On Self-Publishing: Ebook Sales versus Print Sales

One of my dear writer friends, Megan, asked me a question about self-publishing and income. She wanted to know if ebook or print sales were more profitable when publishing through Amazon.

I have no data beyond my own, so please consider this as anecdotal information. I am one individual. I do not have access to sales like a publisher does. All I can share with you is the performance of my novels.

In order for this post to work, I must first discuss the differences between print and e-book copies, particularly in the royalty department.

Ebooks are far, far more profitable. There is no contest between the two formats. Here is a list of my ebooks and their royalty rates for Amazon.com:

  • Winter Wolf: $4.13
  • Inquisitor: $2.74
  • Storm Without End: $2.74
  • The Eye of God: $2.74

Here is a list of my print versions and their royalty rates for Amazon.com:

  • Winter Wolf: $1.74
  • Inquisitor: $0.61
  • Storm Without End: $0.56
  • The Eye of God: $1.04

Here is a convenient list showing how many print copies I need to sell to stay on par with ebook sales:

  • Winter Wolf: 2.3 Print Copies
  • Inquisitor: 4.49 Print Copies
  • Storm Without End: 4.89 Print Copies
  • The Eye of God: 2.6 Print Copies

I tried to price the print copies to make them somewhat affordable for their length for those who want print versions of my titles.

Most people want ebook copies.

Here is a list of all of my print sales through Amazon.com:

  • Winter Wolf: 0 Sales. $0.00 Royalties.
  • Inquisitor: 41 Sales. $24.62 Royalties.
  • Storm Without End: 17 Sales. $13.22 Royalties.
  • The Eye of God: 3 Sales. $3.12 Royalties.

Here is the data for the past six weeks of ebook sales for Amazon.com, including number of sales and royalty figures:

  • Winter Wolf: 102 Copies. $404.04 Royalties.
  • Inquisitor: 53 Copies. 213.53 Royalties.
  • Storm Without End: 0 Copies. $0.00 Royalties.
  • The Eye of God: 0 Copies. $0.00 Royalties.

Now, something that did factor into these sales (and in some cases, the lack thereof) is the fact I did a free promotion on three of the four novels. Here's the number of free copies given away by title:

  • Inquisitor: 6,332 Copies.
  • Storm Without End: 1,555 Copies.
  • The Eye of God: 388 Copies.

For my final presentation of numbers, the current week's royalties. (No number of copies sold data, sorry–Amazon's reporting system can be mean sometimes.)

  • Winter Wolf: $299.15
  • Inquisitor: $98.76
  • Storm Without End: $10.92
  • The Eye of God: $1.40

Because I'm unwilling to jack the price of my print novels up by $5.00+ a copy for expanded distribution, I do not have a presence in bookstores. As a self-published indie with limited budget, this is just something I have to live with. I think I'm in the same situation with many others.

I won't stop doing print copies because I like having them–and I know fans enjoy print copies as well. However, I write my investment into formatting and print costs as a loss with no expectation to get it back. It is a luxury I can afford, because it makes me happy and it makes some of my fans happy.

That alone makes the hassle of producing a print version worthwhile for me.

Your mileage will vary.

Leave a Comment:

Wild Academy says December 5, 2014

If someone is buying the print copy can we assume they’d buy a hardback? It seems to me that any physical copy is considered the premium product. That those that buy the physical copies are true fans and would prefer a hardback anyway. Even if it costs $6-$9 more.

It might even add more… luxury? to your brand overall. What do I mean? Well, for Winter Wolf you see two price options: 5.99 and 14.99. How much more of a deal is 5.99 going to look like when they see these options. 5.99 or 22.99? “You save: $17.00” is what it’ll say. The business person in my asks, “What if I raise my book prices so high that nobody purchases them, but I’m making more in extra sales in ebooks because more people are buying do to price comparing.”

Maybe the first year a book is out there it’s only available in hardback and ebook? All your major fans will purchase your new releases within the year of it coming out.

So many questions. So many answers to pursue.

    RJBlain says December 5, 2014

    Amazon currently doesn’t offer a hardback option; I have paperbacks only available. While I could use a different producer for actual hardbacks, it hasn’t been a priority (and it’s very expensive.)

    A sad fact is this: Paperbacks are expensive to produce. The royalties are the difference between amazon’s cut, the production costs, and the total value of the book. I priced Winter Wolf higher than the rest because it was that much extra work–and that much longer than the other novels. (My cut of the royalties is really static with the length of the books for the most part.)

E.M. Whittaker says December 5, 2014

Yes, paperbacks are expensive. It’s just the way it’s been for a while in the industry.

That said, this was a rather informative post.

averytingle says December 5, 2014

This makes me wonder if it is in fact cost-effective to create print-copies of my work. I also thought it was too expensive.

    RJBlain says December 5, 2014

    Using Amazon’s system always makes it cost effective. It’s print on demand. You print what you need. If you don’t need them, don’t print them.

    My longest novel, though, has about a $8 per copy production cost, which is inherently painful.

    I will place a very small order for personal copies, though.

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