Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three websites keep indie authors out of harm's way

In this post, I wanted to recommend a few websites I think do a great job of helping indie authors navigate the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. As anyone who follows Smashwords or this blog knows, I'm a huge advocate for self-publishing both in print via services like Lulu or Createspace, and online via my indie ebook publisher, Smashwords. Although there are many reputable self-publishing companies such as our own who truly care about the authors they represent, the publishing industry is legend for somehow attracting the dregs of the earth to run scammy publishing services that take advantage of authors.

Below are three sites worth checking before you sign on with any publisher:

1. Predators & Editors - The other day, a Smashwords author wrote me and mentioned how he was about to sign a publishing contract with a publisher I heard had a shady history. I pointed the author to this page at Predators & Editors so they could understand the mistake they were about to make. A few days later, I was pleased to receive an email thanking me for the warning, and notifying me he had selected one of my recommended print publishers instead. P&E maintains listings on hundreds of publishers. The site also has listings of agents, both good and bad. The site is run by David L. Kuzminski. I don't know the full story behind the site, but I do see on the home page that he is soliciting donations to help him defend the site against a lawsuit. I just made a small personal donation and I hope you do the same.

2. Piers Anthony's Internet Publishing Survey - Best-selling sci-fi and fantasy author Piers Anthony has been an advocate for online publishing and authors rights for many years, and for quite a long time has maintained this great online survey of Internet publishing services. Given his prolific writing, I'm amazed he has the time to keep his list up to date, but he does an admirable job based on his own experiences and the reports he receives from his readers. I referred the aforementioned Smashwords author to this page for Piers' take on the suspect publisher.

3. Writer Beware - Writer Beware is run by writer Victoria Strauss. She maintains several web pages hosted at the Science Fiction & Fantasy Association's website filled with informative articles, and she also contributes to the Writer Beware Blog along with other fellow writers A.C. Crispin and Richard White.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide Now Available

Independent authors, like those we publish at Smashwords, realize they need to take marketing matters into their own hands. With this in mind, last night we published The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, a free ebook that provides authors actionable advice on how to market their Smashwords books. The Guide starts with an overview of the free marketing tools offered by Smashwords, and then provides a series of simple marketing tips authors can put to use today.

This is a living document and will be updated frequently as Smashwords authors suggest additional marketing ideas, and as we develop more do-it-yourself marketing tools for the Smashwords digital publishing platform.

Lightbulb image credit: Kaizen-Muse

Monday, December 22, 2008

Vote on Your Favorite Smashwords Ad

For several months now, we've been running a series of Smashwords print advertisements in some the leading writer's magazines, and it recently dawned on me that we've never shared these ads with our online friends, many of whom found us not in dead tree media, but online.

Below is a partial collection. Comment below and place your vote for your favorite. Also feel free to steal the images and post them on your own blog or website.

Ad #1

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Ad #2:

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Ad #3:

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Ad #4:

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Ad #5:

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The ads were designed by David Gee out of Toronto, who by day is an advertising copywriter and by night is a freelance book cover designer. He's also the designer behind the cover for my own novel, Boob Tube. See David's fantastic work at his blog, David Gee, Works on Paper.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Smashwords Introduces Coupon Generator for Self-Published eBook Authors

Smashwords today introduced a coupon generator that allows self-published ebook authors to issue promotional coupon codes for their books for sharing on blogs, websites, social networks and fan email lists.

Our mission at Smashwords is to provide independent authors the free tools they need to publish, promote and sell their ebooks. The Smashwords Coupon Generator represents a powerful new marketing tool for self-published ebook authors to create excitement and buying interest among their potential readers.

The Smashwords Coupon Generator give authors flexible options for how they design their coupon promotions, including designating cents-off or dollars-off list price, a flat percentage off retail price, and fixed expiration dates. Authors can also create coupons that entitle the recipient to receive the book for free, which can be useful for promoting the book to book reviewers or for use in limited time promotions.

For independent authors, there's never been a better time to publish ebooks on Smashwords. Authors simply upload their manuscripts as Microsoft Word files, and then Smashwords automatically converts the book into multiple DRM-free ebook formats, such as .epub, .lrf, .pdf, .mobi, .pdb, .rtf and .txt. Authors set the price of their books, determine the sampling percentage, and receive 85% of all net sales proceeds.

To learn more about the Coupon Generator, log in to your Smashwords account and click Dashboard.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forget what you know about book formatting

One of my many joys of running Smashwords is working directly with authors every day who share my passion about the promise of ebooks. Their feedback, dreams and frustrations are what guide our development.

