Book sales and profits – article links

Since this topic is discussed on my blog frequently (not making money from publishing) this blog post is a compilation of articles I’ve found on the profits generated (or not) from publishing books and ebooks.

If you scroll all the way to the last article it covers how The Atlantic and One Story are selling individual stories on the Kindle as an experiment to making money on short stories.


How Merger Mania is Destroying Book Publishing, Dec 17, 2012, The Nation –

The mergers are occurring because book publishing has proved to be less profitable than the conglomerates had hoped. For most of the past two centuries, Western houses averaged a mere 3 percent annual profit. The new owners had hoped to raise the rate closer to 25 percent, to match those of their other holdings: newspapers, magazines and TV stations (even though these depend on advertising). But try as it might, publishing failed to churn out enough bestsellers.


Mark Coker’s 2013 Book Publishing Industry Predictions – Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge, Dec 21, 2012, Smashwords, the official blog for Smashwords —

The world’s 50 largest book publishers alone achieved $68 billion in sales in 2011, according to Publishers Weekly. When so much money and power is up for grabs, industry players have a lot to fight over, and much to protect.  Books are worth fighting for, so fight for the future you want.  Otherwise, someone else may determine your future for you.


New York Magazine profile of Random House (2007) –

 “Many books are unprofitable,” says CEO Peter Olson. Fifteen to twenty best sellers at a time and a huge volume of steadily selling older titles support Random House…. Every week, the country’s biggest trade publisher releases 67 new books, but it’s the the 33,000-book backlist (Ian McEwan’s Atonement, for example) that supplies 80 percent of its profit.


How Long Will Publishers Be Able to Ride the eBook Profit Wave?, Feb 27, 2012, Digital Book World –

Sales are down, margins are up. And that will last as long as they [publishing companies] can continue to pay authors the royalties they’re paying them [for e-books] and sell the books at the terms they’re selling them on,” said Mike Shatzkin, publishing consultant (and partner on the Digital Book World Conference + Expo).


How I Got a Big Advance from a Big Publisher and Self-Published Anyway, Penelope Trunk blog, July 9. 2012 –

(This post was later picked up and covered by the The Guardian, UK under “From PR to Profits: the problems with publishing”

The profit margins in mainstream publishing are so low they are almost nonexistent.

It takes a print publisher about a year to publish a book, after it is written. It’s unclear what the  publishers are doing during this time. For example, in the age of the Internet, where most books are selling online, the cover needs to be very simple so that it works as a small image on Amazon. It’s hard to imagine going through months of design iterations for a cover that is going to be seen by most potential buyers as a photo on Amazon. Book aficionados might argue that there are essential things being done with books over the course of that year. What I will tell you is that newspaper people said the same thing. Right before they all got laid off. The most breathtaking example, I think, of how terrible margins are, is that if I sell my own book with a link to my publisher, I make a little less than $1 per book. If I sell Guy Kawasaki’s book on Amazon, I get a little more than $1 per book in their affiliate program. So it’s more profitable to me to use my blog to sell someone else’s book than to sell the book I published with a mainstream publisher.


Profits Fall 48% at Penguin on 4% Sales Decline, Publishers Weekly, July 27, 2012 –

After several years of steady growth Penguin Group had a 4% decline in sales to £441 million, and a 48% drop in adjusted operating profit, to £22 million, in the first six months of 2012, parent company Pearson reported this morning. The declines were attributed primarily to softness at Penguin Group USA, which the company said was due to a ”lighter” publishing schedule,”big sales of Fifty Shades of Grey and Hunger Games trilogies which siphoned sales from other titles, and continued pressure on physical book publishing and retailing. Penguin Group USA CEO David Shanks said that while the company had a number of strong selling books “none of them were Fifty Shades of Grey.” He said publishing is becoming more hits driven than ever, and observed that in last year’s first half Penguin was boosted by surging sales of The Help. Loss of shelf space has hurt sales of physical books, Shanks noted, particularly Penguin’s large mass market paperback business. He attributed the steep decline in profits to several factors, the most important of which was softness in the more profitable backlist business. “That really hurt,” Shanks said. Growth in e-book sales have also slowed. For all of Penguin Group, e-book sales increased 33% in the first six months of 2012 and accounted for 19% of worldwide sales, or about 84 million pounds.


Amazon Pulls Thousands of E-Books in Dispute, New York Times, Feb 22, 2012 – removed more than 4,000 e-books from its site this week after it tried and failed to get them more cheaply, a muscle-flexing move that is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market.

Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins. At the same time, it is committed to selling e-books as cheaply as possible as a way to preserve the dominance of its Kindle devices.


How the Kindle Made Single Story Sales a Reality for Magazines, PBS “Media Shift” blog, Feb 16, 2011

Well-known magazine The Atlanticended its monthly publishing of short fiction in 2005, and now offers a single fiction issue yearly. However, the magazine, founded in 1857, wanted to explore other ways to continue its legacy of publishing fiction, and so recently finished a year-long experiment that made two short stories per month available exclusively on the Kindle.

The Atlantic’s access to established writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Theroux, was a significant part of its success. Havens said the popularity of each individual story correlated to the prior popularity and “salability” of their writers. When Amazon customers searched for those authors’ work, The Atlantic stories also came up in the results.

If magazine publishers can identify stories that provide rich, deep reading experiences, and then add engaging multimedia to develop that experience even further, they may be able to leverage their brands and editorial authority to market individual stories successfully. Other possibilities might include packaging stories on one topic together in one download, or combining stories from different magazines in a collaborative product. Individual stories or packages of stories can be sold through apps, websites, and vendors like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


New Story Accepted by Pure Slush!

Hi everybody,

Great news has come in over the wires from Matt Potter, editor of Pure Slush. He’s accepted a flash fiction piece called Recyclables for his February issue, with a theme of “the office.”

As usual, I will post an announcement and link when it goes live.



The Duotrope Dilemma

Writing and placing short stories may be fun and gratifying, but it’s not a way to get rich. Short story writers  write their work and submit to journals without expectation of payment most of the time. That may be unfortunate, but it’s the truth.

And it used to be true that the whole process was free from looking up your market in Duotrope to submitting via Submittable (formerly SubMishMash) as long as you didn’t submit to a place that charged reading fees, or contest fees (something I’ve discussed on the blog previously. In short, I don’t believe in paying reading or contest fees.)

But beginning Jan 2013, the Duotrope database has started requiring payment – either $5 a month or $50 if you sign up for a full year. Here’s what Duotrope says about what you can no longer access:

If I don’t subscribe, what will I miss out on?

  • You will no longer be able to run searches or browse the index of listings.
  • The information shown on individual market listings will be limited.
  • You won’t be able to access our calendar of deadlines, statistical reports*, or RSS feeds.
  • You will lose access to your control panel, including your submissions tracker

I have mixed feelings about it because I think Duo is a fantastic resource and I’ve enjoyed using it over the years, however, I think $50 for a one year subscription is too steep for most writers who are not getting paid for their work. If it had been half that I would have grumbled but signed up. At $50, I’m not signing up on principle, for now.

Also, I don’t see how the statistics on Duotrope will improve if they have a much smaller number of users reporting their submissions. I suspect the veracity of those statistics will plummet in usefulness unless they achieve a critical mass of people willing to pay. For the sake of Duotrope’s long term viability, I’d suggest they report on the number of paying subscribers they have in order to make clear the total population available to report their subs, but that’s my opinion.

And as for tracking my submissions on Duo, I was doing it more as a service to the editors of the journals where I submitted my work. I keep a separate tracking spreadsheet on my computer that has many more notes and information I find relevant. But individual markets — especially new markets — will potentially suffer from being under-reported due to a lack of user base for Duo because I strongly suspect the majority of users will not pay that fee.

Here are some alternatives for people who need to be able to browse listings to find small press markets to target.

Alternative small press literary magazine listings:

I’d like to hear from people on this one. Have you signed up for Duo, and if so, what was your thinking? If you decided not to use it, was it because of the expense or some other reason?

A Creaky Whirligig Addendum: the Twitter-machine

Way back in my personal time machine about a year ago, and prior to that, I was tweeting regularly (and potentially obsessively). I’d tweet for fun, re-tweet news, writerly advice, interact with a bunch of people, and of course tweet stuff from my blog.

Then, as you may know if you are a regular reader, things slowed down. I stopped writing for a long while, my blog posts stuttered to a near halt and I stopped going onto Twitter. The only thing my Twitter account was doing was posting my blog-tweets, and since those were automated I never had to actually log on to do it.

Now, I’m back from my hibernation (even though, ironically, it is the middle of the Winter) and I’m re-emerging from my den. Cozy as the Den of Procrastination may be, after a while you get leg cramps and you realize if you don’t get out of there, you may die from lack of movement. (And we all know Ernest Becker wouldn’t like that.)

