Monday, February 4, 2013

Smashwords Authors Gain Seat at the Merchandising Table with the Apple iBookstore’s Breakout Books Promotion

If anyone doubts the speed at which the epicenter of book publishing is shifting from publishers to self-published authors, doubt no more.

Apple’s iBookstore today launched Breakout Books in the U.S., a new book merchandising feature that showcases books from popular self-published authors, including several that have already achieved New York Times bestseller status (update: Cool beans - The New York Times covered the story today!).  The Breakout Books section can be found on the iBookstore at

Most major retailers reserve such high profile merchandising attention for large, long-established publishers.
Although the iBookstore has always carried and supported self-published ebooks, today’s launch signifies an escalated commitment on the part of Apple, whose iBookstore currently sells books in 50 countries.  The iBookstore first piloted the Breakout Books feature in their Australian store and has since implemented similar features in Canada and the U.K.

In the process, Apple is helping to shape a brighter, more democratized future for book publishing.  More writers will have the freedom to publish and more readers will have the freedom to discover and enjoy a greater diversity of high-quality books than ever before.

Indie authors are hitting all the major bestseller lists, supported by retailers such as the iBookstore that are now promoting self-published titles alongside traditionally-published books.

The bulk of the titles featured in the Breakout Books promotion were distributed by Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-publishers.  The books Apple selected share several common attributes such as positive reader reviews, author popularity at the store, quality cover design, sales performance across the Smashwords retail distribution network, and other data-driven factors.

The Breakout Books feature is now running with heavy exposure throughout the iBookstore.  The selection of titles will continue to be refreshed with new breakout books and remain accessible at its own unique destination on the iBookstore at


A retailer’s merchandising decisions are among the most important drivers for book sales.  To appreciate the significance of Apple’s move, it’s helpful to understand how readers discover books, and how a store’s merchandising decisions impact customer decision-making.  In order for a reader to discover and purchase a book, the book must be:
  1. available - in a store where readers are looking for books
  2. discoverable – visible and findable in the store
  3. desirable – the book must satisfy the reader’s desire for entertainment, escapism or knowledge.  Key levers that determine desirability include bookseller recommendations, customer reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations, author brand, author platform, and price.
  4. affordable - the reader must perceive the value of the book to be greater than the retail price and the value of their time to read it

With many ebook stores now carrying over one million books, books that receive merchandising love have a significant discovery advantage over those that don’t.

When a retailer features a book, whether it’s placed in a feature collection such as Apple’s Breakout Books, or on the front table at a brick and mortar retailer, the retailer is essentially telling their customers, “Try this book first, you’ll like it!”


Why are book retailers like Apple increasing their commitment to self-published ebooks?

Over the last five years, we’ve all heard about the advantages of ebook self-publishing from the author perspective (an opportunity to bypass publishing gatekeepers with fast, free and easy self-publishing; faster time to market; access to global distribution; higher royalties; greater creative control; etc.).

Few in the publishing industry, however, have examined why retailers are stepping up their support for self-published books.  The significance of the iBookstore’s Breakout Books promotion becomes all the more apparent once this question is answered.

