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Monday News: Rise of shared accounts; Letter fossils; Indie Earnings

Grafisches Labor Andreas Scheiger

What few of those authors realized was that it was perfectly acceptable to assign up to 6 Kindle devices to one account and you can have a seemingly unending number of Kindle apps associated with any one account as well.

The sharing of accounts goes beyond books however and into video streams and probably music libraries. There are some limits to sharing. Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Spotify limits streaming of an episode or song to one user. If more than one user, even with the right credentials, accesses it, the stream will be frozen. A different song or video could be accessed, but not the same one simultaneously.

The Times reporter suggests that entertainment is a shared activity and that entertainment providers should find a way to leverage that. It is true that shared activities can prolong enjoyment of a “thing” far longer than the “thing” provides enjoyment. It can harden fandoms and deepen a consumer’s relationship with the product.

How much revenue is being lost through shared accounts is hard to say and from what I read, may not be knowable. NYTimes.com

While I said there hadn’t been a lot of change since my first report, earnings have increased somewhat, even for roughly the same number of months of availability. My current data shows average earnings of $8,200 for backlist titles with a median of $5,400 and an average of $12,750 for original titles with a median of $6,000. Again, this is for an average of 7.8 and 7 months’ availability, respectively. Especially notable is the increase in median earnings, since that controls somewhat for outliers that can skew the average figures. (In December, the median earnings were about $4K for backlist and $5K for original titles, so both increased by about a thousand dollars.) The range is still about the same as before, as no new respondents topped that high of $140,000 total earnings reported last time, but earnings in the five figure range seem to be much more common now. As before, these earnings are across all channels, and Amazon sales still dominate, though several authors this time around reported Apple sales increasing, and in a few cases at least equaling Amazon earnings.”

I think these numbers seem to point to a $15,000 advance being kind of the break even point for whether to go indie v. trad because the costs of a self published book (if you aren’t Hugh Howey who has his fans do the work for free) can be anywhere from $500 to $2000 for a polished product with an additional $1000-$2000 in modest publicity costs. Brenda Hiatt

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

31 Comments

  1. eggs
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 04:38:26

    I don’t think there’s that much money lost from the sharing kindle accounts. It’s a great way to rope in readers who are spooked by the Great Mystery of the Interwebs.

    My older sister, who is a) cheap & b) paranoid, shares my kindle account. There’s no way on earth she’d ever put her credit card number on the internet, but when she found out I had a kindle account with hundreds of books on it she bought herself a kindle and started reading her way through my books for free. Then I downloaded some freebie cowboy porn – a Rough Riders book, I believe – and it was on like donkey kong!

    She now buys a couple of books a week on my account/credit card and hands me the cash every christmas to pay for them. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars every year. Who even knew there was that much cowboy porn out there?! She does read other stuff, but it’s mostly erotica based around either cowboys or vampires. There is no way in hell she’d be reading (buying) this stuff if she hadn’t been able to piggyback into the system on my kindle account, so in our case account sharing has been financially advantageous for Amazon and their authors.

  2. tripoli
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 06:01:45

    To be honest, most writers I know would be thrilled to earn $6,000-$12,000 for a single title, whether traditionally published or self-published. Anyone in this business long enough understands it’s a tough way to make a living, so actually, I think this is pretty good news.

  3. B. Sullivan
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 06:02:50

    “What few of those authors realized was that it was perfectly acceptable to assign up to 6 Kindle devices to one account and you can have a seemingly unending number of Kindle apps associated with any one account as well.”

    It’s so weird that authors would freak out over this concept (I vaguely remember that article too, when was that? I’m blanking) – because we’ve been doing the same thing with paper. If my family was larger they’d get passed around more, but some books I only buy in paper so as to pass them around with my parents, and then talk about it. In college when you bought a romance novel you’d pass it on and eventually your entire floor would read it (or pass it on without) and then it might move on to other floors – unless you liked the book you never saw it again. That was sort of the point – it was something you didn’t have to read (usually read when you should have been studying for finals) but wanted to. I’ve known a few workplaces to have a shelf or drawer of Shared Books too – with paper – for people to borrow and read on their lunch hour, then return.

