Riches vs. Fame: An analysis

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In a recent blog article by Stephen Leather, who is leading the sales on Amazon UK Kindle with his title Once Bitten, he shows his sales numbers and talks a bit about the number of sales he has received.  US sales are not quite as high, but I’m sure that he will start accumulating them with the $0.99 price tag.

I also must first disclose that Stephen and I had a rather rough first conversation in which I and others in the Amazon community thought he was lying about the sales.  I was slightly misinformed; I thought he was referring to US sales in his numbers of being ranked so high, and I knew that was impossible because I had a higher sales rank in the US than he did.  I didn’t see that he was referring to his UK sales, and for that, I must apologize.  Anyhow, we made up and agreed to hug, but only if he didn’t bite.

So, I started thinking about the entire issue while I was at work today.  I would call sales of The Dying Times more or less a turtle: they are slow and steady, but they get where they need to be.  Stephen Leather’s titles are more like a hare, as the old story goes, racing to the the front.  We have fundamentally different books, different styles, and different beliefs on pricing and distribution, but one thing that struck me is that, while reading through Stephen’s blog posts, we are very similar in purpose: we both are trying to get new books out there in front of the public and make sales.

I must add the following disclaimer, of course:  none of the following is meant to be a personal attack on anyone or anything.  I can respect everyone else’s reasons for doing the things they do.  I may disagree with them, but I don’t mean any disrespect.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get started.  I’m going to go into a few brief details about how Amazon Kindle works, and then I’ll get into my thoughts on the whole argument.

Amazon Digital Text Platform (DTP) allows authors (usually self-published) and publishers to post electronic versions of their books for public purchase.  Books that are priced at $2.98 or less give a 35% royalty.  Books that are priced at $2.99 or more give a 70% royalty rate.  You can post your books there for free (as of this writing), so all sales are technically free profit, at least once you’ve made your original investment back on any cover art or publishing expenses (editors, proofreaders, etc.).

Stephen publishes his ebooks at $0.99 and would receive about $0.34 on each sale.  I’m not sure if VAT (value-added tax, a European institution) applies to the royalty, so it could be slightly less.  He states that he makes about 20 pence on each sale, so there may very well be some extra things affecting his royalties.

I publish my ebooks at $2.99 and receive about $2.10 on each sale.  I don’t have VAT or sales tax to worry about, as my state doesn’t impose sales tax on Amazon sales directly upon me.

Stephen has sold approximately 33,000 copies in December, which would net a profit of about $11,000 US.  Not a paltry sum by any means, but that leads me to my next point.

If The Dying Times had sold even 1/6th of that number in December, we would have made the same amount of money.  If I had sold 33,000 copies in December, I’d net almost $70,000 US.

Stephen also has the advantage of having published books over the last 2 years, whereas The Dying Times and my budding writing enterprise is only two months old.

Does this indicate a trend amongst Kindle authors?  Is $0.99 the new price tag needed to get the sales?  Or will slow and steady ($2.99) prevail in the end?

I am inclined to believe that, at least in Stephen’s case, he has a great concern for the fame of being an author, perhaps moreso than the money-making aspect of it.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; pleasing a great number of people with your books and making a little money on the side is great for authors.  In actuality, that’s kind of the point of why we do it.  However, I do believe that the fame aspect may be more important and central for Stephen’s writing, as he writes a great deal more on his blog about the sales rank than the sales profits.

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the subject.  Should Kindle books be $0.99 from new authors?

Addendum I:  I just found out through stalking lurking that Stephen actually is a full-time writer, so he would probably care a great deal about sales, but he may care just a touch more about the fame aspects.

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