The biggest challenge these authors face getting their book into ebook form is that they're held hostage by their previous conceptions regarding how a book should be formatted. Traditional print formatting is very forgiving. If you use space marks or tabs instead of indents, for example, as long as the words are arranged where you want them on screen or in your PDF, the book prints reasonably well and all your bad formatting habits are forgiven.

Ebooks aren't so forgiving, because for the most part, formatting is the enemy of good ebook formatting. If my statement sounds circular and nonsensical, allow me to elaborate.

In the ebook realm, authors must abandon the notion of the "page." Pages have no meaning in ebook form, because pages become amorphous shape shifting creatures depending on the ebook reader; the reader's choice of font size, font style or line spacing; or in the case of the iPhone, whether they're holding it vertically or sideways.

When the notion of page disappears, it creates other problems for traditionally formatted books. The page numbers in your table of contents or index become meaningless. Your artificial page breaks, made via the common bad habit of multiple paragraph returns, create blank pages. Your forced page breaks disappear.

The secret to good ebook formatting is to keep it simple: A paragraph return at the end of a paragraph, a proper indent at the beginning of the paragraph, a couple paragraph returns between each chapter, things like that.

For long form narrative books, which is what most people read, readers buy books for the words, not the formatting. Don't let your formatting get in the way of the words.

For helpful formatting tips, read the Smashwords Style Guide.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Smashwords Optimized for Stanza and the iPhone

If you're one of the 10 million or so iPhone and iPod Touch users out there, you know it's sometimes a pain to visit web sites on the Safari browser that aren't optimized for the iPhone's screen size and slow download rates.

We feel your pain, which is why we're excited to announce today that we've optimized the Smashwords web site for iPhone users.

Simply visit the site and we'll automatically recognize you're an iPhone or iPod Touch user, and then we'll serve you pages optimized for your device.

iPhone and iPod Touch users can now easily browse our small but growing catalog of independently published ebook authors. All of our books are available DRM-free and multi-format, including the increasingly popular epub format used by Stanza, the leading ereader app for the iPhone.

And speaking of Stanza, Stanza fans are in for a real treat.

We also today introduced full integration with the Stanza ebook reader (see image below). Stanza users can now easily access the complete Smashwords catalog on their iPhone or iPod Touch, download book samples and free books, access their personal Smashwords library, and even download full books they've purchased online at

Visit the website by entering the URL "" in the Safari browser. You can add all Smashwords books available in ePub format to Stanza's online catalog by tapping the "Stanza" link at the top of any page, and following the instructions there.

To purchase Smashwords books, tap "Join" to sign up for a free account, or tap "Login" if you already have an account. Find the book you wish to purchase, or just tap the link at the end of the sample copy right inside Stanza to launch Safari, and click "Add to Cart". You can pay with a PayPal account or credit card, all right on your iPhone.

To load the books you've purchased into Stanza, tap the "Library" button at the top of any page on the Smashwords website. A list of books you've purchased will appear. Tap the book's title, and tap the "Download to Stanza" link on the page that appears. Stanza will launch, download the book, and you may begin reading instantly.

Alternatively, you can also access your entire personal Smashwords library directly within Stanza, by adding it as an Online Catalog. From the Library or Stanza pages on, tap "Access your Library in Stanza." Stanza will launch and add your library as a new menu item under "Online Catalog." Be sure to name your catalog, otherwise Stanza will give it a default name of "". Any books you purchase or add to your Library -- whether on your PC or Mac, or while browsing on your iPhone -- will appear there automatically.

If you're an indie author, there's never been a better time to publish your books on Smashwords. And if you're a fan of indie ebooks, there's never been a better time to start enjoying our small but growing catalog of books.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fun with Word Clouds: If Words Could Speak

Writers wrestle words - it's one of the never ending joys and anguishes of authorship. When we write a book, we turn words into sentences forming paragraphs forming pages that magically create stories, ideas and images that have the power to move the spirit.

But what if you were to take your precisely placed words and jumble them up? What story might your words they tell if given the chance?

Now comes Wordle, a cool little web service that takes your words and converts them into eye candy for wordies. Wordle generates randomly organized word clouds of unlimited shapes, sizes, colors, fonts and layouts. To create your own word cloud, simply visit the site and paste a bunch of words into the space provided and click go. To create the image above left, I copied the text from the About Smashwords page into Wordle. Once you create your masterpiece, you have the option of publishing it to Wordle's public gallery to share with the world.

Wordle might have interesting application for authors who want to find new ways to engage the senses of readers. Wordle, simply by accentuating words with the highest frequency in a sample, tells its own story about the words. By looking at the word cloud at left (an excerpt of a random page of my own novel Boob Tube), can you guess anything about the story?

