Smashwords

Smashwords and Flipkart to End Distribution Relationship – Amazon Scores Victory

26 August 2015

From Smashwords:

Smashwords and Flipkart are ending their distribution agreement first announced in August, 2013.

The unfortunate news effectively hands the market for indie ebooks in India to Amazon.

A few weeks ago, I notified Flipkart that Smashwords was placing its distribution agreement with Flipkart under review.

I provided Flipkart a deadline by which Flipkart was asked to repair certain problems related to the listing and removal of Smashwords titles, and to provide Smashwords an acceptable plan to prevent such issues from recurring in the future.

I informed Flipkart that if these requirements were not met that Smashwords would request the immediate removal of all Smashwords titles.  The deadline was missed and an acceptable plan was not presented.

This morning Smashwords received word from Flipkart that after careful consideration, Flipkart determined their systems are not yet capable of supporting the dynamic nature of the Smashwords catalog.  As a result they will begin winding down the relationship with Smashwords and remove our titles.

. . . .

Our primary concern was Flipkart’s delays associated with the removal of Smashwords titles that had been unpublished. Most of these titles were removed because the Smashwords author or publisher made the decision to enroll their book in KDP Select, an ebook self publishing option offered by Amazon that requires authors to make their books exclusive to Amazon.

Once authors enroll a title in KDP Select, Amazon requires the author to immediately remove the book from all competing retailers otherwise the book is removed from the KDP Select program and the author is warned that repeated offenses could lead to the termination of their entire KDP account.

As you might imagine, these fire-and-brimstone emails from Amazon are unnerving to authors.

. . . .

Many indies don’t understand the long term implications of KDP Select.  The million or so books enrolled in KDP Select are almost entirely provided by the indie author community. Amazon coerces authors to enroll their books my making KDP Select books more discoverable and more desireable to Kindle customers, while making non-exclusive books less visible and less desirable.   The message is quite simple:  If you want to sell more books at the world’s largest ebook retailer, you must be exclusive.

I don’t blame indies for their difficult decision.  I met with one indie author a few weeks ago at a conference who told me words to the effect of, “I hate the exclusivity of KDP Select, yet I’m in it because I have a mortgage to pay.  Books in KDP Select sell better than non-exclusive books.

. . . .

I believe KDP Select is toxic to the future of indie publishing because it forces authors to abandon competing retailers and become more dependent upon Amazon.  When competing retailers lose access to this important inventory of indie titles, they can’t compete.

Amazon wields its dominant market share like a club to bludgeon authors who don’t fall into compliance with Amazon’s exclusivity or pricing requirements, even when the lack of compliance is not the author’s fault.  No other ebook retailer practices such draconian punishment of authors.

. . . .

To be clear, the termination of our agreement with Flipkart is not Amazon’s fault.  However, Amazon was a catalyst because the harm they’re causing our shared authors made it impossible for us to give Flipkart the runway they needed to improve their systems.

Although Flipkart is a small ebook retailer and the financial impact on Smashwords authors will be negligible, I’m more concerned by what this signals for the future of ebook retailing around the world.

Link to the rest at Smashwords

How to Publish Ebooks – an Ebook Publishing Intensive by Mark Coker

26 July 2015

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Thanks to Chris for the tip.

Is the subscription model in trouble? Scribd dumps romance titles

30 June 2015

From author Bob Mayer:

Got this just now from Draft2Digital through which we have titles in Scribd:

As we all know, the concept of a subscription service for books is extremely new. There are several models on the market now for effectively monetizing subscriptions, and none of them exactly matches what we’re used to from traditional sales royalties. As the market experiments with different approaches, there are bound to be some missteps and false starts along the way. In fact, we should expect this business model to evolve even more in the near future.

Scribd took a significant risk putting in place a model that paid authors the same amount as a retail model for each book read by a subscriber. As we all know, romance readers tend to be incredibly avid readers. In trying to cater to this voracious readership while under this progressive payment model, Scribd has put itself in a difficult place. In a bid to better balance these operating expenses, Scribd is immediately slashing the volume of romance novels in its subscription service.

If you are receiving this email, then you are a Draft2Digital author who has published books in the romance genre to Scribd. This means that some or all of your romance novels are likely going to be delisted from their service today. (Books that are priced at free will not be removed.)

