We talked about how print publishing is changing, significantly for trad publishers. Yet, print (whether hardcover or paperback) is just one part of the market these days. 

Meantime, in the digital world…

Trad publishers are completely missing entire segments of the market.

Webnovels and Webserials

Webnovels and webserial sites, coming from Asia have blown up. RoyalRoad, Tapas, Radish, Webnovel, etc. all generate enough money and income (whether directly through royalty paid or via Patreon links like RR) that some authors make over $20k a month! I’ve heard some estimates of Shirt’s earnings at over $50k a month. Look at the listing and you can see some eye-watering amounts from some of those authors.

Let’s read that over again and realise that the amounts from Patreon are nearly 95% profit, all going direct to the author. No publisher, no agent, nothing in-between to take profits (other than Patreon). Not even Amazon.

Comic and Comic adaptations

At the same time, comic and comic adaptations are massive in Asia and are just becoming a major playing field over here. There’s companies scouting out new stories from Wattpad, RR and even traditional authors, looking to adapt known hits into comics and offering decent advances.

Expect to hear a lot more about comic and comic adaptations in the near future as some of the Chinese players come in, along with companies like Tapas and Webtoons getting more aggressive.

Visual Novels, Choose your story games and other licenses

Then you’ve got visual novels and choose your story games, which are often just minor adaptations on actual stories (or can be significantly more complex than a linear story!). 

The big thing here is how cheap creating something like a visual novel has become. Talking to a developer recently, he was discussing how he could get a new work done (excluding artwork) for a visual novel in the $200-500 range. Add in artwork that ranges from $200-500 per visual medium, and you could probably create a full visual novel in the $2-10k range and not have it look ‘bad’.

Exciting in a way, especially when you consider additional changes in driving cost down.


I don’t even think I need to discuss how much of a change audiobooks are, yet, some people don’t seem to know about it. Mostly those not in LitRPG/Prog Fantasy land. 

In general, for self-publishers; audiobooks can make up to 50% of an author’s income. 50%! And we’re talking full-time authors, many of them considered quite successful.

The other thing that’s been happening, which is a reversion is more demand for audiobooks to become duel narrated or full cast. It’s driving cost back up, but with audiobook revenues increasing, it’s certainly something people are looking at more and more.

I’d expect there to be some form of integration between podcast and audiobooks soon enough too, though how that’s going to play out; who knows. You could say it’s already happening, with podcast focused on short stories highly prevalent; but I don’t know of many doing full novels. 

Correct me if I’m wrong or point them out to me!

Subscription Reading and Micro-Charges

In direct opposite of one another, we also have subscription reading services like Kindle Unlimited and micro-charging readers like serial books. One targets whale readers who want the most ‘bang’ for their buck. 

If you think KU is a flash in the pan, realise that it is distributed $45 million in July to everyone. That’s over half a billion in a year. The ebook market by itself in 2020 was supposedly around $18.3 billion. That makes KU (by itself, in terms of revenue) roughly 3% of the marketplace.

On the other hand, I doubt that statistic even bothers to include the webserial marketplace in Korea, China and now, Asia. Places like Webnovel and Tapas and the like do microcharges on novels, banking on small mini payments that will, eventually, end up earning an author more per reader than selling the book whole.

I’d also say that monthly Patreon charges can be similar, with some Patreon subscribptions over the cost of the actual book when it releases. In this case, the goal isn’t the whale reader but the whale customer

Highly successful authors like Shirtaloon and Pirateaba have even managed to tap into both markets, building up years of backlog before releasing their work to KU readers. These new whale readers might even become whale customers.

Of course, to make the most out of whale customers; the story formats change with more mini-arcs, more cliffhangers and a deeper level of detail than some readers might like.

However, for whale readers, who have trained to skip boring chapters or skim through works to read ‘fast’, such extraneous detail might not matter. Either way, I can see this market fracturing further; as web serial writers tap into this marketplace significantly.

Kickstarter / Crowd Funding

We’ve all heard about Brandon Sanderson’s massive Kickstarter. The way traditional publishers have run around, worried that it will draw even more trad authors away. And the way many trad authors (rightly) have noted that Sanderson is a somewhat unique case. Among other things – he had run one other successful Kickstarter before to figure out what he’ was doing.

More importantly, I think, is the way he has shown that there is an option, a way for traditionally published authors to tap into their own fanbases, earn the same amount – or more! – than what they would have from a trad contract.

And it won’t take long, I’m sure, for companies to show up that are willing to take all the work off running and fulfilling such a campaing off an author’s hands. Just for a cut, of course, but significantly less than what an author would give a traditioanl publisher.

After all, that’s what happened with board game publishing. 

Push to Direct

On the other end, you also see people like myself and a few other authors, fed-up with giving Audible/ACX/etc. 60% of our income moving towards selling direct. I expect that there’ll be more and more of this happening, with some of us more focused on it than others.

The tricky part, of course, is that many of us are deeply reliant on Amazon and other such locations for our income, so splitting away requires a multi-step procedure. Or just jumping in, hoping that you can make it back.

Multiple Steps

In the end, what seems to be happening digitally is an ever increasing array of methods to dip into a pie. 

An author could start by writing on a serial platform, monetize the work there and/or on Patreon, then proceed when he’s got a full work (or works) ready to Kickstarter, monetize it that way, and then release the work on his own shop and then Amazon before returning to Kickstarter for additional formats or licenses.

Or they could shift any of these around. 

In this way, even a beginning author with a small audience might be able to achieve breakeven on the book production cost quickly, allowing them to build out their backlist.

And talking of cost… well, there’s another massive change that might drive cost down further. We’ll talk about that next week…

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