    If I lived closer to my mom I’d probably share an account with her just so she could read my books. But she’s already sharing an account with my father, so instead I just buy her the occasional ebook via Amazon and then they can both read it. But yes, she and my father are sharing ebooks on that account, taking turns reading them – just like paper. If I’d had a pack of siblings and the ebook was around in our childhoods we’d all be on mom’s account – so she could keep an eye on our reading content, how much we were spending on books, and then she’d read the books too. Because that’s sort of how books work, and how you stay clued in to your kids’ interests.

    I’d think that this is only a family and very close friends thing, simply because these would have to be people you trust with a credit card number. But I can immediately say I’d have joined if there had been a way to get a group account during grad school where we could all go in for texts, tie ourselves to that account, and share the ridiculously high priced books we had to buy for comps exams. Because I haven’t reread any of them, but won’t get those $100s back even in reselling.

  4. Liz H.
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 07:13:36

    I read the NYTimes article about sharing was interesting, but not well investigated. With iTunes, you can authorize 5 or 6 computers per account only. Therefore it should certainly be possible with Kindle devices (is it correct that it is innumerable devices, but only 6 set users?). Is the difference between iTunes and Netflix, etc., downloaded vs. streaming? I certainly wouldn’t welcome additional restrictions, but I don’t think it would be as impossible as the author makes it seem. Therefore, (cynically) I would assume that there is some benefit to the decision not to restrict; as @eggs said, multiple users paying for more content; advertising revenue per view; etc. (These companies, with the exception of Reid Hastings, have all demonstrated far more business sense in past decisions than the publishing companies, so I think it is somewhat safer to make that assumption in this case.)

  5. Jane
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 07:17:05

    @Liz H – you can only have 6 Kindle devices – like Kindle Fire, Kindle Paperwhite, but I’ve found you can have an innumerable amount of apps.

  6. Patricia Eimer
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 07:28:09

    My question to authors whenever I hear one complain about shared devices is– you think all the people in the same house/family/ect. wouldn’t be passing the book around as they finish it to the same people if it were a paperback? We’ve been sharing books since there have been books. Now the tech for it’s just changed a bit.

  7. CG
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 07:28:29

    Those letter fossils are amazing creations. Want!

  8. Laura Florand
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 07:59:43

    Jane, I think this is actually one of your points, and one of the points implicit in the article, but to the last line of your commentary on the shared accounts, I would add the nuance that how much revenue is *gained* through shared accounts is unknowable, too, at this point. So I would tend to agree that rather than trying to change the very powerful human instinct to share with their social circle, we should probably work with it. Not that I know the best way to do that, of course!

  9. Jane
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 08:08:15

    @Laura Florand: Right. I’m not sure what metric can be used to track either the loss or increase in revenue from account sharing. Further, I don’t think that there is anything that can be done to stop it. Sure, you can stop people from watching the same exact show at the same exact time but it doesn’t prevent you from watching different shows off the same account. And within households, this is done quite frequently (hence the more than one television per household, right?)

    I think that rather than trying to change natural human behavior, you have to learn how to capitalize on it. And, if I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t be running DA. I would be making millions as a consultant to media companies.

  10. Christine
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 08:22:39

    I’m not sure how many people are sharing Kindle accounts but I agree with the posters above that it must be family or very close friends as that person has access to buy with whatever card is on the account. If there is ever pressure to make Amazon change their policy I will be very angry. I don’t share my Kindle account with anyone else but I own a number of electronic devices (like a lot of other people I am sure) and I really enjoy accessing my books from iphone while out, my ipad at home, my laptop when I want to, my Kindle etc. etc. Six devices sharing an account for one person seems like a lot but it really isn’t.

  11. Tina
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 08:27:14

    HBO’s broader customer base, it is representative of a rising generation of people who 1) like watching HBO shows and 2) cannot fathom paying for them.”

