Monday, April 25, 2016

BookExpo America Embraces Self Publishing


BookExpo America, the country's largest publishing industry conference, is stepping up its commitment to self-published authors this May 11-13 at the McCormick West Convention Center in Chicago.

For the last five or six years, BEA held uPublishU, their awesome indie-author themed conference, as a sister event the day after the main BEA conference ended.

This year in Chicago, BEA is integrating uPublishU programs and exhibitors directly into the main floor of the conference.  Now that uPublishU is fully integrated, attending authors can enjoy the full range of main conference's sessions and networking opportunities as part of their conference registration.

Smashwords will attend BEA this year as an exhibitor in the uPublishU pavilion.  I'll be there with our marketing director Jim Azevedo.

I'll also present three conference sessions, two of which will be short talks from the uPublishU stage and one of which will be part of the general conference.  If you're attending, please stop by and say hello!

Here's my speaking schedule:

1.  Thursday, May 12    1:30-1:50pm
Apple iBooks Merchandising: How to Sell More Books at the World's Second Largest Ebook Retailer 
Location: uPublishU Stage

Description: Operating in 51 countries, iBooks is the world's second largest ebook retailer behind Amazon. In this short session you'll learn how increase the visibility of your ebooks at iBooks, capturing the attention of both readers and merchandising managers alike.

2.  Friday, May 13   11-11:50am

Top Ten Trends Shaping the Future of Publishing
Location:  Room W181ab

Description: In this 50-minute session I'll reveal 10 trends that are transforming the future of publishing. Learn how and why the playing field in ebooks is tilted to the indie author's advantage.  Learn why the former stigma of self-publishing is disappearing as indie authors publish with growing pride, professionalism and success.  Learn about the dark clouds looming on the horizon that threaten to devalue books and undermine author independence.  Learn what you can do to realize a more successful publishing future.

3.  Friday, May 13   2:30-2:50pm

How to Use Ebook Preorders to Make Your Next Book Launch More Successful
Location:  uPublishU Stage

Description:  As we revealed for the second year running in our 2016 Smashwords Survey, we found that ebooks released as preorders earn more readers than books simply uploaded the day of release.  In this short 20 minute session I'll provide a quick introduction to ebook preorders and share proven strategies for preorder success. 

Register Now for BEA!

Smashwords authors and publishers who plan to attend will find registration information at http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/Show-Info/Interested-in-Attending/  or click here for the direct registration link. If you're considering attending, you'll want to register before end of day April 26 to receive the special early bird pricing of $374, which saves authors and publishers $100 off of the full registration fee.  Booksellers, retailers, librarians, bloggers, educators and employees of non-profits are eligible for additional discounts.

On May 14, BEA will host their annual BookCon event for readers.  The event features panels and Q&A with authors, and readers will gain access to the show floor where they can meet with exhibitors such as Smashwords.  Register for Bookcon at http://www.thebookcon.com/Tickets/

Jim and I look forward to meeting Smashwords authors, publishers and readers in Chicago!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Smashwords Survey Reveals Insight into the Habits of Bestselling Authors

Welcome to the fifth annual 2016 Smashwords Survey!

This is hot off the presses.  Last Thursday I revealed the Survey results at the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas.

My goal with the Survey is to help Smashwords authors and publishers identify opportunities to reach more readers.

The Smashwords Survey takes a data-driven approach to identify potential best practices that can give you an incremental advantage.

The Survey also helps us identify habits of the most successful authors.

As smart indies understand, there's no single magic bullet to bestsellerdom.  The secret to selling more books is to adopt dozens of best practices while avoiding fatal mistakes that can undermine your success.

We can't use data to determine the quality of a book's writing or the brilliance of a cover image.  However, the quantitative metrics we examine do provide indirect indications of such quality, as well as myriad other indirect clues that help authors view publishing in a completely new light.

Each year I add a few new goodies while maintaining most of the prior categories of analysis.  This year, thanks to new enhanced metadata capabilities we introduced in recent years, we take a closer than ever look at preorders, box sets and series. 

The full presentation is embedded below. 

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Key findings are summarized below the presentation.

 

Key Findings for 2016 Survey

We looked at actual retail sales over the 12 month period between March 2015 through February 2016.  Here are the key findings:

  1. Fiction dominates - 89.5% of our sales were fiction titles.  Despite fiction's dominance, a number of non-fiction titles were among our top performers of the year. 
     
  2. Bestsellers have a greater social media presence - It's not a huge surprise, but better-selling authors are much more likely to have a social media presence in the form of author web sites, blogs and Facebook and Twitter presence.
     
  3. Romance dominates - Romance continues to dominate sales for Smashwords authors and publishers.  Romance accounted for 50% of our sales during the survey period.  Writers in other genres and categories can gain much inspiration from romance writers.  Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices, and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.
     
  4. New adult romance had the highest average earnings per romance title, but that's only part of the story - For the first time ever we looked at the relative performance of different subcategories of romance.  While New Adult, YA and contemporary had the highest average earnings per title within romance, when we examined median performance we found that subcategories of Sci-fi romance, fantasy and erotic romance earned the highest median yields per title.  If folks find this analysis useful, maybe I'll do similar analyses of other popular genres.
     
  5. Box set benefits - We found that although most box sets under-perform the sales of other titles, they appear to provide authors other worthwhile indirect benefits.  In fact, measuring box set success by sales performance alone is probably the wrong metric of success.  Only four of our top 100 bestselling titles at Smashwords were box sets, but a closer look at the top performers should give authors insight into potential opportunity.  The top performing box set during the Survey period was from multi-New York Times bestseller Kristen Ashley, whose box set, The 'Burg Series, performed well.  It was priced at $17.95 and sports 1.2 million words.  The other top-100 performer was R.L. Mathewson's Honeymoon from Hell Box Set priced at $4.99 which bundled six short novellas with a combined word count of 140,000.  The other two top-performing box sets were limited-time charity box sets organized by Brenda Novak and her annual diabetes fundraising drive.  

    There are typically three reasons authors do box sets:  1.  Single-author value-priced bundles, such as bundle of a full series.  The goal here is to drive sales while giving readers an incentive to commit to a full series or collection of books as opposed to buying books one at a time.  2.  Multi-author box sets.  Here, multiple authors collaborate to cross-promote other authors to their respective fan bases.  The best-performing multi-author bundles are usually FREE or priced at $.99, and the objective is to build author awareness among new readers and drive readers into their new favorite authors' books as opposed to earning direct profits from the box set.  3.  Charity box sets - These are often value-priced.
     
  6. Free remains a powerful catalyst to drive discovery - Each year, we analyze the effectiveness of free ebooks at generating readership.  To keep the numbers apples to apples, we gather the data each year from the same retailer - Apple iBooks, and then compare average downloads per title for free books against the average purchases per title of paid books.  This year, the multiplier was 41X, the same result we found in last year's Survey.  This means that on average, free books get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price.  To learn how to make free work for you, read my recent article at Publishers Weekly, The Power of Free: How to Sell More Books.
     
  7. Pricing sweet spots - For the last few years, $3.99 was the sweet spot for most indie fiction ebooks.  It was the price that maximized both unit downloads and earnings.  For the 2016 Survey, $2.99 barely edged out $3.99 for the greatest average unit downloads.  However, we observed some shifting on the earnings front.  $3.99 retained the mantle for the average price that generates the highest earnings, and $4.99 came in as the second best price, beating out $2.99.  I think this speaks to a growing number of professional indie authors finding success migrating to slightly higher prices.  In general, most indie authors of full length fiction are probably best served at $3.99 to maximize earnings and unit sales.  You'll also see that some strong performing non-fiction titles skewed the earnings data for the higher price ranges.
     
  8. Box set pricing - For the first time ever, we took a look at how box sets perform at different price points for both unit sales and earnings.  The data was a surprise!  For unit sales, $.99 blew away the other price points.  But for the price point that earned authors the most earnings, $9.99 won out.  Please remember this data is based on averages and your book may not conform to the average.
     
  9. Longer books still sell better - For the fifth year in a row, we found strong evidence that on average, readers prefer longer books.  Our top 100 bestsellers averaged 112,000 words, and our top 1,000 bestselling books averaged over 103,000 words.  Note that four of the top 100 bestsellers were box sets, and three of those four had high word counts.
     
  10. Preorder adoption increases - 13.5% of new books released at Smashwords during the Survey period were born as preorders, up from 9.8% in the prior one-year survey period.  This means over 85% of authors are still simply uploading their books the day of release. It also means that as an author or publisher looking for an advantage, I'm handing you preorders on a silver platter.  Five years from now when everyone is doing preorders, you won't enjoy the same advantage you do now.  Based on our data, the authors and publishers that are forgoing preorders are squandering sales opportunities.  Why the low adoption?  I'll hazard two guesses:  1.  I think most authors still don't understand how to leverage preorders to maximum benefit.  2. Contributing to the confusion, many authors who've tried preorders at Amazon have found them counter-productive because a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize the book's first-day sales rank.  I spoke with two authors this week who let their Amazon preorder experience sour their view toward preorders at other retailers.  This is a mistake.  A preorder at iBooks and Kobo (two of the three largest retailers served by Smashwords) allows accumulated orders to credit toward the first sales sales rank.  iBooks is the king of preorders.  See the next item...
     
  11. Books born as preorders earn more money - Median earnings for books born as preorders were 2.8 times higher than books simply uploaded the day of release, while average earnings were an even greater multiple.  This speaks not just to the power of preorders, but it also speaks to the smarts of our bestselling authors, many of whom have now been doing preorders with Smashwords for up to three years. Every preorder gains you incremental benefit in terms of expanded readership, and over the course of years this incremental benefit compounds upon itself like a great investment.  This is because the more readers you gain, the easier it becomes to gain even more readers because fans breed more fans through word of mouth.

    Seven of our top 10 bestselling titles were born as a preorder, as were 55 of our top 100 bestsellers.  The strong presence of books-born-as-preorders in our bestseller lists is especially significant considering that only a small minority of books (13.5%) originated as preorders.  If you're not releasing preorders with Smashwords, you're missing out!  Last June we announced assetless (metadata-only) preorders, which allow you to list your preorder up to 12 months in advance, even before the book is finished and before you have a cover.  As I've been advising now for almost three years, the longer your preorder runway, the more opportunity you have to benefit from preorders.  Check out my preorder strategy article I wrote for Publishers Weekly to learn tips on how to integrate preorders into your next book releases.  Or visit the Ebook Preorder Information page at Smashwords.
     
  12. Series books outsell standalones - We dug deeper than ever this year to examine how series books perform.  Among the top 100 bestselling series with and without free series starters, the series with free series starters continue to earn more sales than series without free series starters.  We also found that in general, series books significantly outsell standalones.  When we compared the average sales of the top 1,000 bestselling series books against the sales of the top 1,000 standalones, the series books had 195% higher earnings and their median earnings increase was an impressive 127%.  As a caveat, keep in mind that our series data is heavily skewed by the popularity of series romance.  However, I think the same factors that drive romance readers to love series apply to the readers of genre fiction readers in other categories.  Even non-fiction authors can take some inspiration here.  Readers love series!  There's more in the Survey.  And if you're already a series authors at Smashwords, make sure all your series books are linked up in your Dashboard's Series Manager screen.  Series Manager increases the discoverability of your series books at our retailers.

Additional background on the Survey

As I caution each year, please remember your book is unique.  Your book and your readers may not conform to the aggregated norm. 