Over the past few days I’ve re-acquainted myself with Twitter and I put a few tweets out there, started interacting with some editors of small press journals I know (they’re a friendly bunch!) and geared back up a little bit in that world.

I forgot how addictive Twitter is, but it’s one of those places you go and then you look up from the clock and realize an hour has gone by, or more, depending on how many interesting links you find. Why just today I’ve looked at a list of the happiest countries in the world (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are #’s 1, 2 and 3 kids…) and a bunch of other random stuff I don’t need to know but which is entertaining and will be useful to whip out at parties (okay, I don’t really go to parties, but in my fantasies I’m invited to salon-style literary parties with writerly types in Manhattan.)

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say I’ve also updated my submissions tracker. That’s my personal self-torture device to show how many places I’ve submitted short stories, the number of months I’ve been waiting for my standard form rejection letter (I kid, I kid! … sort of) and whether or not I’ve sent a personal query on the status of my work.

For example this morning I got my standard form rejection from the Fairy Tale Review, after sending only two polite personal inquiries at the 8 and 10 month marks (their website assured me I would get a response from them in 4 months.) Ah well, what’s 10 months of waiting for an unsigned standard form rejection between friends?

But I’m on the case! This morning I had 18 outstanding submissions, and now I have 17. I’m tracking. I’m following up, a few times if needed. I’m taking my lumps people. This is how we do it in small press literary journal land.

In order to keep the machine oiled, re-adding Twitter to my mix feels right. When I post this, my blog will auto-tweet this, and somewhere on Twitter somebody might read it. And who knows, somebody who read it might re-tweet it. It could happen.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to writing. Not blog posting, not tweeting, not drinking diet cola beverage, but writing. That’s what we writers are supposed to be doing in between blog posts and tweets, remember?

The Creaky Whirligig Gets Back Into Motion

After many months of thinking about writing, and doing the usual writerly procrastinating, I recently wrote a piece of flash fiction. When I had it well baked, I sent it around to a few journals.

Of the three places I sent it, two editors gave me personal replies in their rejections. Both told me they liked the imagery (one called it “luscious.”) I’m grateful for the personal replies; it’s been tough for me to get off my ass and do the work again. My reward is the direct feedback from these editors which is appreciated. It’s downright encouraging is what it is, actually.

So now I’ve re-written the piece again (for about the fifteenth time) and it’s current incarnation of 430 words is winging its way over to journal submission spot #4 (a newly hatched journal recommended to me by a friend. So if the good egg editors like that piece, it’ll be theirs for issue 2, should they want it.)

As any of my regular readers knows, I’m quite impatient with my writing process. I complain here regularly about how I need to write longer stories, and then poof I write another piece of flash fiction. Ha-freakin’-ha-ha, the joke is on me.

I was talking to one of my best friends who is a writer and novelist about this problem and he said he just writes and doesn’t edit while he is putting together a first draft. Then, to my horror, he pulled out FOUR yellow tablets filled with his scratchy handwriting and told me that this latest stuff he was writing was the result of several days work.

The thing that kills me is that this guy is an amazing storyteller, and he seems to have a never ending supply of stories he needs to write and then proceeds to write reams of pages. He has the opposite problem to mine, he usually has too much material and then has difficulty editing it down to something slender.

Not me though.

Here on my blog, I blabber on to the tune of 4-500, hell even 6-800 words at times. I let it all flow out and with a modicum of editing (sorry for the typos in advance) I publish my rant. (Anybody want to comment on all the random chatter on blogs? I’m guilty as charged.)

Why is it then, I ask you dear reader, that when I go to write a story I get the first 250-300 words down and then my heart freezes? I tentatively strike the keys to eke out another 50 or 100 words. I edit 330 words down to 250, up to 370, then down to 340. It’s a personal stock market of literary paranoia of whether I have included too much…or left out too much.

Somewhere in my archives is a humor blog post on an interview George Plimpton did with Hemingway. Hem posted a chart on his wall and notated: 450, 520, 400, etc. It was his daily word production. If I was producing 450 words a day I could write 3000+ word story in a week. (Ah, the joys of multiplication.) But I mean, hell, if Hem could make himself write 450 words a day then couldn’t I make myself write 100 words a day?

