Smashwords

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.

“Smashwords Edition”

26 September 2014

From Smashwords:

Over the last few years, a small but vocal minority of authors and publishers objected to placing phrases such as “Smashwords Edition,” “Distributed by Smashwords,” or “Published by [Author or Publisher Name] at Smashwords” in their front matter.

For authors who wrote us and objected, we allowed their books to be distributed because we’ve always considered this more of a recommendation than a firm requirement.

However, AutoVetter (our automated format-checking technology) continued to flag for it, and this would slow down distribution and cause author frustration. We’re here to put smiles on our authors’ faces, not frowns so we decided to change things a bit.

A few weeks back we modified AutoVetter to stop flagging for it so these books could pass through our Premium Catalog approval process faster with less friction.  Today we updated the Style Guide to clarify that it’s recommended but not required to include one of the above text strings.

Since we’ve always considered this as strongly recommended but not required, we wanted to clarify its optionality rather than allow it to remain a source of divisiveness among those who prefer not to include such phrases.

Why do we recommend the inclusion of one of the above text strings?  A couple reasons:

1.  It helps retailers and authors know who created and distributed the file, which helps Smashwords be the single throat to choke if a customer ever reports a problem with a file.  I’ve lost track of the number of times and the many many hours wasted by our support and engineering teams over the last few years as we tried to help customers determine why their ebook file wasn’t working only to discover that the faulty file wasn’t a Smashwords file.

2.  A book doesn’t get distributed by Smashwords unless it meets the requirements of the Smashwords Style Guide.  Although we can’t vouch for the quality of writing, we can vouch for the quality of the formatting.  We don’t distribute a book unless the formatting is high-quality.  Our formatting requirements are stricter than many retailers and distributors, and as a result we think the average Smashwords-delivered book offers the reader better formatting quality than the average other book.

Link to the rest at Smashwords and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Leaving Smashwords!

24 July 2014

From author and TPV regular M. C. A. Hogarth:

The bad news: in one month I’ll be shutting down my Smashwords account. If you’ve bought something from me there, now’s the time to make a back-up!

The good news: If you have wanted to buy my work from Kobo or the Apple store, my work is shipping there in big clumps. I think most of my work’s already made it to Kobo, in fact.

But Jaguar, Why? Several of you have asked this question. The answer, in brief: I hate the Smashwords interface. I hate that they are fussy about uploaded documents and have mysterious/inexplicable delays shipping my work to retailers. I hate their quarterly payment schedule. I despise their customer service. Or lack of thereof. And I dislike that they have this quasi-retailer face (more about that later).

Some people have had good experiences with Smashwords. My experience with them, from the moment I started using them, has been a struggle. I have never thought ‘oh, right, I’ll just get this to Smashwords, no problem.’ It’s always ‘Oh, LORD, not the Smashwords part of this process. Why can’t it be as easy as NookPress or the Kindle dashboard??’

. . . .

Some people have asked why I want to leave at all? Can’t I just keep the account open and stop uploading things there? And the answer to that is ‘sure, I could,’ but it creates far too much accounting overhead. As long as I have a Smashwords account, I need to continue keeping tabs on whether they’re paying me on time, whether I’ve gotten a W-4, what’s there that’s not somewhere else, etc. Not to mention baseline computer stuff like ‘has anyone hacked my password,’ ‘has Smashwords changed their terms of service,’ etc. They also have this habit of automatically opting you into new distribution channels, so I’d have to keep track of that.

Finally, I like to update/tidy up my older books as I have the time. Keeping them on Smashwords gives me one more place I have to upload to. I just don’t have the time anymore. I probably never did, I was just better at ignoring my overtaxed schedule’s cries for mercy.

Link to the rest at M. C. A. Hogarth and thanks to Liana for the tip.

Here’s a link to M.C.A. Hogarth’s books

PG has to admit that he long ago gave up on Smashwords because of many of the reasons mentioned. Policy questions like quarterly payments can be a judgement call, but the thing he disliked the most was the crude author interface and the Meatgrinder. It just never seemed very technically sophisticated to him.

It’s really tough to compete against Amazon, but priority one should be to come close to Amazon’s sophistication on the screen.

Smashwords CEO on Why He as an Indie Author Supports Hachette Against Amazon

10 July 2014

From Digital Book World:

Mark Coker, the CEO of self-publishing distribution business Smashwords and an indie author himself, is rooting for Hachette in its current business dispute with Amazon.

Unlike many indie authors, Coker is rooting for Hachette to prevail against Amazon because he believes that a Hachette loss now would make it harder for big publishers to eventually switch to the old “agency” model of selling ebooks (where the publisher sets the price and takes 70% of the proceeds) and that the agency model is good for indie authors.

. . . .

Coker believes that the agency model:

1. Has allowed indie authors to price ebooks lower to consumers, creating a favorable price comparison with traditionally published ebooks, while still earning a large royalty.

. . . .

3. Benefits authors (giving them more sales channels to pursue), publishers (same as authors) and readers (who get more choice when it comes to how and where they purchase ebooks).

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Loretta for the tip.

2014 Smashwords Survey Reveals New Opportunties for Indie Authors

7 July 2014

From The Smashwords Blog:

[W]e examined aggregated retail and library sales data of Smashwords books and then crunched the numbers based on various quantifiable characteristics of the book. 

For this year’s survey, we examined over $25 million in customer purchases  aggregated across Smashwords retailers including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, the Smashwords.com store, Sony (now closed), Diesel (closed), Oyster, Scribd, Kobo, public libraries and others.

