Wednesday, March 5, 2014

10 Reasons Indie Authors Will Capture 50% of the Ebook Market by 2020

There's a debate raging about the size of the self publishing market.
I think indie ebooks will account for 50% of ebook sales by 2020.

What do you think?

On one side of the debate, you have folks such as myself who believe all signs point toward indie ebook authors capturing an ever-greater percentage of the ebook market.

On the other side you have folks who think self publishing represents an insignificant portion of the book  market.  The naysayers think we indie optimists are delusional.

Could both sides be right?  Yes, if you look at the numbers as they stand today, and no if you look at the trends.

When you look at the trends, a new picture emerges.  Yes, I understand it can be dangerous to extrapolate trends.  Any number of events can strike to disrupt or reverse a trend.  But if you have confidence in the drivers of a trend, and you think the wind in the sails of these drivers will blow stronger not weaker, then the future becomes plain as day.

Today I'm contributing to the discussion by offering up a downloadable spreadsheet you can use to become your very own ebook pundit.  Click here to download my spreadsheet at Dropbox.

After you download the spreadsheet, open it and simply enter your estimates into the yellow cells.

You'll place your estimates in two rows:  1.  In row 11, you'll estimate the percentage of trade book sales represented by print books (as you probably know, the term "trade book" refers to consumer books typically purchased through bookstores).  2.  In row 13, you'll estimate the percentage of ebook market sales earned by indie ebook authors.

Enter your numbers for each year from 2008 to 2020.

From these two rows of estimates, the spreadsheet will calculate:

  1. The percentage of trade book market sales represented by ebooks
  2. The percentage of the overall trade book market represented by indie authors
  3. The percentage of the overall trade book market represented by traditional publishers
And then it will draw you a pretty chart.   I encourage you to take a screen shot of your chart, post it to your blog or favorite social media site, and then explain in your post the reasoning behind your estimates and beliefs.  Do me a favor and include a link back to this blog post so others can play the pundrity game too, and please also post a link in the comments below so that others can visit your blog and benefit from your opinions and insights.

My estimates, and my pretty chart, are at the top of this post.

I'm estimating ebooks for 2013 represented 30% of the overall US trade book market, and print books accounted for 70%.  Indie authors don't have access to print distribution for brick and mortars, so I've omitted any indie credit for print in my estimates.

I'm estimating indie authors represented 15% of the ebook market.  Using these numbers, that means sales of self-published authors on the strength of ebooks alone accounted for 4.5% of the US trade book market for 2013.  If my estimate is correct, it explains why publishers have maintained their intransigence when it comes to reforming their royalty rates and other business practices for which indies are now losing patience.

It's easy for a naysayer to poo-poo this 4.5% as evidence that despite all the noise about the indie revolution, traditional publishing is still the main game in town.  Do these naysayers see the writing on the wall of where this is all leading?

There are some early signs publishers are beginning to feel the heat from self published authors, and it comes from Harlequin, the grand dame of romance publishing.  In Harlequin's management discussion portion of its 2013 earnings announcement (released March 4, 2014), the company for first time cited self publishing as a potential competitive risk:  "The proliferation of less expensive, and free, self-published works could negatively impact Harlequin’s revenues in the future." (hat tip Publishers Lunch).   View the report here (opens a PDF).

I'm sure there will be those who criticize my 2013-2020 estimates for being wildly optimistic, or crazily conservative.  Only time will tell.  My primary concerns are the general trends, the drivers of these trends, and what these trends mean for the writers we serve.

As I look to the future, I think the numbers start looking really exciting if you're in the indie author's shoes, and scary if you're a Big 5 publisher.  In my spreadsheet, I see indie authors accounting for 50% of ebook sales by the year 2020.  I think my estimates are fairly conservative.  Some people today think indie ebooks already account for 25% or more of ebook sales.  I'm modeling a steady but gradual shift from print to ebooks, and a steady but gradual increase in the indie ebook market share.

