Can’t Get it Up

The Erotic Romance & Epublisher Comparison blog (EREC) takes a look at publishers' sales figures for a handful of erotic ebooks:

Averages are based on at least 5 in print books by at least 3 different authors.

[updated September 28, 2008]
Ellora's Cave–715 copies (25 books)
Samhain–229 copies (18 books)
Loose Id–210 copies (49 books)
Amber Quill–203 copies (9 books)
Liquid Silver–189 copies (13 books)
Torquere–121 copies (14 books)
Cobblestone–84 copies (31 books)

[updated September 28, 2008]

Ellora's Cave–796 copies (25 books)
Loose Id–468 copies (49 books)
Amber Quill–684 copies (9 books)
Samhain–515 copies (18 books)
Liquid Silver–167 copies (13 copies)
Torquere–101 copies (14 books)
Cobblestone–252 copies (31 books)


[updated September 28, 2008]

Ellora's Cave–1206 copies (24 books)
Loose Id–765 copies (49 books)
Amber Quill–832 copies (9 books)
Samhain–586 copies (18 books)
Liquid Silver–533 copies (13 copies)
Cobblestone–485 copies (31 books)
Torquere–330 copies (14 books)

If I'm reading these figures correctly (I suck at math), then the average Ellora's Cave author in this sample is selling a mere 50 books a year, an Amber Quill author 92. If this sample is representative of erotic ebooks sales as a whole, and that's a big if,  the figures are pitiful for authors looking to establish a readership or to make any money. Even so, EREC finds encouragement in these numbers, which they say represent a steady uptick in erotic ebook sales over previous years.

UPDATE: I'm an idiot. When I said I suck at math, I forgot to mention I also suck at reading comprehension. I apologize for my obvious ignorance. Here's an explanation of the first year erotic ebook sales numbers from a reader:

The "average" in question is an
arithmetic mean. So the average EC book is selling 796 books a year. I
thought that was fairly clear but I live and learn. Whether that is
enough for any given author is up to them once the info is made

And here's an explanation of the figures for ebooks out for a year or more from another reader:

EREC has received information on sales for 24 seperate EC titles.
Averaging out those sales for the 24 books (total number of all 24
titles sold divided by 24) equals, on average, an EC book sells 1206
copies in its first year. 

Thank you both for the corrections. I stand corrected (and embarrassed).

That said, the numbers are still pitiful compared to even the worst selling print titles. Erotic ebooks have to go a long, longway before they are competitive with print or make much financial sense for writers (though ebook writers keep insisting that it's the "wave of the future," though the e-tsunami is sure taking it's time getting here from tomorrow). That's assuming, of course, that the writers of erotic ebooks want to make any money, which I suspect isn't as important to them as simply getting their work out there. But even on that level, 1200 people isn't much of an audience. If eyeballs are all those writers care about, they could reach far more people simply by posting their erotic fiction on a blog.

18 thoughts on “Can’t Get it Up”

  1. Planning on entering the ero eBook market? ^_^ I like you and I like your work, but forgive me I just don’t buy it that you really care all that much about how eBook erotica is trudging along…
    The medium of erotic eBooks is relatively new, and since most folks find abundant amount of erotic fiction free on the net, the trend of asking readers to pay for it–is an uphill battle. ^_^ eBook erotica is niche, and like online manga and comics, it faces an uphill battle to find readers willing to ‘pay’ for eContent when so much of said content has been free for a long time.
    The figures are encouraging because more and more readers are coming to eBook via trendy ‘reader units’ from Sony and Amazon, and this bodes well for tiny eBook erotic market.
    So no, it’s not pathetic in terms of the bubble this market operates in. Sorry, didn’t mean to smack that boner you have raging for the erotic blogsphere right now. :/ No offense, but this post reeks of grudge. Do you really care that much about the erotic Ebook market? Or is it more fun to just slam that small sect of men and women who may or may not have hurt your feelings over at Dear Author?
    No flames intended,
    Tina Anderson

  2. The “average” in question is an arithmetic mean. So the average EC book is selling 796 books a year. I thought that was fairly clear but I live and learn. Whether that is enough for any given author is up to them once the info is made available.
    I would also note that with sames this small the real figure maybe as much as several hunder copies higher or lower.

  3. (I suck at math)
    You don’t need to redo your math but rather need to re-read. You don’t need to divide 1206 sales by 26 titles. 1206 is the calculated averaged between the 26 reported titles. While I realize 1206 titles a year is still low by NY standards, it’s certainly better than this 50 titles you came up with after you misread and tried to average, um, an average. 😉

  4. Those totals are, using EC as an example, as follows:
    EREC has received information on sales for 24 seperate EC titles.
    Averaging out those sales for the 24 books (total number of all 24 titles sold divided by 24) equals, on average, an EC book sells 1206 copies in its first year.
    Not a huge number when compared to a book with a print run, but for epublishing it is, indeed, encouraging numbers.
    Sadly, though, there *are* epubs that sell 50-100 copies only. But not the top 5.

