Smashwords is the US indie author site run by Mark Coker. Mark started off as a frustrated author - like me he got squeakingly close to an established book deal back in the day, see his slideshow for the full story.
I confess I strayed to Amazon KDP Select, where you can put your book up for free for 5 days in every 3 months and gain a boost in both book profile and ego as your book soars up all sorts of free 'charts' and enjoys a sales rush at the end. Some authors have broken through to big sales that way but KDP Select demands EXCLUSIVITY. You can't sell your books anywhere else during the 3 month select period. Which, as the ebook platforms expand worldwide, is looking less and less attractive.
With direct epub uploads coming soon, Smashwords is the way forward for me, with direct publishing to other sites as I fancy, such as Kobo Writing Life, and some very selective use of KDP Select as a short-term promotion tool. Below is Mark's latest newsletter. Impressive or what?
Smashwords Author/Publisher Alert - November 2, 2012
1. Apple iBookstore expands to 50 countries; B&N enters U.K. market
2. View the slides for my 5-hour ebook workshop
3. What's new at Smashwords, plus a look ahead
4. Q3 earnings are out
5. R.L. Mathewson today hit #1 in the US, Australia, U.K. and Canada iBookstores
6. Following the eyeballs - Why indie authors are the future of publishing
7. Preparing for a record Christmas holiday
8. Will there be a December surprise from Amazon?
9. Helpful resources
1. APPLE IBOOKSTORE EXPANDS TO 50 COUNTRIES (The list below!)
BARNES & NOBLE ENTERS U.K. MARKET
Although many authors focus on the U.S. as the largest ebook market, it's time to broaden the horizons. The real action over the next few years will be global, and Smashwords is taking you there in close cooperation with our largest retail partners.
Apple last week added 18 new countries, which means they now operate iBookstores in 50 countries. I blogged about Apple's news here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/10/apple-ibookstore-expands-global-reach.html
The new countries include Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and New Zealand.
Over 122,000 Smashwords ebooks participated in the launch on day one.
For the month of September, 46% of our author's iBookstore sales were from countries outside the US. If you're not fully opted in to Smashwords' Apple distribution channel, you're missing out on their tremendous growth. Each international store represents its own micro-market. It's an opportunity for Smashwords authors to establish their brand early, become the big fish in a small but growing pond, and build a foundation for growth over the coming years.
This Christmas season will be a blowout record for Apple, so please make sure your books have been Premium Catalog-approved and distributed before the holiday rush (more on this in the Christmas preparation item below).
Also interesting is how Apple has quietly established the largest international ebook store footprint under the radar. They're not aggressive about promoting their international expansion, and as a result I think they're being underestimated in the market.
[APPLE PROMO TIP: For free tools that will help you promote your Apple listings to fans on your blog, website or social media channels, see my September 27 Site Update at https://www.smashwords.com/about/beta I've got links there to resources at Apple you can use to generate hyperlinks or buttons, or enroll in their affiliate program (earn extra money when you fans purchase books at the iBookstore).]
Earlier this week, Barnes & Noble opened their UK ebookstore at http://uk.nook.com/ I blogged about their launch this week at http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/10/barnes-noble-opens-uk-ebook-store.html As I mention in the post, I think a lot of people are underestimating Barnes & Noble. Although they're a smaller ebook retailer than Amazon, they've got a strong family of e-reading devices and an innovative go-to-market strategy that leverages a diverse network of thousands of brick and mortar partners. They're launching in the U.K. with their NOOK devices carried by 2,500 retail stores. To put this in perspective, their successful U.S. launch a couple years ago was enabled by their network of 680 stores.
The U.S. ebook market has enjoyed exponential growth the last several years. Ebooks represented 1% of the market in 2008, 3% in 2009, 8% in 2010, 19% in 2011, and will probably reach 30% or more this year. The growth will slow from here. It's the simple law of numbers. It's impossible to continually double or triple a market. In other countries, however, ebooks are now entering the exponential phase of their markets, so I think global will be the big story for the next couple years. It's important to gain an early foothold in these emerging markets, which is why I'm so pleased that our books participated in these Apple and B&N launches on day one.
