The Erotica Gold Rush Era

My erotica career began in 2012, at the end of a “gold rush”. I owe it to new authors to help set reasonable expectations on writing income between then and now.

gold body paint

NOT the erotic gold rush I meant

When I first published in late 2012, I caught the tail end of a “gold rush” which had started a few years prior. The past two years has seen the market taper down for just about all the indie erotica authors. We all respond differently – some of us quit, a few quietly drifted away (I did during my divorce drama, then came back), and many of us just asked, “Where did all the sales go?”

I think the question we should’ve asked was, “Why were they so high to begin with?”

Getting into and making money in traditional fiction has never been as easy as the erotica market made it seem, during that gold rush. The gold rush saw plenty of people quit their day jobs cash royalty checks over $10k/mo and write smut full-time. My own first stories were Progenitor and Merlin’s Magic Wang, published in October 2012, and I brought in just short of $500 during December 2012. But after that, the market began a long slow slump from which which it never fully recovered.

Early 2013 saw author boards full of new indies asking, “What’s going on?” and the veterans on the boards saying, “Calm down kids, it’s an annual cycle – Christmas is always huge, and it slowly picks back up.” It turns out that both were right. Sales went down according to the cycle as always, but what they recovered to wasn’t close to the gold rush volumes.

I have noticed from my own statistics and what others have reported, that sales for small indie authors have been down year-over-year for a while. In my own case I’m sure that my hiatus was the biggest factor, but I’ve noticed other issues as well. For one, early 2013 saw Amazon make a lot of serious changes to the way that their recommendation system and search results present erotica authors, all of which seem designed to steer customers away from discovering small indie erotica and into more mainstream, large-indie or published, titles.

An aside: Amazon is still the largest single source of revenue for a lot of indie erotica authors, and when they started doing everything they can to steer people away from small indie erotica and into more mainstream content, it hurt the bottom line considerably. It’s the main reason I preach that everyone needs to list on other sites as well – if Amazon were to just wake up one day and decide to completely purge small indie erotica, they could do it, and your buyers will just sigh and keep spending their money on whatever else is on Amazon. You’ll be one of thousands of small authors scrambling to get your stuff listed and established on the other book sites which will take your erotica – such as All Romance eBooks, Fiction4All, and Smashwords. Authors who’ve already been on those sites for a while will have an edge over you, and you’ll be fighting and clawing against the other newbies for positioning. The best way to avoid that is to diversify now rather than later. Myself, I’m very proud to be able to say now that only 50% of my royalties come from Amazon now.

Back to the gold rush. I think the gold rush happened because people were buying their first Kindles, Nooks, etc and loading them with new content. Now that everyone has a reader – especially if you count the Kindle app on any Android or Apple smartphone – I think these are the main differences between then and now:

  1. Being able to read erotica in the bathroom without printed copies was new, and it brought private smut reading to the masses. Much like VHS brought private porn theaters into everyones’ living rooms in the 80s, eBooks brought erotica into your house without copies for your kids or friends to see and embarrass you.
  2. Netflix-style “All you can read” services such as Scribd and Amazon Kindle Unlimited didn’t exist for mobile devices then.
  3. Much more readily accessible good-quality free erotica exists now. You used to have to transfer PDF’s onto your reader manually and use a separate app to read free content, but now the “Free eBooks” section in Amazon is utterly huge and will sync to all your devices.
  4. The average reader has been burned by badly edited, low quality stories to make them cynical and skeptical.
  5. Amazon changed their algorithms to avoid recommending smaller or niche erotica authors. I have a hunch that this was a response to #4, but it’s really pushed commercially successful erotica into the squishy middle ground of erotic romance and BDSM. Content such as breeding will rarely show up.
  6. Piracy used to be harder to pull off. Once upon a time, pirating eBooks was harder. Now, there are plenty of sites offering pirated eBooks for download, with convenient ways to load them onto your device.

The above trends are pretty much the state of the market now, and I think they’re here to stay. However I think the freefall of sales has ended, and that this is about as hard as the market is likely to be for a while (unless Amazon pulls the plug on indies, as I mentioned). New authors will continue to rise, old authors will continue to sell, and discouraged authors will continue to fade away. Writing erotica is no longer a fast path to make side money – now it’s a long-term hobby that pays out over time, much like traditional writing always was.

My annual-or-so royalties disclosure

Since I release general figures once a year or so for authors who’re thinking about getting into the field, this year I’m releasing something simultaneously more and less detailed. The table below are my royalties for each month since I started, up until Jan 2015 (which is the last month with truly complete data, since some places report sales as much as 3mo behind). I’m also releasing the timelines of when I published different pieces, too – because releases have a big impact on sales.

I’ll also disclose that per the esteemed Larry Correia’s Official Alphabetic List of Author Success, I’m approximately an M-list author now, and was probably around L-list during the gold rush.

I hope that these figures can provide data to people trying to make decisions about writing, and to provide some benchmark data on what small-time author status looks like. If you’re doing better than me I’m happy for you. If you’re doing worse than me, you probably just need to write more (releases build back catalog, which builds sales), or diversify into new sales outlets if you’re exclusive somewhere, or give yourself some publicity by releasing a free short story to a bunch of places (check some of my prior posts about this).

These figures ARE approximate, to around a 5% margin of error.

Month Royalties Titles
2012-10 $18.73 0 + Progenitor (Smashwords, Amazon, ARe)
2012-11 $135.02 1 + Merlin’s Magic Wang
2012-12 $478.49 2 + Cupid’s Armorer + Morgan’s Curse
2013-01 $392.05 4 + Winning the Genetic Lottery
2013-02 $206.90 5 + She Only Wore a Shirt to the Funeral
2013-03 $218.92 6 + Haramiru’s 2012 Breeding Anthology
2013-04 $228.00 7 + Cum In Me If You Want To Live
2013-05 $179.45 8
2013-06 $206.98 8 + She Wore Shorts to the Gas Station
2013-07 $353.85 9 + Progenitor 2
2013-08 $317.87 10 (Divorce started)
2013-09 $226.60 10
2013-10 $209.19 10
2013-11 $207.65 10
2013-12 $174.68 10
2014-01 $226.10 10 + Evil Takes Wang on 12th
2014-02 $137.67 11
2014-03 $139.62 11
2014-04 $119.56 11 (Signed up with Fiction4All, divorce finished)
2014-05 $134.78 11
2014-06 $95.57 11
2014-07 $77.00 11
2014-08 $103.83 11
2014-09 $69.36 11
2014-10 $107.09 11
2014-11 $123.68 11
2014-12 $63.19 11
2015-01 $112.34 11
2015-04 Incomplete 11 + They Needed A Jump on 7th

 

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