If my projections come to pass, indie authors will control over one third (35%) of the overall trade book market in seven years.  Go ahead, call me crazy or delusional.  I don't mind.

Below, I'll explain why my numbers are more achievable than the naysayers think.

10 Reasons Indie Authors Will Capture Half of the Ebook Market by 2020

  1. Print will continue to decline as a book-reading format as more readers transition to screens. The transition to screens will be driven by the low prices, selection, exceptional discoverability and instant reading pleasure delivered by ebooks.
  2. Brick and mortar bookstores will continue their march into the sunset with more store closures.  I'm not happy about this, but I don't see the trend reversing unless bookstores start serving wine and pot brownies in their cafes.
  3. The perceived value of publishers will decline in the eyes of writers as the importance of print distribution declines.  Print distribution is an important glue that holds many writers to their traditional publishers.  When publisher stickiness decreases, writers will be tempted to explore the indie author camp.
  4. Indie authors have learned to publish like professionals, which means self publishing will lead to more better books, and more diversity of better books.   The professionalism and sophistication of indie authors has increased dramatically in the six years since we launched Smashwords, and this professionalism will increase in the future as indies pioneer tomorrow's best practices.  These authors are publishing books that are quality-competitive with traditionally published books, but priced dramatically lower.  As a result, these authors have the ability to under-price, outsell and out-compete the ebooks from traditional publishers.  It means indie authors will have platform-building advantages over traditionally published authors.
  5. The number of self-published ebooks will explode, and these ebooks will continue to enjoy democratized access to professional publishing and distribution tools such as Smashwords, and democratized access to global online retail distribution (every major ebook store wants to carry self-published ebooks).  Every author - even indie authors - will face increased competition from the glut of high quality works that never go out of print.
  6. The most successful indie authors are mentoring the next generation of authors.  Indie authors act like a vast publishing collective of writers helping writers. 
  7. The stigma once associated with self publishing is melting away at the same time the stigma of traditional publishing is on the rise.  Indie authors are in the cool kids club now.  They know they can publish with pride and professionalism, and they're developing teflon skin that deflects the once ego-bruising criticism levied by self publishing naysayers.  If you haven't been to a writers conference lately, go to one.  A few years ago, writers would leave conferences depressed in the knowledge that their dream agent only accepts one in 10,000 queries.  Today, writers attend conferences and learn to self publish like a pro.  They leave the conference upbeat in the knowledge that one way or another, they'll publish their book their way.
  8. Writers are discovering the joy of self publishing. If publishers are from Mars, authors are from Venus.  They speak different languages and hold different values. The rewards of self publishing transcend the conventional and myopic commercial metric value systems of publishers.  Indie authors are enjoying total creative control, faster time to market, ownership over their publishing future, and the flexibility to innovate and evolve their immortal ebooks which will never go out of print.  Indie authors enjoy the freedom to serve their fans as they want to serve them.  Icing on the indie author's cake: Indie ebook authors earn royalty rates 4-5 times higher than they'd earn from traditional publishers.
  9. Readers don't care about the publisher name on the ebook's virtual spine.  The brand they care about is the author brand. Indie authors are learning to build their own brands. 
  10. The growing rift between writers and publishers will cause the next generation of writers to avoid shopping their books to publishers, and will undermine the goodwill of writers who until now have been loyal to their traditional publishers.  Writers are angry.  After centuries of living on the bottom rung of the publishing ladder, they're feeling their oats and relishing their new-found power and respect.  I wrote about this last week for Publishers Weekly in my opinion piece, Hugh Howey and the Indie Author Revolt (may require registration).

Have fun with your punditry!  I look forward to hearing all views, especially if you don't agree with me.

READ NEXT:  Read my follow-on to this post,  Indie Ebook Author Community to Earn More than Traditional Ebook Authors


Anonymous said...

You shouldn't use microsoft nonfree formats, at least not when sharing documents meant for the public. You are alienating a lot of people who don't use/buy microsoft software. The better alternative is Open Document formats, your msoffice can also read&save them.