Smashwords retailer Kobo, which has always had an international focus, this week announced its launch in South Africa by partnering with a local retailer, Pick ‘n Pay, with about 600 retail locations.
Are you feeling overwhelmed keeping up with all these launches? Don't worry. Focus on getting your book fully distributed, then as each store expands their global footprint, they'll take your books with them.
2. ACCESS MY EBOOK PUBLISHING WORKSHOP, FREE
In late September, I presented an intensive 5-hour e-publishing workshop in Sacramento sponsored by the California Writers Club. I uploaded the slide deck to Slideshare this week for your viewing pleasure. View or download it here: http://www.slideshare.net/Smashwords/mark-cokers-ebook-self-publishing-workshop
Slideshare has a cool embed function, so if you like it, feel free to embed it in your blog and share with fellow writers.
The workshop was divided into multiple sections, covering everything from beginner to advanced topics.
This past weekend in New York at the Self Publishing Book Expo, an author asked why we give so many educational resources away for free (presentations, The Smashwords Style Guide, The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, etc.) and I answered if we can help our authors publish more professionally, we'll all do well.
Back in the dark ages of publishing (four years ago), publishers had a virtual monopoly on publishing tools.
1. The printing press.
2. The access to retail distribution.
3. The knowledge of professional publishing best practices.
The author, with their book, was powerless to reach a broad market without the publisher. Now all that's changing. At Smashwords, our mission is to accelerate the change for your benefit. We empower authors and small independent presses to compete in the global marketplace. We provide you the free publishing tools, free distribution tools and the knowledge you need to professionally publish.
We learn from you. My Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success ebook was inspired by observing the best practices of the most successful Smashwords authors and publishers. It's my hope that you'll employ these best practices, improve upon them, invent your own, and then share your secrets with your fellow authors.
No doubt, the quality and professionalism of indie authors has improved by leaps and bounds over the last four years. Indie are now pioneering the best practices of tomorrow, and setting the example not just for the next generation of indies, but for the larger publishers as well.
3. WHAT'S NEW AT SMASHWORDS
Thanks to the tremendous effort of our authors and retail partners, 2012 is already another record year for us and our authors. We just celebrated our 25th consecutive month of profitability, and we're continuing to invest the profits back into the business so we can serve you better. Smashwords is now 19 staffers strong. In recent months, we've beefed up our vetting team so we can provide you faster Premium Catalog approvals. We expanded our service team to provide you faster answers to your questions sent in over our "Comments/questions" support form. We've also expanded our engineering team with new developers focused on making our systems and infrastructure faster, more scalable, more reliable, and more feature-rich. We're working to build a platform that will one day support the release of one million books a year (and once we approach that goal, we'll raise it).
Our big priorities for the remainder of the year:
1. We're midway through a complete rearchitecting of our ebook distribution systems, with the goal of making distributions and metadata updates faster and more reliable. We appreciate the tremendous support our retail partners are showing us and our authors, and we're pleased that many authors are starting to notice the improvements. Much improvement is ahead. Please pardon our dust as we work to better serve you.
2. The service team has a done a great job of providing faster answers to support questions. We still have more improvement to make as we work toward same-day responses. Please be sure to study our FAQ at https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq before you contact us.
3. On the engineering front, we're working a number of high-priority projects, the first of which is the completion of our next generation distribution systems. We're aiming to support direct .epub uploads by the end of the year. To support our global expansion, we'll develop systems that will allow our authors to set currency-specific pricing, rather than relying on fluctuating exchange rate conversions from dollars. We're modifying the process for accepting credit card orders to provide customers greater security, and to reduce the incidence of fraudulent purchases. And there's more. Stay tuned.
4. Q3 EARNINGS ARE OUT
We processed record Q3 earnings payments this week. If you're configured to be paid via PayPal, and you were owed more than $10.00 as of the last day of Q3 (September 30), then you should have received an alert from PayPal. If you're configured for paper check payments, you'll receive it soon if you haven't already.
Since we're working with thousands of new authors each quarter, for many of you this is the first time you've been paid, and for other new authors you weren't paid yet so you might be wondering why. In a nutshell, per our Terms of Service, Smashwords pays quarterly, always within 40 days of the close of each calendar quarter. We pay based on your account balance as of the last day of the quarter, and your account balance is based on all proceeds received on your behalf as of the last day of the quarter. This quarter ended on September 30, which means all payments received on your behalf were recorded in your balance and paid. Because our retailers usually report their sales results to us before they've paid us for those sales, we'll report sales to you before we've been paid, and before those sales are payable to you.
