Don’t give up the day job

Today was interesting – I received my first-ever royalty statement from Freight Books. The Wreck of the Argyll was released in September last year, and this statement includes sales up to the end of May this year, so realistically it covers the majority of sales that the book is going to achieve.

It doesn’t make for very encouraging reading, and I certainly won’t be giving up the day job. After tax, the royalties would cover a couple of trips to the cinema – as long as we didn’t fancy popcorn or drinks. But then, I didn’t get into writing to make money, did I?

There is some interesting analysis I can do on the statement, though.

For a start, I’ve long understood that children’s books don’t sell in ebook format, and the royalty statement bears this out. Nearly 94% of sales were physical copies.

It’s also interesting to see the returns. Retailers can return unsold books for credit, and these show up as negative figures on the return. A quarter of books bought in the UK were returned – including most of the Wigtown Book Festival stock. (Although it probably makes sense for festivals to overestimate their requirements – with limited time to sell the books, they wouldn’t want to run out in the event that an author proved popular. I didn’t – Wigtown returned 70% of their stock.)

What’s perhaps most unexpected is the volume of overseas sales. 35% of paperback sales were to a US distributor. And no returns here, either – these were on a “firm sale” basis, rather than the “sale or return” basis; the corollary of this is that they were sold at a much higher discount. Which results in a lower royalty per copy – 18p compared to an average of 46p for UK paperback sales.

And the variation in discounts is interesting, too. Amazon UK have such a stranglehold on the market that they can command a higher discount than anyone else. Ironically, because they haven’t been passing that discount on to their customers, I’ve been suggesting to everyone that they should use Wordery or Hive, who are a lot cheaper – and the result is that Amazon makes up only 5% of UK paperback sales. I’m not complaining – because of Amazon’s big retailer discount, I only get 29p a copy anyway.

So there we have it: my first royalty statement. Disappointing in many ways (although not unexpected, given the lack of any sales or promotion) but also an interesting look at the financial side of the book industry.


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