Inkling said...

Good arguments and most of us can hope that they're true. I'd add that I think the economics is shifting in favor of self-publishing, particularly with digital books.

1. With print, large publishers got the economy of large print runs while self-publishers had to pay higher POD costs. With digital, that's not so.

2. With lower digital prices, the labor costs of production, such as editors and designers, become a larger slice of the total cost of creation. Self-publishers can do much of that themselves, resulting in either a lower price or a higher profit on the same price.

3. In the print era, advertising was expensive. In the Internet age, advertising costs little or nothing. My website, for instance, is hosted free as a part of my Adobe CC subscription and it's as better than an entire page in a glossy, four-color magazine:

4. Thus far, independent authors have reacted far more quickly to changes in the market than the major publishers. Subscription markets have opened up and I joined them as soon as I heard. No series of committee meetings were required. And if one or more of them doesn't perform, I can drop them just as easily.

The one fly in this ointment is Amazon. Recents cuts they've made to audiobook royalties suggest that, if at some point in the future they think they can get away with it, they will do the same with ebooks. (My hunch is that they really don't want to pay authors more than about 40% royalties.) Self-published authors should take care never to become dependent on Amazon sales.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Inkling, thanks for sharing these four excellent points.

Re: Amazon, yes. I think indie authors would be wise to pay attention what just happened over at Amazon's Audible division. They gutted the royalty rates for audiobook publishers. Previously, exclusive publishers earned escalating rates of between 50 and 90%, and non-exclusive authors earned 25-70%. Going forward, the top rate for exclusive will be a fixed 40% and non-exclusives will earn only 25% (more at GigaOm) They have a near monopoly on the production and distribution of audiobooks.

It's a common pattern for Amazon: First make the supplier (author/publisher) dependent, and then put the squeeze on with lower payments.

If there's further consolidation in ebook retailing, lower royalty rates at Amazon become more likely and indie authors will lose their independence.

Amazon's smart. They know indie authors are the future of publishing. This is why Amazon launched KDP (fka DTP) in 2008, and why they've been working so hard to bring indies into the KDP stable, and why they've been pushing exclusivity at KDP. By working direct with authors, they cut out the publishers and strip them of the consolidated power they once held over Amazon. It's the ultimate divide and conquer strategy. Amazon could lower KDP royalty rates to 25% tomorrow and authors will complain but they'll still need to sell there.

Unknown said...

I accept your trend analysis in general, however one thing that will affect the trends in a general upgrading of the publishing technology. E-publishing is in a similar state as desktop publishing in the later 80s, which I went through. There was literally an explosion of DTP, mostly very bad. Professionals were slow to respond at first, but when they adopted the technology, and the technology evolved to meet their professional requirements, it truly became a revolution.

We are at that stage. The e-book technology is, to put it mildly, rudimentary. You have two extremes - complete control and limited market with something like iTunesPublisher, or marginal control and maximized market with the epub format. The inability to rely on a simple page break to consistently display the writer's intent points to poor standards and poor programming. To have to use MSWord to send in a file is insane. Just loading a 300 page document into Word is an exercise in sheer panic (I write with Mellel or I would not write). I have a greater faith in junk bonds.

When mainstream ebook technology evolves so that WYSIWYG becomes the norm on the most basic of elements, we will have a much stronger position against traditional publishers and will attract even better writers.

L.W. Hewitt,

Anna_esq said...

I strongly urge everyone to follow Mark's link to the TORSTAR management discussion analysis .pdf document, download it, and then READ it at their leisure (preferably in small chunks).

Getting this document is like when Mel Gibson's character Benjamin Martin in 'The Patriot' got his hands on General Lord Charles Cornwallis' diary.

"Lord Cornwallis knows more about warfare then we could hope learn in a dozen lifetimes."