You can even feed Wordle a web page, a blog, an RSS feed or your bookmarks. Below is what the Smashwords blog looks like on Wordle. Give Wordle a try for yourself. You might never see words the same way.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"The Rise of Ebooks" at Tools of Change 2009 Conference

Registration is now open for the third annual O'Reilly Tools of Change conference to be held in early February 2009 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

I'm moderating a panel discussion entitled, "The Rise of Ebooks," featuring Joe Wikert of O'Reilly Media, indie author advocate (and author) April Hamilton, David Rothman of ebook industry bible Teleread, and Russell Wilcox, co-founder of E-Ink, developer of the digital ink technology driving many next generation e-reading devices.

We'll explore a wide range of ebook industry trends and issues, including DRM, reading devices, consumer awareness of ebooks, ebook self-publishing, how Amazon’s digital publishing strategy might upset the balance of power in traditional print publishing, digital ink technologies, and more.

If you're in the publishing industry and responsible for shaping your organization's digital publishing initiatives, this is a must attend conference. If you have specific suggestions for additional topics you'd like to see us address in the session, drop me at note at first initial second initial at

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ebook Authors: Liberate the Words from the Formatting

I remember when I was a kid my dad lifted the hood of his car to reveal the handle of a pair of pliers plugging some open orifice in the engine. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, "The car works, doesn't it?"

Massaging Microsoft Word files into usable ebook formats is kind of like that. To be successful, we have abandon perfection and focus on making the dang thing work.

One of my first projects after launching the public beta of Smashwords was to write the Smashwords Style Guide, which provides authors tips on how to format their Microsoft Word manuscripts in preparation for feeding them into Meatgrinder, our ebook conversion engine.

As I work with authors to improve the quality of their conversions, one of the biggest problems I run into is that so many manuscripts contain unnecessarily complex formatting. This usually isn't the author's fault. Word, in its attempt to provide easy WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) on-screen editing, has a tendency to sneak a ton of junk into the document, often hidden from the writer.

This stealth formatting usually goes unnoticed when we print to paper, but with ebooks, the formatting often mutates into an ugly unreadable beast. You never know if the reader is consuming your book on a Kindle, a Sony Reader, an Iliad, their iPhone, their laptop, a big screen TV, or any of the myriad other e-reading devices and approaches now available. Each device interprets formatting differently. The ereading software or page display can add another unpredictable dimension to the problem.

The secret to good ebook formatting is to liberate the words from the formatting so that the formatting becomes truly invisible. Eliminate the superfluous formatting and focus on the important bare bones necessities, like indents and paragraph returns. See the Smashwords Style Guide for more.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Smashwords Enhancements Improve Ebook Publishing and Discovery

At Smashwords, our mission is to create the single best ebook self-publishing platform for independent authors and their readers.

We’re continually developing new features that make it easier than ever to publish and discover indie ebooks.

Here’s a summary of some our recent enhancements.

Search Engine-Friendly Book Marketing

Smashwords now automatically optimizes author pages and book pages so they’re more easily discovered and indexed by search engines. Authors can monitor their presence on popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN Live by clicking on the SEO link in their Dashboard.

Book Discovery

In the last week, we implemented a tagging feature so authors can add more granular keywords to help readers discover their books. Smashwords is also doing more to help readers find additional ebooks they’ll enjoy. Book overview pages now link to other books by the same author, as well as other books purchased or viewed by each author’s readers. Similar recommendations also appear when a book is added to the shopping cart.

Dashboard Enhancements

At Smashwords, we give authors complete control over how their books are marketed, sampled and sold. We’ve made many improvements to the Dashboard page so authors can more easily track the number of times their books have been sampled or purchased, and how many users' Libraries their books are currently added to. Many of the management options are available right from a book's overview page.

We streamlined the Dashboard feature to make it less cluttered by allowing authors to archive unpublished books.

Integration with Social Networking and Social Bookmarking Sites

For authors and their readers, we’ve made it easier than ever for members to share their favorite books on social networking and bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Facebook, Reddit and StumbleUpon. And of course, members can also share book samples the old fashioned way – via email.

Profile Pages Enhanced

As a registered Smashwords member, you've always had a personal profile page where you can add a bio, upload your picture, or publish books. We’ve added several enhancements to the profile page to make it easier for authors and readers to connect with one another.

One such feature is author favoriting. When a reader “favorites” an author, a link to the reader’s profile page appears on the author’s profile page, and a link to the author's page appears on the reader's profile page.