While a large number of romance novels will be removed from Scribd, it isn’t all of them. We aren’t privy to the exact guidelines Scribd is using to decide which romance novels will remain, and it’s our understanding that they remain in flux at Scribd. However, over the coming days, we will be working closely with Scribd to resolve the exact criteria and share them with you so that you’ll have the opportunity to restore all of your titles to the service.

Please Note: If you write in other genres, understand that those books will not be affected by this policy change.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and assure you that we are working with Scribd to explore alternative solutions to this challenging problem, always searching for new terms that could restore our full catalog to their service.

Believe me, this situation is just as difficult for Draft2Digital as it is for you. We also stand to lose a significant portion of our revenue due to this change. More importantly, we regret that we couldn’t give our authors more notice, but unfortunately we were informed quite late in Scribd’s decision-making process. It has been our highest priority throughout these discussions to preserve as many of your books in the service as possible, and we will continue to pursue that goal going forward.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

So. Make of it what you will. But to me it means a lot of steps in the wrong direction for subscription services. It means that if a certain genre gets too many borrows for the subscription price, yet the service has to pay authors, the system is breaking down. Something has to give. De-list titles. Already happening. Pay authors less? On the horizon.

Link to the rest at Write on the River and thanks to Jaye, Deren, Julia and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books

PG says this is certainly upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to what happens to authors when their publisher goes bankrupt and both their royalties and their rights drop into a black hole.

Here are some thoughts from Mark Coker:

Scribd, the fast-growing ebook subscription service, today announced dramatic cuts to their catalog of romance and erotica titles.

Effective immediately, I estimate 80-90 percent of Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles. Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog.

Based on what I’ve been able to glean, the lower the price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain. Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain. Scribd is not publicly revealing the formulas for what stays and what goes, probably because much of this is still in flux. They’re cutting all publishers and distributors with the same blunt knife.

It’s ugly. The problem for Scribd is that romance readers are heavy readers, and Scribd pays publishers retailer-level margins for the books.

. . . .

Bottom line, romance readers – readers we love dearly at Smashwords – are reading Scribd out of house and home. Scribd’s business model, as it’s set up now, simply can’t sustain the high readership of romance readers. They’re not facing the same problem with readers of other genres.

. . . .

While I understand Scribd’s need to stem the bloodletting, and I support their decision for this reason, I don’t think they found the right solution yet. I think a better solution – one which would strike the right balance between the needs of readers, authors, publishers and Scribd – is to introduce tiered subscription options that would allow moderate readers to enjoy the Scribd service at the $8.99 level, but then offer heavier readers another subscription tier – possibly priced at $14.99 or $19.99 or whatever – that wouldn’t break the bank to the detriment of all authors.

Link to the rest at Smashwords 

London Book Fair 2015: Self-Publishing Smashes Through

16 April 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Once again, events tailored to independent and self-published authors at the London Book Fair’s Author HQ were jam-packed, and among the London Book Fair’s most popular offerings. PW checks in with a leading indie service provider, Smashwords founder Mark Coker, about the state of self-publishing in 2015, and what the future holds.

So, to start, give us a sense of where you see the self-publishing market in 2015, and what you see going forward?

When I started Smashwords back in 2008, there was a tremendous stigma associated with self publishing. Self -published authors were seen as failed authors, and in a sense this was true because it was a print-centric world back then, and without the help of a publisher authors couldn’t get distribution into bookstores. But thanks to the rise of e-books, authors now have the chance to be judged by readers.

In 2015, self published authors are learning to think and act like professional publishers. They’re embracing best practices, and learning to use professional tools of the trade such as pre-orders, professional cover design and they’re hiring professional editors. And readers have responded positively. But, for self-published authors, for all authors, in fact, the easy days are over. There’s now a glut of high-quality low-cost e-books out there, and that glut will only increase as more authors up their game, and as more authors self-publish.

How do you see the impact of self-publishing being felt in the traditional publishing industry?

I think traditional publishing still doesn’t fully grok the impact self-publishing is going to have on their businesses. Self-publishing isn’t for every writer. Many writers would much rather outsource the publishing process to a publisher so they can focus on writing. But I think many authors are unsatisfied with things like publishers paying 25% net on e-books, and many are questioning the value-add of publishers.