In addition to the indie author data Mark summarizes, you get a big publisher's analysis of the cost/benefit of advertising, the risk of '80% through 2 major retail outlets,' fragmentation of the market, and other data. Read. Learn. Enjoy. Conquer...

Thanks for sharing this, Mark!

Unknown said...

I hope you are correct - and suspect the trends you are showing will emerge, if not the precise percentages. I'm new to all this, but have personally enjoyed the full suite of: writing the book, editing and re-editing, producing the illustrations and cover, publishing as an ebook AND Print on Demand paperback. Now it's just the marketing and selling - OMG !!! Good hobby though and I will definitely produce another book in addition to "Planet Me".

bruce jones said...

Mark, I agree completely with you. I love your 10 points for indie authors. Over the past few years I have self published over 21 books. Almost all of them sell and they continue to grow. It is an amazing time right now with all the opportunities there are to be a writer and publisher.

I have been a graphic designer for almost 30 years and in that time I have had no more than a handful of questions on graphic design. Since I have been publishing books I get questions almost every day on how to do it and can I halp. Everyone has a book in them.

I just put up a blog post based on your article and linked over to it. I will also mention it in my weekly newsletter on publishing. Great job

Ripley King said...

“Do these naysayers see the writing on the wall of where this is all leading?”

Yes they do.

1. Print will continue to decline?Yes. The next generation is being raised on laptops, ipads and smart phones, like we were raised on television.
2. I think Denver bookstores will be the first providers of wine and pot brownies.
3. That’s a given.
4. Yes we have. Authors who care learn to be professional. From formatting to cover art, to editing ourselves, seeking perfection in our words and storytelling abilities, we learn.
5. Every author - even indie authors - will face increased competition from the glut of high
quality works that never go out of print.
Which is why number 4 on my list will become paramount. We are our own brands, yet we face invisibility. The freebie newsletters still cater to the Amazon crowds, and are cost prohibitive for most of us, that’s if we get chosen. Online marketing will become more difficult with more glut. I’m going offline as well as online. Mark, you gave us two days warning for Read an eBook Week. Smashwords needs their own newsletter to promote our discounted books, much like Bookbub. A great idea if I ever heard one. Increased readership = Increased awareness of Smashwords authors, and increased profits
for authors and for Smashwords. Free for us, profit for us both, and significant reader awareness
of us both. What’s stopping you

6. Yes they do. Even if their blogs are haunted by ghosts.
7. Those who heed number 4, they lead the charge when it comes to public perception.
8. We do, and the icing is sweet. We get to tell the stories we wish to tell, and readers discover
amazing voices and remarkable ideas. We are the forefront of creativity.
9. Our names . . . are our brands. This is how we should think of ourselves, right now!
10. How true.

J Van Stry said...


I'm not so sure that if Amazon puts the squeeze on us indie authors that we will all stay there. One of the things about the internet is that people are learning quickly to find what they want, and if it goes away in one place they will follow it to another. Kobo's decision to censor indie authors hasn't stopped the sales they are censoring, people know it's out there and are just moving to other vendors.
I honestly do believe that we are going to see you and Smashwords taking a larger roll in the ebook industry as time goes on. More of my advert links point to Smashwords than Amazon, because Smashwords is easier to deal with.
Amazon is the Sears of the internet, you are the Bookstore of the internet. I believe that singular focus will eventually become the better business model. It is of course still to early in the game to say, but I bet that if and when Amazon puts the squeeze on, you'll see a large increase in authors migrating to Smashwords overnight.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Ripley, great comments. It would be great to see Denver light the way for the country. The big question: Do readers want to read more or less when high on THC?

Re: Read an Ebook Week, it almost didn't happen this year. Someone purchased the domain for it, and rather than this company picking up the mantle and leading RAEW forward as Rita expected, they simply squatted on the domain. So I was faced with a decision to turn our back on it, create our own event, or stick with RAEW. I decided to stick with RAEW in honor of the great work Rita and many others have put into it over the years. Next year we'll provide more advance notice, though you can mark your calendar now that it'll probably start the first or second week of March 2015.

