Saturday, January 23, 2010

Untangling the eBook Supply Chain at Digital Book World

This coming week I'm in New York to moderate a panel at Digital Book World called, "Getting on Virtual Shelves - Untangling the eBook Supply Chain."

The panel explores the challenges publishers face as they navigate the complexities of digital book distribution.

For print books, the supply chain for large publishers is fairly straightforward. They ship books to distributors and wholesalers which then ship books to retailers and even direct to customers. The intricate, well-oiled machine of distributors, wholesalers, retailers and shippers ensure books are always in stock and available for customers.

The ebook supply chain isn't quite so mature. It's somewhere between diapers and gawky adolescence.

I think one of the biggest themes of the session will be trust. In the physical world of printed books, a publisher knows how many books they printed, and how many they shipped. Books are easily tracked and accounted for along every step of the supply chain.

With digital books, the publisher ships a single file to their distributor, digital warehouser or retailer, and then trusts the supply chain partners to make digital copies as needed. How do publishers know how many copies were sold? How do they know the retailer enforced the publisher's geographic sales restrictions? Who owns the customer data? How do you ensure accurate and timely sales reporting back to the publisher? How do you ensure that accurate and dynamic metadata attached to the book (pricing by geography, on-sale date, sampling rights, language, descriptions, and changes to all the above) is accurately conveyed downstream from one supply chain partner to the other?

Welcome to the brave new world of ebook supply chains.

My panel is packed with smart cookies representing three large book publishers and the largest book distributor. On the panel we've got Peter Balis of John Wiley & Sons, Neil De Young of Hachette Book Group, Leslie Hulse of HarperCollins and last but not least, Andrew Weinstein of Ingram Digital.

If you're attending the conference, stop by and say hi. The conference takes place January 26-27 (Tuesday and Wednesday) at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. Our panel is Wednesday at 3:45pm.

Special thanks to Mike Shatzkin for inviting me to moderate this panel. Mike has organized an absolutely incredible program line-up featuring over 30 (!!) different sessions and dozens of speakers. I'm looking forward to attending the other sessions.

Register here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book View Café Partners with Smashwords

Book View Café, a digital publishing cooperative for professional authors, today announced it has partnered with Smashwords to distribute Book View’s growing ebook catalog, including titles by from such well known authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Sarah Smith, Seanan McGuire and Laura Anne Gilman.

From the press release:

“Smashwords is taking a truly dynamic approach to ebooks,” said Book View Café Project Manager Sarah Zettel. “From the beginning, BVC has promised readers the books they want, when they want them. Smashwords’ commitment to delivering multi-format ebooks to a wide variety of major retail outlets and mobile smart phone platforms will help us keep that promise.”

The authors of Book View Café are all veterans of the publishing world, having worked with some of the largest print publishers including Penguin Books, St. Martin’s Press, Tor Books, and Simon & Schuster.

Book View Café is one of a growing number of book publishing collectives distributing their authors' works with Smashwords. Others include Backword Books, eXcessica, and Year Zero Writers. While each of the collectives differs in its organization and membership, they all share a common goal of writers joining together to pool resources, knowledge and marketing.

I think Book View is one of the first collectives to focus exclusively on authors that were previously published by mainstream publishers. Their mission is to help these authors bring their unpublished or out of print, reverted-rights works to life as ebooks.

I'm excited to welcome Book View Café and its well-respected authors to the Smashwords community. As I've been saying now for two years, I think the indie author tent will increasingly include authors such as Book View's who were previously published by large commercial publishers. These authors recognize that digital publishing empowers them to exercise greater control over how their books are published, priced, marketed and sold, to the benefit of authors and readers alike.

Check out Book View Café's books at Smashwords.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Scam of Private Label Articles

Did you know for only $24.95 a month, you can subscribe to a service that gives you access to a database of thousands of articles you can turn into ebooks?

If you're too lazy or too clueless to write a real book, now you slap your name on another person's work and get rich in the process. Or, so parasitic "Private Label Article" services are leading an ever-growing number of fools to believe.