The other week I interviewed a romance author, Jamie McGuire, who started out at Smashwords and Amazon in 2011, hit the New York Times bestseller list with Beautiful Disaster, and then sold her rights to Atria in a two-book deal. She loved her experience at Atria. She said they felt like family. But a year ago she decided to return to self publishing, because she couldn’t justify surrendering her e-book rights forever to a publisher. When authors who love publishers leave publishers, it’s a problem.

I think traditional publishing and self-publishing are complementary. Each can make the other stronger. But most traditional publishers still practice a culture of no, rejecting most of what comes in the door, and they still view this rejection as a core value-add. I think publishers can no longer take their power for granted, and need to recognize they are service providers to authors. And to better serve their clients, publishers will need develop a broader spectrum of services so they can say yes to more authors.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Does Agency Pricing Hurt Reading Consumers?

10 April 2015

From GoodEreader:

Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and a long-time supporter of the agency model, spoke to Good e-Reader about why this model is good for authors and publishers–the two stakeholders who must secure a profit in order to continue providing books–and good for smaller retailers who otherwise couldn’t compete with a corporate behemoth in terms of pricing. More importantly, Coke addressed one often overlooked concern:does the agency pricing model hurt consumers?

. . . .

“If an author or publisher is trying to screw them over with a price that is just outrageous, readers can say no. And publishers will hear that. Authors will hear that. Readers can put pressure on authors…if a reader feels like an author’s book is priced too high by the publisher, you can bet that all they have to do is tweet at that author about the book being priced too high, and the publisher’s going to be hearing that customers are angry. The marketplace has a lot of power. If readers can accept that it’s important that authors and publishers profit from the sale of a book since it’s their profit that allows them to continue this great service of providing books, then everyone can be happy. If readers think everything should be free, that’s obviously an attitude that is not sustainable.”

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

PG says price competition is a fundamental fact of life for most consumer products in most of the prosperous nations of the world.

The argument that books are special and shouldn’t be exposed to the horribleness of price competition is designed to protect traditional publishers and physical bookstores. PG doesn’t see that authors as a group have received great benefits from publisher-enforced pricing for books.

And why would anyone believe that Big Publishing knows enough to set the optimum prices for books? The last retail store owned by a publisher closed decades ago. Tradpub’s lame direct sales attempts are a joke.

For all of its attractions, New York is a fiendishly expensive place to live and the concentration of publishing headquarters in that metro area means publishing executives have no experience with how the rest of the country responds to pricing.

OTOH, from the viewpoint of indie authors, PG says choosing legacy publishing prices on the forty-first floor will mean more readers buy indie books and indie authors make more money.

 

New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors

1 April 2015

From the Smashwords Blog:

The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.

It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .

In this post, I’ll explain how Kindle Author works and I’ll share never-before-seen screenshots of the service.  I’ll explain the science that made this breakthrough possible, and then I’ll wrap by discussing what this means for Smashwords authors and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Kindle Author is a new option for purchasing ebooks in the Kindle store.  It’s receiving heavy promotion on the Amazon home page, which tells me Amazon is making the service a strategic priority for their business.

. . . .

Amazon’s overt move to redirect customers from human-authored books to machine-generated books is unprecedented, but it’s not a huge surprise considering how other Amazon-exclusive books already receive preferential merchandising in their store.

. . . .

Once the customer clicks to Kindle Author, they’re presented with a simple point and click interface of pull-down menus and radio buttons.  It’s quite easy to use.  It’s even fun.  It’s like color by numbers, but with words.

Customers select story characteristics from among thousands of different options.  As you can see in my screen shots at left and below, some of the radio button options are a bit quirky, but this is probably deliberate because it makes for better fiction.

A reader can tell Kindle Author, for example, they want to read a medieval epic fantasy of two million words that involves kings, queens, princesses, swordplay, intrigue, castles, a sexy young mother of dragons, and a stainless steel throne made out of spoons and forks.

Look out, George R.R. Martin.  Game of Thrones has met its match.

Kindle Author gives readers the option of having the book written in the style of their favorite authors. That’s right, if you want your paranormal romance written in the style of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac or Jane Austin, it’s yours with the the click of a button.

You can even choose to have public domain books rewritten in the style of other authors, or in a style that blends multiple authors.