At least one of you, dear readers, has done the NaNoWriMo challenge. Or maybe you’re one of the rarified folks who wrote a novel and completed the manuscript. (Maybe you even got it published.) IF you have done it, how did you do it? Daily word counts? Writing binges fueled by diet cola beverage? I’d be pleased to hear your anecdotal experiences.

Write on…

“What is Compressed Fiction” – Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

Hi all,

Randall Brown, the managing editor of The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, has decided to use a statement I submitted on “What is compressed fiction” and will publish it on the journal’s blog on 2/12/2013!

That said, I’m still working on sending them the right finely tuned story submission, but hey, if they like what I have to say about compressed fiction, there’s still hope. 🙂

I’ll share the link when it goes live!


At the Brooklyn Museum: Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art

I recently went to the Brooklyn Museum to see a special exhibition “Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art.”

More than many museum exhibitions I’ve attended in recent years, I found this large and comprehensive exhibit fascinating and accessible. It covers six years of conceptual art activity from the late 1960’s into the early 1970’s. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is that of the 173 “items” on display, many of them (perhaps most of them) are not art objects but the documentation of the conceptual art that was performed during that time period, or if not an art performance, the documentation describes a piece of art that could be assembled from the instructions provided.

If you are familiar with the work of Sol LeWitt, for example, ( you could see some diagrammatic illustrations on paper of some of the pieces Sol LeWitt wanted to either produce himself or to describe sufficiently so that the works could be produced by others. (As a side note, although I’m not necessarily a fan of his work, if you want to see a permanent exhibition of LeWitt’s work as executed by others, you can go to the DIA: Beacon museum in Beacon, NY.)

This exhibition is based on the curatorial work of Lucy R. Lippard, who participated in putting together shows and writing art criticism during this time period. Again, what is very interesting about this exhibition is that Lippard is not an artist, she is a critic and curator. Her “work” was providing the venues for artists to show their work rather than producing the work herself.

In the Brooklyn Museum there is a permanent Judy Chicago piece called The Dinner Party, which is a large set-piece of feminist art based on placemats, ceramic plates and settings for each female guest (such as Emily Dickenson, etc). The Elizabeth Sackler gallery is dedicated to showing feminist art as one of its primary objectives, and the Lippard exhibition surrounds the Judy Chicago set-piece as its center.

I didn’t particularly find this conceptual art exhibition to be feminist in nature, although I don’t know enough about Lippard to say if she was a feminist or not. There was a very good mix of male and female artists represented in this exhibition, and the themes represented were conceptual and not particularly geared towards feminist themes.

One of my favorite pieces in the exhibition was the “Secret Painting,” a piece by British artist Mel Ramsden. ( It is a canvas painted all black, and beside the painting there is another canvas with a message saying “The content of this painting is invisible; the character and dimension of the content are to be kept permanetly secret, known only to the artist.”

However, one of the “dangers” I perceive with Conceptual Art is that it takes the elevated position of an art object and makes anything a possible art object, whether it was specifically created by an artist or not. Of course, so much of the art we see these days is exactly that – not something specifically created by artists, but actually items that have been assembled from pre-existing consumer objects in the world and then we (the viewer) are told (1) this is art, and (2) it is up to you to determine its meaning.

When you enter the exhibit, the first thing you’ll see is a glass case with perhaps two dozen post cards of various scenes of New York City… Central Park, the Empire State Building, whatever. On the back of each post card is a printed text which says “I Got Up At” and then a printed time (4:28 P.M. for example). The only other printed text is the artist’s address (the artist is On Kawara) and the address of Lucy R. Lippard. So in this case, the “art performance” is the sending of a post card through the mail. No one can actually ever see the “art performance” and in the end, Lucy R. Lippard collects and assembles the “art objects” (postcards) from the “art performance” (sending the post cards through the mail.)

While I like the idea that art and artists can be playful with art, can play with the concepts of what is an art object or what is an art performance, I still find it disturbing to think that classical art is basically dead in that world. No where in that exhibition will you find a painting with a subject, you won’t even find abstract expressionist paintings because they aren’t necessarily “conceptual enough” for this crowd.

Of course, in the end, they are all following Marcel DuChamp’s lead from 1917 when he tried to put a urinal on display in an art show and call it a “Fountain.” It’s been all downhill since then. 🙂

If you want to see this exhibition, it will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum until February 17, 2013. A catalog for this exhibit, in the form of a handsomely published book, is available in the gift shop for $45.oo.