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Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Monday, December 31, 2012

Smashwords Year in Review 2012 - The Power in Publishing is Shifting to Authors

Welcome to my annual Smashwords year in review.

In the last 12 months, tens of thousands of new authors and publishers have joined the Smashwords community.  I welcome you.

A brief introduction to Smashwords is in order.

I founded Smashwords in 2008 to change the way books are published, marketed and sold.  I realized that the traditional publishing industry was broken.  Publishers were unable, unwilling and disinterested to take a chance on every writer. 

Today, Smashwords has grown to become the world’s largest distributor of ebooks from self-published authors and small independent presses.

The idea behind Smashwords was simple:  I wanted to create a free ebook self-publishing platform that would allow me to take a risk on every writer.  I wanted to give every writer the freedom to publish, and every reader the freedom to read what they wanted.
Back in 2007, we designed our logo with this revolutionary ideal in mind.  The up-thrusting fist holding the book represented our desire to transfer the power of publishing to writers and readers.  Today, we still refer to it as our “Power to the people” logo.

The revolution is now in full swing.  Indie authors know ebook self-publishing is the future of publishing.  Ebook retailers know this as well.  Traditional publishers, however, have been slow to grasp the transformative impact the self-publishing revolution is having on the industry. 

We’re entering a golden age of publishing.  The ebook self-publishing revolution will lead to a more great books being published than ever before.  More books will touch the souls of more readers, because indie ebooks make books accessible, affordable and discoverable to more people.  These books, in all their diverse and controversial glory, are cultural treasures.

Our authors know that every writer – every one of us – is special, and those who doubt this truth will become the dinosaurs of tomorrow.  You can’t truly honor the culture of books without honoring the writers who create them.  You can’t truly honor the value of books if you measure their value by perceived commercial merit alone.  You either value the human potential of all writers, or none at all.

Every day, I’m thankful that so many writers, readers and retailers have supported the cause of self-published ebooks.  Every day, I’m tickled pink that so many authors, publishers and retailers have partnered with Smashwords, because without your trust and support, we wouldn’t be here.

Unlike self-publishing services that earn their income by selling over-priced services to authors, Smashwords doesn’t sell services.  The money flows to the author.  We earn our commission only if we help sell books.  We think our approach aligns our interests with the interests of our authors and publishers.

Since most books don’t sell well, and we rely entirely on commissions, it’s incredibly difficult to build a profitable business doing what we do.  We figured out how to do it.

Smashwords highlights for 2012

2012 was another incredible year for the Smashwords authors, publishers, literary agents, retailers, libraries, and customers we serve.

Here are some of our key milestones for 2012:  

  • Catalog growth:  We're ending the year with more 190,500 books at Smashwords.  98,000 new titles were added to the Smashwords catalog this year.  This is up from 92,500 at the end of 2011, and up from 28,800 at the end of 2010, 6,000 in 2009, and 140 our first year in 2008.
  • More authors/publishers/literary agents choosing Smashwords:  Smashwords today supports 58,000 authors and small publishers around the world, up from 34,000 at the end of 2011, 12,100 in 2010, 2,400 in 2009, and 90 in 2008.
  • Profitability: Smashwords has been profitable for 27 straight months, and our profitability is growing as our business grows.  We’ve done this without bringing in outside venture capital, which means we’re free to pursue our unconventional business model without the interference of outside investors.  Profitability is important, because it means we’re here for the long haul.  It means we have the resources to reinvest in our business for the benefit of the authors, publishers, retailers, libraries, and readers we serve.  Nowhere is this investment more apparent than in our staffing numbers (next item).
  • Employee Count:  We’re ending 2012 with 19 employees, up from 13 in 2011, and 3 in 2010. This year we continued to invest heavily in customer service and software development. 
  • Faster-Faster-Faster:  Thanks to investments in technology and staffing, we’re providing faster conversions, faster Premium Catalog approvals, faster response times to support inquiries, faster distributions to Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, and faster sales reporting.  We will improve further on all counts in 2013.
  • Libraries:  We signed new distribution deals with library aggregators such as Baker & Taylor Axis360, 3M Cloud Library and one other major aggregator not yet announced.  We added support for custom library pricing, and we introduced Library Direct to support libraries that operate their own ebook checkout systems under the Douglas County Model.
  • Ebook Distribution Systems:  We began a complete re-architecture of our ebook distribution systems to enable faster, more accurate ebook distributions and metadata updates. 
  • Smashwords Profiled in Forbes Magazine:  This was a big deal for us.  For the first time ever, we revealed to the world our revenues (Forbes requires that startups they profile reveal numbers).  Later in the year, we received coverage in the New York Times and Time Magazine.  The indie ebook revolution is starting to go mainstream, though I think we're all still flying below the radar.  That'll change in 2013.
  • Improved categorization:  We completed adding support for thousands of BISAC categories to help our author's books land on the correct virtual shelf.
  • Merchandising collaboration with retail partners:  We ramped up our merchandising collaboration with retailers, especially Apple, which has been incredibly proactive and creative in working with us to create new opportunities to connect Smashwords books with millions of their customers (See Apple’s Breakout Books promo).  We continued to build tools to help our retailers identify books worthy of promotional love, because these tools help Smashwords authors sell more books and help retailers satisfy more of their customers, which is their primary objective.
  • Retailers earning millions of dollars from the sale of Smashwords books:  Our retail partners have made incredible investments to help list, maintain, promote, merchandise, and sell our books to their customers.  I’m pleased to say their investments are paying off.  We want our retail partners to do well with our books, because the value they provide to our authors and publishers far exceeds the sales commission they earn. 
  • We released the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success:  In March, I released this free ebook, which identifies the 28 best practices of the most commercially successful Smashwords authors.  It's the lastest in a series of free ebooks I've written that promote professional publishing best practices.  Along with The Smashwords Style Guide (how to publish an ebook) and the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to promote any book and build author platform), my three books combined have now been downloaded over 250,000 times.  Thousands of our authors and publishers have since put these practices to work. 
  • Amazon:  Our relationship with Amazon has been frustrating.  Even though Smashwords authors have the freedom to bypass Smashwords and work directly with many of our retail partners, about 80% of our authors choose to distribute through Smashwords.  They appreciate the time-saving convenience and simplicity of centrally managing their books and metadata from the Smashwords Dashboard.  Unlike every other major retailer, Amazon has not yet provided us the ability to do large, automated distributions and metadata updates.  As a result, our authors who would prefer to reach Amazon through Smashwords are forced to upload direct to Amazon.  Although I remain hopeful Amazon will one day see fit to treat us as a partner rather than a competitor to be crushed, killed and destroyed, I’m not holding my breath.  We’ve built a healthy, profitable and fast-growing business without their help, and we’ve done this despite their attempts to harm us and our retail partners.  Unlike traditional publishers which would probably go bankrupt if they stopped distributing to Amazon, we face no such noose.  In the meantime, we focus our energy on helping our true retail partners succeed in the marketplace.

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