Link to the rest at Smashwords Blog and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Ebooks in 2015: Dull new world

2 January 2015

From GigaOm:

Ebooks are feeling a bit hungover heading into the new year. The 50 Shades of Grey exuberance of 2011 and 2012 feels long ago. The first seemingly viable ebook subscription services launched at the end of 2013 (Scribd, Oyster) and Amazon launched its own ebook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, mid-2014.

The main difference between Kindle Unlimited and Scribd and Oyster — all of which cost around $10 a month — is that Kindle Unlimited has way fewer books that people have heard of. That’s because Scribd and Oyster have been able to attract big-5 publishers (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, likely soon Macmillan) that hope to shake Amazon’s dominance in the ebook market, so they see no reason to make their books available on Kindle Unlimited.

. . . .

Smashwords lets its authors distribute their books to Scribd and Oyster. Coker mentions Kindle Unlimited, too:

“Our broad distribution network helped authors and publishers diversify their exposure to an industry-wide slowdown in ebook retailing…Authors who fully distributed their titles with Smashwords were partially insulated from the dramatic sales drops many Amazon authors reported following the introduction of Kindle Unlimited.”

Coker obviously doesn’t mention the word “glut,” though it certainly could be a caption for the chart above. In 2015 we’ll have to see whether “glut” largely continues to be seen as a Kindle Unlimited problem. But if more people aren’t buying and reading more books, it will be a problem for most authors and for all ebook subscription services.

Link to the rest at GigaOm

2015 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Slow Growth Presents Challenges and Opportunities

2 January 2015

From Mark Coker:

Before I speculate about what 2015 holds for authors and publishers, let’s reflect for a moment about how self publishing has transformed the book publishing landscape.

Thanks to ebook self publishing, every writer in the world has democratized access to the tools and knowledge of professional publishing.  It’s now possible for writers to make their books instantly accessible, discoverable and affordable to billions of readers around the world.

Most exciting of all, we’re still in the early days of the ebook self publishing revolution.  I’m confident that decades from now, ebook self publishing will be viewed by historians as no less transformative than the advent of the Gutenberg printing press.

. . . .

1.  More authors will aspire to publish indie – In 2008 when I founded Smashwords, nearly all writers aspired to traditionally publish.  Self-publishing was viewed as the option of last resort – the option for failed writers.  Today the former stigma of self publishing is evaporating.  Indie authorship has become a global cultural movement, as I described when I published the Indie Author Manifesto earlier this year. The indie author movement will grow stronger in 2015.  Traditionally published authors will continue to transition to indie, led by midlist authors.  We’ll also see more hybrid authors reorient their publishing strategy back in the direction of indieville.

2.  Indie authors will capture more ebook market share – The percentage of reader dollars going to indie ebooks will increase.  The growth will be fueled by a continued increase in the number of indie-published ebooks, and by more indie authors adopting best practices to publish with greater pride and professionalism.

. . . .

5.  Indie authors face increased competition from traditional publishers – For the first years of the ebook revolution, large publishers all but ceded the $4.99 and lower ebook market to indie authors.  Publishers tried to maintain higher prices, and indies – empowered with the ability to earn royalty rates of 60-80% list price –  offered budget-conscious consumers high-quality books at low prices.  The low prices, including the ultralow prices of FREE and .99, made it easier for readers to take a chance on unknown writers.

In the last year, large publishers, borrowing a page from the indie author playbook, have stepped up their price-cutting in the form of temporary promotions on titles from big-name authors.  In 2015 we’ll see the temporary promotions from large publishers that were so common in 2014 give way to permanent lower prices on backlist titles from big names, and faster, more aggressive discounting on recently released titles.

Link to the rest at The Smashwords blog and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Is Kindle Unlimited Devaluing Books?

23 December 2014

From Mark Coker:

Budget-minded power-readers at Amazon now have 700,000 fewer reasons to purchase indie ebooks thanks to Kindle Unlimited. Oh, and authors earn less too.

Back in July, Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited, an ebook subscription service where for $9.99 a month, customers gain access to a catalog of over 700,000 ebooks. Nearly all of these titles are supplied by indie authors who participate in KDP Select, Amazon’s ebook self-publishing option that requires exclusivity.

I first wrote about Kindle Unlimited here in July. Although I’m a fan of ebook subscription services (see my two-part series analyzing the subscription business model), I concluded Kindle Unlimited was a bad deal for authors because it required exclusivity and gave Amazon free reign to control author compensation.