Tonight while reviewing Smashwords titles to add to the Premium Catalog, I ran across an ebook about a common childhood mental disorder. My first thought was that this was an important topic our customers would care about. But on second glance, something about the book didn't seem right. The cover image was a cheezy stock photograph of a parent and a child. No title or author name on the cover image. The book wasn't formatted properly. The author obviously hadn't bothered to read the Smashwords Style Guide.

I knew I had seen this breed of vermin before. A quick cut and paste of a random string of text into Google gave me another clue. The exact text string appeared word-for-word in multiple other places on the Internet in articles and blog posts under the names of different authors and publications. Did this author plagiarize the content? I suspected not. Another quick check and I confirmed the author learned about Smashwords from a Private Label Article company. Ugh.

I clicked the hyperlink and sure enough it led to a company that has created an ingenious application it licenses for $24.95/month that allows any dunce with a mouse to point and click and build a custom ebook. Users assemble random chunks from of a database of content to generate an ebook they can then sell on the Internet. And it's legal.

I've seen these ebooks and so-called authors at Smashwords before. They usually arrive with 3-D covers and sloppy cut and paste formatting. Many months ago, we updated our Terms of Service to deal with them by clearly prohibiting private label content on Smashwords.

I zapped the offender's account like I would unwelcome spam. Ordinarily, that would be the end of it and I'd move on to the next task.

What bugs me about this incident tonight is a video the company produced and posted to its website. The video demonstrates how the software generates the ebooks and then it explains how users can make money by publishing the books at Amazon's Digital Text Platform and... no it can't be... Smashwords (!!). So not only are they deceiving gullible suckers with inaccurate information, they're also sending these suckers our way, only to have their visions of sugarplums turned to vinegar when we zap them.

I contacted the proprietor and informed him of his video's factual inaccuracies, and asked him to immediately remove the video and stop telling his customers they can publish with us. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, if you ever see this type of content sneak on to Smashwords and we don't see it first, let us know. The cut and paste trick with Google is an easy way to confirm your suspicion.

Image source: Wikipedia

Friday, January 8, 2010

MediaBistro Asks: Who's Got the Best Vision for the Future of Publishing

In the last week, MediaBistro interviewed me and several others smarter than me for our views on the future of book publishing.

Now, to make this orgy of crystal ball-gazing and unbridled punditry all the more titillating, they're asking readers to cast their vote for the person with the best vision for the future of publishing.

Vote for me!

Your choices include:

Seth Godin - Bestselling author
Richard Curtis - Literary agent
Mark Coker - Smashwords
Richard Nash - Publisher
Jane Dystel - Literary agent
Scott Steinberg - Digital Trends
Other - write in your own

These are all smart cookies, so you can't go wrong voting for anyone. Help me beat Seth Godin, only because that would just crack me up. He's possibly the smartest cookie of anyone.

Interestingly, I'm up against Jane Dystel. Jane heads Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, one of the most respected lit agencies in the business. Dystel & Goderich once repped Boob Tube, the novel my wife and I wrote.

As some of you know, without Boob Tube, there would never have been a Smashwords. As some of you may not know, it was our agent at DGLM, Jim McCarthy, who first suggested we self publish Boob Tube after they were unable to sell our book to a publisher. This was the spark that then led me to decide, "hey, why not create a publishing platform that would allow any author, anywhere in the world, to bypass publishers altogether and instantly publish their book online as an ebook?"

Funny how things come full circle. Hey, if you don't vote for me, vote for Jane for having the smarts to hire Jim!

Click here to vote for one of us.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Smashwords Blog Year in Review

For fun, I thought I'd do some bloggy naval gazing and share some Smashwords blog stats drawn from Feedburner, the cool Google-owned service that makes it easy for bloggers to understand readership trends.