It's simply impossible to use any form of quantitative or qualitative analysis to get inside the minds of readers to understand the multivariate factors that influence their decision to ignore one book but devour another.  Readers are probably not even fully conscious of what motivates them.  But this impossibility shouldn't stop you - and it won't stop us - from searching for the bread crumbs that lead to useful insights.

If you've followed the Survey in prior years, you know the Survey is based upon verified sales data, aggregated from across the Smashwords Distribution Network.  This means we included sales data from Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, Scribd, Oyster (now closed), OverDrive and others.

Since we distribute only about 300 books to Amazon, it also includes a small amount of data from Amazon.  I'd encourage you to consider our data more representative of the book-buying behavior at retailers other than Amazon.

For followers of the Smashwords Survey who wish to dig deeper, it's fun to view the results of 2016 within the larger context of our prior surveys.  View our prior surveys here: Smashwords Survey 2015 | Smashwords Survey 2014 | Smashwords Survey 2013 | Smashwords Survey 2012). 

Support Future Surveys!

If you distribute with Smashwords, thank you!  You are directly contributing not only to our data, but also to our ability to continue bringing you this data. If you don't use Smashwords for distribution, please consider consolidating your distribution with us.  We want your sales data, and we want to help you sell more books.

Thank you Smashwords authors and publishers!  Until next year...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Smashwords Surpasses 400,000 Books

Smashwords on Wednesday surpassed 400,000 books published.

It took only eight years and two months.

400,000 indie ebooks available for discovery and download.

Most of these books are also distributed to major retailers such as iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and to library ebook providers OverDrive and Baker & Taylor.

These books are here because you put them here.  You shared your wordy brilliance with the world.

Thank you for inviting Smashwords to join you on your indie authorship journey.

mark


P.S.
Congrats to Goddess Pleasure (@GoddessPleasure) for being the first to spot our milestone!


Friday, April 1, 2016

Kindle Power Bucks Solves Book Marketing Challenge (April Fools Satire)

Spoof of ficticious Kindle Power Bucks service
Note to readers: this post is satire.  It was our April Fools post.  Whether it's plausible (or already happening as some might argue) I leave you to decide.

Amazon today announced Kindle Power Bucks, a powerful new ebook marketing program for indie authors.

Kindle Power Bucks solves an age-old problem faced by indie authors – most book marketing doesn't work.

If you're tired of wasting money on advertising, or sick of prostituting yourself on social media, read on.

With Kindle Power Bucks, authors pay only if readers read their books. It’s the most accountable paid marketing tool I’ve ever seen.

Here's how it works:

To enroll your ebooks, go to your KDP dashboard, click on the new KPB bidding tool, register your credit card or direct bank account for auto-billing, and then click to the book you want to promote.

Next, enter the bounty you're willing to pay for each page the reader reads.  Amazon calls this the PPP, which stands for Payment Per Page.  Rates start at one penny per page.  Similar to Google Adwords, the PPP tool will suggest appropriate bids that will get you the best results.  As the final step, enter your daily marketing budget for the campaign.

Now grab a bowl of popcorn, sit back and watch the real-time graphs flicker and unfold before your very eyes as your ebook earns page-reads in real time.

Do angles exist?  Yes, right angles.
Real time Kindle Power Bucks Chart
Readers per Hour

It’s almost too good to be true. The catch is that this is a paid marketing program.  You're paying readers to read your book.  But at least you know you're getting read.  You're building readership.

Based on early indications, readers and indie authors alike are responding with enthusiasm to the new program.

Amazon reports that indie authors enrolled over 250,000 books into the Kindle Power Bucks program in the first few hours.

The first authors to enroll are already seeing incredible results.

As I write this (early morning April 1), 85 of the top 100 best-selling books in the Kindle Store are Kindle Power Bucks books.

The program makes free books look expensive by comparison.

Kindle Power Bucks offers multiple exclusive program benefits that give you an advantage over authors who choose not to enroll, such as sales rank triple credits.  This makes KPB books more discoverable and more desirable to Kindle customers, and earn them more exposure in the also bought recommendations.

Amazon counts each completed book as if it's a full sale to a verified customer, and reports this data to the bestseller lists.  This all but ensures the most popular KBP books will earn spots in next week’s New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

In another innovative twist, partial reads accrue credit toward full reads.  For example, let’s say your book is 200 pages and the first 100 readers quit after two pages.  That would equal 200 pages read so you'd earn a full read credit and the triple credit toward sales rank. 

This means you can start supercharging your sales rank within minutes of enrolling your book in KPB, even if readers never finish your book.

To further help drive discovery, Amazon makes it easy for readers to search for the highest-paying books in their favorite genres.

Participating authors are reporting that KPB books are earning better reviews than they did prior to enrollment.  Perhaps this is because paid readers are happier readers.

Bids Topping $1.00 Per Page

Early bidding is heated as authors compete for readers.  Authors in competitive categories are bidding up to $1.00 per page for the highest visibility spots, which means some readers are earning over $300 per book.

It'll be interesting to see how KBP influences reading behavior.  Will readers of drier subject categories demand higher payments?

To prevent program abuse and help authors stretch their marketing budgets, Amazon caps the monthly earnings for each individual reader at $10,000.  I've heard rumblings that some romance readers have complained this cap discriminates against them since romance readers are known to read multiple books per day.

If your book's popularity exhausts your marketing budget to the point your credit card is maxed out or the available cash in your bank account is consumed, no problem.

Write. Publish. Spend!
Amazon has you covered with an innovative new financing option called KDP Mortgage.  Authors can apply online for instant home equity credit lines of up to $500,000.

As with all new changes to the KDP Select program, there will be winners and losers.

“I’m winning,” said Hugh Barnacle, a writer of dystopian fiction.  “For my book launch this morning, I set my marketing budget at $250,000.  Within minutes I topped the charts.  It’s so easy - anyone with enough home equity can become a bestselling author if they’re committed.  If I were a lap-sized poodle, I’d be humping Jeff Bezos’ leg right now.”

Invest more money.  Reach more readers.
Authors with smaller marketing budgets may find their books disadvantaged in the Kindle store as readers modify their reading habits and decide it’s more profitable to read books than to purchase books.

Authors may also decide that reading is more profitable than writing.

“I love the new program as a reader, but I hate it as an author,” said April Sunshine, a writer of New Age fiction.  “First Kindle Unlimited devalued my books by paying only $1.40 per qualified read. Then they devalued my writing further by paying me less than a half penny per page, which means my earnings dropped to $1.00 for full reads in the US and only 25 cents for my books in India.  Then they redefined how they define a page and my earnings dropped again.  And now Amazon wants me to pay my readers to read my books?!?!  Who’s going to feed my children?  I’m quitting writing to become a full-time KPB reader instead. It pays better.  Please tell me this an April Fools joke.”

Yes, it is.  Sorry.

Here are links to my prior April First posts:

2015 - New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors
2013:  New Smashwords WEED Service Treats Common Author Ailments
2011:  Smashwords Acquires Amazon, New Company Called Smashazon
2009:  JK Rowling Publishes Harry Potter Ebooks at Smashwords

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Call to End the Cuban Book Embargo

The American publishing community joined together today to call on the US Congress and President Obama to end the book embargo against Cuba.

The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly covered the story earlier today.

On Monday, in an unprecedented show of support, Publishers Weekly will print the petition on the front cover of the magazine.  You can see a preview of what it will look like at left.  Over 45 companies, organizations, associations and individuals signed the Publishers Weekly petition, including the CEOs of three big 5 publishers.

You can view the text of industry petition here.

There's also a new, public petition at Whitehouse.gov.  Add your support now by signing the public petition here

The American writing community is well-represented in the Publishers Weekly petition with backing from Romance Writers of America (RWA), Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), California Writers Club, Sisters in Crime, and the San Francisco Writers Conference.
"Access to books and literature is a fundamental human right.  It's for this reason the California Writers Club, an organization representing over 2,000 writers, is proud to sign this important petition to end the book embargo against Cuba."
- David George
  President, CWC.

Among the publishers and distributors signing are the CEOs of Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Sourcebooks, O’Reilly Media, Kensington, Open Road Integrated Media, Smashwords, Independent Book Group (IPG) and Baker & Taylor.
See the end of the blog post for the full petition and the signers.


Americans - Sign the Petition Today!

There are two petitions in this campaign.  The first petition is the industry petition in which CEOs and top executives drawn from multiple sectors of the U.S. publishing community voiced their support for an end to the Cuban book embargo.  This is the petition that will appear on the front of Publishers Weekly next week.

The second petition is a petition for the American public.  This petition, hosted at Whitehouse.gov, calls on President Obama to take immediate steps to eliminate the embargo as it pertains to books and educational materials.

If you live in the US, please sign it now at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba

Please sign it and share the link to the petition with everyone you know.  Tweet it, Facebook it, bang pots and pans for it!

If we attract 100,000 signatures, the Obama administration will be obligated to issue a public response at the link above.

The Story Behind the Petition

I conceived of the petition last month while visiting Cuba as part of 40 member publishing industry delegation organized by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit.

The delegation was organized by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit. You can read about the delegation in the Publishers Weekly stories by Calvin Reid (here and here).

Several days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented an historic milestone. The purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.

The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.

While listening to the Cuban authors and publishers, I was struck by how horribly harmful the embargo is to their authors, publishers and readers.

Due to the US embargo, it’s extraordinarily expensive and difficult for Cuban publishers to gain access to even the simplest raw materials of bookmaking, such as paper and ink.  And for self-published authors, even if they had access to self-publishing services or book printers, the set-up fees of such print services would be prohibitively expensive.

Typical Cubans, whether they’re doctors or janitors, earn the equivalent of less than $20 US dollars per month.  This means they don’t have a lot of disposable income to purchase books or publish books.

Yet the Cuban people love books.  I attended the Havana Book Fair where over the course of a few days hundreds of thousands of Cubans attended.  I noticed that the audience skewed toward younger millennials.  These kids and young adults are the future of Cuba.  They’re bright, well-educated, eager to read more books and they're excited about the warming relations with the US.

Cuba has an adult literacy rate that is nearly 100%.  Compare that to the the US where adult literacy is only about 80%.  Cuba has a rich literary heritage.  They value books.

Imagine the amazing stories locked between the minds and fingertips of the Cuban people, just waiting to be revealed to the world.  This is why I created Smashwords.  I want to help these writers and publishers overcome the artificial barriers that prevent their words from reaching reader eyeballs.

Of the approximate 45 publishers in Cuba – all state sponsored and cash-starved – they don’t have access to US markets, or to the services and expertise of the American publishing community.

If you think about it, much of the enabling infrastructure of global publishing flows through the US.  It's where you'll find the major publishers, distributors, literary agents and the myriad other service providers involved in the production, distribution and sale of books and bookmaking technology.

The technology and services of Smashwords, for example, could make it fast, free and easy for any Cuban writer or publisher to produce and distribute an ebook.  We can provide Cuban writers access to the free tools to reach a global Spanish-language audience.  Imagine how transformative even a few dollars in royalties would be to a Cuban writer’s life.

For Cuban readers, I want to make our 60,000 free books available to them along with our 350,000 other low-cost ebooks.  I want to make it possible for Cuban readers to digitally read the books of Cuban and other Spanish-language writers too.

Yet the economic embargo prohibits us from helping writers, readers and publishers in Cuba.  The embargo prevents our retailer and library partners from operating in Cuba.  Financial restrictions prohibit our payment processor – PayPal – from paying authors and publishers in Cuba.  PayPal tells me they want to do business in Cuba but they can’t until the financial transaction restrictions of the embargo are lifted.

