Royalty Reality Check


There’s been a lot of huff and puff over the revelation that Amazon doesn’t pay out the full 70% royalty they promise on Kindle books. There’s been other talk, as well, about royalties. I know I’d prefer if you all bought my e-books via Smashwords because my royalties are higher.

I mean, I get it. We’ve got bills to pay. I’m not the only one in this boat; a well-known author friend has long talked about how her book sales fuel her mortgage payments. Now that I’m responsible for the mortgage around here — along with everything else — that has taken on a new resonance.

You can probably imagine my shock on Monday, when the Boy Band announced the reason we don’t use Spotify in the house is because a song has to be played on Spotify over 4.51 MILLION times for a major label artist to earn the equivalent of a month’s worth of minimum wage payments — that’s a bit under $1200 a month. (For the record, that’s not the reason I don’t use Spotify. I don’t use it because… well, no reason, actually. I just haven’t signed up.)

The Boy Band had other royalty numbers for one other music source — and iTunes. Since we became an iTunes family in 2009, I’ve wondered what the royalty rate is for a major label artist for a 99c download. It’s a fair comparison, no? I sometimes sell certain books for 99c, and my short stories are ALWAYS 99c.

So… the Boy Band, instead of showing off his math skills, Googled something or other and found this article. It’s not quite a year old, but the terms probably haven’t changed too much. The headline says it all: A Major Label Artist Makes 8 Cents On a 99-Cent iTunes Download…

It’s based on figures from Chuck D, who can’t be confused with an artist I listen to, but I doubt the numbers are much different for my beloved artists in the rock and roll world.

Eight cents.

Somehow, 35c on a 99c book seems better than it did before — and I was firmly in the camp that 35c was pretty darn good. (To be clear, that’s the percentage I get from Amazon’s Kindle platform. I get higher royalties from Smashwords and their affiliates, who I use rather than dealing directly with the various retailers, such as B&N. And yes, I’d get even more from those other retailers, but I’m willingly and knowingly giving up that higher royalty — and faster sales reporting — in exchange for the convenience of not stressing that I won’t get a payout from this retailer or that one or the other one. It’s cut down my stress level quite a bit, especially when I look at those mortgage coupons and my royalty statements and … ouch!)

I’m still not a fan of this new culture of the free book that Amazon’s been championing. Because when I look at it… even 8c is better than 0.

Like I said, I’ve got a mortgage to pay.



  1. Cindi K.

    August 21, 2012 5:11 pm

    Ouch! But compared t what music artists make then maybe not.

  2. Alice Audrey

    August 23, 2012 1:53 pm

    I’ll admit I’ve been taking full advantage of Amazon’s free book deals. I’ve even thought about which of my upcoming books I’d we willing to do it with, and which not.

  3. Dana Griffin

    September 1, 2012 1:36 pm

    Being someone about to jump into this self-pub world and new to it all, I’ve read the articles promoting the free book, and coming out against it. I tend to weigh in on your side, Susan. Eight cents is better than nothing. I wonder how many of the people who’d download my book, because it was free, would actually read it and talk about to their friends. Or, keep pushing it down the list on their ebook while they read the authors they KNOW they like.

    Time will tell if I offer free books.

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