    This line slays me because it shows that the person really hasn’t done a ton of research. One of the most cited reasons people pirate or used shared accounts for HBO TGOT is because they are not given the option of paying for it otherwise. A bunch of other articles have been written solely about this. I am sure there are some people who just liek to pirate. But many people who have admitted to pirating it have said outright they’d pay for the opportunity to just get HBO or HBO Go. But HBO does not allow that, instead you are required to be a a cable subscriber. And many people don’t want to subscribe to an entire cable package jut to get to HBO. So it isn’t just a case of “can’t fathom paying for it.” No they are willing to pay for the content they really want. But when they can’t, they find other means to get it.

    HBO tends to give a different non-answer each time the question comes up. My guess is that the cable providers must have locked them into some crazy fuck-all multi-year prohibitive contract that they can’t get out of to leverage the demand.

  12. cleo
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 08:53:19

    My husband and I share a Rhapsody account, set up on multiple devices. I believe we’re not allowed to play the same music at the same time on different devices (and maybe not even play *any* music at the same time on different devices), but that hasn’t been an issue.

    @eggs: I can’t imagine sharing an ebook account with my family – precisely because of my erotica / erotic romance collection. There is no way that any of my relatives would be able to keep themselves from commenting on my love of m/m bdsm shapeshifter (or aliens) romance, frex. And while I’m not ashamed of my reading tastes, I’d rather not have to discuss them at a family event.

  13. Mel
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 09:16:13

    All this talk of sharing books takes me back to childhood and The Brown Paper Bags. In my mother’s social circle every visit involved the ceremonial exchange of old grocery bags full of paperbacks. All the books were pulled out, exclaimed over, discussed, and reshuffled so that you left with your grocery bag full of new to you reading material. This continues to this day (although with reusable canvas bags). In a conversation with my mom a few months back I discovered that several in the group had gone to ebooks and that these sweet, otherwise honest grandmothers were using pirate torrents to get their books. To them the torrents were the equivalent to the grocery bags, someone handing them a pile of free books. I don’t know what this means in the larger scheme of things, but I found it sticks in my mine that this group of 70-somethings were pirating because to them that was how books were supposed to be.

  14. Carrie G
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 09:44:43

    I share a kindle account with my husband and oldest daughter (who doesn’t live with us). @Christine: I agree. It’s easy to fill 6 slots. We’ve had to juggle that several time with three people on the account.
    @cleo: I don’t share with my younger children because of some of the books I read. They know I read them, but I don’t necessarily want to give them free access to them all.

    My daughter pays us for the books she buys, so I don’t see how sharing the account robs Amazon of any revenue. Like many posters have said, when I buy a print book I pass it around not only to my family, but I share it with my romance book club as well. Many more than 6 people will have access to that book, that’s for sure. After people at book club are finished with the books, they will go on a paperback swap shelf or be donated to the library or Better World Books.

    Also, people are used to sharing books. That’s what libraries are all about!

    We have two Netflix accounts giving four different people the ability to use the accounts at once. This is shared with four of our children and my husband and I. I’d say on any given evening all four accounts are in use! At least two of my children have double monitors on their computers and watch Netflix stuff while they chat, surf the web, or play computer games.

  15. Anne
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 10:12:17

    There is currently no limit to the number of devices or apps that you can have on a kindle account. That said, most trad pubbed books are limited to be on only 6 devices at one time. If it is less than 6, that information is listed under product details on the Amazon page. These seem to be mostly text books but I’m sure there are probably others.

    I have 6 family members, 14 devices and 4 apps on my account. When family members want to buy a book, they just gift the book to the kindle account from their account.

  16. Jody W.
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 10:57:32

    Don’t want HBO or premium cable. Do want GoT. Would happily pay per episode if it were available but I’m not gonna pirate it. I’ll have to wait a year, I guess, until it’s on DVD or available per ep. It gives me some sadness.

    Have just moved the curious little children off my primary Kindle account to one of their own. I wish there were a way to put parental controls on the cloud and archives! There are some books we all want to read, but they don’t need to read my grown up books or even see the covers, man. Especially not when certain people (me) think it’s hilarious to send books to certain people also on the account (my sister) just because they have “sex” and “Sasquatch” in the blurb.

  17. Courtney Milan
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 11:06:55

    If you’re offered a $15,000 advance, you’re no longer in a pool of the “average” self-published author. The kind of people who are offered a $15,000 advance typically know the craft reasonably well and are writing something that’s reasonably commercial. They’re also typically ones who know the business well enough to write a good query letter (or to know people who will help them do so).

