My husband and I often talk about the state of the publishing industry and the state of the music industry. This makes sense since I’m a writer and he’s a musician. The topic that keeps coming up over and over again is how the average consumer really has no clue how little writers and musicians make when there’s a middle man (i.e. publisher or record label) involved.
The only stories consumers ever hear is how much famous writers like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling make. Or how much Beyonce or Justin Bieber make. This gives the public a very narrow view of what artists are actually making. Let me just first point out that the folks previously mentioned are in the top 1% of artists. The rest of us are either not making a damn thing, or we really are making our living $1 at a time.
The music industry is a lot like the traditional publishing industry in that the people making the most from an artist isn’t the artist. It’s the corporation backing the publication or production of the book or CD. The actual artists are, most often, making a dollar or less per unit sold.
Let’s just take the average price of a paperback book. Let’s say you paid $9.99 for a paperback book of your favorite author. $9.99 is the RETAIL price. Most retailers like Amazon insist on marking up each unit 55%. Here is how the proceeds of such a book goes:
- $1, but anywhere from 1-2 goes to Printing cost. The bigger the print run, the cheaper it costs. For the sake of this example we’ll say $1 because the big houses negotiate great printing prices.
- $3.44 goes to the retail partner.
- $4.55 goes to the publisher.
- $1.00 goes to the author. If the author has an agent, take $0.10 cents off every unit sold bringing the total down to .90 cents per copy.
Notice who gets the lowest cut. Now let’s pretend that $9.99 applies to a CD (yes, I know CD’s usually go for more). Imagine there are 4 guys in the band. Let’s say that they only make that $0.85 cents per unit because they have a band manager who gets a standard 15% (some get 20%), divided four ways – that means each guy in the band is making about $0.21 cents per album sold. Even if they’re new artists without a manager, they can hope to each make $0.25 cents per album sold. Woot! If the CD was $11.50 – each band member stands to make a quarter per unit sold if they have a band manager.
So let’s see how much you’d have to sell just to make a salary of about $50,000.00 a year, which is what many middle class working folks can hope to make, depending on what they do.
For an agented author, he’d have to sell over 55,000 books make that much in a year. For an unagented author, he’d have to sell around 50,000 books. For an indie author, he could get away with selling 33,500 books, but indies don’t have the marketing resources and exposure that traditionally published authors do, so selling 33,500 books is almost a virtual impossibility for most indie authors.
For a person in a 4 person band who just signed with a record label, the band would need to sell around 240,000 copies of a CD in order to comfortably make $50,000.00
Now you know why musicians and writers are always talking about themselves and their work and why so many musicians say they make more selling merchandise. It’s marketing folks. For those of us who make a living from our art – we really do make our income (not guaranteed mind you) a few cents at a time. This is why so many artists have a day job, even if their band or books seem popular. It takes A LOT to make a living as an artist. If you’re not constantly producing new material, you don’t eat. If you have a day job, which most artists do, it’s not as easy to produce as quickly as consumers want.
I wrote this post because after our conversation about this last night, my husband sent me a link this morning where some musicians were saying “screw Spotify!” In the comments you’ll see consumers whining about how the musicians are the ones being dicks.
No, they’re not being dicks — they’re simply trying to point out how the commercial music publishing industry (which is just like the book publishing industry) is set up where the person(s) actually making the initial product (i.e. CD or book) is the person(s) paid THE LEAST. So consider that next time you run across an artist who is boycotting a merchant, or you purchase a CD or a book and you think it’s priced way too high. Big publishers and record companies make good money. But some of your lesser known (i.e. not your Beyonce or Stephen King’s of the world) favorite authors and musicians probably make little more than you do, or they have a day job just like you.