Profile pages also now support outbound hyperlinks to a member’s blog or web site. If you blog, your blog postings can automatically appear within your profile page. For blogging authors, this is a great way to connect with new readers.

Share your feedback!

Most of the new features mentioned above came as a result of member feedback. Are there additional features you’d like to see? Simply click on the comment link at the top of any Smashwords page to share your wish list.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Buy my Stupid Ebook

The other day I was browsing the Open Directory Project and stumbled across this hilarious ebook advertisement by Biff McProfit entitled "Buy My Stupid eBook."

It's an absolutely brilliant parody of the sneaky tactics some ebook authors use to sell their books. You know those ebook ads I'm referring to - they usually promise to unlock the secret to some system that will change your life forever. Unfortunately, I suspect the only people making money off these books are the ebook authors themselves.

If anyone out there knows the real name of the writer behind this parody site, leave a note here so I can give them the credit they deserve.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

HARO - Great Publicity Tool for Independent Authors

The greatest challenge facing most authors, whether they're traditionally published by one of the big New York houses or self-published on Smashwords, is how to market their books. Most authors are credible experts on something, yet that something is rarely marketing and public relations. But without marketing, most books will die on the vine because prospective readers will never know they exist.

Now comes a great marketing tool for authors called HARO, which stands for Help A Reporter. HARO is a free service operated by PR pro Peter Shankman that sends subscribers dozens of queries a day from reporters at newspapers, magazines, blogs and broadcast television who are seeking subject matter experts they can interview for their stories. Each query describes what the reporter is looking for and provides contact information (usually an email address) where you can direct your pitch. This morning's email included 22 queries, including some from The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and Fox Television.

The rules for using HARO are quite simple: No off-topic pitches, otherwise Shankman will boot you from the list.

All authors, especially non-fiction authors, would be simply FOOLISH to not subscribe to this free service.

Subscribe at

Thursday, September 4, 2008

IDPF: eBook Sales Surge in Q2 2008

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) today published its latest trade ebook sales figures for the quarter ending June 2008. Wholesale trade ebook revenues for the month of June surged 43% to $11.6 million compared to $8.1 million in the same period a year ago, while sales for the first six months of 2008 grew 43% compared to the same period a year ago.

Trade eBook sales were $4,900,000 for June 2008 alone, an 87.4% increase over June 2007.

Bottom line, folks, ebook sales are accelerating in the marketplace, yet they still represent a small piece of the overall book publishing industry pie.

Some notes about the data above: 1. The data is US-only. 2. The data reflects wholesale sales as reported by 12-15 leading publishers, so actual sales figures to customers were probably approximately twice those reported here.

For self-published indie authors, the data above sends a clear message that if your book isn't available in ebook form, you could be missing out on an important sales channel. If you haven't yet published your book on Smashwords, go ahead and do it. It takes 5 minutes or less and you control all aspects of marketing, pricing and sampling.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Buzz about Flat World Knowledge: Free Open Source Textbooks

Wired News had a story yesterday about Flat World Knowledge, a new startup that promises to turn the traditional model of textbook publishing upside down on its head by offering free, expert-written open source textbooks. This follows recent Flat World coverage in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, US News & World Report, Time Magazine, and USA Today.

The company earns revenue through the sale of POD versions of the texts, as well as digital study aids.

Before I go on about Flat World, I should first disclose that my views about Flat World are not impartial. I'm on their advisory board and I'm an investor. The PR agency I own, Dovetail Public Relations, does PR for Flat World. So enough said about that.

Ask anyone who has been to college recently, or has paid for their kid to go to college and they'll tell you textbook prices are insane. Textbook prices have been spiraling out of control, growing faster than inflation and burdening most college students with annual costs approaching $1,000 per school year. The textbook pricing problem has reached a crisis, because it threatens to make higher education unaffordable to many students.

Some politicians have called for greater regulation of text book prices. This is tough though, because publishers' own production and marketing costs are increasing, and it's not fair to regulate an industry to zero profits.

A better solution is to recognize that the textbook publishing model as we know it is broken, and no longer serves the needs of students, educators, authors or publishers. A new approach is needed that leverages the economic efficiencies of digital production and consumption (Those of you who are fans of Smashwords know we're trying to leverage the same economic efficiencies to democratize trade book publishing, thus you'll understand why I'm so excited about Flat World's potential to change the world).

Under the Flat World model, students get free and low-cost textbooks and study aids; teachers have greater control over their curriculum by mixing and mashing the texts to suit their unique class requirements; authors get paid through the sale of POD copies and study aids; and the publisher is allowed to earn a fair profit.

