I'm a reader, not an author. But, when I buy books (in whatever format) from authors I enjoy, I'd like as much of my purchase prices as possible to get to those authors.

So, I'm wondering: do authors get more or less for purchase of a given work based on the format and/or bookseller? For instance, if I bought from an independent bookseller versus Amazon.com, or if I buy an ebook vs. a physical paperback, does that change how much the author earns from my one purchase?


4 Answers 4


Advice from an author:

From the blog of Ilona and Andrew Gordon, authors:

Where is the best place to buy your books that gets you the best returns for revenue/publicity? I’ve been buying my books through Amazon, but if there’s a better place to buy them from that’s better for you would you post them please?

This has cropped up repeatedly, so let me reiterate that we are grateful for every sale. If you buy it in ebook, if you buy it in print, or if you borrow it from the library, if you find it for a penny in a used bookstore, buy it, someone else did. We want you to enjoy our work in the way most convenient to you. The most important thing is that purchasing our books is easy and guilt-free.

We ask only that you don’t pirate. Pirating ebooks is stealing; it’s not a victimless crime. It costs us sales, but it also shortchanges other readers, because when the book is pirated in large enough numbers, the writer won’t continue the series. What’s the point of working on something for months and months if someone is just going to steal it? For example, right now we are reevaluating our Netgalley policy, because someone was given an ARC of BLOOD HEIR in epub format and uploaded it to a pirate site. So if you like a particular book, please buy it or legally borrow it.

But I digress. Back to the earnings. In terms of money earned per copy, ebooks are probably best. It doesn’t really matter in what format. Most ebook retailers pay us 70% of the cover price from each purchase. This doesn’t mean that you should feel guilty purchasing in print. We make money there too. 😀

Leave a Review

I've seen this questioned posed to other authors as well, and while I can't find their response at the moment, the general theme of the answer was to leave a review.

While it's a nice thought to want to maximize the amount of money the author receives for your purchase, the difference between most optimal to least optimal is pennies to dollars at most. Where you really start to help the author is when you can get more people buying the book. Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood made more money for Amar El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone with a single tweet then you will probably spend on books in your lifetime. And I don't even know if he paid any money for the book himself!

While that particular circumstance was unusual and unlikely to be repeated, and a few extra stars and a heartfelt review will help convince other people to buy the book after you, and ultimately go a lot farther than maximizing the dollar amount you convey to the author.

  • That's absolutely true.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 20 at 10:00

In most cases, traditionally published authors are paid by the publisher. They are paid an advance on royalties when the book is purchased. If the book earns out — sells enough copies to cover the advance — then the author receives royal payments for every copy sold. Hardbacks pay like 15% of the list price as royalties and trade paperbacks pay something like 8% and mass market paper backs pay 5%. Audio and ebooks also pay a royalty, but it gets complicated because the distribution platforms take a cut of the payment. I don't know the details about those media for traditionally published authors.

Authors like Stephen King get a substantially different payment. He splits the costs with his publisher and splits the profit.

For self-published authors, they get all the revenue when they are hawking their books at a convention or book fair. From platforms like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, authors get between 50%-70% of the book price.

If you want to give the author the maximum of money, buy multiple copies of their books and give them as gifts or use them as fuel in your fireplace. The more you buy, the more they'll print.

  • 3
    Wellllll... not gonna do the book-burning thing, but otherwise good info. Thanks. Apr 15 at 22:44
  • 2
    @DanielGriscom, that seems a wise decision. Book burning rarely works out for the better.
    – EDL
    Apr 15 at 23:41
  • 3
    What about burning e-books in a virtual fireplace?
    – Barmar
    Apr 16 at 14:30
  • 2
    @Barmar, I suspect that would mean burning your smartphone. Seems extreme. But I support your passion
    – EDL
    Apr 16 at 16:05

You should buy whichever format you prefer. Prices will be adapted to cover cost. In the end, authors will earn the same.

You should not buy from Amazon, when a book is available elsewhere too, as Amazon is using their market dominance to force publishers (including self-publishers) into accepting unfavourable terms.* In the long term, you do authors a favour if you reduce Amazon's dominance.

If you want to buy a self-published ebook, buy it from the author's website, if he or she has one. There the author receives 100% of the sales price.

* Here is one random article that describes the problem: https://www.thenation.com/article/economy/throwing-the-book-at-amazons-monopoly-hold-on-publishing/. There are countless others, if you want to learn more.

To those who believe that Amazon is "the best deal" for self-published authors:

According to an analysis performed by the University of Glasgow, using worldwide data collected by the Alliance of Independent Authors in 2022, "[t]hose [self-published ‘indie’ authors] who utilise new business models (such as crowdfunding and patron platforms) as opposed to more traditional routes [such as publishing books exclusively with one self-publishing platform/retailer, e.g., Amazon] tend to see the highest growth in revenues." From https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2023/june/headline_976310_en.html

  • 9
    On the "Don't buy from Amazon" bit: I've got a far better deal using the self-publishing option from Amazon than I had from any publishers in my area. More so, for a lot of authors, Amazon is the only option to get their books out there. Keep in mind that, until very recently, publishers loved to use their power to force authors to take very unfavourable terms.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 16 at 16:47
  • Because being a bestseller is more about finding good marketing professional and a good niche to write for than actually writing quality books. I've lost count of how many outrageously bad books ended up becoming "best sellers" or getting awards while leaving way superior works to rot in unknow shelves, because the authors just got unlucky.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 17 at 12:32
  • More so, you assume publishers are actually competent, which they often are not. Big publishers have a lot of leverage and often force new authors to horrible deals to get their stuff out there.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 17 at 12:35
  • Also, Amazon lets me publish my stuff all over the world, while my local publishers for sure won't do so. I got far more sales from my e-books (and more $$) than I ever did with the two paperbacks I put out there. Without Amazon, I wouldn't be publishing books anymore.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 17 at 12:37
  • So, if you recommend to people to "not buy from Amazon", you might very well be killing a lot of fledgling authors that have no other ways of putting their books out there. That's a very bad advice.
    – T. Sar
    Apr 17 at 12:38

For the books I'm familiar with (which are academic books), author royalties are based on a percentage of sales revenue, and the percentage is broadly consistent over all the forms of the book. So buying the most expensive version of the book, usually the hardcover, will get the author the most royalties regardless of where you buy it from.*

*The caveat is you must buy a new book, not a second-hand one. Second-hand books give the author no royalties since these transactions are not tracked by the publisher.

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