Sunday, December 27, 2009

Smashwords Year in Review, Plans for 2010

Wow, what a fabulous year it has been for Smashwords. The two blurry charts at left show the monthly number of visitors to Smashwords since our launch in May, 2008, and the monthly number of page views.

Here are some other fun facts I can share:

As of today, Smashwords publishes 5,979 original ebooks.
We're now publishing and distributing the works of 2,700 authors and 100 small independent publishers.
The number of titles published at Smashwords has doubled in the last 90 days.

To put the numbers in further perspective, at this time last year, after eight full months of operation, we were publishing 100 authors and under 160 titles. And we thought that was great.

In the last four months, we've opened up new distribution channels for our indie authors and publishers with the world's largest ebook retailers. We're just getting started.

Salacious sidenote: Every once in a while, I'll receive an email (from my father or wife, for example) that all we publish at Smashwords is erotica. How much erotica do we really publish? See the chart at left. We publish a lot, but not as much as people might think. Only 14 percent of our content is categorized as erotica.

How do we break down across fiction and non-fiction? 74 percent of our titles are fiction, 25 percent are non-fiction, and under one percent are screenplays or plays.

We've had record traffic for each of the last 15 months.

Sales for December are already a record, handily beating November, another record. Despite the sales increases, our sales are still very low. Results don't include results from retail partners, of which B&N is the furthest along.

The average Smashwords author sells more now than they did last year, likely due to our increased traffic.

We're not profitable, yet. We could be profitable next month if, like other self-publishing services or distributors, we charged setup fees, sold packages, or charged for access to our distribution channel, but none of that is in our business model. Instead, we want our interests aligned with the authors, publishers, retailers and readers we serve. Because we only take 15-18.5% of the net, we'll grow our revenues as our authors, publishers and retail partners grow theirs.
What's next for Smashwords?

Here are the priorities I see:

Develop new distribution channels for our authors and publishers - We're building the distribution infrastructure to help authors and publishers get their ebooks out to readers. We'll continue adding new distribution partners in 2010. But first, we're going to focus on completing the technical integrations of our current retail partners. We're furthest along with Barnes & Noble, and we're moving forward with Amazon, Sony and Kobo, although we're behind schedule. This is our highest priority for the next couple months.

Improve customer service - We go out of our way to provide responsive customer service. Unlike most businesses, we make it easy for you to contact us by offering a customer support and feedback link at the top of every Smashwords page. We aim to answer support inquiries within 24 hours during normal business days, and when we can, we enjoy shaving that down to mere minutes. Going forward, as we continue to grow, we want to make Smashwords so intuitive that fewer authors, publishers and customers find it necessary to contact us with support questions. We want to help you find answers to your own questions faster than the time it takes you to email us. We want to make things so obvious there's no need to ask a question.

Improve ease of publishing - We think we provide the industry's easiest to use publishing and distribution platform, but we want to make it faster and easier.

Improve site performance - We know, we know, the Smashwords web site has been pretty slow lately. Several weeks back, we doubled the capacity of our servers, but it made absolutely no difference the next day.

Improve the quality of our ebook outputs - It's a huge challenge to take an author's single source file and convert it into nine reasonably good quality ebook formats. In order to accomplish this, we require authors and publishers to upload simpler files, and simple often means fewer features, like tables of contents that don't support internal links. In the coming year, working in partnership with our authors, publishers, technology providers and formatting partners, we plan to continue raising the quality of our ebook files so together, we can better serve our customers.

Build greater respect for indie authors and publishers - I've noticed a dramatic change among authors and industry watchers over last two years. Self-publishing, indie publishing or whatever you want to call it, is finally starting to earn the respect it deserves. We have a long way to go, however. There are still quite a few naysaying anklebiters and loud pundits who continue to diss and dismiss the the very idea of an independently published ebook. Join with me as we either help to open their eyes to the indie publishing revolution, or show them the path to the tar pits.

Bring reverted-rights books back to life at Smashwords - Several well-known authors, including some best-sellers such as Anne Frasier and Mark Sullivan, have published their reverted rights books on Smashwords. Each time a well-respected author - indie or traditionally published - publishes and distributes with Smashwords, it brings further legitimacy to the indie author movement.

Attract more authors and publishers to the Smashwords community - Every new author or publisher brings with them more readers which benefit all other Smashwords authors and publishers. I like virtuous cycles. Therefore, to best serve our current authors, publishers and readers, it's important we attract more authors, publishers and readers. This brings me to my next item...

Do a better job of getting the word out - The blogosphere has been incredibly supportive of Smashwords this year, and as a result we're fairly well known among the digerati of tech savvy authors and publishers (though just because people have heard about us, doesn't mean they understand us). Yet Smashwords is still relatively unknown to the vast majority of the world's authors and publishers. One reason, I suspect, is that we've received essentially no press coverage from the mainstream media. Smashwords has never been covered or even mentioned by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Associated Press, Time Magazine or Newsweek. Why not? Simply put, we need to do a better job of getting the story out there. From my perspective, there's a massive yet quiet revolution taking place, driven by the simultaneous rise of indie publishing and the rise of ebooks. Smashwords is but one small piece of the story. We'll do our best to help the story break into the mainstream this year, for the benefit of our authors, publishers and readers.

