Sunday, December 31, 2017

Smashwords 2017 Year in Review and 2018 Preview

Welcome to my annual Smashwords year in review for 2017 and preview of the year ahead.

I’d like to start first with a big shout out to Smashwords authors, publishers, business partners and industry friends for your trust and partnership.

And a big welcome to the thousands of authors, publishers and readers who joined the Smashwords community this year.

February 2018 will mark the 10-year anniversary of when we first announced Smashwords to the world and began private beta testing.  May 2018 will mark the 10-year anniversary of when we opened our virtual doors for business.

These last 10 years have been nothing short of amazing, and it’s thanks to authors and publishers like you that we’re still here to serve you.

We ended our first year of Smashwords in 2008 with 140 books from 90 authors.  Today, Smashwords carries over 470,000 titles and works with 135,000 authors and publishers around the world.  We work with an awesome network of retail and library distribution partners who do amazing work behind the scenes to support Smashwords authors and publishers.

Let’s look at the business and service milestones for Smashwords this year and then I’ll share a preview of our plans for 2018.

Business Milestones

  • Books published – We now publish 472,100 ebooks, up 8% from 437,200 at the end of last year.
  • Words published – We now publish 16.8 billion words, up 1.2 billion or 7.5% from 15.6 billion a year ago.
  • Authors/pen names served – We now publish 135,175 authors, up almost 8,000 or 6% from 127,500 authors a year ago.
  • Profitability – Despite the moribund sales of most retailers, we managed to eke out another profitable year this year.  Our balance sheet is strong with cash and no debt which means we’re in a good position to ride out the industry slump as other players come and go.
  • Library ebooks show more growth – Library ebook sales continued to show modest growth, indicating that library sales are somewhat decoupled from weak retail sales.  The library ebook market is still small and has room for more upside.
  • Kobo holding steady - Kobo has been holding its own these last four years as other retailers have struggled more.  I think this speaks to their broad geographic footprint and strong line of e-reading devices that continue to earn solid reviews.  From their founding, Kobo has always had more of an international focus than the other larger retailers.  They’ve also got some additional measure of diversification in that they power the bookstores of other stores, and now they’re expanding into audiobooks. 
  • Scribd shows growth – Back in 2015, Scribd did a big pivot by cutting most romance from their catalog.  Romance readers were reading this subscription service out of house and home so Scribd had to pull back and regroup.  As a result, Smashwords romance authors took a big hit in 2015 compared to the strong sales they experienced at Scribd in 2014.  In 2016, however, we saw modest growth return at Scribd.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do in 2018. 
  • Sales up at Smashwords Store - Another bright spot was the Smashwords Store, which bucked the industry-wide trend to show year over year sales growth.   I think the performance was boosted by a few factors:  1.  Strong results for authors participating in our big two annual promotions for Read an Ebook Week and our July/Summer Winter Sale, and the addition of a new annual sale, our Smashwords End of Year Sale which ends January 1.   2.  Our new Smashwords Special Deals feature (I’ll describe it below) a self-serve merchandising tool, made it easy for readers to find onsale books.   3.  I think there’s a growing awareness that the Smashwords Store pays royalties up to 80% list, even on some 99-cent ebooks. For authors with strong platforms and the ability to direct readers to one store or another, it's a profitable sale.

