Exploring The Earnings Of A Humble Bundle Author

from the a-humble-attitude dept

Recently, we highlighted the success of the first Humble Ebook Bundle by noting that with over 84,000 bundles sold, all those authors should be on best seller lists. That is fine and dandy on its own, but what does that mean in terms of money for the authors? With the bundle bringing in over $1 million in sales, what do the authors get out of that?

In response to that very question, one Humble author, John Scalzi, wrote up his back-of-the-envelope calculation of how much his book, Old Man's War, could earn him.

Let’s say for the sake of easy math that when all is said an done my default amount of the bundle was something like 6.5%. That would mean that my default gross cut of the Bundle would be something on the order of $78,000.

Keep in mind that this is a gross earnings. He then factors in a number of other variables, including his publisher Tor's cut, and comes to a much smaller net amount.

When all is said and done, if I end up with $20,000 (before taxes) then I figure I will have done well.

He goes on to explain what he would likely make selling the number of copies he estimates he sold during the bundle, if those copies were sold at full price.

…let’s say OMW was in 42,110 of those bundles. For electronic books, I make 25% of the net to the publisher, and Old Man’s War currently sells as an eBook at $7.99. Unless I’m doing my math incorrectly, my cut is about $1.40 per eBook for OMW (no, $1.40 is not 25% of $7.99; remember, I’m working off of net). If those 42,110 copies were sold straight up, I would gross $58,000.

So, basically, if I gross what I expect to gross from the Humble Bundle, I’ll be taking a roughly two thirds cut in my income per unit than what I usually do.

That's quite the difference. However, he is very happy with what he will make from this bundle for four reasons.

  1. The volume sold may compensate for the reduced price.
  2. Old Man's War is the first book in a series and will likely bring in new readers who will buy the sequels at full price.
  3. He went in to the bundle knowing full well that he could make as little as $0.
  4. Whatever bundles were sold because of his book were benefiting some important non-profits.

He then closes out his comments with some advice for authors considering getting involved in a bundle. All of it is great advice and I will let you delve into it yourself.

Looking at this whole thing, John makes some very important points that we have highlighted many times in the past. For instance, we have argued many times, with Paulo Coelho as a recent example, that selling in volume at a lower price has the potential to make far more money in a shorter span of time. Additionally, selling at a discount, or even giving it away, is a great way to provide publicity in order to sell other products or scarcities tangential to the product.

What is most impressive is John's understanding and attitude about this whole promotion. He knew full well that this promotion was not an end in and of itself, but a way to expand his audience and reach. By taking this risk, he will potentially see a lot more success in the future. This is an attitude that we praise on a seemingly daily basis–an attitude that too many people in the legacy industries deride and belittle. Hopefully, more creators will learn from this and embrace, as John did, the power of tools and promotions such as the Humble Bundle.

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Comments on “Exploring The Earnings Of A Humble Bundle Author”

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bob (profile) says:


First, I generally like the Humble Bundle and think that artists should continue to explore more plans like it. Any paywall that gets people in the habit of spending is good.

Still I feel the need to correct a few things. Old Man’s War was one of the locked up books. You only got it if you paid more than the average donation, a clever gimmick that kept rising in price.

Second, getting only $20k from a project that grossed more than $1.2 million is not what I would call friendly to the artist. If you split up the revenues equally, that’s almost $100k per book. Letting only about 20% trickle down to the author isn’t exactly ground breaking. The old system routinely paid 15% to authors.

People love to complain about the old gatekeepers and the old publishers, but it sure seems like the new gatekeepers are taking a big cut too. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Zero?

What new gatekeepers? There were none this time.
Again, you miss the point. None of the authors went into this with a goal of getting rich. They went into it fully prepared for the possibility of earning nothing.
I bought and happily paid the equivalent of $20. I could have chosen whatever price I wanted (which is something you conveniently forgot about). And yes, like the point mentioned above, the fact that this was for a charity was the main factor in my deciding to buy (given that I, as a rule, don’t pay for ebooks).

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Zero?

“Still I feel the need to correct a few things. Old Man’s War was one of the locked up books. You only got it if you paid more than the average donation, a clever gimmick that kept rising in price. “

Almost forgot to address this point. You’re trying to make this into some sort of scam. There wasn’t. It would only be a scam if the Humble Bundle guys were artificially manipulating that average donation. They didn’t. As more and more people bought, and more and more people paid more and more money, obviously the average donation amount would rise. This was entirely out of the hands of Humble Bundle. They had no control over what the average was. None.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Zero?