Re: Bookbub, stay tuned. They do a great job of what they do, and we don't want to reinvent their wheel, but we do have a project that's been on our roadmap for four years that should finally launch later this year. hat holds us back on anything is prioritization. Every day, we make tough calls on prioritization. This particular skunk project requires a number of foundational building blocks that must happen first, and some of those are coming soon behind the scenes.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@ J Van Stry, I'd like to think writers would bolt after such a squeeze, but I'm afraid I don't share the same optimism. For the last 3+ years, Amazon has been putting the squeeze on their authors with draconian price matching and emails threatening fire and brimstone if authors don't fall into place. They punish authors for price discrepancies even if the fault lies with another retailer. They know this punishment leads many authors to pull their books from other retailers rather than jeopardize their bread and butter at Amazon. Despite Amazon's heavy-handed enforcement of their rules, and possibly **because** of the enforcement, they've already enticed the authors of about 500,000 books to enroll in KDP Select exclusivity. Since Amazon sells so many books, many authors make the decision to put all their eggs in that one basket.

But who knows, maybe you're right. Maybe if they cut royalties that would be the straw to break the author community's back. I'm more inclined to think it'll be a situation of frogs boiling in water. If an author's earning 50% or more of their sales from Amazon, it's tough to say no them.

In the meantime, thanks for supporting Smashwords and our retailers!

Jimmy James Jr. said...

I am a newbie indie, and I agree with all of Mark's comments. I must say that I feel lucky to have found Smashwords and their professional and supportive way of dealing with their authors. I have learned so much over the past few months, not only about improving my writing skills, but also about editing, formatting, publishing, cover design...and the list goes on. Thanks Smashwords.

One question. Have I missed an important point about Amazon? It is my understanding that if you exclusively list a new book with them for 3 months on their KDP Program you receive a 70% commission rather than their normal 35%. Then your commission remains at 70% even if you withdraw from the program after your 3 month committment. At that time you are free to publish with others like Smashwords. Am I incorrect?

Ripley King said...

Probably more, but that don't mean they'll remember what they read.

I did the KSP for one year, and decided my time was best spent elsewhere. Without being in a Bookbub newsletter, most authors are wasting their time. I would rather have the largest distribution network ever behind me. But, that doesn't mean online marketing is going to get easier. I'm glad to hear you will be advocating for yourself, and us authors, somehow, someway.

I'll probably give away 80 books this week, with a lot of luck. I could give away 150 books on average, one book at a time with the KSP, but it meant very little to my bottom line. I had zero luck with the freebie newsletters, and the costs involved, which is the only real reason the KSP works!

You get in, you give away some books (several thousand at a crack), and if the people getting the freebie newsletters think you can tell a great story, and your writing is 99% mistake free, you can make some real money.

You gave away thousands of books, played the odds these newsletters are based on, and if you're worth your salt, you sell books.

Tooting my own horn here, I have great covers I did myself, I formatted my own books, I edit myself, looking for perfection. I learned to do that for the readers, knowing I live from month to month. I get great reviews.

I offer 50% samples of all my novels here, and on my site. It never seems enough, when confronted with Amazon's advantages. That's why I'll be doing more offline. I need to reach everyday readers.

Online, I've seen blog tours, priced at $250.00, the average Bookbub ad for me is $190.00. Online, they all seem to cater to Amazon. Everybody seems to cater to Amazon, and that has to change.

Writers, I don't think they will suffer a squeeze for too long, as long as we have options that rival Amazon's, and options for those that seem to cater to Amazon. Options will turn the tide in your favor, and those that cater to Amazon will see Smashwords in a new light.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the charts and estimates, Mark. I launched three books on Smashwords back in 2011 after receiving rejection letters from agents. I priced my books as free, mainly because I just wanted some feedback from "real" readers concerning my writing ... you know, should I quit my day job?