Service Milestones

  • Monthly payments! – We launched monthy payments in early 2017.  Previously we paid quarterly.  We also eliminated the prior $10 threshold on PayPal payments.  Even if we only owe you a penny, we’ll pay that penny!
  • Distribution to Bibliotheca cloudLibrary – In February we announced a distribution deal with  Bibliotheca cloudLibrary (formerly 3M CloudLibrary), adding up to 3,000 additional libraries that can now purchase Smashwords titles.
  • Faster, more frequent deliveries to Barnes & Noble – In February, 2017 we announced that thanks to our friends at B&N, Smashwords now delivers books and updates 24X7 to their store.  Previously, we delivered only once-daily Monday-Friday at their request.  This means faster listings for your books.  It’s worthwhile to contrast this with the very early days of ebooks back in 2009 when it could take retailers several weeks to list a book, or contrast with print publishing where it can take a publisher 12-18 months to get a book into stores.
  • 2017 Smashwords Survey – Every year we produce this research report based on actual aggregate sales data sourced from across our retail and library distribution network.  Every year when I’m producing it, I privately curse it and swear I never want to do another (it’s a lot of work to pull this together!!), but every year when the findings reveal themselves I’m amazed at the insights it brings.  This year’s survey had two big bright spots from my perspective:  1. We found that $4.99 joined $2.99 and $3.99 as a pricing sweet spot that can maximize readership and earnings.  My takeaway from that finding was that despite all the pressures for devaluation in the marketplace, authors with loyal readership have pricing power.  2.  We knew from prior annual Surveys that books released as preorders sell more copies than those that are not, but this was the first Survey where we dug deeper and discovered how preorder books are vacuuming up the lion’s share of new book release sales each year. 
  • Special Deals launched - In August we introduced Special Deals, a new self-serve automated merchandising feature at the Smashwords store.  To join this ongoing home page promotion, simply create a coupon code in your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager and set the coupon to “public.”
  • Global pricing control – In September, we have our authors and publishers unprecedent control over pricing with the launch of our new Global Pricing Control feature.  You can now set custom prices for 248 different countries and 152 local currencies.  If you want to price at 3.99 Euro in Germany and 2.99 in Italy, you can do that with Global Pricing Control.  It’s also a great tool for authors doing BookBub promotions who need to lock down different custom prices in different countries, or for authors who need to deal with Amazon’s unruly price-matching nastygram emails.
  • New categorization options for erotic works – In September, after many months of close collaboration with our largest retailers, we rolled out a new classification system for erotic works that allows authors and publishers to certify the presence, or lack thereof, of certain taboo themes.  The feature allows us to give retailers and library partners greater control over what they receive from our authors and publishers.  As I mentioned in the original announcement, the move was designed to enable greater trust and transparency about the themes contained in these books.
  • New ticketing system to support you better – This month we rolled out a new ticketing system to support your service inquiries.  Every time you click the “?” icon at the top of any page at the Smashwords site and fill out that support form, it’ll generate a unique ticket which our team will track until your question is answered to your satisfaction.  It’ll also let you provide us instant feedback about each interaction with our service team.  Did we do great, or could we have done better?  Our goal is service with a smile.  We aim to answer your questions quickly, accurately and completely the first time around. 
  • Smart Author podcast – In October I launched the Smart Author podcast.  This has been my passion project for the last 18 months so it’s been a lot of fun (and incredible hard work  - my hat goes off to my fellow podcasters who’ve been doing this much longer!) to produce and share this with the world.  It’s like a free masterclass in ebook publishing best practices.  Apple Podcasts placed it in to their coveted New & Noteable home page feature for a few weeks which gave it a big boost (thank you Apple Podcasts!), and the launch was also assisted by an amazing volunteer launch team of Smashwords authors.  If you haven’t listened to it yet, you can check out the trailer right below or visit for links to the various podcast directories that carry it.

Smashwords Plans for 2018

We’ve got some exciting plans for 2018.  In broad strokes, here’s what you can expect:

  • Home page redesign – The home page you see now at Smashwords will get a refresh as we work to make more books more accessible and discoverable to the readers who want to discover them!
  • New line of business - Smashwords will expand our footprint by entering a new adjacent market that I think will please our authors and retailers alike (how’s that for opaque and obfuscated?)
  • More book marketing tools - We're working on a number of initiatives here that fall under the theme of helping you sell more books.  Some of this will be high profile and visible, and some of it will be behind the scenes.  I'll keep this item broad and vague for now so we don't tip our hand too much.
  • More continuous improvement - Every week at Smashwords our engineering team is launching new updates to the Smashwords platform.  In addition to the high-profile new features we announce here at the blog or at Site Updates, there are many more smaller but equally important incremental enhancements.  We're never standing still.
  • New 2018 edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide - I first published this back in 2008, and updated it several times over the years.  The last major update was almost five years ago.  I think its continuing popularity speaks to the fact that I focused on evergreen book marketing ideas.  These aren't flash-in-pan marketing tips that work today but won't work tomorrow.  The new edition is completely revised and restructured.  The organization is more logical, making it easier for authors and publishers to leverage these ideas at every stage of their publishing journey.  The new edition is scheduled for full release at the end of January.  If you can't wait another month, you can get it early via my exclusive advance audio serialization of the new edition on the Smart Author podcast (next item).
  • More from Smart Author – Unlike podcasts that go on for hundreds of episodes (and kudos to them for their achievement), I always intended Smart Author to have a finite number of core episodes focused on evergreen best practices.  Right now I’m in the middle of doing an exclusive advance audio serialization of the new 2018 edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, and then after that I’ve got a few more episodes planned that should keep me busy through the end of February or March.  After that, we’ll see.  Tell me what you want next, because this podcast is for you.  
  • More surprises
Thank you again for your trust, partnership and support.  Thanks also for distributing with Smashwords.   When you distribute with Smashwords to the retailers and library platforms we serve, you're directly supporting our ability to bring you exciting new tools and opportunities.