Five months in, let’s take a fresh look at how Kindle Unlimited’s unique business model is affecting authors.

For the month of November, Amazon paid $1.39 for each qualifying read. This is half of what an indie author earns when a $3.99 ebook is purchased at Amazon, or when the same book is read at KU’s ebook subscription competitors, Oyster and Scribd.

. . . .

Many indies have announced they’re abandoning KDP Select after suffering massive sales drops since July.

Authors are in a difficult spot at Amazon. A few KU authors have publicly reported increased sales and readership, but that appears to be the exception rather than the norm. For most KU participants, it’s unclear if the promised benefits outweigh the harm of excluding the millions of readers at other retailers. No other retailer makes authors play Russian Roulette with their books and careers like this.

KU authors have no control over their per-copy earnings because KU pays the same for a 99 cent book as a $9.99 book. Amazon determines the value of each read, and determines how this value is shared among participating authors.

Link to the rest at Smashwords and thanks to Scath for the tip.

Ebook Publishing Gets More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed

20 November 2014

From Mark Coker via The Smashwords Blog:

First the good news.

For indie authors, there’s never been a better time to self-publish an ebook.  Thanks to an ever-growing global market for your ebooks, your books are couple clicks away from over one billion potential readers on smart phones, tablets and e-readers.

. . . .

Now the bad news. 

Everything gets more difficult from here. You face an uphill battle. With a couple exceptions – namely Scribd and Oyster – most major ebook retailers have suffered anemic or declining sales over the last 12-18 months.

The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over.  Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it.  In recent weeks, for example, I’ve heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since July Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited (I might write about Kindle Unlimited in a future blog post).  Some authors are considering quitting.  It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either.  When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on.  Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.

The writer’s life is not an easy one, especially when you’re measuring your success in dollars.  If you’re relying on your earnings to put food on your family’s table, a career as an indie author feels all the more precarious.

. . . .

1.  There’s a glut of high-quality ebooks

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing by self-publishing naysayers who criticize the indie ebook movement for causing the release of a “tsunami of drek” (actually, they use a more profane word than “drek”) that makes it difficult for readers to find the good books.  Yes, indie publishing is enabling a tsunami of poor-quality books, but critics who fixate on drek are blinded to the bigger picture. Drek quickly becomes invisible because readers ignore or reject it.  The other, more important side of this story is that self-publishing is unleashing a tsunami of high-quality works.  When you view drek in the broader context, you realize that drek is irrelevant.  In fact, drek is yin to quality’s yang.  You must have one to have the other.  Self-publishing platforms like Smashwords have transferred editorial curation from publishers to readers, and in the process has unleashed a greater quantity and diversity of high-quality content then ever possible before.

The biggest threat to every indie or traditionally-published author is the glut of high-quality low-cost works.  The quality and potency of your competition has increased dramatically thanks to self-publishing, and the competition will grow stiffer from this day forward.

Ten years ago, publishers artificially constrained book supply by publishing a limited number of new titles each year, and by agents and publishers rejecting nearly everything that came in through the slush pile. There was an artificial scarcity of books.  The supply was further constrained by the inability of physical brick and mortar bookstores to stock every title.  Even big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders could only stock a small fraction of the titles published by publishers each year, and as such they were forced to return slow-selling books to make room for new releases.

. . . .

3. The rate of transition from print books to ebooks is slowing

The early adopters for ebooks have adopted.  The exponential growth in ebook sales over the last six years was driven by a number of factors, most notably a rapid transition from print reading to ebook reading, and the success of ebook retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.  Today, ebooks probably account for between 30 to 35% of dollar sales for the US book market, with genre ebook fiction a bit higher and romance quite a bit higher.  Since ebooks are priced lower than print, the 30-35% statistic understates the amount of reading that has moved to screens.  Most likely (especially when you include free ebooks), screen reading in the ebook format probably accounts for around half or more of all book words read.  But the rate of transition from print to ebooks is slowing.  We’ve reached at state that might best be described as a temporary equilibrium.  I think reading will continue to transition to screens, but at a much slower rate of transition than during the last six years.  The slower rate of growth will therefore limit the number of new eyeballs available for the ever-growing supply of ebooks.

Link to the rest at The Smashwords Blog and thanks to Scath for the tip.

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