Later, I uploaded my books to Amazon, but couldn't set the price as Free. So I charged $0.99. You can guess what happened next. Price-match.

Angry, because I was actually selling books at 99cents, I quickly changed my prices on Smashwords to 99cents and waited.

Eventually the price-match fell off and my book (which was being downloaded as free to the tune of 13,000 downloads), shot up the Amazon Bestseller list and even made Movers&Shakers.

I believe Indie authors have to be flexible and constantly learning from one another. We also need to cater to our readers.

I like #9 on your list about readers not caring about publishing company names so much. Readers like writers who care about them. I try really hard to answer all emails in a timely fashion and as personally as I can. Many readers tell me I'm the first author who has ever responded to their email.

When I was a kid, authors didn't have emails. The author/reader connection wasn't as strong as it can be today. Any Indie author not taking advantage of the ease of communication is throwing their success out the window. Now-a-days, readers have social media and they use it. If an author takes the time to thank their fans, word of mouth will spread.

I now have six titles in eBook form. I'm currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to get A DIAMOND IN MY POCKET edited and printed. There's still a large percentage of readers out there that don't own digital devices or simply don't like to read eBooks. In my current press release going out on 3/7/14 I give a shout-out to Smashwords as the site where I uploaded my free eBook.

Keep up the great work, Mark!

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@ Jimmy, first I should state I'm strongly opposed to Amazon exclusivity for all the same reasons I stated back in 2011 in my <a href=">warning against KDP Select</a>.

It's not necessary to enroll in KDP Select to earn 70% list in most countries. As long as your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, you'll earn 70% in most countries. There are a handful of countries like India and Brazil where you only earn 35% list unless you enroll exclusive.

The exclusive period runs for 3 months. It automatically renews.

To learn more, check out the program's fine print at Amazon.

Laurence said...


Great post. I believe Indies will achieve your 50% target, but maybe it will be 2025.

Discoverability is the fulcrum on which that tipping point balances.

I am willing to offer 10 great Smashwords authors a free listing on the site this year, with links straight back to SmashWords for people to buy their books. Just email me with S1 reference in the subject line ($39.99 value - e

Promoting great novels is the battleground which will determine the winners in my view.

I am 100% sure there are great novels hidden away on Samashwords and other sites. Our goal is to allow readers to read the first page of a novel and decide for themselves if they want to read more.

We promote each novel to 200,000 real readers too, a number which is growing each month. And we use some marketing magic to cross promote each novel.

Good luck with building the future and that for your always insightful posts.

Anonymous said...

Some writers that I know who were die hard Amazon KDP loyalists are regretting that they went exclusive and pulled their ebooks from other retailers. As their Amazon sales has flattened out or fallen off the cliff, they no longer have an alternative sources of ebook income.

My ebook sales has been 80% Smashwords and 20% Amazon over the last few years. I'm expecting Amazon to shrink to 10% this year. I would love for Smashwords to distribute to Amazon, but I would be wary in having Smashwords as my only source of ebook income. Multiple sales streams are better than having only one.

I would like to see -- or hear? -- an alternative to Audible for indie authors. I don't know if I have a good reading voice, but it's something I would like to try and succeed at if I can. (Or maybe I'm looking for an excuse to buy a fancy USB microphone to play around with.) Creating audio versions of my short story ebooks might be a worthwhile project.

Unknown said...

In the early days I was with kdp select but during the early part of last year I got out and made my books available elsewhere. This decision is now proving itself.
Barnes & Noble has become my biggest market over the past six months, outselling Amazon by a landslide.
Even my best month on Amazon can't compare to the worst month I've had on Barnes & Noble in the last 4 months.
The only issue I have with the non-Amazon market is the difficulty in promoting for Barnes & Noble, Kobo et al; there are very few sites that focus on marketing for books on those places, or even include those sites when promoting books. A few do, and I've had good success with them, but most focus solely on Kindle books, which is a major failing on their part, as well as bad for everyone concerned.