Don't miss my 2018 publishing industry predictions, also out today!


Bill Morgenstein said...

I am looking forward to the improvements as up to now I have not been able to generate many sales with Smashwords, including promotions that I have tried. Also, have found the site difficult to navigate.

Happy New Year

Pamela Cummins said...

Happy 2018! How wonderful that sales are up at Smashwords! Thank you for all your hard work for the constant improvements. I’m looking forward to another year of being a Smashwords author!

Mark Coker said...

HI Bill, if you have suggestions for how we can improve the navigation, please feel free to share here. We're always open to feedback, and now's a good time as we prepare for a home page revamp.

Thanks Pamela!

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

I was really excited about getting paid every month. It helps a lot when I work through my monthly budget. I'm looking forward to what new things are coming. This is going to be the year I finally get boxed sets together.

I'm glad Smashwords is thriving. The last thing I want is for another place to go out of business. That's never good for authors.

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Keep doing what you are doing, including the new things you try. I, too, haven't managed to sell much at Smashwords, but I keep trying to send people there. Lots of folks don't know how to choose the correct format and get the file in the right place for their reader to see it. I tell them the mobi file will work on their Kindle, but they are too tech-scared to try to get it there. People don't even redeem my coupons because they say it's too hard to get the book on their reader :(

Cecilia Peartree said...

Thanks for the work you do to help indie authors and your ideas for promotions. Via Smashwords I now sell quite a bit more more on Kobo than I do on any of the Amazons apart from UK.

Leeanna Morgan said...

Congratulations on a successful year! It's great to be working with you, your awesome staff, and so many talented authors.

widdershins said...

Happy 10th Anniversary! ... looking forward to reading about un-'opaque and obfuscated' new treats you're going to roll out. :)

K.C. Taylor said...

Surprised to hear sales in the Smashwords store are up. Authors I edit for all had a serious drop in participation/sales from the annual sales this year when there used to be a nice bump in years past.

Mark Coker said...

KC, I was a bit surprised myself given the industry-wide anemia. When we look at the results of each of these sales, there's always a broad disparity of performance between individual authors and publishers. Some do well, some sell nothing. But overall, it represents a sales boost for the Smashwords author community as a whole. I think a lot of it comes down to the author's personal platform. If they have the ability to direct readers to deals for books those readers haven't purchased yet, they can do really well. But then others do well with no promotion. Always all over the map.

Larry Archer said...

I'd just like to say that I have excellent success at selling through SmashWords. I typically generate at least 50% more sales at SmashWords than Amazon. The ability to quickly publish without all of the delay experienced at other distributors is greatly appreciated. Plus the fact that I can publish once and have it pushed out to Apple iBooks, B&N, Nook, etc. is a great help and time saver.

The one thing that I would greatly appreciate is the ability to determine a books ranking in your sales without having to page through the best seller list until you find your book. Some way of doing analytics would be really sweet.

Keep on doing a great job.

nlo said...

I too am looking forward to the improvements. For all Mark's talk about Amazon, I always saw Smashwords as a great place to gain readers. It hasn't worked out perfectly for me, but I think given a better discovery engine (both predictive and surprising), this could come to be a large marketplace itself. All the best!