During our interactions with our Cuban counterparts, it quickly became clear that both sides of the delegation were eager to work with one another, but we all felt powerless to do so due to the embargo.

So I started wondering what we could do to fix the problem.  Obviously, the answer was to end the embargo.  So the crazy idea I came up with was for members of our delegation to take steps to end the embargo.  Surely, if the multi-billion-dollar US publishing industry could come together and voice their support for ending the embargo, politicians who are otherwise ignoring their citizen constituents would listen to their corporate constituents, right?

I shared my idea with Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly and Joe Matthews of International Publishers Group.  They thought it had merit.  Soon, word started spreading within the delegation and several people approached me and said they'd support such an effort.  And then, as I was participating on a panel the next day, a member of the Cuban delegation asked if there was anything we could do to end the embargo.  With that soft ball pitch, I said yeah, maybe, we've been batting around this crazy idea...

Following the visit to Cuba, we formed a petition committee of Publishers Weekly (Jim Milliot, Cevin Breyerman, George Slowik, Jr., Calvin Reid) , Combined Book Exhibit (Jon Malinowski and Janet Fritsch) and Jim Azevedo and myself of Smashwords. Publishers Weekly immediately committed to put this on the front of the magazine.  I drafted the original petition and then we collaborated to edit and refine it, and then we worked together to set the strategy for the petition.  What you see to today is the result of an amazing collaborative effort by my fellow organizers and of course the participation of the petition signers, many of whom understand and appreciate the delicate political environment in the US today.

Today, these petition signers made a bold statement that they will stand on the right side of history despite the many voices that seek to perpetuate the past injustices of the economic embargo.

A big thanks to Jeffrey Trachtenberg and his editors at The Wall Street Journal who saw fit to give this story the attention it deserved.  The Wall Street Journal story has elevated our effort to the attention of the broader American public.  The American public now has the opportunity to apply friendly encouragement to their political representatives, challenging our country to stand on the right side of history by lifting the embargo.

The Story Behind the Embargo, and What Comes Next

The US embargo against Cuba has a dark and twisted past.  What we in America refer to today as the embargo (and what Cubans refer to as “the blockade”) grew out of a tangled spaghetti mess of presidential executive orders followed by Congressional actions and statutes, and followed by escalating retaliations and rhetoric on both sides.

Books have been written on the origins and impacts of the embargo.  I'll try to summarize in a few paragraphs.

In a nutshell, much of the mess started in 1960 when President Eisenhower decided to cancel 700,000 tons of sugar imports from Cuba to the U.S.  The Cuban government then responded by nationalizing American oil refineries without compensation (why do some of America’s biggest world blunders always come back to oil?), and then we added an embargo, and then they became dependent upon Russia for oil and military stuff, and then there was the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis in which the world our parents knew almost ended in a puff of radioactive dust, and then the US Bay of Pigs invasion (oops, sorry), etc etc.

Along the way the US has criticized the Castro regime for human rights violations as if this is justification for maintaining the embargo.  I don’t doubt such violations (I met a woman on my flight to Cuba whose brother was shot in the ‘60s for trying to escape Cuba), but really, isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black?

The US government has been no angel in world affairs.  Yeah, we deserve some respect for helping to save humanity from Nazi and Japanese tyranny in World War II.  But before and after that we had our fair share of screw ups along the way, like Americans stealing America from the native American Indians, or the dark stain of slavery, or the Iran/Contra deal, or the CIA overthrow of multiple democratically elected governments, or for more contemporary examples just look at how our government allows its own people to be poisoned by lead in Flint just to save a few bucks, or how we allow big corporations to buy politicians, or how we continue to cozy up to autocrats and dictators in oil-rich countries (there's oil again!) who strip their citizens of basic human rights, or who behead bloggers for offending Allah or whatever.

But I digress.  I love America.  We’re a wonderful country with wonderful people but we can be pretty clueless quite a bit of the time.  In the case of Cuba, we’ve been stupid for about five decades.  Innocent Cubans have suffered.

It’s actually pretty amazing the Cuban people don’t hate Americans.  Yet you meet with them and what you see are a bright and optimistic people who feel incredibly connected to us, and who want to be more connected.  Most Americans who visit Cuba end up feeling the same reciprocal desire to connect.  To be ambassadors for a better aspect of America.

After all, as any world traveler will tell you, we all have more in common than we have apart.  All too often we allow trivial things like politics, religion, race and place of birth to separate us.  Engagement leads to peace, understanding, respect and mutual benefit.

President Obama realized the embargo was failing to achieve anything productive, and decided that if he could help expose the Cuban people to American culture, tourist dollars and information, he could achieve real progress.

No doubt, the relationship to come will be fraught with stumbles, bumbles, squabbles and awkward moments, not terribly dissimilar to teenagers experiencing their first romantic relationship.

The Obama administration has reestablished diplomatic relations with the Cuban government.  They’ve reopened respective embassies and also made strides to relax travel restrictions and permit limited commercial transactions such as in the field of telecommunications so that the Cuban people can gain increased access to outside information via the Internet.

There’s a great exclusive interview with Obama from December at Yahoo News in which reporter Olivier Knox asks Obama to articulate his Cuba strategy.  In the interview, Obama talks about how the executive branch (i.e. the President) can make tweaks and modifications to the embargo despite the gridlock and obstruction of current Congressional leaders.  It starts with a two minute sample and then jumps in to the full interview.  https://www.yahoo.com/politics/obama-really-wants-to-go-to-cuba-but-only-if-the-101913219.html

After listening to the interview, I decided that Obama would really want to lift the book embargo if only someone would suggest it to him.  After all, when you listen to his criteria for the modifications he’s made to date – providing Cubans access to more information via the Internet, more access to American Culture and business practices, doing things that directly benefit the Cuban people, sharing American cultural and humanitarian values – then it’s quite obvious that books could help him achieve his objectives.

Books promote greater cross-cultural understanding and economic development.  Books are the most powerful vehicle for knowledge sharing and free expression.

Next week on March 17, according to Reuters, the Obama administration is expected to announce further easing of restrictions related to commercial and humanitarian assistance.  Their announcement comes on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Cuba March 21-22.

We want President Obama to address the book embargo in his March 17 announcement.  With your help, this might be possible.

In my opinion, the US economic embargo against Cuba is nothing short of a national embarrassment.  It accomplished nothing other than harming the Cuban people.  It’s anachronistic and antagonistic to basic humanitarian and American values.

The American people seem to agree.  According to a Pew poll last year, 72% of Americans now favor an end the US economic embargo against Cuba, including 59% of Republicans.  Gallup has been tracking American sentiment toward Cuba and the embargo for many years, and their findings confirm the Pew finding. Most Cuban-Americans now support an end to the embargo.

Only the US Congress has the power to completely abolish the embargo, and despite growing bipartisan support for the embargo’s end, it’s unlikely we’ll see the embargo lifted until after the next election in November.

Two of the three Republican candidates for President – Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – have spoken out against the end of the embargo.  Ironically, their parents came from Cuba.  To the young Cubans I spoke to, these two are a national embarrassment.

But Cruz and Rubio come from a different generation, a generation whose parents fled Cuba in the '60s for political reasons.  It’s this influential generation of Cuban-Americas that has made it politically impossible for rapprochement in the past.  Though according to polls, even this older generation is slowly warming to the idea of normalized relations with Cuba.

The more recent waves of Cuban immigrants coming to America since the 1980s have come for economic opportunity.  These younger Cubans are much more in favor of normalized relations with Cuba, and much more in favor of ending the embargo.  It's this new generation of politically influential Cuban-Americans that give American politicians the political cover they need to chart a new course.

According to a December 2015 survey conducted by the research firm Bendixon and Amadi and referenced by the Miami Herald - 77% of Cuban-Americans age 18-49 support normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.  Fully 53% of Cuban-Americans now support an end to the US embargo, and among 18-49 year olds, the percentage is 66%.

Last year, Donald Trump went against his own party by expressing support for Obama’s efforts to normalize relations.  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also in favor of ending the embargo.  One of these individuals is likely to become our next president.

So while Congressional action is unlikely in the near term, President Obama has authority under the executive branch to make immediate modifications to the embargo.

We think it’s time to add books to the list.

Please join our campaign by signing the public petition today at Whitehouse.gov.  The link is https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba


The two petitions follow below

The Industry Petition to appear in Publishers Weekly:

END THE BOOK EMBARGO AGAINST CUBA


In February 2016, a delegation of approximately 40 American publishing industry representatives met with their publishing counterparts in Havana, Cuba. The two days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented an historic milestone. Its purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.

The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.

The undersigned companies and individuals - drawn from the American delegation as well as other leading U.S. publishing industry participants - hereby call upon the U.S. Congress and President Obama to lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.  This call is consistent with the will of the American people, who, according to a 2015 Gallup and Pew polls, overwhelmingly support the elimination of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Our position:
  • We ask Congress and the President to lift the US trade embargo against Cuba related to the production, distribution and sale of books and educational materials.
  • The U.S. trade embargo is harmful to book culture and runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.
  • Cuba boasts a rich and proud literary tradition with much to contribute to book culture.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate-nearly 100%-is among the highest in the world.
  • Exciting commercial opportunities exist for the American and Cuban publishing communities to collaborate for the benefit of readers and writers everywhere.
  • The American book publishing community stands ready to help Cuba's writers and publishers gain access to the global book market, and to help the Cuban people gain greater access to the amazing diversity of books published by American publishers.


The Public Petition at Whitehouse.gov (Click here to sign today!)

End the Book Embargo Against Cuba


  • On the eve of his historic visit to Cuba March 21-22, we call on President Obama to utilize executive powers to immediately lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.
  • As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.
  • Books promote cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression and positive social change.
  • The book embargo runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate – at nearly 100% - is among the highest in the world.
  • Cuba boasts a rich literary heritage.
  • End the embargo to make the works of American and Cuban writers more accessible to readers in each country.
  • 72% of Americans support an end to the trade embargo against Cuba (Pew, 2015)


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Smashwords Year in Review 2015 and Plans for 2016

Each year I write an annual Smashwords year in review and then preview what's coming for the new year. Welcome to the 2015/2016 edition!

The short version of this post is that amid a general slowdown in the ebook market, characterized by a glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks and flat or declining sales industry-wide,
Smashwords is focused on the long term.

Although we've been in business for almost eight years, we still feel like we've only begun to scratch the surface of what's possible. We're looking ten years ahead and laying the groundwork today to enable a better long term future for the constituencies we serve - authors, publishers, retailers, libraries, readers, and book culture.

A quick introduction for the thousands of authors and publishers who are new to Smashwords this year: I founded the company in 2008 to make it fast, free and easy for any writer, anywhere in the world, to self-publish an ebook. In 2009 we began distributing our books to major retailers starting with Barnes & Noble. Today we've grown to become the world's largest distributor of self-published ebooks. Over the years we've opened up exciting new sales channels for indie authors and small indie publishers that were previously inaccessible or didn't exist.

Smashwords tools help you manage the complex digital logistics of ebook distribution from a single console. These tools help you publish and distribute with greater pride, professionalism and success. We've developed an amazing global distribution network backed by strong relationships with great partners that help put your books in front of more readers than ever before.

A mere eight years ago, back in the dark ages of publishing and before the advent of Smashwords, publishing was a print-centric business where print accounted for 99.5% of book sales. A few large gatekeeper publishers in New York controlled which writers could become authors, which books could be read by readers, and which books reached bookstores. Bookstores, constrained by limited physical shelf space, could only stock a small fraction of available books.

