E-books, Writers? Crunch The Numbers

I keep hearing from readers that they would rather hold a book in hand, not a virtual one on an e-reader. While print books still seem to be the preference of discriminating readers, what does the digital revolution mean to writers?


One perspective comes from a royalty statement recently received from the publisher of one of my books:

  • print books sold exactly twice as many copies as e-books.
  • because of the royalty difference between print and digital books, the e-books paid 33% more in royalties than print books.

Why this disparity in royalty percentages? The cost of print books is high for the publisher. In order to sell at a competitive price, publishers can offer only small royalty percentages – usually from 10-15%

For e-books, however, there’s comparatively little cost to publish. For this reason publishers can offer anywhere from 30% to 70% royalties.

Here’s an example:

A print book selling for $18.00 will pay (18) (.10) = $1.8 royalty per book

A digital book selling for $3.99 can pay from ($4) (.30) = $1.20  to ($4) (.7) = $2.80 royalty per book – – even at 50%, the royalty can be $2.00 per book.

Another, for a higher priced, NY Times Books recognized book:

Print, for a $28.00 list book at 15% royalty rate: ($28) (.15) = $4.20

Digital for $12 list at 35% royalty rate: ($12) (.35) = $4.20

My royalty statement is unusual, even in this transition period in that the book sold only half the number of print books as digital. In most cases, the digital books will outsell print, so this should be a boon for writers.


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