Self-published ebooks, combined with the power of online retailing, bring positive advantages to retailers, consumers and authors alike:
  1. Quality – The job of the retailer is to connect readers with books they’ll enjoy reading.  The quality of self-published ebooks – measured by reader reviews – has increased significantly over the last few years as indie authors publish with greater professionalism, from editing to cover design to pricing and promotion.  The most successful self-published books often match or exceed the quality and desirability of traditionally published books.
  2. Low prices – The average Smashwords ebook is priced around $2.99.  Readers love low cost books, especially if the quality is as good as or better than what’s released by traditional publishers.  High quality books sold at low prices makes customers happy, and what makes the customer happy makes the retailer happy.
  3. Unlimited shelf space – In the old print world of brick and mortar book retailing, retailers had a limited amount of shelf space, so they could only stock a small fraction of available books.  In the new world of democratized ebook publishing and distribution, self-published writers have the freedom to publish what they want, and readers have the freedom to read what they want.  Unlimited shelf space enables more books to be published, and some of these books will go on to find large audiences.
  4. eBooks never go out of print – In the old world of publishing, if a book sold poorly at first, the retailers would pack up the books and return them to the publisher.  These returns would essentially force a book out of print.  With ebooks, the books are immortal.  They never go out of print.  They’re always available to be discovered and enjoyed by new audiences.  This means retailers can sell them for as long as the author wishes them to be sold.  It means every ebook represents a permanent annuity stream for the retailer, the author and the author’s heirs.
  5. Readers are the new curators - Readers have always been the ultimate arbiters of what’s worth reading, and reader word-of-mouth drives book sales.  In the old world of publishing, publishers and retailers could only guess what readers wanted to read.  Today, each time a reader downloads, purchases or reviews an ebook, this data becomes an expression of reader sentiment that ebook merchandisers can mine to identify books worthy of extra promotion.
  6. Sales! - Self-published books are selling.  Smashwords books are hitting all the bestseller lists.  Smashwords retailers are selling millions of dollars of our authors’ books each year, and that makes me happy because it gives our retail partners strong financial incentive to support our authors with even greater merchandising opportunities in the future.
  7. FREE series starters – Many of the bestselling Smashwords authors are writing full-length book series, and they’re pricing the first book in the series at FREE.  FREE series starters give indie authors a significant discovery advantage over traditionally published authors who invariably see their book’s full potential squandered by high prices.
  8. High unit volume – Follow the eyeballs.  Since Christmas, iBookstore customers have downloaded an average of over 1 million FREE and priced Smashwords books each week.  Apple, like many other retailers that also produce their own e-reading devices, gains two benefits from every download or sale:  1.  They sell a lot of books.  2.  The millions of hours I’d guess iBookstore customers spend each month to browse, download, purchase and enjoy Smashwords books makes the iPhone or iPad that much more essential to the customer’s life.  Books make devices more valuable to customers.  For indie authors, the high unit volume enabled by low cost, high-quality books means that the indie author can develop fans and author platforms faster than traditionally published authors.
  9. Rapid publishing helps authors be more responsive to reader desires – Indie authors enjoy faster production schedules, which allow them to satisfy reader desires more quickly, or to cater to hot trends before the trends fade.  Our authors can transform their fully edited manuscript into a professionally published ebook in a matter of minutes, and achieve worldwide distribution at Apple and our other retailers in a matter of days.  Most traditionally published writers must wait a year or more before their book reaches the market (imagine all the missed sales!).
  10. Indies are always iterating and evolving – Unlike traditionally published print books which remain relatively static and unchanged after publication, indie authors are iterating their books.  As I documented here on the Smashwords blog, after R.L. Mathewson uploaded a new cover image to her Smashwords Dashboard, within days of Smashwords delivering the new cover image to the iBookstore, the book broke out.  A couple of weeks later, her book hit the New York Times bestseller list.  Since indie ebooks are immortal and never go out of print, the author can always experiment with different covers, pricing or book descriptions.  I document these and other discoverability levers in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.  The book identifies the 28 best practices of the most commercially successful indie authors.

Multiple Smashwords Authors Featured in Breakout Books
Below is the list of Smashwords authors who account for 54 of the books in today’s Breakout Books catalog.  Some have more than one book listed.  Each book is hyperlinked to its listing at the iBookstore.  Several of the participating authors are blogging about Breakout Books.  As I collect their links, I'll post them below their books.  Visit their blogs and learn more about these great authors!

