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.
The Difficulties of Getting Indie Author Data
Says Melissa Addey, ALLi Campaigns Manager, who is heading up this project: “Data helps us understand what's working and what isn't, where our industry is headed, and helps us to increase income and impact but current data on the self-publishing industry is missing or inaccurate.”
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.
And 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.
“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. “With more and more authors selling direct, or via platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon, and via NFT projects on various blockchains, the data is becoming ever more fragmented.”
The Indie 5 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 #indie5to5000 campaign, where the AskALLi team devised five key questions which we will put to 5000 indie authors, year on year.
“This is so that we can identify interesting information about hidden sales (direct sales, sales without ISBNs) as well as the multiple income streams that authors use,” says Addey. “Only authors can tell us this, so this should be a really interesting piece of data.”
The campaign goes further though, because we’re working with some great partners on what we’re calling The Big Indie Author Data Drop: ALLi, Draft2Digital, K-Lytics and Written Word Media, and more to be announced.
The Big Indie Author Data Drop
We're inviting anyone who wants to see better data in the self-publishing sector to become part of the Big Indie Author Data Drop, which collate and again publish year on year. We all have something very interesting to bring to the table, so we are working together to bring out an annual, collaborative, piece of data.
- Draft2Digital have great insights to offer, especially into overall year-on-year growth and projected growth.
- K-Lytics have done great data analysis around how indies rate with readers for quality, as well as projected growth insights for e-books and how much of the market is held by indies vs traditional large and small publishers.
- Written Word Media are looking at what choices make the difference in an indie'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 year after year) they will become greater than the sum of their parts and something that will really give 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 #Indie5to5000), we will create something that will be a real legacy project for the industry and 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.”
The Big Indie Author Data Drop: A Word from Our Project Partners
“Draft2Digital and Smashwords have always been author-first in their focus, by providing tools, systems, and services to help authors with various aspects of publishing and distributing their books. Sharing insights based on amalgamated data is an additional resource that can help authors make more informed decisions when it comes to their writing and publishing strategies. Since our income is derived from when authors sell their books, it's in our collaborative interest to participate in sharing this type of analytical data that can help empower authors to earn more from their books.”
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:
“Kindle 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 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.”