” Any paywall that gets people in the habit of spending is good.”

I fucking hate you. I just want to get that out of the way.

PAYWALL DOES NOT MEAN REQUIRING PAYMENT!!! I’m putting multiple exclamation points in the hopes that this is the last fucking time someone has to say it to you.

A paywall is when previously free content now requires payment to be viewed.

The Humble Bundle in no way meets the REAL and ACTUAL definition of a “paywall”.

“Still I feel the need to correct a few things.”

Your need to correct can be translated to “I mean to put my own non-based on reality or facts spin on things”.

“Old Man’s War was one of the locked up books.”

This is NOT correct. It was NOT locked up. It was added on AFTER the Humble Bundle started. People were unaware it was going to be added, until after the fact. However, this is not unusual with Humble Bundles. Something is always added at a later date, what is anyone’s guess. But it is usually a bonus.

“You only got it if you paid more than the average donation, a clever gimmick that kept rising in price.”

Only half of that statement is true. You only got it if you paid more than the average donation.

However, that is not a gimmick. Why? I already explained above. People were unaware the book was going to be added. I bought early, I paid above the average price. BEFORE ANY ADDITIONS/BONUSES WERE MADE. How was I then “tricked” by this “gimmick”? Fact is, I wasn’t. Nor were many others.

Also, the rising average donation in no way is a set price and in no way is it controlled by the Humble Bundle. The people purchasing the bundle set the price, it is raised OR lowered entirely by them. I’ve seen average prices drop more than once. I’ve also seen them stay the same for quite some time.

But facts are not your strong suit, merely unsubstantiated opinions.

“Second, getting only $20k from a project that grossed more than $1.2 million is not what I would call friendly to the artist.”

What you call friendly is irrelevant. The artists KNOWINGLY took the chance that they may or may not get rich from the Humble Bundle. The reasons behind it are that it is entirely up to the people purchasing said bundles to determine what gets distributed and to whom. The majority, including the artists themselves, as was the case by the one in the article (who you shouldn’t presume to speak for, but which you’re doing by declaring $20k not “friendly”), know that the majority of most bundles goes towards the charities.

“Letting only about 20% trickle down to the author isn’t exactly ground breaking.”

No one controls this, but the people purchasing. It is entirely up to them. That 20% could easily be 30% or 50% or even 100%. Entirely. Up. To. The. People. Purchasing. Just want to emphasize that.

“The old system routinely paid 15% to authors.”

The old system also routinely went out of its way to NOT pay authors royalties, or other artists. Hence the expression “Hollywood accounting”.

This isn’t a new or old system. It’s just something else that’s different. But in no way should it be compared to “the old system”. Because it’s not the same, as I pointed out multiple times already, the people buying make the decisions on what to give. As such it can go up or down, but the authors know this before they decide to take part. So there is no risk they aren’t aware of and in the end it’s benefits far surpass any risk.

“People love to complain about the old gatekeepers and the old publishers, but it sure seems like the new gatekeepers are taking a big cut too.”

Again, your definition of “gatekeepers” should be ignored. You called librarians “gatekeepers”. That alone says a lot about what you know and why EVERYONE should ignore your opinions on pretty much any subject.

But suffice it to say, the Humble Bundle is NOT a gatekeeper. And they DO NOT take a big cut. Even at the default values, they’re cut is far from big. At default, the majority goes to the authors. But seeing as how charities are involved, people tend to want what they pay to go to them. So at the end of the day, people buying, for the upteenth time, get to decide what goes to who and how much so.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Meet the new bob, same as the old retarded bob.

Seriously, I hate you. I just want to restate that point.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Zero?

I read this and thought “a nice breakdown of reality by an author who is happy with his success. I wonder which of the lying trolls will try to distort this?”. I could have won a tidy sum with my first guess, it seems.

Again, bob, you both miss the points being raised and try to parley them into your own fantasy version of reality.