Those print books were static objects. They rarely changed their form post-publication, and most new releases were quickly forced out of print to make way for the next batch of books.

Contrast the conventional print book with today's self-published ebooks. Self-published ebooks are dynamic, living and immortal creatures, constantly evolving with new metadata, new cover images and new book content, as the author or publisher iterates to make their book more visible and more desirable to readers. Indie ebooks never go out of print. Ebook stores will stock them forever.

Ebook self-publishing has transformed publishing for the better. Thanks to ebook publishing platforms such as Smashwords and the retailers and library partners who have embraced indie ebooks with a passion, every writer in the world now has the freedom to publish and the freedom to be discovered, read and judged by their readers. Readers are the new gatekeepers.

The good news for indie authors and the small indie presses we serve is that the transformation is still in its infancy. Indies are capturing market share.  Few in the traditional publishing industry appreciate the revolutionary changes yet to come thanks to self publishing. Indie authors know what's coming, as do our retailers and library partners. They see that every year, more and more readers are turning to self-published ebooks. Most readers don't know or care if a book is self published. They want a great read and a fair price. Indies are publishing great reads at great prices.

At Smashwords, we work for you. Unlike publishing services that earn income selling expensive services and packages to authors, we don't sell anything other than ebooks. I designed the Smashwords business model so our interests are 100% aligned with the interests of our authors, publishers, retailers, and library partners. If we help you connect books to readers then we earn a small commission and a seat at your table.

We're working to create competitive advantages for Smashwords authors and publishers. Every day we're asking ourselves how we can add more value so that you can be more successful distributing with us than without us.


Smashwords 2015 Year in Review


Here's a summary of noteworthy events and milestones of interest to the Smashwords community in 2015.

SERVICE MILESTONES

Expanded global distribution - Smashwords expanded the reach of our global distribution network in 2015. In October we announced a deal with Gardners which will deliver our books to over 2,000 public and academic libraries, and to over 400 small ebooks stores powered by Gardners. Earlier this month we added three new distribution partners with Odilo, Tolino and Yuzu, further expanding the global reach of Smashwords titles in North America, South America and Europe.  These last three partners improve our reach to libraries, retailers and college bookstores.

Assetless preorders - In June we announced assetless preorders, our most ambitious new feature since we launched Smashwords in 2008. It was an enormous technical undertaking that involved our entire engineering team and over one year of beta testing and development. It couldn't have happened without the close collaboration and support of our awesome retailer partners, especially iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was a pretty radical idea to give self-published writers the ability to establish preorder listings up to 12 months in advance, even though the retailer had no assurance that the author would deliver the book on time. We developed flexible policies and systems to automatically help authors meet deadlines, or to modify onsale dates as needed.

Suffice it to say the new assetless preorder capability has reaped incredible results for many of our authors. If you don't have your next 12 months of book releases up on assetless preorder today, do yourself a favor and make it happen ASAP. As we found in the 2015 Smashwords Survey, books born as preorders earn more sales than books uploaded the day of release.   The longer preorder runway enabled by assetless gives you additional time to market your book and accumulate orders.

To learn how to make assetless preorders work for you, check out the links to my various blog posts, articles and best practices training materials at the Smashwords Preorder page.

Faster shipments - In support of the assetless preorder launch, we redesigned our shipment systems, and as a result our shipments are faster and more reliable than ever. For iBooks, we're now shipping continuously 24X7 and it's not uncommon for our books or metadata updates to appear in their store within an hour of shipment. For Kobo, we now provide them hourly shipments 24X7. For Barnes & Noble, we still ship once daily on business days, but thanks to improvements on their end, they're now listing our books and preorders faster than ever, usually within about 30 hours of our delivery. Thank you retail partners!  

Better alerting on book status - In May we introduced automated email notifications that alert you the moment your books are reviewed for Premium Catalog distribution, which means you're immediately aware of status and next steps. In October we introduced a new monthly alert to help you identify books that are awaiting modification prior to distribution. Combined, these two tools help authors and publishers obtain full distribution as quickly as possible. 

Widgets - This summer we released Smashwords Widgets. This new tool makes it easy for you and your readers to build attractive and dynamic book promotion widgets for placement on blogs and web sites. The widgets are customizable. To utilize our widget builder for your books, click to any book page, then click the "Create Widget" link below the shopping cart. Or, click here to play with the widgets now for the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.

Improved retailer merchandising for Smashwords authors and publishers - For many years now, we've worked behind the scenes with our retailers to help them identify great Smashwords titles that are worthy of merchandising love on their store's home page. Hundreds, if not thousands of Smashwords authors have benefited from these efforts. For the last two years, we've provided iBooks weekly "hot lists" of our top-performing titles as well as other titles we think deserve merchandising love based on the author's track record or performance at other Smashwords retailers.

In 2015 we began delivering customized hot lists to the merchandising teams of Barnes & Noble and Kobo. In 2016 you'll see us continue to enhance our ability to help retailers identify the titles that merit additional feature love. The best thing about our merchandising support is that it's entirely merit-based. Leveraging our unique vantage point as your distributor, we can track audited sales and preorders (iBooks and Kobo) across multiple retailers so we can surface titles and authors we know will please readers and perform well if given additional love.

For example, if your book is performing well at iBooks but hasn't been discovered yet by readers at Barnes & Noble and Kobo, your strong iBooks performance alone could get your book surfaced and recommended to the merchandising managers at the other retailers.  Or let's say you're having a huge breakout at Kobo, which is a smaller retailer than iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Your success at Kobo can increase your visibility to the merchandising teams at iBooks and B&N.  It's yet another reason to consolidate your distribution with Smashwords!

More free best practices resources - As I mentioned in my 2016 Publishing Predictions post last week, an author's ability to implement best practices is what separates the strong sellers from the poor sellers. Best practices implementation isn't a static, one-time activity. Instead, we view best practices as a continuous approach to publishing in which you're ever-evolving and always working to do everything better. Better covers, better books, better book descriptions, etc.  Best practices are the great equalizers of the publishing world.

Every indie author has the opportunity to implement dozens of best practices. Each best practice, well-implemented, gives you an incremental competitive advantage for discoverability and sales. We invest a lot of effort each year to light your path. Whether its Jim Azevedo (our marketing director) or myself teaching classes at writers conferences, libraries or in online webinars, or through my writings here on the blog or my free ebooks (The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success and The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide) and elsewhere, we teach you how to implement best practices.

In July I presented a six-hour ebook publishing intensive at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Following the conference, I posted the complete slides with additional annotations of the presentation here on the blog in a post titled, How to Publish Ebooks. In it you'll find an introduction to ebook publishing; a summary of 16 of the most important best practices; a guide to ebook preorder strategy; and a guide to iBooks merchandising (much of what I teach about iBooks merchandising will help you maximize your chances of getting merchandising love at other retailers as well).  The slide deck of 283 slides has already been viewed over 25,000 times.

For a good collection of links to the best of our best practices training materials, visit the How to Publish and Distribute with Smashwords page and scroll down to section at the bottom labeled, "Great Resources to Help You Publish Like a Pro."

Daily sales chart improved - Back in June 2014 we introduced a cool new Dashboard sales reporting feature called Daily Sales that allows authors to view attractive same day and next day sales charts across multiple retailers and OverDrive. The tool originally provided 30 days of historical trending information. In 2015 we enhanced the charts to go to 90 days, and then a few months back we extended it to 180 days. By mid-year 2016 the charts will capture 12 months.

Enhanced metadata - Metadata is the data about your book (such as price, description, category) that helps retailers make your book discoverable to readers.

In March we added support for a couple dozen more book categories, and in May we added an option for authors and publishers to tag their books as box sets. This latter feature, although not adopted by retailers, has helped dozens of box sets and their hundreds of contributing authors receive extra merchandising love at retailers. For example, if a retailer asks us to provide them a list of the 20 top-selling romance box sets published over the last six months priced over $4.99, we can provide them that list, and it's entirely enabled by this new metadata option.

If you have published a box set, learn how to add this enhanced metadata here or if you're new to box sets and want to learn how you can collaborate with fellow authors on a box set, check out my blog post titled, How to Do Box Sets at Smashwords for Audience Building, Charity and Profits.

Improvements at the Smashwords Store - Smashwords is somewhat unusual in that we operate a small ebook store.  Our store is a vestige of our early days in 2008 before we became a full-fledged ebook distributor.  Although our store accounts for only a small fraction of our authors' sales, many readers prefer to shop at the store because one purchase gets them multi-format, DRM-free access to their book, and the store is accessible to customers worldwide.

In 2015 we made a number of improvements to the Smashwords Store to facilitate improved book discovery. We introduced a new search engine for faster and more robust search results; added support for automated suggestions to appear as you're typing out your search query; and added intelligent context-sensitive book recommendations on book pages that go beyond the conventional "people who bought this also bought this" algorithms.  These are labeled our "Readers of This Book Also Read" recommendations. On book pages we also added "Related categories" links to facilitate deeper drill-downs into adjacent categories.

Pre-emptive opt-outs - Most Smashwords authors tell us they appreciate our policy of automatically opting their books in to new Smashwords sales channels. In fact, it's a service promise we make in the Smashwords Terms of Service. However, to accommodate authors and publishers that don't want their books automatically shipped to new channels, we introduced a preemptive opt out feature which you'll find at the bottom of the Channel Manager page.

BUSINESS MILESTONES

Books published -  Smashwords now publishes 388,100 books, up 15% from 336,400 this same time last year.

Words published - Smashwords now publishes a 14 billion words (we hit this milestone today!!), up about 2 billion words from the same time last year.

Authors/pen names published - Smashwords now works with over 116,000 authors and small independent presses, up from about 100,000 a year ago.

Profitability - 2015 will be our fifth consecutive year of profitability. Profitability matters because it means we'll be around in the future to serve you.  We've got a solid, debt-free balance sheet giving us the freedom to weather the inevitable ups and downs of a cyclical market.

MISCELLANEOUS MILESTONES

Dearly departed retail partners - In all competitive markets, it's to be expected that some players will succeed while other fail. In 2015 a couple notable Smashwords sales outlets faltered. Txtr, a small European retailer, went bankrupt. Its assets were purchased by Media-Saturn, a large German consumer electronics retailer that plans to leverage the technology to launch an ebook offering some time in 2016. In late August we announced that our relationship with Indian retailer Flipkart was ending after a nearly two-year run, and then a couple weeks later they announced they were exiting the ebook market entirely. I recently learned that Kobo is acquiring Flipkart's ebook customer base. In September Oyster announced they were acquired by Google and would exit the ebook subscription business. Oyster will close in mid January.

Amazon Author on April 1st - A few times over the years I've published an April Fool's prank on the blog. This year I wrote about Amazon Author, a fictious new service from Amazon that replaces authors with a system called Amazon Author, which creates machine-generated books.

I knew the post was outlandish, but like all good satire, it was grounded in a few facts. I was surprised by the reaction.  I heard from many authors who found it so believable they suffered a War of the Worlds moment where my ficticious story caused them to see their author dreams flash and crash before their eyes. My apologies to my loyal readers who felt this fiction hit too close to home.

I think more than anything the reaction spoke to the legitimate concerns authors have about their long term ability to maintain their independence and value within this fast-changing world of publishing. It also spoke to the fears many authors have about Amazon. Is Amazon a benevolent player, or will their business strategy of disintermediation lead to a darker future where even authors are disintermediated?