If you can come up with some way (akin to bookbub, who just rejected my novel, despite it being a regular bestseller on amazon, and a top 30 Nook book recently) to help promote indie ebooks then you would have a very grateful participant in me, and I'm sure a lot of others.

Russell Blake said...

I don't see the future in quite the same way, because I don't see the market the same way. Trad publishers are largely focusing their efforts on two things with ebooks: the occasional book reader, who reads 6-12 books a year, but is highly brand loyal and willing to pay $12-$15, and the breakout fad hit, which must be read by tens of millions largely because everyone else is reading it – which market might read 1 or 2 books a year.

Indies don't really target those markets. You can have crossover into the latter, but it's as rare as hen's teeth. Rather, our bread and butter comes from a 3rd segment trad publishers won't service: the voracious reader. These are the bread and butter of romance, and to a lesser extent, genres like mine: thrillers. This segment is extremely price sensitive because of its appetite for books, so indies can make inroads with aggressive prices.

In order for the indie pie to grow to 50% of the market, either more occasional readers must become voracious readers (unlikely), or more indies need to become such strong brands that they cross over into the hallowed ground of the big name brands (it remains to be seen whether the three or four big names in the indie world will have the staying power to give those big brands a run for their). A distant third possibility is that the ranks of voracious readers swells, pulling from non-readers or once/twice a year readers - the fad buyers.

No, I believe indies are like the old pulp fiction labels, which serviced the voracious readership of the day with (and this might sound familiar) low relative cost and moderate to good quality (some of the authors became lionized for their chops, such as Dick, Leonard, Asimov, etc., but those were exceptions). As such, I'd expect the growth in indie share to level off at some point relatively soon.

The big danger to indies is that trad pubs decide to try to service the voracious readership, but I doubt that will happen due to their cost structures, as well as because they're dependent on their existing model to continue, so there's no desire to become what they see as pulp mills, eroding their perceived brand (read premium pricing ability). The big danger to trads is that enough occasional readers who are their bread and butter transition into voracious readers that they lose em.

I believe that the trads will continue doing exactly what they're doing, which is using the indies as a farm system, as Donald Maas indicated, scooping up the hot authors (like Colleen Hoover) when they can. I believe they’ll continue to do that, because to switch to a more aggressive model WRT voracious consumers would threaten their core market.

The opportunity is what's viewed by the trad pubs as an interstitial one, beneath their contempt (with the exception of NA and Romance, because in those genres the risk of occasional readers becoming voracious ones is greatest). By understanding who we're servicing, we can better match our offerings and not get confused about what it is we do.

That's my take, and my business plan. One that doesn't require home runs, but rather continues to service voracious readers with base hits and ground doubles while building a sustainable business and considerable backlist. With that plan there's always the possibility of penning a hit, but it isn't required. Just solid, consistent performance, exactly like the pulp novelists of their time.

One prediction I can make, though. With any luck, we'll know within another 2 to 4 years which model was right. I hope yours is, but fear mine is.

Russell Blake –

Unknown said...

@cdreimer, I like your idea about recording readings of our books. If nothing else, at least it could be used as an added value when someone purchases your book, or visits your site or blog. I know I would be interested in hearing how my favorite authors thought the words of their stories aloud, and obviously there's already a market for this, so I think it would be a good idea. Not that you needed me to reiterate that, I was just really excited by my mind being opened to the new possibility of D.I.Y. audio books.

Read my writing at Chris B For Thee, if you feel so inclined.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite see the death of the printed book yet. I know many who, even though they have ebook readers, still prefer a physical book and even have both ebook and paperback.

If Smashwords had their own version of CreateSpace and Audible, I would sign up straight away. At the moment there is no alternative but to use the despotic Amazon.

I have to confess that I have made more sales with Amazon. I did go the KDP route. But after three months I decided not to put all my eggs in one basket.