  5. I think Lee views erotic ebook authors the same way that Chancery Stone does
    “…as another wannabe author encrusted with e-books from her days as a barnacle on the long, long pier of fan fiction.”

  6. You also need to factor in one other thing:
    The royalty percentage of a e Publisher is on average 35% (some as high as 45%), and I’m taking a stab at an avg PB rate of 8%
    so, getting out the calculator
    1000 ebooks @ $4.99 = 1746.50 royalties
    1000 PB @$4.99 = 399.20 royalties
    So you have to sell 4375 PB for the same amount of royalties as 1000 eBooks.
    Yes, trad pub give advances, some of them not of very big $$, and you don’t see another dime until you earn out that advance (which you might or might not get on signing), but eBook sales can trickle in from 5-6 titles over the year and give you a nice little pile of change to play with.
    Do eBooks compare when faced with high figure sales of the big dogs, of course not. Not yet. But compare midlist numbers and things aren’t looking so bad. Especially for those authors going the eBook route who sell substantially more than 1000 in a year (in the first 2-3 months even).

  7. Anne, it’s not 1989 anymore, which was when I was in the game. Mass Market Paperbacks today sell for $6.99 and up, trade paperback $14.95 and up. So at $6.99, the royalty would be $550 for 1000 copies sold. But I’m not sure you’re right about the royalty percentages today, either (you would have to ask Lee). I think it’s closer to 12%. So the royalty would be $830.00 for 1000 copies sold. Midlist mass market and trade paperback writers usually get advances against royalties of $5000 or more (at least when I was doing it), so comparing the $$$ from trade publication to ebooks is deceptive. There really is no comparison. Trade publication is far more lucrative even for authors who do poorly.

  8. Royalty rates for hardcover can hit 12.5%, sure, Kell. But for mmp they’re usually between 6-8%. I’ve never heard of 12.5% for paperbacks, not even trade paperbacks.
    I believe Ann was using $4.99 simply as an eaxmple so you could see the difference at one price; lots of ebooks sell for $5.99 or $6.99 or even $7.99 as well.
    No one is saying ebooks are more lucrative, just that they can be quite lucrative in their own right. When I get a first-month royalty check–for two week’s worth of sales, mind you–of $3600, I’m pretty happy with that, despite making more in advances elsewhere.
    I also just get my royalties every month, at a certain time each month, not at the whim of an accounting department and broken down into three little installments. 🙂

  9. Thank you Stacia for setting me straight on mass market paperback royalty rates. I’ll take your word for it. As I said, I’ve been out of the game for a while. But I am skeptical about how lucrative you say ebooks are. You’re telling me you make $3600 a month on your ebooks? Nearly $45,000 annually on each ebook that you write? I mean no offense, but I find that very very hard to believe.

  10. Hi Kell, I hope you don’t think I was being snotty when I mentioned royalty rates; that wasn’t my intention at all.
    No, of course not every one of my books makes that much, and I don’t make that much every month. The book in question, though, has made over 7k since its release (sales usually drop off fairly sharply after the first month.) If a writer has enough releases, in the “big” subgenres (the book in question, for example, was a paranormal m/f/m menage with m/m scenes, and was given an X-rating at the time of release because there were some controversial elements in it, so its sales were considerably higher than some others of mine which are more straight m/f) like m/f/m or m/m, they can be quite lucrative.
    This year I’ve made five figures from my ebooks. I crossed that line in May or June, if memory serves. I’m not anywhere near 45k, but I’ve also only had a few books out this year because I’ve been working on projects for print houses for most of it.
    My average release-month checks hover around $1500, including backlist sales driven up by the new release. My intention in citing the Big Seller (“Demon’s Triad”, co-written with Anna J. Evans) wasn’t to imply I get that sort of check every month, only that that sort of check is indeed possible; I know a few EC authors who have very large backlists and a full release schedule who get royalty checks at least over 2k every month, and I know of one who makes at least double that.
    My royalty rate is 37.5%, don’t forget. For every copy sold at $6.99, I get $2.62. Given that, it isn’t hard to see how even 350 or 400 copies sold can net a very nice paycheck. (Of course not all ebooks are $6.99; most aren’t, I’m just using it as an example. My average first-month sales are higher than 350 or 400 copies, too.)
    Of course, for me, living in the UK means I don’t really get to enjoy that money. I lose half of it in the exchange rate alone, and I still have bills in the US, and that’s what the money goes for. But it’s still nice to get. 🙂