If you missed my fictional post, you can read it with a fresh set of eyes here: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors.

A publishing legend passes - In November Dan Poynter passed away. I consider Dan the father of modern day self publishing. He was great friend to me, to Smashwords, and to every indie author who had the privilege to meet him, to hear him speak or to read his books. As as we learned in the comments in to my tribute to Dan, he changed the lives of a lot of people. Read the post and the rememberances here (and if you were touched by Dan's work, please add your memories): Dan Poytner, The Father of Self Publishing, Passes Away.



Smashwords Plans for 2016

In broad brushes, here's what we have planned for 2016:
  • More distribution to more global retailers and libraries
  • New tools to help readers connect with the authors they love
  • Improvements that make our tools easier to use
  • More tools to manage pricing and promotions
  • More best practices education because best practices knowledge - and learning how to apply that knowledge - is what helps you reach more readers
  • Surprises

A Final Word of Thanks

Thank you to the fine authors, publishers, retailers, and library partners that make our job possible.  It was our honor to support you in 2015 and we look forward to many more years of service and partnership.

To our authors and publishers, thank you for distributing with Smashwords.  We realize you have multiple distribution options including direct uploads to retailers.  When you consolidate your distribution with Smashwords, not only will you save time, gain more time for writing and benefit from the myriad service advantages we offer, but you're also supporting our ability to continue investing in innovations on behalf of the entire indie publishing community.

Have a safe New Year's celebration and we look forward to working with you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment


Welcome to my annual book publishing industry predictions.

I went overboard for 2016.  In addition to 10 prediction topics that were at the top of my mind, I also asked friends on Facebook to suggest additional questions for my crystal ball.  So in addition to my first 10 below, I take a stab at 29 additional questions. Yikes.

Predictions are fun, even when I get them wrong.  By thinking about the future we can prepare for it in all its glorious uncertainty and complexity.  By thinking about the future it helps us adapt to the many unexpected events that will hit us all in 2016.  Predictions also help us understand what might be, what can be and how we as an indie author community can directly shape the course of the future today.

You'll see I back each prediction with copious background on my thought process.  I invite you, my dear reader, to add your insights in the comments below.  What did I get right, and what did I miss?  The goal here is to spark thought and conversation.  Help me and your fellow authors, publishers and readers see the future through a sharper, more accurate lens.

Here's one thing I'm absolutely certain of:  Indie authors are the future of publishing.  The decisions indie authors make today will continue to reshape the future of publishing for better or worse.  You're in control.  Now let's have some fun.

Mark's Annual Publishing Industry Predictions

1.  Indie ebook authors will gain market share at expense of large publishers

It’s difficult to determine the percentage of the ebook market now controlled by indie authors. Only the retailers know this, and it varies dramatically from one retailer to the next. Back in early 2014 I proposed a model in which I forecasted that indie authors would capture 50% of the US ebook market by the year 2020. I blogged about it here and provided a downloadable spreadsheet so anyone could plug in their own numbers.  From a unit market share perspective today, indie authors probably control 15-20% of the ebook market with much variation across retailers and categories. Because indie ebooks are priced lower than traditionally published ebooks and print books, the dollar market share is probably in the 4-8% range. However, eyeballs matter most in the long run because readership builds author brand and reader trust, and reader purchases flow to trusted authors. Put another way, every year readers are spending more hours reading books from indie authors.  Reader eyeballs will continue to transition to indie ebooks in 2016. The growth in indie ebook market share in 2016 will be propelled by several strong macro trends that have been solidly in place for a few years now:  
  • Compared to traditionally published ebook authors, the competitive landscape for ebooks is tilted to the indie author’s advantage. Indies enjoy full and often superior distribution to retail and library sales; faster time to market; greater creative control; marketing and promotion flexibility; 4-5 times higher ebook royalties; and the ability to price dramatically lower. Most indies are pricing between $2.99 and $3.99, whereas most traditional publishers are still pricing their front list books above $10.00.  Based on our Smashwords Survey, the average $3.99 ebook will get three to five times more buyers than a book priced over $10.00.  Large publishers are over-pricing, and in the process they're harming their authors' ability to build readership.
     
  • Retailers are giving indie authors more seats at the merchandising table. Every major retailer now promotes indie ebooks on their home pages. iBooks has certainly been a star player here the last few years given the enormous number of Smashwords titles receiving feature promotion each month. Kobo and Barnes & Noble also stepped up efforts in 2015 to provide high profile merchandising love to indie ebook titles and I expect their efforts to increase in 2016.  We spend a lot of time every day at Smashwords helping our authors earn merchandising visibility at these stores and we'll ramp up these efforts further in 2016.
     
  • Each year, indie authors become smarter, more sophisticated and more adept at implementing professional publishing best practices. Best practices are what separate the indie author amateurs from the indie author professionals. Bestselling indie ebooks are indistinguishable from traditionally published books (aside from indies' more reader-friendly pricing) with brilliant cover designs, great writing, professional editing, and creative marketing and promotion.
     
  • Indies continue to leverage the power of free as a promotional tools for stand alone books and series starters. This incredibly powerful promotion tool remains the exclusive domain of indies (good for indies, bad for traditionally published ebook authors). 5. More traditionally published authors will continue to experiment with self-publishing. Once these authors get a taste for self publishing they typically want to direct more of their future production to the indie realm.

2.  The overall market for ebooks will shrink in dollar terms, but unit volume will increase

Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the "Things get more difficult" post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).


3.  Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon's merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It'll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Here's more detail: 

1.
Traditionally published authors and their publishers will suffer most in 2016 because the perceived price disparity between KU’s “Feels like free” is greatest when customers compare it against the trad publishers' high ebook and print prices. I wrote about this in Publishers Weekly.  Amazon is using the self-published ebooks in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited to marginalize the collective bargaining power of large publishers. What do I mean by collective bargaining power? I’m referring to a large publisher’s ability to negotiate on behalf of thousands of authors. Think back to Hachette's public battle with Amazon in 2014 in which Hachette ultimately prevailed in what I labeled a pyrrhic victory (with the pyrrhic part now being realized by KU with does an end run around agency pricing).  Large publishers don’t realize it yet, but KDP-S is eventually going to hollow out their ebook businesses. Every large publisher lacks a viable indie or even pseudo-indie ebook offering for their authors that could counter this pressure (and those publishers in bed with Author Solutions and ASI’s sock puppet spawn are all swimming in the exact wrong direction and are on the wrong side of history if they want to protect their ebook businesses from Amazon).

2. 
Non-exclusive indie authors – authors who aren’t in Amazon KDP-S – will feel the next greatest pain in 2016 because their $2.99 and $3.99 ebooks will feel prohibitively expensive to Kindle customers as Kindle customers modify their reading habits in favor of KU titles. As I described here in November, one bestselling Smashwords author reported having received hate mail from fans who refuse to read his $2.99 and $3.99 ebooks unless they can read them for free within their Kindle Unlimited subscription. 

3.
Next, the pain will be felt by KDP-S authors.  I’m reminded of the  “First they came..” poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller.  No, Amazon are not Nazis, but the underlying lesson of Niemöller can be applied to any situation where certain segments of the public remain silent as other segments are harmed.  Eventually what goes around comes around.  There's a complicity in silence.  After Amazon comes after large publishers and non-exclusive authors, KDP Select authors are next.  Amazon's business model, which is predicated upon offering customers the greatest possible value, demands this of all products in the form of lower consumer prices.  The burden of lower prices will be borne by Amazon's authors (the suppliers).  KDP Select is powered by indie authors.  Indies enroll because it makes their books favored citizens within the Kindle ecosystem where they exchange the downsides of exclusivity for the upsides of greater merchandising visibility and sales rank advantage. Authors who refuse to enroll in KDP Select are disadvantaged in the form of fewer tools and less discoverability.  Yet despite the harm KDP-S and KU are causing fellow authors and the rest of the industry, indies continue to enroll in KDP-S to receive these privileged benefits, thereby perpetuating the inevitable cycle of destruction of single-copy sales.  With more authors moving to KDP-S, it means more readers will funnel into Kindle Unlimited as they’re presented with the opportunity to read these books for free as part of their KU or Prime subscription.  Amazon controls KU payouts, which means Amazon can decide to pay authors less at any time, or can decide to demand even greater concessions in exchange for future program benefits.  Imagine a ship at sea with not food to feed the passengers.  So food (in this case reader eyeballs) is rationed among a small subset of passengers (authors) who agree to make the biggest concessions (exclusivity), and the rest of the passengers are thrown overboard to fend for themselves.  With over 1 million books enrolled in KDP-S already, it’s only a matter of time before even KDP-S becomes overcrowded and Amazon is forced to increase the fee-for-passage in the form of even greater concessions.  And then more authors go overboard.  Amazon has a consistent track record of policy changes with KU – changes that have already lowered KU payouts for some writers and increased payouts for others.  Amazon announced in late October that payouts will decline further in some countries.  See my November blog post, Amazon Lowers Kindle Unlimited Payouts (also linked above) for more. 

4. Amazon’s retail competitors will feel greater pain in 2016 due to KU because no other retailer has a viable alternative to KU, nor the market dominance to make such a program work. The beauty of KU from Amazon’s perspective is that they have 1 million + books that can’t be purchased at other retailers, and these books feel like free to KU subscribers. This means other retailers are starved of this important inventory, and it means their remaining books which can only be purchased as a single copy will feel more and more expensive to readers. This will motivate additional customers to bleed away from Amazon’s competitors and migrate to the greater selection and lower prices of Amazon.  If even only 2% of every retailer's customer base migrates to Amazon for KU each year, it will have serious consequences for the long term viability of Amazon's competitors.  Amazon plays the long game better than anyone.  Skeptics of my prognostication might counter that KU is only a problem for self published authors.  That's mostly true for now, but if you believe as I believe that indies are the future of publishing, and that indies will continue gaining ebook market share, then you begin to see how KU is the worm that will slowly eat the publishing industry from the inside out.