There is no paywall. Old Man’s War is available outside of the bundle. It is freely available legally and illegally. It was published in 2005, and contains editions ranging from a Kindle version at $7.49 to used physical books for as little as 95c (and that’s just looking at Amazon). I’m sure a library will stock it if you’re too cheap to either pay the minimum or purchase a copy elsewhere. All of the content is available outside of the bundle if you prefer. Despite your attempts to redefine the word to allow you to attack Mike, that’s the opposite of what a paywall actually is.

“Second, getting only $20k from a project that grossed more than $1.2 million is not what I would call friendly to the artist. If you split up the revenues equally, that’s almost $100k per book.”


That’s a wild assumption, and you’ve again failed to factor in the parts of reality that don’t match your predetermined narrative. For example, a publisher is involved (as stated in the article), so he’s subject to his contract with said publisher and their cut – which almost certainly has sod all to do with Humble Bundle.

You also forget that there was the option to split the purchase price between charity, Humble Bundle and the authors despending on the customer’s preference. Much of that money went straight to charity, as promised. That’s not to mention the free advertising and additional sales that Scalzi got from this book for other titles including the 3 sequel novels currently available. Only a fool would assume that no further sales beyond the bundle have been made for their authors, even if their portion of the cut was donated to charity instead. What a shame that you have to try to poke holes in every way that authors and artists are finding success outside of the legacy systems, and choose only to attack those that give them additional income.

“People love to complain about the old gatekeepers and the old publishers, but it sure seems like the new gatekeepers are taking a big cut too”

Only if you lie about everything and fail to address any aspect of reality in front of you that doesn’t reinforce your own assumptions. Your typical m.o., in other words.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Zero?

Ah, paywall bob.. How clueless we are aren’t we? There’s no gatekeeper here, no paywall. The money has to be split between the projects and possibly cover hosting costs hence why the author did not get all of it. Also, there’s the charity element to it that probably ate some percentage. And finally you missed the point COMPLETELY. If you go back and read you’ll see that by traditional means he’d have got LESS money. Remember, we are not talking about a world famous author like Paulo Coelho but rather a smaller author.

The only thing you said that is not complete and utter bullshit was the very first sentence. Try focusing on it and maybe you’ll have better and more useful things to say next time. Get your head out of your arse bob, it’s dangerous to hold your breath for that long.. May cause brain damage.

ECA (profile) says:

I think his math is off..

I really do.

lets see..
They get his book on premium purchases only..
then he is basing his final total on HOW many sales??

13 BOOKS..
figure 1/2 went to charity of the $1.2 million. $600,000/13 books

$46,153 divided evenly..over the Total. even if you add other things like HUMBLE getting a few dollars.. I think he is in for a surprise..
And these numbers represent his getting about 3.5% of the gross.

“Keep in mind that this is a gross earnings. He then factors in a number of other variables, including his publisher Tor’s cut, and comes to a much smaller net amount. “
Based on his numbers, those extra costs are?? cuts to about 1/3 of HIS gross. IF HE sells his own book??

$600,000 for 13 books, plus a point(1) for Humble.. he will get about $0.25-0.50 per sale..IF he didnt need to have MORE OVER HEAD from the corp..he would break even..

crade (profile) says:

I think his assumptions that people would change in favour of the not for profits is not neccessarily valid.. The few times I changed the defaults was to give more to the developers..
Whether or not the cut sent to TOR is totally fair may be a matter of opinion, but regardless, it’s not neccessary. there is absolutely no need for an extra publisher taking their cut for the humble bundle..
dropping from 78K to 20 because of the publishers cut is a huge deal.. The whole problem with publishers and the problem the humble bundle will normally help solve, since there is no requirement for them (although, since this guy already has a contract, he still has to honour it of course)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We’re in a transitional phase with a lot of these new models, which is why most of them are still classed as experiments. More established artists and authors will have pre-existing relationships and contracts that need to be honoured, even if the label/publisher didn’t actually do anything to promote the work in this instance. It takes time to change these, especially in cases where a publisher is less accommodating than TOR.

It’s early days for this kind of thing, especially in the eBook market where most publishers are insisting on enforcing DRM and high prices rather than addressing customer need. But, however you spin it, Scalzi still made $20k on a single title that many of the purchasers would not have bought were it not for the bundle, and he can use that as leverage for selling his other work.

That’s assuming his calculations are correct, of course – I’d certainly like to see a more accurate breakdown when everything has cleared if that’s possible.

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