Help publishing save itself? - When I first started Smashwords, I had this crazy idea that Smashwords could help large, established publishers survive and thrive in the coming ebook revolution. Based on continued missteps among large publishers, I'm beginning to question whether or not these publishers can be saved, or should be saved. It's sad, really, because I'm continually impressed by the smart, generous and passionate professionals I meet in publishing and I'd hate to see them working their next jobs as greeters at Walmart. But when the senior corporate executives of these publishers continue to handcuff their customers with DRM-infected ebooks; withhold ebook releases to protect hardcover sales; and continue to artificially inflate ebook prices above what customers want to pay; it makes me question whether or not publishing can right its wayward ship before it capsizes. I'm an eternal optimist, so I'm hopeful the big whigs in NY can turn course in 2010 before it's too late.

When we launched 19 months ago, a lot of people didn't know what to make of us. Because we initially focused exclusively on serving self-published authors, some doubters tried to tar us with the same brush as some of the other companies who came before us. I hope some of the initial skeptics are coming around now.

2009 was a great year for Smashwords. We launched our affiliate program, we expanded our platform to support publishers, and we opened up new retail distribution opportunities for our authors and publishers. But our work is just beginning. I'm looking ahead two, five and ten years, and I see much opportunity to better serve our authors, publishers and partners.

My warm thanks to Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and other publishing industry friends who supported us this year and honored us with their faith and trust.

Last but not least, my sincere thanks to Bill Kendrick, our CTO. Bill is a magician, and we could not have accomplished everything in 2009 without his brilliant wizardry.

Happy new year, everyone!

24 comments:

Oswald Bastable said...

If my sales follow the same growth curve I will be more than happy!

The first few years are tough for almost any new business and yours is a new model. All things considered, I believe you are doing very well, growthwise.

As a newbie author, I went to ebook format to get noticed and hopefully be picked up by a dead-tree publisher.

Now I'm convinced Ebook publishing IS the way of the future!

25 years ago, I picked that computer gaming would be where the big money was and was laughed at by 'experts'in the computor industry!

Here's to following the curve up!

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I'm so happy for you all! Smashwords deserves all the success it gets-- may 2010 be even bigger and better!

Marisa Birns said...

I also agree that, growth-wise, Smashwords is doing very well, considering its youth.

Here's to further successes in the new year!

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Congratulations, Mark!

I'll have to admit that when I first heard about Smashwords I was skeptical. But I signed up anyway with the four suspense novels I had at the time. My self-published paperbacks were selling steadily, but very slowly. I had no ebook sales.

Then Kindle came along and I began to sell a lot of ebooks. But I don't like having all my eggs in one basket, so I was glad to be able to offer my books DRM-free at Smashwords. Then I was thrilled when Smashwords made the distribution deals with Barnes and Noble, Sony, and Kobo.

I know, Mark, that you always tell folks that the chance of success as an independent are slim. I commend you for that. There are a bazillion ebooks in cyberspace. So it's always a huge challenge for an unknown author to get noticed.

I've been promoting my writing on my website since July 2006, offering a large volume of it free to read on my site. I will continue to add some free stories on a regular basis while promoting my coming novellas as low-priced ebooks.

And I've been fairly successful at becoming known---at least by the search engines. Facebook recently rejected my attempts to create a Facebook Fan Page on the basis that Robert Burton Robinson is already a known personality/celebrity. I wrote to them and explained that I AM that "celebrity." Apparently if your name in quotes gets a couple hundred hits on Google, you're a celebrity. Funny.

It is clearly a new day for self-published authors and independent publishers. Now we finally have a shot at success. And Smashwords is going to be a big part of that success!

Robert Burton Robinson

John Butler said...

Best of luck in 2010 Mark - you are doing a great job. Just one question - how far behind schedule are you with the Amazon distribution?

Mark Coker said...

Thanks for the kind words, Oswald, Christy, Marisa, Robert and John! John, in answer to your question, when we announced the Amazon relationship we projected the first books would go live sometime in December. Although we were hoping to get them up by now, we still have four days to meet the initial projection, so we'll see! If we miss it, I don't anticipate we'll miss by much but you never know.

Shayne Parkinson said...

Congratulations on Smashword's fine year! And very best wishes for greater things to come.

John Butler said...

Great stuff Mark - I'm really excited by the prospect of having my smashword titles available on Amazon. Don't forget to enjoy Hogmanay!!!

Cheers

J

Centennial of Flight Blogger said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks very much for providing this service. I have been wanting to assist my father with getting his "out of print books" into eBook format for 8 years now. Your site has made this dream possible.

All the best in the New Year.

Tracy Falbe said...