    If you only surveyed the self-published authors for whom that was true, I’d suspect you’d get higher numbers. You simply can’t say, “they’re offering me $X, and the average is $Y,” because the person who is being offered $X often has a reason why they’re being offered $X, and those reasons are ones that will typically skew expected earnings higher.

    The valuable thing to take from this is that people should be aware that you can self-publish and make very little money. You can self-publish and lose money. Lots of people do not make money self-publishing, and I think it’s important for people to recognize that.

    But it’s an abuse of statistics to say, “You’ll be better off taking a $15,000 advance.”

  18. Tina
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 11:20:05

    @Jody W.: Not sure which Kindle version you have but a recent software update to Kindle Touch (& I assume the Paperwhite?) was released that now has parental controls that allow account owners to restrict access to the store, the cloud and the browser each individually. Not sure if these controls are also applicable to the app, though.

  19. M. Malone
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 11:31:57

    I believe the latest Kindle update allows for parental controls although I haven’t played with it yet. I’m excited to see how it works.

    Re: The Indie Earnings report – The data sample is so small for this survey (151 books, unless I’m reading that wrong) that I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions from it. Mainly because I can count off the top of my head several authors, myself included, that top the “high” mentioned. When you have multiple books out, that high really isn’t as high as it seems.

    Amazon quoted 25% of the Top 100 were from KDP books in an article back in Sept 2012. ( http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/07/tech/mobile/kindle-direct-publish )
    It would be great if B&N, Kobo and Apple provide similar data for their platforms. I think the takeaway is that publishing is still really hard no matter how you publish.

  20. Ridley
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 12:21:35

    One of the individuals quoted in the article worked in a political office and authors went really crazy on Twitter, accusing her of stealing, trying to contact her employer, and drumming up as much support as possible to get her fired, shame her, or what not.

    I remember that. It was some romantic suspense author with three names leading the charge.

    ETA: Almost certain it was Roxanne St. Clair all outraged on Twitter.

  21. KzoeT
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 14:33:51

    Brenda Hiatt’s data is based on very small sample (151 titles total) of self-pub/traditional pub data that’s reported to her by writers. While her reports are interesting, they’re far from representing what the majority of self-published writers are really earning compared to those who’ve gone the traditional route. I’d wager that most self-published writers make little to nothing from their books especially if they have no traditionally published backlist or fan following.

  22. txvoodoo
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 15:32:07

    to @tina and @jody w – fwiw, HBO is considering de-coupling HBOGo from cable:

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/hbo-starting-to-think-letting-people-without-cable,94082/

  23. Suzanna Medeiros
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 15:33:37

    I’m an author and I’ll readily admit I share books with my two sisters and sometimes even with my brother (for some reason, he’s not into romance. ;) ) We used to share paper books and now we share ebooks. I’ve seen first hand how sharing can lead to new sales for an author. I’ve introduced my sisters to authors and then, when I don’t have the budget to buy that author’s next book, one of them will swoop in and pick it up. They’ve also gone on to glom the back lists of many authors I’ve introduced them to – leading to sales that would not otherwise have happened.

    I have no issue with readers who want to share an ebook with a (or even several) family members and friends. I even include a note in my self-published books encouraging them to do so. (I use Courtney Milan’s wording with her permission.) The Kindle 6 device limit seems like a good compromise. (We’re epub girls, though.)

  24. Lori
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 15:45:39

    I moved from small epubs to self publishing only because I wasn’t even making $100 on new releases (at all, my yearly earning with 2 new releases with a smaller epub was $70).

    As a self pub I made about $400 for the year. Someone wants to offer me $15,000 and I’ll be all over that like me on George Clooney if he’d just give me a chance.

    I would love to know where people cull the self pub numbers from.

  25. Sandra Schwab
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 16:18:46

    @KzoeT: Well, quite a lot of traditionally published writers are making little to nothing from their writing when you take into consideration the amount of money put into promo, attending conferences, etc. Even people who make the bestseller lists are often unable to make a living from their writing. Elisabeth Naughton has just written a blog post about this topic.