4.  The ebook subscription model will experience a backlash in the indie author community (but will it matter?)

The indie author community has always maintained a healthy skepticism of the ebook subscription model for fear that subscriptions could devalue books, both from the perspective of reader perceptions of what a book is worth and also in terms of author earnings. When Scribd and Oyster came on the scene with their industry-leading services, these concerns were somewhat mollified by the business models of Scribd and Oyster in which they're obligated to pay authors and publishers retailer-level rates.  This means a Smashwords author that earns 60% list on the sale of their $5.99 ebook at iBooks or Barnes & Noble will also earn 60% list if a reader reads their book at Scribd or Oyster. Due to the necessity of the subscription service maintaining profitability if they want to have a long term viable business, their business model creates a powerful check against devaluation, because if the subscription service allows aggregate readership to consume more than $9.99 worth of books per month, the service would lose money and cease to exist. Earlier this year, when romance readers began reading more books than Scribd's business model could sustain, Scribd reduced the number of romance titles available.  I expect Scribd will eventually modify their subscription terms, possibly by adding reading limits, so that they can again accommodate more romance titles. Oyster announced a couple months ago they were exiting the ebook subscription business, probably because they lacked the resources to make the model work. That leaves Scribd as the leading ebook subscription service with an author-friendly business model that won’t lead to devaluation.   Oh, then there’s Kindle Unlimited, which plays by completely different – and decidedly publisher-unfriendly - rules than Scribd and Oyster. As I’ve written many times here at the Smashwords blog, Kindle Unlimited represents Amazon’s end run around agency pricing (under agency pricing, publishers and indie authors set their own retail prices, and retailers don’t discount). With Kindle Unlimited, the book’s retail price is irrelevant to Amazon’s calculation of author earnings. Amazon sets the compensation rates for KU authors after the fact, which means Amazon determines the value of a read and determines how a read is measured. If Amazon decides to price their KU service at $3.99, as they’ve done in India, it means, as Amazon quietly informed authors in late October, those participating books by necessity will earn much much less for each read. When indies enroll in KU, they surrender pricing power and margin control.  More importantly, these indies are surrendering their independence to Amazon. This story won’t end well, because by surrendering pricing power to a retailer whose modus operandi is to continually drive supplier prices lower and lower in a religious zeal to offer consumers ever-greater value. This is great for consumers, but not so great for authors when they face declining earnings. So in 2016, more authors will come to recognize that the industry's largest ebook subscription service is at once lowering author payouts and commoditizing books. This will lead to a backlash. But the bigger question is, “will it matter?” I’m afraid to say it probably won’t matter. For four years now, I and thousands of others have been speaking out against the risks and inevitable industry harm caused by Amazon’s exclusivity strategy, but to what effect? Despite the fact that most indies hate and resent the idea of exclusivity, I talk with authors each month who feel forced to succumb to it simply because Amazon controls access to the greatest number of readers. Back in September when I blogged about the pending closure of Oyster, I shared the story of a fantastic author I met in St. Louis who despised KDP Select exclusivity yet she was all-in because she feared she couldn't pay her mortgage otherwise. Amazon knows that most authors are eager to reach more readers, and for every author who sticks to their guns and refuses to go exclusive on principle alone; there will be three more writers who will surrender to KDP Select if they believe it will help them reach more Amazon readers. My concern is that some of these authors would rather earn a penny per read than nothing at all.  That's the ultimate problem, and why I wouldn't be surprised if someday Amazon offers KU or a KU derivative that's completely free, or free to Amazon Prime subscribers.  In Amazon, we have the world's largest global seller of ebooks exerting enormous influence over which books are read and which are buried.

5.  Print will remain steady, though those sales are the sole domain for authors of traditional publishers

Print books today account for approximately 70% of the book market. The percentage varies by genre, category and country. Print showed staying power this year, as evidenced by reports from publishers and brick and mortar retailers, and aided by the adult coloring book craze. In Barnes & Noble’s latest earnings conference call, the company disclosed that they closed fewer stores than expected due to improving performance of some stores. A recent story in Slate examined how Waterstones, the large UK retailer that many recently had on death watch, is now growing again, opening new stores and turning a profit. Indie authors for the most part don’t participate in significant print sales because they lack distribution to physical stores. I think Amazon’s recent experiment opening a brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle points to even Amazon acknowledging the durability and importance of physical stores. I don’t think the prospects of print will change significantly in 2016. Print won’t go away. Traditional publishers and brick and mortar bookstores will continue to hold their own. Even if you only publish exclusively in digital (as many indies do), it’s still in your best interest that print remain a strong and viable reading format because for many readers, print is the gateway to digital. The long term fate of print books is inextricably tied to the fate of brick and mortar retail because nothing sells print like in-person browsing. What remains to be seen is what happens when the adult coloring book fad fades.

6.  Many full time indies will quit or scale back production in 2016

During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn't really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market's maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a "real" job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they're already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing - had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.

7.  Preorder usage will experience a dramatic increase

Among emerging best practices that separate the high performers from the poor performers, ebook preorders are at the top of the list. As we disclosed in the Smashwords Survey for 2015, ebooks born as preorders sell significantly more on average than books that are simply uploaded the day of release. During the 2015 Survey period which ran from April 2014 to March 2015, only 9.8% of books published at Smashwords were released as preorders, yet this small percentage accounted for fully two thirds of our top 200 bestsellers. In October, I refreshed the trailing 12 month numbers (approximately November 2014 through October 2015) and found the number born as preorders at Smashwords had increased to 13%. I think by the end of 2016 we’ll see preorder usage exceeding 20%, which would represent a more than 50% increase in usage yet is still an unacceptably low number considering that preorders enable more successful book launches. Why leave readers and money on the table? We’re doing our part to encourage greater usage with our continuing education initiatives. Our launch this year of our assetless preorder feature is a good example. With assetless preorders (read all about it here), authors can get their books listed as preorder up to 12 months in advance, even without a finished manuscript or cover. If you'd like to learn how to use ebook preorders to your advantage, visit the Smashwords Preorders page for links to my many training resources, including my article last month in Publishers Weekly, How Indie Authors Can Leverage Ebook Preorders to Crack the Bestseller Lists.  Share it with a friend!

8.  Library ebook sales will increase for Smashwords authors

Smashwords has made great progress over the last four years to open up public libraries to the ebooks from Smashwords authors and publishers. In 2016, library ebook sales will be a bright spot in an otherwise moribund ebook retailing market. While I don’t expect library ebook sales to eclipse retail sales any time soon (if ever), libraries will be an area of growth and opportunity for indie authors in the new year. In 2015 we added thousands of new libraries to the reach of the Smashwords distribution network by announcing new partnerships with Gardners in the UK (2,000+ libraries) and Odilo (2,100+ libraries). These partners join our existing library partners OverDrive (20,000+ libraries) and Baker & Taylor Axis 360 (2,500+ libraries). We’ll build our library distribution further in 2016. As indie ebooks continue to hit an ever-greater number of bestseller lists, library patrons are demanding more indie ebooks. Libraries also represent an untapped marketing opportunity for indie authors. All indies should encourage their fans to contact their local libraries and request those libraries to add their favorite indie authors’ ebooks to their collections. Libraries are generally quite responsive to patron requests.

9.  More series writers will adopt perma-free series starters

In the 2015 Smashwords Survey we found strong evidence that series with free series starters earn more than series without. As smart indie authors work to become more competitive in 2016, I think we’ll see free series starters gain recognition as an essential best practice, much in the way that preorders are gaining that recognition.

10.  Wattpad will be acquired

Okay, I’m going out on a long flimsy limb here, and I’m doing it without the benefit of inside knowledge. I’ve always been a fan of WattPad. They’re truly a self-publishing phenomena. They facilitate live publishing from writers around the world, and often from writers who aren’t yet even thinking of becoming published authors. WattPad is the training ground for the next generation of authors, and they're increasingly being used by established Smashwords authors and traditional publishers alike that want to reach WattPad’s burgeoning readership. The most likely acquirer is Amazon, and if that happens the future for large traditional publishers will be in even greater peril than it is today (I’m thinking how large publishers probably kicked themselves for not acquiring Goodreads before Amazon snapped them up). If the large publishers are smart, they’ll snap up WattPad because WattPad will give them early access to future bestsellers. But so far, the large publishers have proven themselves bewildered by the indie author movement, and oblivious to what’s driving it and how it will disrupt their businesses in the future. [Two quick tips for large publishers: 1. Self-publishing isn’t just for authors who can’t get a publishing deal. 2. An increasing number of writers aspire to indie-publish as their option of first choice, which means these authors will never enter the slush pile.]  Traditional publishers’ self-publishing clueless-to-date is illustrated by Pearson/Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions, and the many publishers that have since invited the ASI sock puppet foxes to enter their hen houses under the guise of powering their assisted publishing imprints). Amazon understands, and we at Smashwords agree, that the future of publishing is self-publishing. This is why Amazon, or possibly another smart retailer like Apple, are the most likely acquirers of WattPad. It’s also worth noting that WattPad has received over $60 million in venture funding. Venture investors want liquidity events – either in the form of acquisition or IPO.

Questions Answered by Special Request

And now for something completely different. As mentioned above, I invited my friends on Facebook to pose questions to my imaginary 2016 crystal ball. Below, I’ll share 29 of their questions in the form of a Q&A.

Q: Will Amazon do something more to monopolize the market? (via Susan C.)

Yes. See my analogy above about the starving passengers on the ship. KDP Select has been a tremendous business success for Amazon. Yet it’s facing overcrowding with over 1 million books which we can assume comprises around 25% of all the books listed at Amazon. Soon, it’ll be so overcrowded that any benefits of exclusivity will become diluted by the massive enrollment. Amazon will need to exact more pounds of flesh in the form of greater author concessions.

Here are some potential ideas (you’re welcome Amazon), none of which would surprise me:

1. Amazon reduces the payment per page read, which is currently hovering around ½ of one cent.

2. Amazon reduces the price of a Kindle Unlimited subscription from $9.99 per month in the US to something lower (thus giving a reason to pay authors less, as they announced in late October for the $3.99 subscription price for KU in India).

3. Amazon may demand that all KDP-S books must be published first within KDP-S. Although this is already happening, to require this KDP-first publishing would be devastating to Amazon’s competitors because most purchases of most new books occur in the first few months of release.

4. Amazon could increase the mandatory enrollment period from three months to six or 12 months, or offer new perks to do so, all in the name of allowing Amazon to invest in its service.

5.
Keep an eye on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout is like WattPad in the sense that writers can publish there and gather feedback from real readers. The difference is that Kindle Scout requires exclusivity. This program allows Amazon to snap up commercially promising writers for a song (a paltry $2,000 advance) before the writer has had a chance to discover what their book would have earned them either through full distribution at Smashwords retailers, or through a traditional publishing deal. And if Amazon acquires Wattpad only to roll it into Kindle Scout, then… Big loss for the industry. 
Maybe I should start writing post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction set in the publishing industry.  On second thought, no thanks.  I'm an optimistic person, really I am!

Q: Will Amazon’s brick and mortar stores add or detract from their success in general and/or affect book sales? (via Susan C.)

Earlier this year, Amazon opened a brick and mortar concept store in Seattle. The reviews I read were generally favorable. As mentioned above, I think it speaks to the enduring importance of print books, and how print books sell best when readers can pick them up and browse. If they roll these stores out across the country or around the world, it’ll be a mixed bag. While more bookstores is always a good thing because it will expose more readers to more books, these stores will likely only feature or favor Amazon-exclusive books.  This means they’ll be islands of exclusivity (good for Amazon-exclusive and Amazon-published authors, not so helpful to authors with print books at Barnes & Noble).

Q: What genres/subgenres will get a boom [in 2016]? (via Emma Hart, Alta Hensley and Amy Miles)

Wow. Three people asked this question, and it’s the one question where I feel the least qualified to answer without spending a week to crunch the latest numbers.  Come on smart readers, pipe in on this one and help me!  So here goes...  I think romance and its micro-targeted subgenres will continue to dominate. Romance is about half our sales. Romance authors do micro-targeting really well, starting with the cover. The popularity of romance will be somewhat offset by the glut of high quality low cost romance titles. Beyond romance, I’ll go out on a limb and say I think the readers will want more YA post-apocalyptic fiction where the world is destroyed by the short term thinking of adults (kind of like what’s happening today) and only the kids (must have strong female and male protagonist heroes) have the fresh perspective and independence necessary to rebuild human society into a kinder-gentler-more loving-more accepting-less tribal form necessary to prevent the extinction of humanity. Books with a hopeful message that acknowledge that today’s youth have the power to fix what we adults messed up. At least that’s what I’d like to read if I had more time to read (My all-time favorite series, aside maybe from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series, is John Christopher’s YA Tripod Trilogy in which young adults save the world from alien tripod lizard creatures after their parents screwed everything up by watching too much television). “What should I write” is a common question I get at writers conferences. For any author wondering what they should write in the new year, my advice is to write what you have the most passion for because that will be your best writing, and your best writing is what's most likely to find an audience. If you write what you have passion for, you’ll be writing for the right reasons and you’ll have the strength to power on despite inevitably poor sales that most writers experience when they’re first getting started (the only way to guarantee failure is to quit writing, so never quit!). Our top selling authors for 2015 were mostly romance and YA authors, but mixed in that list, one of our all-time most consistent bestsellers ever is Shayne Parkinson who writes historical fiction set in New Zealand around the time of World War 1. She's often landing in our monthly bestsellers list for Publishers Weekly.  Publishers in New Zealand told her no one outside of NZ would want to read her stories. So she self published and found a massive worldwide audience. Ignore what’s hot and what’s not, and write the story your soul is screaming at you to write.

