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Independent author John Locke joins Amazon's million-Kindle-seller club, but at what cost?

Johnlocke Kentucky-based independent author John Locke has joined big-name writers Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly in the Kindle million-seller club. Only these eight authors have sold more than 1 million Kindle e-books through Amazon.

Locke, whose books appear on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing, is the first author without a major publisher to have achieved the Kindle million-seller mark.

But at what cost? Locke is the author of the Donovan Creed novels, a mystery-thriller series, all of which have been Kindle bestsellers. Each of those novels is priced at 99 cents when sold as a Kindle e-book (those that also are paperbacks retail for $8 to $15).

Kindle Direct Publishing authors can set their own Kindle e-book prices, and the price they set determines the royalty rates they receive. Books that are listed for $2.99 to $9.99 give the author a 70% royalty rate; books that cost either more or less get a royalty rate of just 35%. The lowest price at which an author can list a Kindle ebook is 99 cents.

Which means Locke receives slightly less than 35 cents per Kindle ebook he sells.

(You may have noticed that Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing royalty architecture is designed to reward authors for pricing their books $9.99, not $10 or more: an author will receive almost $7 for a book that costs $9.99, while that same book listed at $10 would earn the author only $3.50. Let's talk about that another time.)

What's significant in relation to Locke hitting the million-seller Kindle ebook mark is that it showcases that while choosing the Kindle Direct Publishing route removes agents and publishers from the equation,  Locke makes less money with his 99-cent gambit than he would selling the same number of books with a traditional publisher.  And he puts a downward price pressure on Kindle e-books in the process.

Authors who have deals with traditional publishers, from someone just starting out to a bestseller like James Patterson, might expect to make anywhere from $2 to $4 per sale of a $20 hardcover sold in a bookstore. With e-books, whose retailers have fostered a new kind of revenue split between publisher and bookseller, some of the details are still being worked out. But in general, authors with major publishers stand to make a similar pecentage -- a $15 e-book brings them $1.50 to $3. Drop the price of the e-book to $9.99 and a traditional author might make about $1 to $2.

Which is not much. But it's still more than 35 cents.

Sure, Locke isn't hurting. If he sold a million Kindle e-books at 99 cents, he'd clear $346,500  -- nice work if you can get it. But if he were working with a traditional publisher, that $346,500 might be a lot closer to $1 million.

And in fact, Locke hasn't only sold his Kindle e-books for 99 cents -- that's just how he prices his novels. He has a nonfiction title that retails for $4.99: "How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!"

Which is another issue -- Locke's success notwithstanding, not everyone can sell 1 million e-books in five months. "In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books," cautioned one observer. Who? None other than Amanda Hocking, who was the first self-published million-seller to make headlines.


Self-publishing phenom Amanda Hocking said to be looking for traditional deal

Amanda Hocking, self-publishing star, finds 4-book deal

Charlaine Harris sells 1 million Kindle e-books

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Locke. Credit: Amazon.com


Comments () | Archives (18)

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Big congrats to John Locke! Awesome work!

If you'd bothered to pop the 99 cents for one of his books you'd quickly see that no publisher would have published John Locke in the first place. Bearing that in mind your ensuing comparison vs. Patterson is a specious defense of a traditional model that is under siege. You didn't mention that a $2.99 Kindle ebook will return to the writer $2.10 about the same as $15 ebook from a legacy publisher and it will sell many more copies. Though I don't personally care for his work, the wonderful thing is that without an agent or a publisher Locke was able to write his stories and find a huge audience.

"Locke makes less money with his 99-cent gambit than he would selling the same number of books with a traditional publisher."

BUT: Would a traditional publisher have found anything John Locke writes to be commercially viable at a traditional publishing price, given that nobody could have foretold that it would sell a million copies at 99 cents?

Why do traditionalists hate E-books? Every positive story seems to be met with scorn?

You didn't ask how many books would he have sold at the higher price? How many hardcovers does he usually sell?

Since Locke is the one setting the price of the ebook, presumably he thought he would make more money selling a higher number of books at a lower price. Amazon sets the royalty rate for Kindle books priced at $2.99 to $9.99 at 70%, so Locke could have priced his books at $2.99 each and then he would have gotten approximately $2 per book, but he didn't do that. He went for the 99 cent price because he saw that as a way to drastically increase the number of copies sold. Presumably, it worked for him. As you point out, it's not going to work for everyone. But to assume he would have sold the same number of books at the higher price assumes that people buy books without regard to price, and if there is one thing the recent rash of Kindle best sellers have taught us, it's that book buyers do consider price when deciding what to buy.

Any chance you'll disclose the name of the publicist who fed you this hatchet job storyline?

"If he sold a million Kindle e-books at 99 cents, he'd clear $346,500 -- nice work if you can get it. But if he were working with a traditional publisher, that $346,500 might be a lot closer to $1 million."