With so many dedicated authors supporting your service and the wide distribution channels you are establishing, profits seem sure to follow.

As for the big publishing companies. It's amazing they are not on board with you already!

Paul said...

For the history books, today's the day I found Smashwords. Eoin Purcell brought it to my attention.

"Smashwords is still relatively unknown to the vast majority of the world's authors and publishers." I'm the grandson of a man who set up a bookshop in 1902, O'Mahony's in Limerick Ireland. I'm one of those who's never held an e-reader yet.

You arrested my attention by the tone and content of your review. It felt genuine to me. Especially when you said you were a bit behind on the relationship with Amazon. Such honesty led me to feel I might be able to trust you... and thereby began a relationship.

So far I've chosen to ignore the whole e-book movement, except for the gift my son gave me a couple of years ago when he got one of my unfinished plays printed as a Xmas gift. I think it's time I got interested.

You sound decent and trustworthy. I know that's only a first impression but it's a start.

Have a great 2010

Paul said...

I didn't mean to post a comment anonymously. My identity is open on Twitter @omaniblog. Paul O'Mahony in Cork Ireland

Mark Coker said...

Hi Paul, thanks for stopping by. I'm a big fan of Eoin. Back in January 2008, he was one of the first three people who got a sneak peek at Smashwords, pre-launch. I consider Smashwords in perpetual beta, which means bugs, delays and unexpected kinks are to be expected. We try to run things as transparently as possible.

Mark Coker said...

@Tracy We do hope some of the large publishers work with us in the future, but for the time being, our DRM-free policy is a deal breaker for them. Smaller independent publishers don't have the same hang ups and, like indie authors, are quicker to embrace DRM-free, and are also quicker to experiment with new methods of book marketing, pricing and distribution.

Oswald Bastable said...

Mark- my prediction is they will be coming to YOU cap in hand, within five years.

BTW- I reckon I will talk to you NOW, before you become so danged rich that you pay staff to reply to this blog ;-)

Wayne Watson
Meddlers In Time

Des Greene said...

Hi Mark,
Congratulations on a very fine performance. I concur with other respondents in that I find your approach refreshingly honest and forthright.
Your business model to date has been exceedingly effective in bringing writers to the web. The challenge, as you are well aware, is to get sales to take off and the distribution channel route may bring good dividends.
Best of luck for the year ahead and thanks for everything.

Mark Coker said...

@Wayne, since the large publishers have the ability to strike their own distribution deals with the retailers, they may not come to us for distribution. They might come to us, however, if they want to use us for transaction processing to get the 85% net royalty. Of course, they could sell the books on their own sites, but they'd miss out on our traffic and they'd have to do their own customer service, something they could more cost effectively outsource to us. I also think (and yes, I'm a bit partial here) there would be strong advantages to their customers to make the books available multi-format, readable on any device via Smashwords, and permanently accessible for life via the Smashwords Library. We'll see...

BTW, the "meaning of life" parody image on your site is hilarious in a dark sick twisted sort of way - http://oswaldbastable.blogspot.com/2009/12/meaning-of-life.html

Alex said...

After trying for more than a year to get representation for my novel (plenty of "this is good, but not for me" responses from agents--flattering but frustrating), I was ready to put "Pilate's Cross" in a drawer. Then I heard about Smashwords and gave it shot.

Though my book was published only a couple of weeks ago I'm thrilled at the sales and interest shown, even though I've barely started my marketing efforts.

Thanks Mark for this extraordinary platform for independent authors.

Greg said...

One of the things that attracted me to Smashwords was Mark's openness about what it means to publish work on the site.

A few months ago, my ONLY plan was to finish my novel, and then add it to a slush pile or two. It's a depressing thought. Now ... NOW ... I am publishing a collection of short stories, publishing my novel, and planning to publish works by my late father (a prominent TV writer in his day).

I can do this. Me. Because of Mark Coker, because of Smashwords. I am not surprised at the site's success, and I know Mark's passion and dedication will see it continue to grow.

You deserve the success, Mark (and team!). You really do.

Don Capone said...

Thanks for Smashwords, Mark, and for all your hard work. I just discovered this site a few days ago, and have published 4 titles. I'm addicted to this site! And I'll spread the word about it. One thing that would be a great addition is a messageboard. This way it will feel more like a community, and readers can discuss the books they like, sort of like a book group.

Thanks again,
Don Capone

TC Beacham said...

Happy New Year Mark, and Congrats!

Smashwords is a great site that I'm always telling people about. Can't wait to see what the new year brings!

(My books finally appeared at B&N recently, but not at the current Smashwords price. I'm hoping the price change catches up. Or is there something I need to do?)

zoewinters said...

I especially appreciate the premium distribution channel option and the doors it opens for indie authors! Thanks, Mark!

graywave said...

Mark, it's great to see Smashwords doing so well. Here's hoping you make it into profit soon.

Mark Coker said...

Hey everyone, thank you so much for your support, trust and confidence! 2010 will be the year of indie authorship.