As for Bookbub, it is great if you can afford to use their services, but again it is geared towards Amazon. I have used a newsletter website called The Fussy Librarian, you can only list your book/books once a month. They also must have at least 10 4 star reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. They are a small business at the moment but are growing. And I did get more sales.

I am interested to hear what Smashwords has planned for the future Mark.

D.A.Roberts said...


I've made my own blog post. It's huge, has it's own 10 list, and everyone can read it here:

Since I explained everything as deeply as I could, I don't know if it would all fit in a cut and paste here. I grabbed the shortlink from WordPress, it leads right to it.


Dovetail Public Relations said...

Wow, Dan, thanks for that generous write up! Here's a convenient, clickable hyperlink: 10 Reasons Why Smashwords Will Dominate Ebook Sales By 2016 by Daniel A. Roberts. We won't reach that point by 2016, but I appreciate the sentiment, intention and well-wishes! I appreciate that you grok there's a higher purpose at play in the policies and business practices of Smashwords. Although we've always been transparent about our mission and motivations, I'm always surprised by the cynics who refuse to believe in our belief in writers.

Unknown said...

What great information!! Thank you so much. This is so helpful to a 1st time publisher like myself.

EF Clark said...

Awesome article and right on.
It's inevitable that the digital world will open new channels of possibilities that traditional print publishing cannot.

I'm reminded of the Big 3 American car makers' failure to foresee the future of the automobile industry, mainly because of their ego.
Everything "Made in Japan" was a joke. But when gas prices rose in the early 1970s, the gigantic beasts from Detroit became obsolete overnight and the little imports that could were in like Flint (pun intended).

I appreciate your confidence in the humble Indie authors such as myself, and thanks to Smashwords for leading the charge-- Let the revolution begin!

Unknown said...

I totally agree with Mark. His vision is right on. The only thing I think differently is that I believe Indie Authors will have at least 70% of ebook sales.
Why? Because we do help each other and are putting out quality books for every taste.
OUr prices are beyond reasonable and we are flexible. :)

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@EF, I totally agree. The scrappy disruptive upstarts almost always ridiculated as the cheaper lower-quality alternatives, but they almost always rise up over time to improve quality to meet or exceed the established incumbents with their lower-cost alternatives. I'm seeing this happen with indie ebooks. Indie authors are so much more sophisticated and professional today than six years ago when we first started. They're more professional today than they were a year ago. It's because indies are constantly improving. They're motivated to improve in ways that publishers are not. No one cares more about an author's book than the author. Big competitive advantage there.

@Claudy, you may be right! I deliberately tried to keep my model conservative on the low end. And yes, the community spirit and cooperation among indies gives them great advantage, as does the flexibility to turn on a dime. Indie spend their days thinking, "How can I take my book to the next level," whereas publishers are simply unable to give every title that level of attention 365 days per year for years on end.

Unknown said...

Where does Mark get the time to do what he does so well? I met him at a Writer's conference in Montana...! One person on this line had an 'intellectual' diatribe, that was negative, bitter, and depressing, but offered no 'solutions'. He did have a good vocabulary, though. Of course, who cares?

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Hi Unknown! Flathead River Writers 2012? What a great conference, and such a great group of people. I really enjoyed that one. Thanks for stopping by.

Robin Anter said...

Most self-published writers couldn't pass a 6th grade english exam.

Consumers will only tolerate so much of it, then something new will evolve, but it won't be self-publishing as we know it now.

John Chapman said...

I'd be interested to know the source of your information. Over the last few years I've seen various facts and figures relating to the sale of e-books versus print books. Some sources say e-books have 15%, others say 85%. It seems that the big five tend to under report and other pro e-book sources over report.
As to bookstores going out of business - they will unless they start selling e-books. One way of doing this would be to add a QR code sticker to the back of a printed book. When scanned this would take the customer to an affiliate page at Smashwords or elsewhere with a quick and easy way to download the e-book version. The bookstore would get the affiliate payment and only needs to stock a limited number of copies of each book.