First off, the ten most viewed posts of 2009:

  1. Barnes & Noble to Distribute Smashwords Ebooks - This surprised just about everyone, and offered a hint of what was to come in the weeks that followed when we announced additional distribution deals with Sony, Kobo and Amazon
  2. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide Updated - I think maybe this post was popular because I offered links to many of the other great book marketing titles published at Smashwords
  3. Inside the Smashwords Community Filter - I wrote this post to explain how Smashwords harnesses the wisdom of readers to help other readers determine what's worth reading.
  4. Win $500 in the Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Contest - We sponsored this great writing contest organized by Maria Schneider at Editor Unleashed. Over two hundred authors entered, and the best 40 were published in a the Flash Fiction 40 Anthology at Smashwords. There's still time to enter the next contest, "Why I Write."
  5. Exploring the Outer Reaches of Literature with Author Mel Keegan - This was a fun interview. I was particularly interested to explore how ebooks might level the playing field for authors and genres typically shunned by traditional brick and mortar retailers.
  6. Sramana Mitra Interview: How Authors Can Build their Personal Franchise - Sramana shared some of her wisdom on how authors can better promote their books and careers.
  7. Ebooks as Vessels for Greater Cross-Cultural Understanding - I wrote this after speaking at the Oakland Rotary Club, where I tried to express why I thought books were so important to the future of mankind. My main point was that the world is getting smaller, and books can help us spread essential knowledge and understand one another.
  8. Have Ebooks Already Gone Mainstream? - I wrote this all the way back in April. Even then, I don't think anyone anticipated how ebooks would take off like a rocket for the rest of 2009.
  9. Smashwords 'Read an Ebook Week' Promotion - In support of Rita Toews' annual Read and Ebook Week celebration, Bill created a special promotional catalog for Smashwords authors. We now use that same technology to support other time-limited promotions. Hmmm... Maybe it's time for another promotion?
  10. Do Authors Still Need Publishers? - Does Stephen King, or any other author, still need a publisher? For print books, maybe yes. For ebooks, maybe not. In 2009 we're going to see many more mainstream authors go indie, first with their reverted-rights backlists, then with unpublished works, and then with first releases. Wait, this has already happened.

I started this blog in April 2008, one month before Smashwords officially launched. It's fair to say nobody cared. By January 1, 2009 (noted by the red splotch), the blog had grown its RSS subscriber rolls to a whopping 20 readers.

I suppose it was a bit like the situation some of us feel when we realize our most loyal readers have whiskers and tails and are really just waiting to have their heads scratched.

For some reason, people started paying attention in 2009. We're now up to about 500 subscribers. That's seems like a lot to me. For those of you who stop by for a read every now and then, I appreciate your time and I thank you for your enlightening comments and feedback. I learn from you.

2009 promises to be an exiting year. I'll continue to share items here I think are of interest to the Smashwords author/publisher/reader/partner community. Happy new year!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Future of Publishing 2020

Tis the season of year-ahead prognostications from those of us crazy enough to believe our crystal balls speak to us.

I decided to partake in the annual holiday rite, but rather than look ahead one year, I'm looking ahead one decade. Why be wrong when I can be really wrong, right?

The idea for my ten year sagey oracleness came at the kind request of our friend Jeff Rivera over at GalleyCat.

GalleyCat is doing a series of "future of publishing" stories, gathering projections from different folks in publishing. For their first installment, they interviewed Seth Godin, and for their second they interviewed agent Richard Curtis (<-- click their names to read their insightful interviews!). They're both smart cookies.

For their third installment, published today, they ask me for my ten projections for 2020. Since we're working to build Smashwords for that future, it's something I think about quite often. And like all future projections, mine are not at all impartial so take them with a grain of salt and don't bet your business on them (you can leave that to me). Here are the first five:
1. 95% of all reading will be on screens
2. There will be fewer bookstores, though books will be more plentiful than ever before.
3. The entire book supply chain from author to customer will become atomized into its component bits. Value-adders will continue to find great success in publishing. Dinosaurs, leeches and parasites will be flushed out of new publishing ecosystems faster than ever before.
4. Most authors will be indie authors
5. Successful publishing companies will be those that put the most total profit in the author's pocket. No, not the highest per-unit royalty percentage.
For the next five predictions, gallivant on over to GalleyCat for their complete story, Smashwords: Book Publishing 10 Years in the Future

Thanks also to Jeff for not publishing my tongue-in-cheek prediction #11 which will most likely be proven completely delusional, though a nice dream nevertheless.

If you know of any other interesting publishing projections for the year ahead (even if you blogged them yourself), feel free to share a hyperlink in the comments section below. Join in the punditry.

Image source: Wikipedia