Have you ever seen a supply & demand curve? You do realize that, all else being equal, he almost certainly would have sold fewer books at the higher price charged by the publisher? Perhaps the increased royalties would have made up for that, and the (presumably) greater marketing expertise on the part of the publisher is also something to take into account, but in the end we can have no idea how much money Mr. Locke would have made with a traditional publisher. Yes, that $346,500 might have been a lot closer to $1 million, but it also might have been a lot closer to $0, or it might have been roughly the same.

You're pulling numbers out of thin air for this post; this is an embarrassing piece of 'journalism'.

Great job, I actually sells much less than him but people who search for a facebook marketing book turns to me. I have refused to publish with major publishers after hearing what they offer to authors, with Kindle I can change price, add content and do what I feel doing and I don't need to approval from the King (The publisher) :)

That $345,000 he's earned means he has outearned the vast majority of writers with trade publishing contracts. I don't really know how you can put a negative spin on it.

And those books are still selling well today. It's not like they are done earning him money.

A more interesting question might be just what trade publishers do in terms of ebooks that warrants them taking the biggest slice of the earnings? They don't write the book. They don't print it and ship it to bookstores. Why do they deserve the lion's share of the sale of an ebook?

$346,500 with Amazon. He might have gotten a few bucks on Ebay if he sold his carton of rejection letters from agents and publishers.

I don't see the downside here. He wrote his books and immediately started to make money off them. John Locke most certainly would have been turned away by traditional publishers and would not have made a dime. This is all win.

Also, what proof do you have that he charged $.99 for each and every copy he sold? Most self publishers on Amazon fluctuate their prices to stay on the Kindle charts. If you drop out of the top 20, you go down to $.99, if it's a new book in a series you go up to $2.99 - but keep part 1 at $.99. Kindle is the best thing to ever happen to indie authors.

"Why do traditionalists hate E-books? Every positive story seems to be met with scorn?"

I actually think e-books are great, and I do at least half of my book-length reading in that format. My skepticism was strictly about whether John Locke would really have made more money in the traditional publishing route, given that I haven't seen sufficient evidence to indicate that traditional publishing would have been interested in his work IN AND OF ITSELF, before it became the work of an author who could sell a million copies through Amazon.

Just an observation that applies to any sales situation. The extact here .....

'Locke makes less money with his 99-cent gambit than he would selling the same number of books with a traditional publisher. And he puts a downward price pressure on Kindle e-books in the process'.

makes the assumption that he would sell the same number of books with a traditional publisher, which is extremely unlikely. Electronic books have a multitude of benefits, with links, translation and feedback. Kindle has the huge advantage, in that you can read it in bright sunshine, carry hundreds of books and the battery lasts for weeks.

"Great job, I actually sells much less than him but people who search for a facebook marketing book turns to me."

So, you're a writer? And you've "refused to publish with major publishers",
which implies either you've been offered the opportunity to publish w/ major publishers or gotten some weird idealist notion that you're above the need to publish via some major house...& all that & this is how you write??


Bottom line. Nobody wants to buy an e book for $15.

You can cry all you want about e books but the market and technology are driving the change. Your article implies that if authors would just band together and stop the "downward pressure" this would all stop and you could flog your e books for $15.

That is not going to happen.

If Publishers want to stop the downward pressure, find a way to include and develop authors like Locke so they become better writers and don't turn their considerable marketing skills against you.

"Bottom line. Nobody wants to buy an e book for $15."

Erm, *I* have paid $15+ for ebooks. What is that, roughly the cost of a 3D movie these days? Currently, the #1 bestselling paid Kindle book is Smokin' Seventeen: A Stephanie Plum Novel...price at $13.99.

I'm an author of seven books, released through major publishers in the United States and Britain, and have never enjoyed that kind of success. Rather than promote fledgling authors, publishing houses spend big marketing dollars on the Stephen Kings and John Grishams--the very authors who don't need any publicity to sell books.

Had Locke gone the traditional publishing route, he most likely would not have sold enough books to even garner a royalty check. Something I know a thing or two about. I'd say he made out extremely well!

As someone who uses Amazon for book purchases, I have to say that I don't own a kindle, and although they do allow you to download them for use on a pc, I have to say it's not something that would appeal to me. Kindles are expensive for what they are, and I know of only two people who have one.

Now considering the price of books these days, due to there being less published the prices have gone up to such an extent that I rarely buy them firsthand. I usually have to peruse second hand bookstores just to find what I can afford.

Other wise its buying them secondhand from Amazon sellers.

The thing is, traditional paperback/hardback book prices seem to have forced many people into the kindle zone. And those who wish to use kindle for pc can download and print out what they wish to read if they want the paper version. It just works out cheaper.

I would be happy to pay up to $5.99 for an e-book from an established author, and would have no problems buying from a new author who sold at $2.99. remember, they do offer a taster of the book for download first, so thats probably helped with a lot of sales.


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