Flat World Knowledge has 17 textbooks under contract and in development by top scholars and authors, and recently began limited in-class trials in a nationwide beta test at 20 colleges across the United States.

Learn more about Flat World Knowledge by visiting their site at

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Recent History of Writing & Drawing

Whenever I travel, I enjoy exploring down random streets, much in the same way I walk a library or book store.

Yesterday, as my wife and inlaws toured Buckingham Palace here in London, I wandered down The Mall, a main thoroughfare that leads toward Trafalgar Square and The Strand (famous for its many used bookstores).

Along the way I stumbled across an exhibit at the Institute of Contempory Arts entitled, "A Recent History of Writing & Drawing." How could I resist? I paid my two Pounds ($4.00) and entered a small single room filled with various odd writing contraptions.

The exhibition, produced by programmer-artists Jurg Lehni and Alex Rich, utilizes complex technology and mechanics to produce unexpectedly simple forms of writing and art.

One interactive exhibit that caught my eye was a computer terminal that allows you to type in a limited number of letters and words, and then when you pressed print it printed your creation on a large format printer, but instead of ink on paper the words were formed by a predetermined number of hole punches.

My masterpiece is shown at left (hanging chads and all), kindly displayed by my unwitting co-collaborator, the friendly docent manning the room.

Another interesting exhibit consisted of a large chalkboard, with small motorized pullies mounted in each of its four corners. Through the pullies ran cabling, which met in the the middle of the chalkboard attached to a contraption with a large piece of chalk. The purpose here was for the four independent pullies to work in unison to move the chalk in such a way that it drew a picture. The system's output is shown at below.

What's the purpose of all this?

According to the handout, "The themes of the installation are the untapped potential of everyday technologies, their capacity to execute functions not foreseen by their designers, and the unintended poetic qualities of certain means of communication. "

Like most modern art, I suppose it also intends to touch you in some way, or maybe make you think about something in a completely new light.

The exhibit runs through the 31st of August. Click here for more information.

I'm in London for a few more days, so if any Smashwords members out there want to meet for cool drink in the Covent Garden area, drop me a line at first initial second initial at you know where dot com.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Visit to Montserrat, One of World's Oldest Publishers

I'm in Europe for the next five weeks (thus my posting here will be sparse), and today I visited Montserrat, the breathtakingly beautiful monastery perched high atop a mountain range in the Catalonia region of Spain.

I learned today Montserrat was the world's first monastery to acquire a printing press. Wikipedia puts the actual date of that acquisition around 1499.

Keep in mind, this was a revolutionary move at the time. Many monks resisted the printing press for fear it would put them out of work.

Back in the pre-Gutenberg press days, the work of bookmaking was performed primarily by monks, who would transcribe, illustrate and reproduce texts by hand, letter by intricate letter. As one might imagine, the printing press had an enormous impact on the monastery's output. Within a short period of time, Montserrat had published thousands of books. Nevermind that when Napolean came through he set them all on fire. I assume thanks to the printing press, enough redudant copies were archived elsewhere to preserve many of them.

In modern times, many people credit pornography with fostering the development of the VCR, DVDs and the Internet. What many of us forget is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to religious publishing of the 15th and 16th centuries for pioneering the development of books as a force for literacy and as an enduring form of education, enlightenment, propaganda and entertainment.

I wonder what societal phenomena will be the driving force behind ebooks?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IDPF Reports April ebook Sales for April up 19.9%

The IDPF, in conjunction with the AAP, has announced trade ebook sales for the month of April were $3.4 million, up 19.9% over the same month a year ago.

As always, they note, "Retail numbers may be as much as double the above figures due to industry wholesale discounts." The data is collected from 12-15 publishers and covers the US market only.

While ebook sales remain paltry compared to the overall book market, we continue to view such growth as further validation that ebooks are are on the rise and will continue to account for an ever-increasing percentage of the book market.

I believe the sales figures *do not* include sales of Amazon Kindle titles. Can anyone confirm this?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Brave New World of

Much has been written over the last couple months about the controversy surrounding Amazon's decision to remove its "Buy now" button from POD book listings that don't print from its own BookSurge subsidiary. Long story made short, if you're a POD author, your books can receive preferential treatment if you use Amazon's POD printing subsidiary as opposed to using a competitor such as Lightning Source or any of the dozens of alternatives. POD printer BookLocker even filed suit in May to block prevent Amazon from, we suspect, wielding unfair and anti-competitive powers against its POD printing competitors.