Q: Will more authors go hybrid, and will the ones that are currently hybrid stay that way or lean more toward one route or the other (via Emma Hart)

I’ll answer this from a couple different angles. But first, for those new to the term “hybrid,” it means those authors who both self-publish and work with traditional publishers. Hybrid authors can come at it from either direction. Some start as an indie author, and then thanks to their great sales a publisher comes to them with an offer they can’t refuse (here’s a big wad of money and these are all the great things we’ll do for you, among which include print distribution to bookstores!). Others start as a traditional author and then publish some of their works as an indie. I think there are tremendous synergies between self-publishing and traditional publishing. You can use your indie ebooks to drive success of you trad books, and you can use your trad books to drive success of your indie books. I’m somewhat unusual among certain circles of the self publishing community in that although I love self-publishing and think it’s the future of authorship, I also love traditional publishers and want to see a future where traditional publishers are successful too. I see a future where all authors consider themselves indie authors because it’s their choice which publishing option they choose (I talked about this in the Indie Author Manifesto). Why do I love traditional publishers? Because the more successful traditional publishing is, the more opportunities will open up for great indie authors.  Self publishing is a lot of work, and many writers would prefer to partner with a reputable traditional publisher.  If a big New York publisher comes along and offers you a deal where they can do more for you than you can do for yourself, you’d be silly to not consider it. By the same token, as ebooks continue to gain market share, it’s going to become more and more difficult for publishers to add value. Witness the story of multi-time NYT-bestselling Jamie McGuire who was a successful indie before she had a hugely successful run with traditional publishers, and despite her love for trad publishers she ultimately decided to orient her publishing around self-publishing.  I interviewed her on the blog earlier this year in post titled, Why Jamie McGuire Returned to Self Publishing.  So there’s no one size fits all answer. If a publisher does a great job for you and makes you happy, keep with them! No shame in that.  But even if they are awesome, you'll find that side projects in indieville can support your overall success.  So here’s a prediction: I think the siren call of indie publishing will ring loudly in the ears of traditionally published authors in 2016, and many of them will transition to indieville which will make them hybrid. And many indies will also go traditional because all publishers are using the indie ebook bestseller lists to acquire the most commercially promising authors. And Emma, congrats on your publishing deals!

Q: What will happen in the world of indie short story sales? (via Tom Hopp)

Short story writers enjoyed a great run at Kindle Unlimited up until a few months ago when Amazon changed the payouts to redefine how a qualified read is measured and compensated. I think all writing has a bright future on the strength of the story alone, regardless of length. That said, for four years now we’ve seen strong evidence in the Smashwords Survey that readers prefer longer form works. I think short story writers in 2016 and beyond will do better with single-author anthologies rather than publishing individual single shorts, due to the mere fact that the ebook purchase process (find title, read description, decide to download sample, decide to buy title, purchase the title, open the title) takes time and creates friction. If I was a prolific writer of short stories, I’d make a few of my very best stories available as single-copy shorts priced at free, and then I’d create topically-organized or theme-based anthology collections of my other stories. This way, you can use free to earn the reader’s trust and loyalty, and then they can go on to purchase and enjoy your great collections.

Q: Subscription services. Where are they going?
All surviving subscription services will face a tougher road ahead as they battle against Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.  Amazon determines author earnings per read which means Amazon has the ability to their control their expenses.  This means Amazon can lower author payouts if readers consume too much whereas Amazon’s primary competitor Scribd doesn’t have that flexibility. In Scribd’s favor, none of the books listed in Scribd’s massive catalog are offered in Kindle Unlimited.  This means some power readers may subscribe to more than one service, much in the same way many in the US are subscribed to multiple video streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video because there's so much great content that's only available in these individual silos. It remains to be seen if iBooks will launch their own ebook subscription service. They have experience in subscription services following their acquisition of Beats and the launch of the Apple Music streaming service. If they do launch an ebook subscription service, it remains to be seen if they’ll follow the KU model of paying from a pool, or the Scribd model where authors and publishers are paid agency-level rates. Large publishers are resistant to pool-based models because such models represent the slippery slope to devaluation. To date, Smashwords has refused to sign distribution deals with the various pool-based subscription services for this very reason.

Q: Will this author win the Nobel Prize this year? Or a million dollar contract? ‘Cause that would be awesome (via Kymberlie Calkins Ingalls)

I think the million dollar contract is a tiny tad more likely than the Nobel Prize.  Aim high and try for both!

Q: World peace: Possibility or writing device? (via Linton Robinson)
Total world peace is probably an impossibility in 2016 given the human race’s proclivities toward tribalism, religious sectarianism, greed, blood lust and struggles over limited resources. Yet as we’ve seen in recent months, the worst in people can bring out the best in people. You can’t help but feel optimistic when the vast majority of peace-loving people stand up for peace and love. As a writing device, let’s hope more writers of fiction and non-fiction alike continue to inspire readers around the globe to celebrate our cultural differences and sprint in the direction of peace.

Q: It’s difficult to get noticed. Is there any hope for us small time authors to actually make a name for ourselves in this industry? (via Crissi Langwell)

Yes, there’s definitely a chance. New Smashwords authors are breaking out into the bestseller lists every month. However, the sad truth of the matter is that most authors will sell poorly. 2016 will be more challenging than ever for all writers. Yet despite the challenges, there’s still never been a better time for writers to publish. A mere 10 years ago the publishing industry was mired in the dark ages when most writers had little chance of getting published.  It was a time when a small number of gatekeepers acted as the bouncers as the pearly gates of authordom, denying writers the freedom to publish and deciding what readers could read. Still, most of their chosen books were flops. Today, thanks to the democratization of ebook distribution where every author can get their ebook carried at all the major ebook stores, and thanks to free professional publishing tools like Smashwords, more writers than ever have a chance at discovery. Yet due to the glut of high-quality low-cost immortal ebooks, it’s increasingly difficult for writers to find their readers. And the competition will only grow more intense in 2016. The good news is that the secret to reaching readers isn’t such a secret – it’s all about best practices. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of authors fall short on best practices (witness the low adoption of ebook preorders, even though preorders are proven to sell more books, or witness the large number of self published authors who design amateur-looking cover images despite the dearth of low-cost professionals who for $200 or less can make their cover look amazing). With so many authors falling short on best practices, it means that those who do implement best practices well have a significant advantage. The authors who do the best job of implementing best practices will get discovered. One common trait among the bestsellers is that their constantly working to improve every aspect of their publishing, especially the quality of their writing and covers. The most important best practice is to write a book that takes the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme. Good isn’t good enough anymore. A super-fabulous book with horrible marketing and a horrible cover can still become a bestseller, but a mediocre book with fabulous marketing and an awesome cover is unlikely to become a bestseller.  Great books spark word of mouth.   If a book doesn’t make a reader go WOW, if it doesn’t touch the reader’s soul, it won’t turn readers into superfan evangelists and it won’t spawn passionate word of mouth. I identify 15 other best practices in my How to Publish Ebooks presentation. Or, check out my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Each well-implemented best practice will yield you a small incremental advantage in the marketplace. Those incremental advantages can add up. Smart authors know that there’s no single magic bullet to bestsellerdom. It’ll all about implementing dozens of best practices, and then constantly iterating and improving each one until the point where your book can turn one reader into another reader. An important factor in success is honest self-assessment. I’ll often hear from authors who claim they’ve implemented all the best practices yet they’re still failing to sell well, but when I examine their covers they’re obviously homemade, or they’ve fallen short on any number of other factors. A few years ago I wrote a blog post with a short self-assessment checklist. Read it here.

Here are a couple of the top tips for every author:  

1. What’s your average review rating across all the retailers? If you’re averaging 4.5 to 5 stars out of 5, you’re doing great. If you’re averaging less than four stars, it’s probably time for a major revision because you’re not taking readers to that point of passion where they become evangelists for your book. If you haven’t earned a critical mass of reviews, price your book to free for a few months to get more reviews so you can learn what readers really think.

2. Look at your cover.
Is it micro-targeted to that subset of readers who will find more joy in the book than anyone else? Did you hire a professional designer so your cover looks as good or better than the bestsellers in your genre or category? Take a serious look at the covers of the top 20 bestsellers in your category at Amazon or iBooks and honestly ask yourself if your cover belongs alongside them. Professional cover design is not expensive, yet so many authors fail to take advantage of what’s probably their lowest cost yet highest-impact investment.

3.
  Look at your distribution. Are you opted in to all the sales channels at Smashwords?  Even some bestsellers at Smashwords are leaving sales on the table by not opting in to some of our smaller and midsize channels.
Q: Any idea what’s going to happen in the romance market? KU appears to have gutted sales there (via Jessica Scott)

Romance will continue to be a strong market in 2016, but KU will sap a lot of the single-copy sales for romance authors at Amazon for the reasons I outlined above. Romance readers tend to be power readers, so the value proposition of unlimited reading in KU is quite appealing to them which makes the transition of these power readers to KU all the more painful for romance authors. I think the most successful romance writers in the future will be those that maintain full uninterrupted distribution across all sales channels so they can build diversified global readership, and who build platforms they control (especially private mailing lists) so they can reach their most loyal readership which will be more immune to the temptation of only reading KU books. If authors dabble in KU by cycling books in and out, they should understand that they’re training readers to wait until the book lands in KU.

Q: Will brick and mortar stores continue to decline, or will they fight back? (via Pauline Christou)

Brick and mortar stores will continue to face challenges in 2016, but there are signs they’re fighting back and holding their own. Small independent bookshops have led the way by hosting local book events, author talks and seminars that can’t be easily reproduced online, and even the larger stores are following this tact. I think the next opportunity for physical bookstores is to embrace their local indie community by carrying more POD books of local authors and hosting more indie author events.

Q: Will the other retailers grow in a way that that will help us counter Amazon/KU? (via Karen Weinberg Drogin)

When I look at the universe of booksellers from a high level, I see see retailers in two camps – the ancillary players and the pure players. The ancillary players are companies like Amazon, iBooks and Google for whom books are an add-on – an ancillary service that makes their platforms more valuable for consumers. These companies’ businesses are so diversified that they don’t need to earn a profit selling books to keep the lights on. For Amazon, book readers can be sold a wide range of physical and digital goods. For Google, a company that profits by streaming targeted ads in front of eyeballs, readers can be advertised to, and readers' use of the Android operating system on smart phones enriches the Android ecosystem which also benefits Google. For iBooks, books cause readers to spend more hours connected to their iPhones and iPads which helps make these devices more indispensable and more valuable. And then I look at the pure plays like Barnes & Noble and Kobo, or ebook subscription services like Scribd, for which their businesses are almost entirely dependent upon their ability to sell books at a profit. Amazon is the fly in the ointment. Their business model is entirely dependent upon them commoditizing everything they sell, all in the interest of lowering consumer prices. With KU, they have the ability to lower the effective prices of books as low as they want because they have a stranglehold on the world’s largest online community of book buyers. With KU, the agency pricing system where authors and publishers set the prices and books aren’t discounted is neutered. Since agency pricing benefits indie authors too, it means all books outside the KU service – especially for power readers – are more expensive. As I’ve written previously, I think there are three primary drivers of consumer behavior – price, selection and convenience. Thanks to KU, Amazon dominates on price.  And because of the 1 million + titles in KDP Select, Amazon has the best selection of exclusive and non-exclusive books. Other retailers only have non-exclusive books. This means many readers around the world will continue to migrate to Amazon. It also means that across these three consumer drivers, Amazon’s competitors have the most opportunity to add value on the convenience side, such as improving automated book recommendations, or making their stores better at discovery and reader recommendations, or for the physical stores, hosting community-building events that are best experienced in the flesh. But that’s tough because Amazon is no slouch on the convenience side either.