If you're new to the Smashwords family, here's additional background on how payments work: https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Royalties
To view the sales, click to your Dashboard, then click on Sales and Payments, and then click 2012.
If you have questions about payments, please visit the Smashwords site and click "comments/questions."
5. R.L. MATHEWSON'S CHECKMATE HITS #1 AT APPLE
As I write this, the #1 book at Apple's US, Australian, UK and Canada iBookstores is Checkmate, published by R.L. Mathewson, a Smashwords author. The book is priced at $2.99.
She uploaded this new contemporary romance to Smashwords on October 29, just three days ago. We delivered it to Apple in under 24 hours. Next, our merchandising friends at Apple sprinkled a little pixie dust, and R.L.'s fans took from there. It's been at #1 almost all day, which is a great place to be heading into the weekend, because weekend sales are always stronger (Sunday is the strongest day of the week).
R.L. tells me she didn't do any marketing. She announced the upcoming release to her fans, then released it earlier than expected and it took off.
These breakouts don't happen entirely by accident. Behind every breakout is an author who's working their butt off to write great books, and their readers are rewarding them with enthusiastic word of mouth and great reviews. This is her ninth title at Smashwords. With each book, she builds a larger fan base. She writes full length. She writes series.
We first interviewed R.L. a few months ago at http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/07/author-r-l-mathewson-on-some-of-secrets.html and then about a week later, Apple named her a "Breakout Author" and gave her some heavy promotion. We covered that here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/07/apple-ibookstore-names-rl-mathewson.html
If you enjoy romance, and you'd like to support R.L.'s rise at the iBookstore, here are links to the book in the four countries above:
6. FOLLOWING THE EYEBALLS - WHY INDIE AUTHORS ARE THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING
Above, I mentioned how ebooks will probably represent 30% or more of the US book market this year, with print around 70%. Much if not most of the 70% of those print sales are happening at brick and mortar bookstores, a distribution channel most indies cannot access. As ebooks as a percentage of the market increase, print will become less important, thereby diminishing the value of traditional print distribution.
Furthermore, the ebook market share stats are based on dollar sales. Because ebooks are priced dramatically lower than print books, it means the dollar-based data understates what's actually happening on the unit sales front. I don't think anyone in the publishing industry is talking about this right now. If the same data was calculated based on unit market share, where units equal the number of paid + free books that are actually read, it's quite possible that 2012 will be the year in which more ebooks are read than print books. If not this year, certainly we'll see it tip over in 2013.
Follow the eyeballs. Unit share is a leading indicator for where this market is headed. Unit volume is the strongest measure of which authors are building the largest platforms (readers, and ability to reach those readers) the fastest. Here, indie ebook authors have a significant advantage over traditionally published authors. Put another way, traditionally published authors are increasingly *disadvanged* when they must compete against indies.
Why? There are multiple reasons, most important of which are time to market (indies publish instantly), and price. The average book at Smashwords is priced around $2.99, whereas traditionally published ebook authors are usually priced somewhere between $7.99 and $12.99. Indie authors are publishing books that are as good or better than what's coming out of New York, and they're doing it at dramatically lower prices. Indies are also earning royalties that are 4-5 times more per unit than they earn from a traditional publisher (60-100% list vs. 12-17% list). When readers are given the choice to purchase two titles of equal quality, and one is $2.99 and the other is $12.99, most readers favor the lower price. This isn't just theory. It's happening today. R.L. Mathewson is an example. She's not the only Smashwords author occupying the top 10 at Apple this week. Look at any ebook bestseller list at Apple, B&N or Amazon, and you'll see indie ebooks outselling higher-priced traditionally published books.
Each time you sell a book, you receive two benefits from that sale. 1. You earn money. 2. You earn a reader which means you've earned a potential fan. Fans want to read your other titles, and your future titles. Fans drive word of mouth more effectively than any marketing or advertising campaign can ever do.