The New York Times in Monday's issue provides an update to the ongoing saga, this time with news about how Amazon is cracking down on publishers in the U.K.

Our take: Amazon is the biggest single threat facing book publishers and book stores today. First, they're going to try to own the indie author POD and digital publishing segment of book publishing, and next I suspect they'll try to recruit mainstream published authors to bypass traditional publishers for future works and do their original publishing through Amazon. With Amazon's Digital Text Platform service, it's already as easy for an indie author to publish on the Amazon Kindle as it is to publish on Smashwords.

Some in the industry have suggested that Amazon should acquire Borders. I don't see that happening. Instead, I think it's only a matter of time before Amazon starts acquiring ailing mainstream print publishers and their catalogs. Amazon would acquire authors and backlists and could then disintermediate multiple members of the book industry supply chain in one fell swoop. To authors, this might at first appear a favorable outcome, considering the current system is broken from the perspective of most authors, and Amazon pays better royalties than its traditional print cousins. However, longer term, reduced choice and monolithic near-monopolistic industry control are seldom good for anyone but the monopoly.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader to Sell 1 Million Units Combined in 2008?

Evan Schnittman over at the Oxford University Press blog has an interesting post from earlier today that estimates Amazon and Sony are on track to sell a combined one million ebook readers in 2008. If correct, or if even half-correct, Schnittman's calculations offer clear evidence that the ebook market has entered a hyperbolic growth phase.

Schnittman's estimates are based on quotes from executives from Prime View International, the Taiwanese manufacturer behind the 9 inch displays used by Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader.

What does the news mean for indie authors? Simply put, if you're not working today to build your digital publishing presence, you could be missing out on an important future sales channel for your works.

(Hat tip to Tim O'Reilly who wrote about this for O'Reilly Radar here)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

NPR Nails Publishing Industry Conundrum

Jill Barshay at National Public Radio did a great piece on Marketplace today summarizing the challenges facing the book publishing industry. In summary, book publishers are getting hurt by book stores that take advantage of 90 day return policies to buy more books than they know they can sell and then return unsold books for full refunds, only to turn around days later to re-order the same books again, restarting the 90 day return window (in other words, never having to pay for books until and if they sell through). Under mounting profit pressure, publishers are employing fewer editors and fewer publicists to shephard more books through the system. At the same time, notes Barshay, book publishers are failing to adapt to new digital publishing realities in which authors can self-publish without a publisher. So in other words, publishers are being forced to do less of what was previous their raison d'etre (developing and promoting talent), thereby diminishing their overall value proposition. The NPR piece leaves listeners wondering, if publishers can't support authors, then why shouldn't authors bypass publishers altogether?

Don't miss the comment by April Hamilton that follows the printed online transcript of the story. April correctly summarizes why authors should aspire to remain independent rather than assign their rights away to a publisher.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

IDPF Reports Wholesale Ebook Sales Up 35%

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a non-profit industry group, reported this week that U.S. wholesale ebook revenues grew to $10.1 million in the first quarter of 2008, up 35% over the same period a year ago and up an impressive 23% sequentially over the fourth quarter of 2007. Since these are wholesale numbers, actual retail sales could be up to twice the reported figures.

Are we starting to see the impact of ebook sales through the Amazon Kindle?

Separately today, Barnes & Noble, the country's largest book seller, announced a 1.1 % decline in same store sales and lowered revenue forecasts for the remainder of the year. See the press release here and read the earnings conference call transcript here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Barnes & Noble Considers Acquisition of Borders

The Wall Street Journal reports in Friday's paper that Barnes & Noble, the country's largest book store, is considering an acquisition of Borders Group. The combination would create a retail book selling powerhouse accounting for one third of all US book sales.

Such a combination would likely mean fewer stores and higher prices. I wonder if 10 years from now book stores disappear altogether. If digital music killed the record store, will digital books kill the book store?

As brick and mortar book stores enter their twilight, it's time for independent authors to reassess publishing priorities and start building digital presence.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Hand of Darwin Touches Book Publishing

Sara Lloyd, part of the digital team at publisher Pan MacMillan, has posted a four-part series of interesting pieces here, here, here and here challenging book publishers to rethink not only their role in the new digital ecosystem, but the nature of the book as well. It's a good read, and certainly fits with our thinking here at Smashwords that the book publishing industry will face wrenching change in the next few years.

Lloyd notes how the Internet is disintermediating the distribution of books, potentially challenging one of the primary value propositions for the traditional print publisher. She also notes how consumers are increasingly becoming producers as well, much to the chagrin of the old guard publishers whose 19th century business models still adhere to the traditional author-agent-publisher-distributor-bookstore-consumer approach to book publishing.

