no choice, but to price our books competitively. But we also have to survive.
“The average books sells less than 250 copies in the first year.” ~BookScan
In my previous article, We MUST Have a Voice!, I explained the price war in more detail, addressing the true cost of bundles and the marketing logic behind such deals, which once was sound. Ms. Downing pointed out that in one week she was able to download 170 FREE novels. We’ve removed the need to purchase books, because with so many free, who has time to read more? We are the proverbial cow. Why buy it when you can get the milk for free?
We don’t just need a fair price for readers. We need a fair price for authors. We must be fair to everyone.
A book of stamps costs $9.40, yet novels are selling for under a dollar. Quality has a cost. Writing is a business and there must be a balanced budget or that business will bankrupt itself. I trust that my readers see my efforts to provide quality in every page they read when they purchase one of my books. I invest in editors and professionals to help me along the way, like many authors do. And I believe readers will understand my position when I say:
I support the 299 Author Movement.
What does that mean? It means 95% of my novels will remain above the $2.99 threshold. I say 95% because I do feel there is a place for the $0.99 eBook. For instance, my McCullough Mountain series, which closed in 2015, has 7 stories. It is a successful part of my backlist and I hope it continues to attract new readers. The first novel of this series is set at $0.99 to do just that, but the rest of the series is priced at or above the $2.99 mark. There are exceptions, but we can no longer make $0.99 books the norm.
I’m calling this a movement, because we have a problem. If we don’t move in a different direction, we will have a serious crisis on our hands. We all contributed to the problem, not realizing how greatly we were shifting the market. Now, I’d like to add my efforts to solving that problem. Similar to kids making a whirlpool in a pool, we were all moving in one direction, and turning the current around will be difficult, but it is possible. We just have to make some waves.
I invite all authors and readers to join me in supporting the 299 Author movement.
Here is a badge, to help raise awareness. Please share it. Openly discuss this issues with your readers and fellow writers. Tweet #AuthorsMustHaveAVoice so that we are heard. We’ve been sinking in a crowded pool for too long, sucked in by the idea that FREE leads to more. We must make some waves if we intend to stay afloat in this business.
Please share your thoughts below and Tweet me @Lydia_Michaels. While these are just my opinions on the subject, I know I’m not alone. Together we can make a change.
And thank you to my incredible readers, who continue to follow my work! You are the force behind our words, the ones who get us through when the going gets tough. Without readers, there would be no such thing as authors. Thank you.