When all about you are losing their heads, Mr Kipling, it’s Eoin Purcell you want nearby. The editorial director of Dublin’s New Island Books is among the most experienced observers of publishing’s digital dynamic. And when he entered a contentious conversation among pundits about Hugh Howey’s new “data dump” with a welcoming whoop, I knew he was someone we needed to question about it:
Those numbers he refers to, of course, are found at AuthorEarnings.com, a site built by the “hybrid”-publishing Howey, an influential champion of entrepreneurial authors. In his controversial initial report, Howey (a recent #PorterMeets interviewee) describes an exercise in estimating author e-book earnings from Amazon sales rankings. The results assert that an average author might make more from self-publishing than from being traditionally published by the Big Five.
Purcell, in his #PorterMeets comments, fashioned a simple equation to sketch out the uneasy moment in which Howey’s new calculations arrive:
And change, while rarely easy, has hit rather hard for some in the publishing world. Digital disrupts, after all, by putting the power to self-publish into the hands of authors. It’s hardly surprising that the tools of online e-book and print publishing seem a threat to traditional publishing, Purcell told us:
A lot of buzz about the Howey AuthorEarnings report has centred on its methodology, scraping Amazon data from some 7,000 top-selling e-books in three genres, and extrapolating from a day’s snapshot to suppositions of a year’s performance. The impetus for such a technique is that the major retailers steadfastly decline to divulge any actual sales numbers:
In fact, a suggestion from UK publishing consultant Sheila Bounford—that publishing’s dearth of known hard data may be a call for regulatory intervention—prompted an interesting exchange:
I pointed out that the on-site voluntary survey being conducted at AuthorEarnings.com has already attracted more than 900 writer-respondents, and asked Purcell if it’s possible for authors to achieve the kind of “organised advocacy” of their cause that Howey’s project proposes.
Purcell framed the potential in terms of the author community’s stance vis-à-vis the traditional industry:
As others joined the conversation, Purcell was careful to note that such fundamental change as is wrought by the digital disruption is wrenching, but not inherently negative. “Change is impacting publishing and we often view it as a ‘bad thing’, but really it’s amoral. That threat is real. It’s not anyone’s fault. Whatever disagreements may surround an effort like Howey’s AuthorEarnings, Purcell hopes it can play a role in helping address that author/publisher relationship.