As much as a quarter of fiction e-books sold in the UK could be from self-published writers, as UK publishers scramble for rights to Amazon’s bestselling self-published author Kerry Wilkinson’s books.
Last week, Amazon revealed Wilkinson was its bestselling Kindle author in the last quarter, selling 250,000 copies of his first crime novel, Locked In. Following the announcement, Wilkinson said several publishers had been in contact with his agent vying for “various different rights and e-rights” to his books, but it now appears that Wilkinson’s success might just be the tip of an emerging iceberg.
Data from BML’s Books & Consumer survey indicates that in the 28 weeks to 25th December 2011, 26% of adult fiction e-books purchased by volume, and 11% by value, were sold by either self-publishers, Amazon’s own editions, or new, e-book-only publishers. The figure suggests that the self-publishing market is much bigger in digital than had previously been estimated.
Speaking about the BML statistics, Andrew Franklin, m.d. of Profile Books, argued that just because a lot of self-publishing books were being being bought, it doesn’t necessarily mean people were reading them. “How many of these books in six months, or a year, or five years’ time will be read? None is the answer. The opportunity here is for publishers to differentiate from the rubbish by marketing their e-books properly,” he said.
But Wilkinson said Amazon allowed authors to do much of the work previously done by publishers themselves, adding that he was looking carefully at where publishers could add value. “My main question is: ‘are publishers offering to do more for me than I can do for myself?’ At the moment I am not sure.”
Wilkinson receives 35% royalties on a book sold for less than £1.49 on Amazon, and 70% for one priced over £1.49. He began retailing Locked In for 98p, but then decided to price his second and third novels, Vigilant and The Woman in Black, for £1.88 and £2.79 respectively. “My theory was people might buy the first book because it is a good price, but if they like it they will be willing to spend more on the second and third,” Wilkinson said.
If Wilkinson does sign a publishing deal then he will become the latest in a growing line-up of self-published writers who have signed with traditional publishers after becoming bestsellers on Kindle. Mark Edwards and co-author Louise Voss were snapped up by HarperCollins in July in a six-figure pre-empt deal, after selling 42,000 copies of their self-published novel Catch Your Death in June.“Self-publishing gave us a way of writing again, because we both had given up on finding an audience,” Edwards said. The book has so far sold more as a self-published title, but Edwards said the physical version allows them to reach a wider audience through bookshops. “It is a big thing for us having the book there in the shops. The respect you get when you are traditionally published is also different; there is a stigma attached to being a self-published author. Now we feel welcomed into a club where everyone suddenly treats us differently,” he said.
The BML data also showed the impact of low-priced e-books, with British consumers’ purchases of physical books down by 4%, with value down some 6%. However, with e-book purchases included, the total consumer book market grew very slightly in volume terms (up 0.4%), with a market value drop of 3% overall. Prices for e-books climbed slightly, but were still significantly less than print books. The latest average price for a fiction e-book rose to £3.39; fiction paperbacks averaged £4.96, and fiction hardbacks £7.08.