But all it not lost. Pew Research came out with a study in 2015 that indicated that readers are migrating away from single-purpose e-reading devices. This could be Amazon’s Achilles heel, because so far they’ve failed to make a huge dent in smart phones and tablets. It means that iBooks with its more than one billion iOS device users, and other stores with strong apps will be able to leverage this trend as a counterbalance to Amazon. Another weakness of Amazon is that they lack an international footprint of brick and mortar stores. This is a strength of stores like Barnes & Noble in the US, Waterstones and WH Smith in the UK, and other physical booksellers such as Thalia in Germany or Livraria Cultura in Brazil, all of which carry (or will soon carry) Smashwords titles in their online stores. Yet another vulnerability of Amazon is that the large New York publishers which still control most bestselling books are not big fans of Amazon’s business practices. If publishers figure out a way to build alternative sales channels that limit their dependence upon Amazon, it’ll help the entire publishing industry build and support counterbalances.

I’m not betting against Amazon, but I’m doing my best to support a thriving ecosystem of multiple sales outlets. The more successful booksellers are out there, the more books will be sold and the more players will be competing for the good graces of the indie community. That, my friends, it the secret to bright future for all authors. It would be a sad day if all 95% of all bookselling consolidated around one or two players. That’s the day authors become tenant farmers with no power.

Q: Will Barnes & Noble survive or go out of business in 2016? (via Sarah Ettrich and AC Adams)

They’ll definitely survive in 2016 and for many years to come.

Q: Will B&N drop all ebooks and/or implode and go under? (Julie York)

B&N is in the business of selling books which means the ebook business is core to their future. They won’t implode or go under this year, but like every ebook retailer struggling in this flat environment, they’ll need to think out of the box to find new ways to connect readers with books. To B&N’s credit, their divestiture of the college business (Yuzu, now also a Smashwords partner!), their decision to get out of the hardware manufacturing business, and their buyout of Microsoft’s stake in the company will give them more bandwidth to refocus on books. Their brick and mortar footprint and massive customer base give them a huge strategic advantage when it comes to reaching readers.  B&N might be one of the unsung success stories of 2015.  Here's hoping!  They've certainly been a great partner for Smashwords authors, and they continue to sell a lot of our books.  They were the first retailer back in 2009 to carry our books when we decided to become a distributor.

Q: Will Amazon relax the exclusivity requirements for Kindle Unlmited in 2016? (via Sarah Ettrich)

I think it’s unlikely they’ll loosen their exclusivity requirements for KU because then it would lose its exclusivity. Already, the program has become so full of titles that its losing some of its air of exclusivity. Refer to my example above about how there’s not enough food (reader eyeballs) to sustain all the authors. Exclusivity is a way for Amazon to extract concessions from a minority of authors who can then enjoy the spoils and bounty of more eyeballs concentrated on a smaller group of authors.  I think Amazon will figure out a way to tighten the screws AND attract more authors.

Q: Will Google Play introduce a subscription model in 2016? (via Sarah Ettrich)

I’m going to guess no for 2016, even though Google acquired Oyster.  I've met with the good folks at Google.  They're smart people and genuine book lovers, and they want to do well in the market but I think their corporate overlords have stymied them from achieving their full potential.  This is my impression, not what they told me.

Q: Will Google Play put their significant weight toward becoming a big force in eBooks, and counterbalance to Amazon? (via Aaron Compton and Julie York)

See the answer above.  I wish the answer was yes, because next to Apple, Google is among the small cohort with the financial resources to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build a massive counterbalance without putting their business in jeopardy.  At Google, one billion dollars is practically a rounding error.

Q: Will Disney call me? (via John Dony)

Maybe they’ll call you now that they know you’re awaiting their call.


Q: Will Kindle Worlds go international and multi-lingual

I don’t have an opinion here. If you have an opinion, comment below!

Q: “Digital refund policies… will [Amazon’s policies] be reworked to prevent [their liberal return policies from ] being used as an ebook library?” (Marianne Morea)

No, I think policies will stay the same. Authors are simply suppliers to Amazon, and at Amazon customers come first.

Q: What’s happening with China and India with ebooks over the coming years? (Des Greene)

We had high hopes for Flipkart in India, but sadly they missed their opportunity.  That leaves Amazon, and with the $3.99-priced Kindle Unlimited in India to dominate.  This will have a chilling effect on the ability for future Indian retailers to attract the biggest books.  I'm eagerly awaiting the day iBooks enters both India and China with a bookstore.  Kobo is in India but they're not much of a factor there yet.

Q: Will iBooks try to take on the Zon by releasing a multi-platform app? (Julie York)

I’d love to see iBooks do this but I don’t think it will happen. Android phones, for example, would benefit from an iBooks app. iBooks would also do well to create a web-accessible customer experience so readers can browse and buy from any browser or device. People with personal computers can buy music with iTunes, so why not be able to buy books with iBooks?

Q: How much will the standard agent/publisher cut shrink in the face of the superior economics of self publishing? (Elise Ackerman)

I don’t think agents will reduce their cuts. The agents I know work hard for their 15%, and the most progressive agents are extremely supportive of their clients' self-publishing efforts, and some agencies even provide ebook publishing assistance as a service to their clients. Smashwords works as the ebook distributor for many such agents. Publishers, on the other hand, will feel increased pressure to address paltry ebook royalties – something that has become a major grievance for authors who are increasingly reluctant to give up their rights in exchange for only 25% of the net. It’s likely some publishers start increasing that percentage to 50% (and if they don’t, there are digital-only specialty publishers that will do it for 50% net, and of course Smashwords is here to provide 85% net!).

Q: What percent of new authors will decline a standard agent/publishing deal and go it alone? (Elise Ackerman)

Oh boy, I won’t even hazard a guess on the percentage here. I don’t know. But there is a broader macro trend at play where more and more authors are aspiring to indie publish as the stigma of self-publishing disappears, and many of these authors are self-publishing without ever bothering to shop their books to agents and publishers. There’s also what we should call the Jamie McGuire trend (I don’t know if it’s a trend yet but let's hope it becomes one!) where indie authors who tried trad publishing are migrating back to indie publishing because indie publishing suits the author’s economic and personal interests better (Here's a link again to  my interview with Jamie). I will predict that whatever that percentage of authors was in 2015 that rejected publishing offers, the percentage will increase in 2016 unless publishers enact reforms. Author want higher royalty rates, lower ebook pricing (indie authors offer much more competitive pricing, enabling greater readership building and sales), and some authors would like to see publishers abandon DRM. As you can imagine, from the publisher’s perspective it’s doubly difficult for them to wrestle with the concept of lowering ebook prices while increasing author payouts. Can it be done? Yes. Would it reduce publisher profits? Probably.

Q: Will new promotion-oriented businesses emerge to help new authors, and what will these look like? (Elise Ackerman)

Hundreds of services have sprung up to serve the burgeoning business of self publishing, and promotion-oriented services are certainly well-represented. The challenge with marketing and promotion is that it’s every expensive, and since most self-published books won’t sell well it creates a situation where many authors that pay for publicity services or advertising will never earn back their expenses. I think the most successful publicity services out there will be those that connect authors with knowledge that helps them market more efficiently for the long term, and provide services that get their books read by the right readers. I think our friends at Red Coat PR do a great job here.  In book advertising, BookBub is the gold standard with their curated advertising model (they only accept advertisements from authors with proven track records), and many authors get great results.  I hear Facebook advertising is working for some authors. If readers have promotion-oriented recommendations based on their personal experiences, please comment in the comments below and share what works!

Q: Will Smashwords introduce a POD offering in 2016? (Cynthia Seasons Christaskis)

Extremely unlikely.  I would be surprised.

Q: Predict when indies will be allowed into brick and mortars (Gwen Steel)

I think you'll see all brick and more retailers make greater efforts this year to accommodate indie authors.   This is purely based on the fact that indie ebook authors at hitting the national bestseller lists every week, so it's only natural that more of these books find their way to stores.

Q: How long will the coloring book craze continue, what effect will it have on the overall book market, and how can indie ebook authors participate? (Selina French and Jacquie Biggar)

I think the craze will peak in 2016 and then diminish, but I also think these books are here for good because they open up a new opportunity for innovative publishers, artists and book designers to take things to the next level.  It's good for indie authors because anything that brings more consumers into bookstores is good.  I think there's certainly an opportunity for indies to help drive the innovation on the POD side of things, and then if you can prove the commercial market for your book it'll open up more distribution opportunities.   I don't see any opportunity on the reflowable ebook side of things but who knows, technology has a habit of breaking rules all the time. 

Q: Is there a place where I can see all your past predictions altogether? (Cheri Lasota)

Yes! Right here:

2015 Predictions from the Smashwords Blog  (Published December 31, 2014)

2014 Predictions from Smashwords Blog  (Published December 30, 2013) and Huffington Post (Published January 7, 2014)

2013 Predictions at the Smashwords blog (published Dec 21, 2012)

2011 Predictions at GalleyCat by Mark Coker (published Dec 28, 2010)

10-Year Predictions at GalleyCat By Mark Coker (published Jan 4, 2010)

The Road Ahead

I hope you enjoyed my epic-length predictions.  Please share your thoughts, feedback and epiphanies below.  Thanks to the authors credited above for augmenting this post with their questions (and sorry to those of you whose questions I didn't answer - there were too many!). 

Things change in this industry every day.  If you're like me, you probably find it bewildering at times.  But take heart.  Some things never change.  The most important thing that will never change is that books are magical containers for delivering stories and knowledge.  You create magic.

The industry will change - players will go out of business and others will rise and fall and rise again - but books will always remain.  Authors will always remain.  You are the captain of your personal adventure in publishing, and the course you chart is rife with opportunity.

The global book publishing is a $100 billion market. Despite anemic growth, and even if the market shrinks, there’s still incredible opportunity for every new, future and veteran author alike to reach thousands if not millions of readers.  Best practices will separate those who reach a lot of readers from those who reach few.

Luck plays a factor as well, but only for those who implement best practices first.  Best practices prepare you to capture lightning in a bottle when luck strikes.  Luck strikes all the time.  It's word of mouth.  It's a blog post or a tweet or a Facebook mention or a review that recommends your book.

The books you have in you are important. Your books are important to the future of book culture and humanity.  Don't let anyone or anything discourage you from putting your book out into the world.

If you're new to self-publishing, or you're looking for a few fresh ideas to take things to the next level, check out the Powerpoint deck I uploaded here to blog titled, How to Publish Ebooks - An Ebook Publishing Intensive.