Earlier this year we studied how different prices impact sales volume, and how they impact overall author earnings. We found that a $2.99 ebook, on average, earns slightly more than a book priced $10 or more. See the data at http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/07/how-traditional-publisher-could-harm.html In fact, any price you choose between $2.99 and $10+ will earn you approximately the same amount of money.
But when you look closer at the data, you see that a $2.99 ebook sells about 6.2 times more copies than a $10+ book, and about 4 times more copies than a $9.99 ebook. This is why indie ebook authors will inherit the future of book publishing. You're building platforms faster. Why price at $10+ when you could build a fan base 6 times larger at $2.99? This is the disadvantage traditionally published authors face in a future where most books read by readers will be ebooks. Big publishers are challenged to price at the same level as indie authors. If they do price lower, they can compete, but then the traditional author is earning only 12-17% list, whereas as an indie author, you're earning 60-80% list (or more).
7. PREPARING FOR A RECORD HOLIDAY SEASON
This coming Christmas/New Year holiday period is set to become another record-breaker for our authors, so it's important you get your new and existing titles distributed to stores in advance of the holiday rush. Most of our retailers are operating under compressed holiday schedules. To ensure you have time to get your book into stores in advance of the Christmas rush, please aim to upload new titles by or before December 2 to allow time to achieve Premium Catalog approval and delivery to bookstores. As I mentioned in the October 5 Site Update at https://www.smashwords.com/about/beta Apple, for example, is recommending we deliver new books no later than December 7. Of course, we and our retailers will do everything possible to get the stragglers in as well, but please plan ahead to reduce the stress all around.
We're staffed up in preparation for the rush.
8. WILL THERE BE A DECEMBER SURPRISE FROM AMAZON?
No, I'm not talking about full distribution of Smashwords titles to Amazon, though I remain hopeful that one day we and Amazon will consummate a proper distribution relationship. We could benefit Amazon customers and Smashwords authors by working as partners. We treat each of our retailers as partners, and we're committed to their success.
It's fair to say we and Amazon have had a somewhat contentious relationship since that fateful day in early December, 2011, when three weeks before Christmas, they launched their KDP-Select program. KDP-Select is an opt-in program that requires authors to make their book exclusive to Amazon for three months at a time. It was a direct assault against our retail partners, and as such I considered it a direct assault against Smashwords. My conviction has only grown stronger since then. Immediately after their announcement, I blogged my opposition to the program at http://blog.smashwords.com/2011/12/amazon-shows-predatory-spots-with-kdp.html and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/amazon-ebooks-kdp-select_b_1139260.html
The other week, I blogged about it again in a guest post for the Alliance of Independent Authors titled, "Amazon Plays Indie Authors Like Pawns." I view Amazon as a master chess player. They're expert at maneuvering their prey into a position of capitulation. When they make a move today, they're thinking several steps ahead to how it will help them achieve a strategic objective five years from now. Amazon realizes that indie authors are the future of publishing. I agree. The large publishers are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and Amazon probably views them as the walking dead. They're probably right.
KDP-Select, I believe, had the dual purpose of battering their retail competitors into irrelevance, while at the same time turning indie authors into tenant farmers tilling Amazon soil on terms set by Amazon. It's a scenario where Amazon's competitors are slowly starved of indie ebooks, and indie authors lose their independence. It's what will happen if indie authors don't work to consciously support a vibrant ecosystem of many successful retailers around the globe.
Some authors took my criticism of KDP-Select as criticism of them and their judgement for deciding to enroll in, or experiment with, KDP-Select. I apologize if you're in this camp, because it was not my intention to offend you. My intention was to shine a light so if authors entered the program, they did so with eyes wide open, fully aware of how their short term decisions today play into Amazon's longer term game of chess.
When Amazon launched KDP-Select, they made a one-year commitment to the program in terms of payout. They've met that commitment. As they approach the one year anniversary of the program, Amazon has a choice to make when they announce the terms for the year ahead. They can either continue or expand the exclusivity, or they can abandon the exclusivity. Their choice will speak volumes about their future direction. Will we see a kinder, gentler Amazon emerge?
You can read my "Pawns" post here: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/amazon-plays-indie-authors-like-pawns/
Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.