Accurate numbers are a core part of successful business, in publishing as in other sectors. But data about the self-publishing industry is scarce and skewed. That's where the Big Indie Author Data Drop, a campaign from the Alliance of Independent Authors, is about to step in.
Data helps us understand what's working and what isn't, where our industry is headed. Such knowledge can help us to increase our income and impact but the current available data on the self-publishing industry is highly inaccurate.
Author surveys include self-publishers in research that was put together for traditional publishing models and does not fully understand how the most successful indie authors publish and earn.
“It's a truth seldom acknowledged that an individual author-publisher is the only person who really knows how many books that author-publisher has sold,” says Orna Ross, ALLi founder and director. “We can see how an author is doing on a platform like Amazon, to some degree, but with more and more authors selling direct, or via platforms like Spotify, Kickstarter, Patreon and their own website, there is a sizeable “dark” indie author economy. And as more authors start NFT projects on various blockchains, the data is becoming ever more fragmented.”
The Difficulties of Getting Indie Author Data
Says Melissa Addey, ALLi Campaigns Manager, who is heading up this project: “There are lots of reasons why we don't have enough clear data on self-publishing. Firstly, ‘self-published’ can cover everyone from a person who created a single book for their family to authors who have built seven-figure publishing businesses. Many authors use ‘imprint’ names and if a book is well published, it’s not obvious that it was done by the author and not a small 3rd-party publisher. Some self-published writers who are highly successful on Amazon or their own websites don’t use ISBNs which means they are not included in the Bowker or Neilsen data streams.
“ALLi’s ‘Authorpreneur’ membership makes up 8% of our total membership, but again members of a particular association may be self-selecting towards those writers who are indie authors running successful publishing businesses.
“Much of the data we do have is skewed. The industry’s obsessive focus on Amazon leads them to think that platform is the only place where self-published authors are to be found… and commentators assume generalities from what’s happening on that single platform, in a single territory. But indie authors publish globally, on many platforms in three formats, and sometimes in translation as well as English.”
The excellent tools and tech now available to authors means indie authors sell e-books on Apple and Google Books, Kobo and Barnes & Noble Press, IngramSpark for POD print, Findaway Books, Authors' Republic and many more for audiobooks, not to mention the aggregators like Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and StreetLib who distribute books to 400+ outlets round the world. And then there are the books that authors are selling directly to readers, on their own websites.
Nobody is analysing all that activity. Until now
The Indie 15 to 5000
The first time we discussed harnessing our own author data was back in June 2022, when we noted once again the inaccurate data being circulated about author incomes, all based on authors who had licensed their rights exclusively to one third-party publisher.
That led to the #indie15to5000 campaign, where the AskALLi team devised 15 key questions which we will put to at least 5000 indie authors, year on year.
“The questions identify interesting information about hidden sales (direct sales, sales without ISBNs) as well as the multiple platforms and other income streams that authors use,” says Addey. “Only authors can tell us this, so this should be a really interesting piece of data.”
Other questions explore how things like genre, diversity and accessibility. We've kept the survey as short as possible so we can focus on key data.
The Big Indie Author Data Drop
The campaign goes further though, because we’re working with some great partners in the self-publishing space on what we’re calling The Big Indie Author Data Drop. So far Draft2Digital, K-Lytics and Written Word Media have signed up, with more to be announced.
We all have something different to bring to the table, so we are working together to bring out an regular, collaborative, piece of data.
- Draft2Digital have great insights to offer into overall year-on-year growth and projected growth of author-pubished books.
- K-Lytics have done great data analysis around how indie authors rate with readers for quality, as well as projected growth insights for e-books and how much of the market is held by indie authors vs traditional large and small publishers.
- Written Word Media are looking at what choices make the difference in an indie author's business: the how of being successful and what contributes to that.
We think that individually each of these elements are really useful, but when they're pulled together all in one place (and repeated anually or biannuall) they will become greater than the sum of their parts, giving fascinating insights into how our industry is growing and developing.
We’ll be asking the authors themselves as part of that, because they have access to data we simply can’t get from elsewhere. We're aiming for the first survey and data collection to launch early in 2023.
Watch this space!
“We believe that by working with partners who can provide valuable insights, and by developing our own original data (the #Indie15to5000), we will create something that will be really valuable to all indie authors,” says Addey. “We're very pleased to be working with Draft2Digital, K-Lytics and Written Word Media on this project.”
We're inviting any organization or company who wants to see better data in the self-publishing sector to become part of this Big Indie Author Data Drop, which again we'll collate and publish yearly or bi-annually.
The Big Indie Author Data Drop: A Word from Our Project Partners
Alex is the founder of K-lytics.com, a leading provider of market research services for authors and publishers. For the past eight years, Alex and his team have analyzed millions of books. Why? – So that you do not have to. Alex's data helps us navigate the Amazon jungle of sales ranks, categories, keywords, pricing, KU vs. Non-KU, trends, competition, and more to connect with your readers. Learn more about genre trends, book market analytics, and Alex's tools here: https://k-lytics.com Alex knows that: “Publishing success starts with knowing the market.”
Written Word Media
Written Word Media is a tech-enabled marketing and education platform for authors and publishers. “Written Word Media is pleased to contribute to the Big Indie Author Data Drop. We are committed to supporting indie authors achieving their goals, and supplying authors with a centralized place to access industry data that better informs their business decisions will be extraordinarily impactful.”