Everyone knows traditionally published authors lose an enormous amount of money on each book sale to their publishers. That’s why so many authors chose to become independent publishers.
As head of Digital atPepsiCo Beverages, Shiv Singh pointed out in his recent blog post, Seth Godin’s decision to never again use a traditional publisher means he figured out the economics of doing so lie in his favor. (Please see my last three posts for my thoughts on Singh’s post.) While this seems pretty obvious, I’d like to focus on this for a moment to stress one particular fact: Godin already has book sales. Many new independent authors do not.
Those who have taken Godin’s decision as the straw that has broken their camel’s back–they’ve decided they will now only self-publish or electronically publish their writing–need to take a good look at the difference between themselves and Godin. If they don’t have existing book sales like his, they may not achieve the same success he surely thinks he will have in the coming years. Let’s look closer at the reasons why I says this.
Singh wrote: “I’m guessing that for every book of his sold, Godin gets probably 15% in royalties. That’s not bad when you’re selling 50,000 books priced at $17.13. He’s made $2.5 per book sold or $128,475 in total. But imagine if he sold online only where he’d probably get something closer to 80% in royalties. He’d make a whopping $685,000. Imagine if he only sold half online versus through the book chains (the distribution channels that the publisher owns), he’d still make $342,600. Or if he sold just a quarter, that would be $171,300. I don’t think it is hard for him to sell 12,500 books directly. He doesn’t need a publisher to be better off.
Singh has done the math correctly. It would work the same way for any author. However, for those aspiring authors reading this and thinking they can make the same kind of money as Godin, they need to think about the fact that he has a huge platform. And he has a well-known brand. (Please see my previous posts this week to read about these points.) To achieve these kinds of sales—and this kind of income—an author must spend a lot of time building platform and creating a brand prior to publishing a book or switching over to electronic (or independent) publishing.
In my experience, most writers and aspiring authors do not want to do anything but write. Godin is a marketing expert. He knows how to market himself and his books. He is a business man. He sees himself and his books as a business. That’s why he has achieved the success he enjoys. That’s why his books will continue to sell without a publisher to help him sell them. He’s done the work. He’s worn the business hat…and he continues to do so. He plans on continuing to do so.
Aspiring authors planning to follow his lead and dreaming of big fat pay checks need to consider these facts—the reality of becoming a successful author. You must be a successful businessperson as well.