http://priceonomics.com/can-authors-make-money-selling-books/

37,617 Copies of Traction Book by the Numbers: Revenue, Expenses and Profits from our Self-publishing Journey

37,617 is exactly how many copies we’ve sold of Traction. That number is frozen because our self-published 1st edition is no longer for sale in preparation for our revised 2nd edition coming out Oct 6, published by Penguin Random House. How we managed to sell all these copies is another story (tldr: we used the techniques from the book).

Now to the data. Here’s the copy breakdown by medium:

Note that one of the major reasons for the domination of E-book is that the price was significantly cheaper, though that is fairly common.
The major spikes in the E-book version are from sales we ran. For hardcover and audio, we had no control over the price. July dipped because we discontinued the first edition mid-July in preparation for the 2nd edition.
The dip in July was due to the discontinuation of the first edition in preparation for the second, which came out Oct 6, 2015.

We’ve made $118,342 in profit, split equally ($59,171) between Justin and myself. The revenue we received was $182,604 and our expenses were $64,262. The total amount paid by readers we estimate to be at around $300,000.

Expenses are not shown as another bar, but are the difference between Profit and Rev. Auth/Pub are counted together because we were both the authors and the publishers in this case.

To be clear, we did not make Traction for the money, and if you add up how much we made hourly, it would be embarrassingly low (I started working on the book in 2009!). We are in this because we truly believe our book is helping businesses of all kinds get traction, filling a void in the business book literature.

The breakdown by revenue was $70,709 hardcover, $72,677 e-book, $29,411 audio, and $9,806 other ($5,749 from Amazon affiliate revenue, $2,500 from selling Japanese rights, and $1,558 from an affiliated course).

Of our expenses, $31,705 (49%) were from printing the hardcover edition, and another $6,763 (11%) were from shipping it. We used bookprinting.com to print three runs, and I would highly recommend them. We stored them in a warehouse in KY, which I would also highly recommend. The warehouse shipped the books to Amazon, which was the sole retailer of the hardcover edition, aside from a few bulk orders we sold and shipped to directly.

The other major expenses were for independent contractors: $7,385 (11%) in editing, $3,405 (5%) in formatting, $1,056 (2%) in design, and $8,026 (12%) in marketing, including a video trailer (didn’t do much), a slide presentation (did OK), and $5,000 for a book launch consultant (completely a waste of money). All of that adds up to 91% of the expenses. The remaining 9% was for software to power our email and web site, research and travel expenses.

Calculating profit per book across medium is a bit more complicated. First we need to account for the “other” revenue, which doesn’t directly tie to copies. We made this revenue because of all our copies sold, and so we decided to distribute it across the hardcover, e-book, and audio categories, proportional to copies sold in each medium.

Next, we took the hardcover expenses directly out of the hardcover revenue (printing and shipping). Finally, we distributed the rest of the expenses across the three mediums, again proportional to copies sold. This calculation resulted in profit breakdown of $27,988 hardcover, $63,682 e-book, $27,988 audio.

If you further divide these profits for each medium by the number of copies sold within each, you get $2.80 in profit for each hardcover copy, $2.64 in profit for each e-book copy, and $4.14 for each audio copy.

Profit was significantly higher for Audio due to Audible bounty payments.

Our hardcover retailed for $15, which Amazon routinely discounted at about 30% to $10.50. Since we signed up as a “publisher” as part of Amazon Advantage, we always received $6.75 per hardcover copy (55% off-retail), regardless of how much it was discounted by Amazon.

Our e-book started off at $10, but we ran several promotional discounts at $0.99-$4.99, and eventually settled on a $3.99 price to maximize copies sold (as opposed to revenue). Amazon took a 30% cut.

Our audiobook was available through Audible (also owned by Amazon) and Castify.co (who recorded the audio), and the retail price varied from $10–15. The profit was higher on the audio version because we received a lot of extra revenue (~30%) from $50 Audible “bounty” payments from people signing up for Audible in conjunction with listening to our book. Audible itself took a 75% cut since it was a non-exclusive deal (for exclusive deals they take a %60 cut).

The Audio and E-book prices are based on blended pricing, as we changed the E-book price (though most was sold at $3.99) and the Audio version was sold in two places at different prices.

I hope this post helps people considering self-publishing think more concretely about potential revenue and expenses. If you’re writing a book or embarking on or running any business, I urge you to check out our book on getting traction. You can get the first three chapters free at TractionBook.com.

Update: If you’re curious about how we marketed Traction, check out Getting traction for Traction book: 12,328 copies by the numbers.

Gabriel Weinberg, @yegg
CEO & Founder, DuckDuckGo
Co-author, Traction

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