. . . .

The goal of the survey is to identify Viral Catalysts. 

. . . .

The underlying premise of my Viral Catalyst concept is that Viral Catalysts help drive reader word of mouth because they increase reader satisfaction.  Although every author would love to learn the single secret fast track magic bullet to bestsellerdom, there is no such single secret.  Ebook bestsellers become bestsellers based on multiple Viral Catalyst factors starting with book quality but also influenced by cover design, breath of distribution, pricing, marketing, luck and myriad other factors.  In the Smashwords Survey, we seek to identify potential Viral Catalysts that are quantifiable and therefore measurable.  

. . . .

The ebook sales power curve is extremely steep – This isn’t a surprise, but for the first time we share some numbers along the curve (see the slides in the Series section).  A few titles sell fabulously well and most sell poorly.  An incremental increase is sales rank is usually matched by an exponential increase is sales.  Despite the steep sales curve, a lot of Smashwords authors are earning good income from their books.  Your opportunity as a Smashwords author or publisher is to do those things that give you an incremental advantage so you can climb in sales rank.

Readers prefer longer ebooks – We observed this in the prior surveys.  Longer books sell better, and when you view the data through the prism of the power curve, it becomes clear why longer books give authors such a huge sales advantage.
Pricing – The highest earning indie authors are utilizing lower average prices than the authors who earn less, but this doesn’t mean that ultra-low prices such as $.99 are the path to riches.  $2.99 and $3.99 are the sweet spots for most of the bestsellers.

. . . .

Series yield sales advantage – For the first time, we examine the performance of series books.  This new analysis is enabled by the fact that in September we launched Smashwords Series Manager which allows us to capture enhanced metadata on series.  The results are interesting!  Series books outsell standalone books.  

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

Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors

27 May 2014

From the Smashwords Blog:

Amazon and Hachette Book Group are locked in an epic battle over the future of ebook publishing.

The outcome of this dispute will have permanent ramifications for publishers and indie authors alike.

On one side you have Hachette, the fourth largest trade book publisher. Hachette earns over 1/3 of its US sales from ebooks. Hachette wants agency terms for its books. Hachette wants to control the list price of its books and earn 70% list from each sale. Smashwords announced agency terms with our retail partners in 2010.

On the other side is Amazon, a fierce opponent to agency pricing. Amazon wants the ability to discount books, and to enable greater discounting Amazon wants a larger percentage of the publisher’s pie. A story out Friday by Jeffrey Trachtenburg of the Wall Street Journal confirms Amazon is seeking to reduce the percentage paid to publishers. Amazon is seeking to weaken or abolish the agency model.

. . . .

In an attempt to force Hachette to capitulate, Amazon is employing a shock and awe campaign of scorched earth retribution against Hachette. According to multiple press reports, Amazon has increased Hachette’s book prices to its customers then turned its automated merchandising algorithms into attack dogs that encourage customers to consider “similar items at a lower price”; Amazon is telling customers Hachette print books are out of stock; and is denying Hachette the ability to list preorders. For a company that prides itself in customer service, these are all customer-unfriendly moves. These actions also punish Hachette authors, who through no fault of their own will suffer reduced sales at Amazon.

For the last four years, indie ebook authors have endured similar iron-fisted policy enforcement and lost earnings with Amazon’s KDP price-matching, even when Amazon knew the out-of-sync ebook prices were not the author’s intention or fault. Amazon plays business like war. Overwhelming force pushes weak hands to surrender and comply.

. . . .

Amazon is playing a game of divide and conquer. Amazon knows if they weaken or cancel their agency agreement with Hachette that the other publishers will have less leverage to hold the line on agency. And whatever concessions Amazon gets, other retailers will want the same, further undermining the ability of publishers to control their prices or maintain their profits.

. . . .

In 2014, publishers are more disposable to Amazon than they once were, thanks in part to the rise of indie authorship, and thanks also to better business diversification. Amazon’s business is no longer as dependent upon books as it once was. They sell everything under the sun, from diapers to shoes to cloud services to groceries to media devices.

Books represent only one of hundreds of layers of icing on the cake of Amazon. Amazon can lose money on books while still operating a profitable business.

Pure-play book retailers – Kobo and Barnes & Noble for example, must earn money from book sales. Unlike Amazon, they don’t have the financial resources to sell books at a loss forever. Publishers must also earn money from book sales, otherwise they can’t keep the lights on.

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

OverDrive and Smashwords Ink Deal to Distribute Indie Author Ebooks to Libraries

21 May 2014

From a Smashwords press release via Digital Book World:

Smashwords and OverDrive in Worldwide eBook Distribution Agreement

200,000 eBooks from 80,000 indie authors and small independent presses
to be available through OverDrive’s global library network

OverDrive, the world’s largest library eBook platform, and Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-published eBooks, today announced that 200,000 self-published titles will be available for public libraries in OverDrive’s global network.

. . . .

To streamline collection development, OverDrive and Smashwords are creating curated lists of Smashwords bestsellers and popular genres. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the complete catalog of the top 100, 500 or 1,000 bestselling Smashwords authors. Smashwords will also produce curated buy-lists by genre, such
as the top 1,000 bestselling Smashwords romance titles, or the top 1,000 bestselling mysteries and thrillers.

Under this agreement, readers may borrow each eBook an unlimited number of times on a one copy/one user model on a perpetual basis. Alternately, patrons can purchase the eBook from the library website and support their local libraries through OverDrive’s “Buy It Now” feature.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Caro and others for the tip.

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