Addison Moore - Someone to Love and Ethereal (Celestra Series Book 1)
  *  Addison celebrates Breakout Books
Alan Sepinwall - The Revolution Was Televised
Alison Pensy - The Amulet (Custodian Novel #1)
   * Alison celebrates Breakout Books
Amanda Hocking - My Blood Approves
B.L. Hoffman - Mystery at Shadow Lake
   * B.L. celebrates Breakout Books
Bill Clem - Microbe
Brian S. Pratt - The Unsuspecting Mage: The Morcyth Saga Book One
C.L. Bevill - Disembodied Bones
   *  C.L. Bevill celebrates Breakout Books
Camilla Chafer - Armed and Fabulous (Lexi Graves Mysteries, 1)
   * Camilla celebrates Breakout Books
Chanda Hahn - Unenchanted
Claire Farrell - Verity (Cursed #1)
Colleen Hoover - Hopeless
   * Colleen celebrates Breakout Books
Dana Donovan - The Witch's Ladder
   * Dana celebrates Breakout Books
Harrison Drake - A Dream of Death
   * Harrison celebrates Breakout Books
HP Mallory - To Kill a Warlock
Isabelle Rae - When Summer Ends
Jami Alden - Private Pleasures
Jamie McGuire - Providence
   * Jamie celebrates Breakout Books
JC Phelps - Color Me Grey: Book One of the Alexis Stanton Chronicles
JD Nixon - Blood Ties
   * JD celebrates Breakout Books
Jessica Sorensen - Ember and The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1)
JL Paul - All The Wrong Reasons
   * JL celebrates Breakout Books
John Locke - Lethal People
John O'Brien - A New World: Chaos
Joseph Lallo - The Book of Deacon 
   * Joseph celebrates Breakout Books
Julie Ortolon - Almost Perfect
K.A. Tucker - Anathema (Causal Enchantment, #1)
   * K.A. celebrates Breakout Books
Kaitlyn Davis - Ignite (Midnight Fire Series Book One)
Kim Richardson - Marked, Soul Guardians Book 1
   * Kim celebrates Breakout Books
Kira Saito - Bound, An Arelia LaRue Novel
Kirsty Moseley - Always You
   * Kirsty celebrates Breakout Books
Kristen Ashley - Rock Chick
   * Kristen celebrates Breakout Books
Lindsay Buroker - The Emperor's Edge
   * Lindsay celebrates Breakout Books
Lizzy Ford - Katie's Hellion
   * Lizzy celebrates Breakout Books
Lorena Angell - A Diamond in my Pocket
   * Lorena celebrates Breakout Books
Penelope Fletcher - Glamour (Rae Wilder #1)
Quinn Loftis - Elfin and Prince of Wolves
   * Quinn celebrates Breakout Books
R.L. Mathewson - Playing for Keeps
   *  R.L celebrates Breakout Books
Rachel Astor - Bridesmaid Lotto
Rachel Higginson - Reckless Magic
   * Rachel celebrates Breakout Books
Randolph Lalonde - Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0
Rebecca Forster - Hostile Witness
Sarah Burleton - Why Me?
Sarah Woodbury - Footsteps in Time (A Time Travel Fantasy (The After Cilmeri Series)
   * Sarah celebrates Breakout Books
S.C. Stephens - Collision Course
   * S.C. celebrates Breakout Books
Shayne Parkinson - Daisy's War
   * Shayne Celebrates Breakout Books
T C Southwell - Slave Empire and The Queen's Blade
   * T C celebrates Breakout Books
T.M. Nielsen - Heku: Book 1 of the Heku
William Wayne "Bill" Dicksion - Sagebrush
   * Bill celebrates Breakout Books

Please join me in thanking the iBookstore team for their tremendous support of indie authors, and celebrate the success of the Smashwords authors above.

The Breakout Books section can be found on the iBookstore at

iBookstore promotion tools for Smashwords authors:

Badges - right mouse click on a badge, copy to your desktop, then place on your blog or website.  Hyperlink each badge to your book. 

How to find direct hyperlinks to iBookstore books - For each of the featured books above, I have linked to the book at the iBookstore.  Another option is to use Apple's LinkMaker tool at Yet another simple method, especially if you're linking to multiple books, is to Google 'book title author name Apple iBookstore' which is often even quicker.  Then click to the listing and copy the URL from your web browser.

Related posts regarding ebook merchandising:

How to Sell Ebooks at the Apple iBookstore 

RL Mathewson Shares the Secrets to Her Succes

Mark Coker’s 21 Book Industry Predictions for 2013

Multiple Smashwords Authors Hit NY Times Bestseller List


Joseph Lallo said...

Hey wow! I'm on the list!

Alison Pensy said...

OMG, I nearly fell off my chair. I'm on the list, too. *does happy dance around office* :-) Thanks, Mark. Without you, none of this would have been possible.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to everyone who made the list. A great inspiration for other authors.

Randolph Lalonde said...

Thank you so much for including my Space Opera romp in this marketing effort!

Smashwords is still the greatest distributor of EBooks on the planet, even over giants like Amazon as far as I'm concerned.

Keep it up!

Shayne Parkinson said...

Wonderful news, and a great list to be on! Thanks, Mark and the Smashwords team.

Lindsay Buroker said...

I'm very excited to be included with these great authors. Thank you, Mark and Apple!

(I see the WSJ and Engadget have picked up on the Breakout-Books story too. Yay for extra publicity! :))

Jemima Pett said...

Congratulations to everyone on the Breakout list. And thank you to those that have shared their experiences to help those of us still aspiring!

Anonymous said...

I am a new author on Smashword, I published my book"Poems of Encouragement" last month. Congrats to those who made the list. It is very inspiring to see all the work you guys have done. Good Job!!!!

millie said...

Mark, you impress me no end. And to think "Sagebrush" is also on the list. Many thanks to you for your hardwork in developing Smashwords!William Wayne Dicksion