  11. No one is bad at math. Everybody can easily understand every math problem once it is clearly explained three times, and once any person works through the numbers once on their own. That’s what’s so great about math! You get great results every time! (But if you demand of yourself that you INSTANTLY grasp the meaning of a formula, that’s, I believe, a mistake. That’s not giving yourself enough time. For the numbers in this post, I didn’t get them twice through, but did on the third pass! Which is good!)
    But it’s much, much better to be better with your letters than you are with your numbers. Being good with your letters is a talent that can’t, at present, be taught or learned!
    But won’t it be good when ebooks take off and provide a 35% royalty! In Guelph, Ontario, Canada I’ve only seen one young woman with an ebook reader so far. But at the university all kinds of students are studying course material on computer screens. Do they enjoy it better than using books? Will they buy ebooks in the future? I hope so!

  12. Stacia explained that perfectly, thank you.
    If you’ve got the right stories at the right publishing house the figures she quotes are feasible. In fact this “My average release-month checks hover around $1500, including backlist sales driven up by the new release.” equals my experience. This year I estimate to crack 5 figures (just – with crossed fingers as my last release was with a new publisher I don’t quite know what to expect yet, maybe I won’t.)
    Enough to give up the day job, if I had one? No. But then very few authors can. But it’s half a year of mortgage payments, or a nice holiday, or half a new car… you get the idea.

  13. I’m curious about the different sales levels for the different types of relationships that someone mentioned. (Just general curiosity; I don’t think I could ever write erotica, due to the paralyzing fear that my mother might somehow read it.) Any idea why some combos sell better than others? How big a difference is there between them? Do the different markets have different demographics? Sorry if I seem clueless; it’s just something I had never considered before.

  14. Not at all, Kell; I’m just not a regular here and so wanted to make sure I wasn’t coming across badly. 🙂
    Daisy, I have no idea why some things sell better than others. M/m doesn’t really do it for me but it’s hothothot right now. I enjoy f/f scenes in erotica (although I have no interest in them at all in real life) but that’s not a genre that most people buy; one of my EC titles contains a short f/f scene between minor characters and sales suffered for it–not a lot, but enough that I noticed. That’s been the experience of a lot of other writers I know, as well; a lot of us have given up on putting f/f in our books because it’s just not worth the loss of sales.
    Trying to predict it is just like trying to predict if demons or zombies are the next big thing–it just happens, and nobody knows why, really. The interest in m/m seems to be everywhere; I have a friend who writes m/m and gets fan email from doctors and attorneys as well as the semiliterate. *shrug* 🙂

  15. There’s any number of reasons why m/m and menage sells better than other types of erotic romance. M/M I think is because it’s still new, it’s still considered very taboo for most people, and nothing titillates like the taboo. M/M has only become widely available in the ebook market in the past few years. Before one had to go looking for it, now people who never even suspected such stuff was written are finding it and finding that they want more.
    And yet…it’s a safe sort of taboo. The kind that isn’t going to end you up in jail or condemned as a sick, twisted person for liking it. That’s my theory on why M/M sells so much better.
    As for menage, it sells so well because it’s a lot of women’s fantasy. Lots of women fantasize about two hot men loving all over them. It probably sells so well because it’s such a common thing, so it appeals to a large number of readers.
    Of course, this is just me pondering, really. I write strictly m/m for EC and yeah, it’s a hot market. I’m loving it, though, considering when I started a few years ago, finding a good home for my men-loving-men was all but impossible.

  16. There’s a lot of variables even for those averages. Are we talking 5 RANDOM authors chosen from each publisher? The five top-sellers? The five lowest-sellers? Statistics can be incredibly subjective, and very malleable depending on what results are wanted by the firm doing the figuring. Especially in a marketing atmosphere. (and I have a marketing degree)
    Some books take off like a shot in the first five weeks and then nose-dive. Some ride a nice long wave back into the middle or lower standings. And a few have a steady trickle of sales that may not look like much in the first six months, but over the course of a couple of years do quite well. I’ve had titles take all of these roads. (Fortunately most have taken road #2)
    E-readers aren’t going away – but neither, for a while at least, are print books. And you can’t just count mass-market paperbacks. The Print-On-Demand system that many of these e-publishers use for e-books over a certain word count can be just as lucrative as the e-book version.
    Case in point: one of my recent co-authored titles, Solitude & Sea Glass, sold more in trade paperback than it did in digital! The digital picked up, but not right away. A bit of an unusual happening in the e-pub market.
    It’s impossible to pigeonhole this market or any one of the publishers in question with such a small sampling of authors and books. There are just too many variables to go on. But the overall view is definitely a decent one. And far better odds of a good author getting a contract than through a big New York mass-marketer.
    I’ll take 1200 copies sold over lightning-strike odds of a big advance contract any day. Because if I’ve done my job right, that’s 1200 people who will recommend my next title to three of their friends each.


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