At Smashwords, we think we're about to witness a slow and steady disintegration of the traditional book production and distribution supply chain. We will increasingly move to an author-consumer model of book production and marketing, where authors decide what's published and consumers decide what's worth reading. Our definition of "book" will also likely change, where we begin to think of books not as themed content sandwiched between paper but instead as packaged units of emotional and intellectual experience.

Does this mean the traditional print book publishers as we know them today will fall by the wayside? Not necessarily. In all good Darwinian battles, those who create value will survive and thrive.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Amazon Kindle Sales to Approach $1 Billion by 2010?

Amazon has revealed little data about Kindle sales, but now, according to TechCrunch, Citigroup Analyst Mark Mahaney has issued a report predicting that Amazon will generate up $750 million in Kindle revenues by 2010, with half of that coming from device sales and the other half book sales.

Based on my look at the Kindle, I think it's going to be a huge hit and will expose hundreds of thousands of readers to the joy of digital books. Sure, the device isn't perfect, but with few more simple tweaks and a price reduction Amazon has a killer device on its hands.

Smashwords books are easily readable on the Kindle.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What is a book worth?

Over the last few years as Smashwords gestated in my head, I spent a lot of time contemplating the furious changes to come as digital books make their way to the Internet.

In physical form, a book has characteristics that cause most of us to apply value to it - we may appreciate the cover art, its display is crisp and sharp, it's durable, it's portable, it has weight and substance in our hands, it looks sharp in our library, it tends to smell better with age, and simply reading it in public is form of self-expression.

Simply by transforming a book to digital form, we strip away the physical and have a product that is more ethereal. We also change the perceived value of the book in the eyes of the consumer. Now in digital form, a book is little more than words and images that must compete with all the other forms of information dissemination, knowledge sharing and entertainment, most of which can be had for essentially FREE on the Internet.

So what does this mean for authors and the future of writing? Are digital books moving toward free? Considering the Smashwords business model is predicated on taking a 15% cut of sales, I certainly hope we don't go all free. And as an author who put several hundred hours of work into my own novel, I admit I desire some form of monetary compensation.

Over the weekend, I posed this question to authors over at LinkedIn, asking if we need to broaden our definition of author compensation, and the responses are quite interesting (check them out). Most authors answered they want compensation in cold hard cash. The idea of alternate measures of compensation, such as fame or enhanced credibility, is anathema to most authors who have responded so far. Several have pledged to stop writing without compensation.

The debate is fascinating to me because for years, traditional print publishing - the ideal most authors aspire to as the sign of success - has failed to offer adequate compensation to all but a few authors.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Smashwords Launches Public Beta

We went live with Smashwords today, so a big hello to our newest members who join us after nearly two months of private beta testing. My gratitude goes out to our private beta testers who generously shared their feedback leading up to this public launch.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Smashwords to Launch Public Beta on Tuesday May 6

After several years of blood, sweat and cheers, Smashwords is finally launching its public beta this coming Tuesday May 6.

The idea behind Smashwords is simple: We help authors make their digitally published works discoverable by a worldwide audience.

The Smashwords Mission

I'm really excited about the opportunity digital books present to the world's readers and authors. For centuries, books have remained the gold standard for information dissemination, knowledge sharing and storytelling. Books have shaped the course of mankind.

I love paper books, and I hope they never go away, but print publishing has important economic limitations that limit opportunities for authors to reach their audience. Book printing and publishing is expensive, so book publishers are unable to publish all written works, and even if they could publish all written works, the vast majority of literate people in the world would not be able to find them or afford them.

Paper books are simply too expensive when you consider that 86% of the world's population earns a per capita annual income of less than $10,000 versus a $30,000-$50,000 per capita income level typical in developed countries. Or, consider that over one billion of the world's roughly 6.5 billion inhabitants subsist on less than $1 a day. Paper books are simply too expensive for most of the world.

By moving books into the digital realm, we can start to change the economics of book publishing, while at the same time making the work of great independent authors available to people of all economic backgrounds.

At Smashwords, we want to make publishing more enriching to both authors and publishers alike. Smashwords returns 85% of net proceeds from the sale of each book back to the author or publisher. This means that an author who might otherwise earn a per unit royalty of 40 cents by publishing a $7.95 mass market paperback can make 3.5 times as much per unit by selling the digital book on Smashwords for $2.00 (a 75% lower cost).

Smashwords economics creates a virtuous cycle: By pricing books low, Smashwords authors will expand the potential audience for their books while at the same time increasing their per-unit margins, sales volume and overall profits.