  26. Becky Black
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 16:38:46

    I can’t imagine there’s any significant loss of revenue with the shared accounts, since I would think they are going to be primarily a family/household, and they’ll share one copy of an ebook or MP3 as they’d share one copy of a paper book or CD. Okay, so several people can’t read the same paperback at once, or listen to the same CD in several different places at once, but I doubt that made many people go and buy their own copies as opposed to waiting until they got a turn at it.

    And since it makes it harder for people to pass a book on to a friend not on that account when they are done with it, or donate it to a charity shop for example then there must be increased sales. I can’t give a friend an ebook (well I technically could, but I don’t.) All I can do is tell them it’s a great read and they should check it out. If they do and like it, there’s a sale that wouldn’t have happened if I gave them a paperback.

    I don’t share an account with anyone, but do use multiple devices, which is great.

  27. Sheryl Nantus
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 16:46:06

    @Courtney Milan:

    “The valuable thing to take from this is that people should be aware that you can self-publish and make very little money. You can self-publish and lose money. Lots of people do not make money self-publishing, and I think it’s important for people to recognize that.”

    I think this should be repeated often. There are no guarantees in self-publishing that you’ll make ANYTHING, not after paying for quality editing and cover art.

    I don’t self-pub because I can’t afford to invest that sort of money on something that’s not sure to give me a return. I just can’t do it.

    As I tell friends – I may not have gotten into writing to get rich but I sure didn’t get into it to get poor.

    :)

  28. Andrea
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 18:15:32

    The recent blog post by Elisabeth Naughton says so much about how much/little writers earn:

    http://www.elisabethnaughton.com/2013/04/06/self-publishing-1/

    One of the important things to remember with self-publishing, when these surveys tell us how much an ‘average’ self-publisher will earn: self-publishing took off two to three years ago. And every book published will continue to be available and continue to sell (or not sell) for as long as something resembling the current situation exists (one cannot predict Amazon/Google/Kobo/Apple, after all).

    A book which you published two years ago, which has earned $200 might earn $2000 next year, or $200,000, or it might earn $200 a year for the next twenty years (multiplied by however many books you’ve got sitting on your hard drive). My first (financial) year’s earnings in self-publishing was $80. This year it’ll be between $20,000 and $30,000. I’ve yet to have anything resembling a break-out hit – I just have an increasing bibliography and have gained some regular readers.

    When costing “likely earnings” for an individual self-published book, you’re factoring in not only esoteric factors such as “able to write a coherent story” and genre, but how much that book will earn over five, ten or twenty years. Unlike trade publishing, self-published books aren’t ‘advance and no royalties”.

    As Courtney mentions above, there’s every chance that you could self-publish and sell practically nothing, ever. But if you’re a competent writer, who puts out a book a year, that chance diminishes enormously.

  29. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 18:24:10

    @Andrea:

    And every book published will continue to be available and continue to sell (or not sell) for as long as something resembling the current situation exists (one cannot predict Amazon/Google/Kobo/Apple, after all).

    No, but one CAN put up one’s own shopping cart and sell direct from one’s site. Discoverability will be a problem, but making the books available will not, so long as one is willing to maintain it.

  30. Lorenda
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 22:00:48

    @KzoeT: And I’d like to note that Brenda Hiatt’s numbers for Indie publishing are still far below the $15k amounts they’re quoting. At least they were the last time I looked.

  31. Melanie
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 23:03:52

    I don’t really want my sister sharing my credit card for Kindle purposes, but the way I passed on ebooks to her was giving her my loaded up old Kindle when I upgraded to a new one.

    My son is at college about an hour’s drive away, and he uses both my HBO Go and Netflix streaming account passwords. Something that makes his roommates very happy, I’m sure. I know they’ve had Game of Thrones viewing parties. How can Netflix or HBO really tell if it’s me or my husband not viewing on our home screen but instead at our office or traveling on business? And my younger son watches through a ROKU or Wii at home. Makes for a very interesting recommendation list for me on Netflix when I do sign in (no, I don’t want to watch Japanese Anime particularly, thank you, and my college age son doesn’t want Downton Abbey either.)

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