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Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Self-Published History Homework Outsells Penguin Published Paul Stephenson As An E-book

When I was in school earning my bachelor's degree in history, I took a class on Roman history and two on Byzantine history (as well as many other classes, I just made sure I got in as much Roman history as I could.) My final class before completing my degree required us to write a 30-page paper on something from Byzantine history (the topics and our thesis had to be approved by the professor.) I chose to write on the idea that Constantine was an emperor tolerant of both paganism and Christianity and that he set a mold for subsequent emperors to follow. Whenever an emperor diverted from that path in favor of pagans or Christians, the empire saw a breakdown that sometimes led to civil war. The two notable exceptions to Constantine's empire of tolerance were Theodosius (in favor of Christians) and Julian (in favor of pagans.)

My professor recommended several primary and secondary sources for me to use in my paper. The most useful secondary source that aligned the best with my thesis was Paul Stephenson's Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor. Unlike historians of the past who found Constantine to be either the savior of Christianity or a secret pagan who spit on the cross, Stephenson found the truth to be somewhere in the middle. While Constantine trumpeted the cause of Christians, he also allowed pagan practices to continue, saw Christ more as his personal "summus deus," and was even buried like the pagan Roman emperors of old. Constantinople was also a fusion of both pagan and Christian ideas. After earning my degree, I self-published my article in 2012.

Stephenson's book changed the way academics view Constantine's rule. I'm sure he's in hundreds of university libraries in paperback (I know the BYU library had several copies.) In paperback, I'm pretty sure his sales numbers destroy mine. In the e-book format, however, I'm likely outselling him three or four to one most months. Just to give you a brief comparison of our e-books on Amazon:

-Stephenson is published by Overlook Press (under the Penguin umbrella.) My article, Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance, is self-published.
-Stephenson's book has 14 reviews with an average of 4.5 / 5 stars. My article doesn't have any reviews yet on Amazon.
-Stephenson's book outsells my article in paperback. I'm sure by a crazy amount. Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance has only been available in paperback since January of this year at $5.99 and I've sold 6 paperback copies.
-Stephenson's book is 377 pages based on the hardcover edition. My article is 46 pages in paperback.
-Here's the kicker: Stephenson's e-book is $18.99. My article is $2.99 for the e-book.

Do you see why I'm able to outsell him in the e-book format? I've been watching both of our rankings on Amazon carefully. I've sold four copies of Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance this month as an e-book. Stephenson, based on his ranking, has sold one copy.

You might be thinking "well at $18.99, he probably made more money than you did from his single copy sold." You'd be wrong. Penguin, like any of the Big 5, pays 25% of net on e-books. So Stephenson's cut would be $18.99 x .7 (Amazon's royalty payment of 70%) x .25 (Penguin's royalty payment of 25% of net) = $3.23 (assuming there are no other delivery fees and that Amazon pays 70% on their $18.99 price because I know self-published authors only make 35% when a title is priced above $9.99.) So the e-book version of Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor has made Stephenson $3.23 this month while I made $2.07 (70% minus delivery fees) per copy sold on Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance and I've sold four copies, giving me a royalty of $8.28.

So what's my point? My point is that the Big 5 are clearly trying to retard the growth of e-books by keeping their prices laughably high so they can keep selling hardcovers and paperbacks for as long as possible. They want the market to remain a place where authors HAVE to use them and they can continue to force authors into terrible contracts (like paying them 25% of net for e-book sales.) For paperback distribution and hardcover distribution, they clearly have more of the market share. In the e-book market, it's much more difficult for them to dominate, even if they tried to do so. At $18.99, Stephenson's e-book is just a few dollars short of the hardcover version. Some people will still buy it or will fork out the extra few dollars for the hardcover. Some people will discover my article instead and pay $2.99 for some light reading about Constantine instead of paying almost ten times as much for Stephenson's lengthy tome. While he will likely continue to outsell me in paperback, I will likely continue to outsell him in e-book. As long as Penguin remains stubborn with high e-book prices, I can sit at a reasonable price with my history articles and gain market share from casual history readers. (Note: I've been tracking my e-book against Stephenson's for months. I always outsell him in e-books. This was just the first month that I specifically wanted to figure out by how many copies I outsell him.)

I'll link to both my e-book and Stephenson's on Amazon. They're both good reads and I'd recommend you check them out:

Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance by Randall J. Morris
Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor by Paul Stephenson

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