Are most Smashwords authors going to get rich? Definitely not. Although digital book sales today represent a tiny fraction of overall book sales, ebooks are one of the fastest growing segments of the book publishing industry.

Authors will get out of Smashwords what they put into it. Smashwords provides authors a free digital publishing platform and associated book marketing tools that help them build an audience and achieve their dreams. Authors simply upload their manuscript in Microsoft Word, assign sampling privileges and pricing, and we automatically convert it into multiple DRM-free formats.

We expect many authors to price their books at ZERO, and we welcome this. We recognize that most authors write because they have a story to tell, information to share or ideas to communicate, and these noble desires often trump the motive for financial gain.

I invite you to join our campaign to change the way books are published, marketed, discovered and sold.

Best wishes,

Mark Coker
Founder and CEO
Smashwords, Inc.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Digital text vs. printed text

I just read two books from my Amazon Kindle (George Soros' thought provoking The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 from the Amazon store and the excellent World Voyagers from husband and wife Smashwords authors, Phil and Amy Shelton, and have found myself thinking more and more about the future of the printed word.

For years, pundits, know-it-alls and nay-sayers have been preaching a gospel that digital ebooks will never catch on because nothing can match the pleasurable look, feel and experience of print on paper. I think the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Will Kindle do for ebooks what the iPod did for digital music? Not the current version.

Although it offers a better-than-expected reading experience, it certainly isn't a must have reading device, at least not yet. The screen, while acceptable, still doesn't match ink on paper. The screen is a bit dark. The crisp black letters lack contrast against the too-dark gray background. To call the user interface clunky would be an understatement. It's difficult to hold the thing without flipping pages by accident.

On the plus side, it's easy to adjust the Kindle's font size for more comfortable reading, and the wireless download feature is superb. I bought my first book from the Kindle store while sitting in the sand on Waikiki beach. Imagine having thousands of books to sample or purchase, at your fingertips, anytime and anyplace. That's powerful and you can have that today with the Kindle.

I see a clear path for Kindle or its competition to achieve greatness with a couple more iterations. If you've got an extra $399 sitting around and you love to read books, buy a Kindle, you won't be disappointed. Otherwise, hold off for another year or two because we're that close to the killer, must-have ebook device. And in the meantime, you can still have a good ebook reading experience on your smart phone or laptop.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Publishing Smashwords books on the Amazon Kindle

I bought one of the first Kindles available, though I'm embarrassed to admit it's been sitting in a pile of unread magazines for the last few months. I'm on vacation this week in Hawaii, so I brought it along for some real-world beach testing (I'll do a review later). This morning, I tested it with Smashwords, just to see for myself how easy it is to move a Smashwords book to the Kindle. Initial results were quite favorable, though I did discover a small bug that perplexes me. Here's a step by step of how to move Smashwords ebooks to a Kindle:

1. Go to

2. Go to the book page of your book. Click on the .mobi file. Choose "save to disk" and download the file to your desktop.

3. Connect your Kindle to your computer via the USB port cable that comes with the Kindle.

4. From your deskop, click on "My Computer" and you'll see the Kindle appear as a hard drive. In my case, it appears as the D: drive. Click on the Kindle drive and then click on "Documents" to open up that folder on the Kindle. Drag your book's file, which ends in .mobi, into the Kindle documents folder.

5. This is what the Kindle screen looks like as it's connected to the USB cable.

6. Next, unplug the cable from the Kindle. Voila, your book is on the Kindle, accessible from the Kindle home button along with your other Kindle books!


The book renders beautifully in the Kindle. I can alter the font size and get good pagination. The only problem I discovered is that the book's title, Boob Tube, doesn't appear as the title within the Kindle menu. Instead, I got gobblygook. And the gobblygook appears as the header on every page of the book on the Kindle. It's a minor annoyance but something I'm sure Gordy our CTO can fix if I'm unable to debug it myself.

Bottom line, it's quite easy to save your Smashwords books to the Kindle. If I had had my Kindle attached to my computer as I was saving the book to my desktop, I could have just as easily saved it straight to the Kindle to save a couple steps.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Smashwords to expand private beta

Beta testing is proceeding well. Early participants in the first round of the Smashwords private beta will soon be allowed to issue a limited number of exclusive invites to their friends. Their friends, once registered, can also invite others. Beta testers will receive an email notification once the second wave opens up.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hello World

Welcome to the Smashwords blog, where we'll provide updates about the site and when the mood strikes us, unsolicited opinion about ebooks, electronic publishing, self publishing and politics. Well, maybe not politics.