Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Smashwords 2019 Year in Review and 2020 Preview

Welcome to my 2019 Smashwords year in review and 2020 preview.

Also don't miss my annual publishing predictions companion post, 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire.

2019 was a pivotal year for Smashwords as prepared for our second decade in business.  From the outside looking in, especially judging by the paucity of my blog posts this year, one might think things were quiet at Smashwords.  The truth is anything but.

Our engineering team continued to innovate and improve our publishing and distribution systems and the Smashwords Store, releasing new updates to the Smashwords platform each week.  Our vetting and service teams worked closely with our authors and publishers to provide quality support and rapid response times.

Thrill your readers. Grow your platform.
While the Smashwords team spent the year kicking butt serving our authors, publishers, retailers, library partners and book-buying customers, I spent much of the year in my writing cave.  But I wasn’t writing a book.  I was busy updating our product roadmaps and developing two super-secret projects related to presales.  We revealed the initial fruits of our presales initiative on December 3 when we launched Smashwords Presales, and disclosed we had filed our first-ever patent application to protect the technology, systems and methods behind Smashwords Presales.

Underpinning our presales initiatives are some admittedly audacious goals.  We’re working to:
  • Change how authors and publishers bring new books to market.

  • Help authors and publishers break free of an increasingly oppressive book marketing and bookselling regime that by design strips authors and publishers of their independence.
  • Restore a competitive ebook retailing ecosystem where more booksellers are working more effectively to serve the interests of authors, publishers and readers.
And if that’s not enough, I want to change all of ecommerce so that product creators like you – across all physical and digital product categories – have greater opportunities to capitalize on the excitement of new product launches.

Like all ambitious innovations, I’m confident our presales initiative will take unexpected twists and turns as early adopters experiment with Smashwords Presales and provide feedback.

I have no doubt that presales will eventually come to be recognized as an essential best practice for book launches, or any product launch for that matter.

As long time Smashwords authors and watchers can attest, we’ve been at the tip of the spear when it comes to identifying and evangelizing the best practices of today and tomorrow.  When we began evangelizing free ebooks and free series starters a decade ago as a profitable marketing strategy for authors, and promoting preorders seven years ago, we promised that such strategies would give indies a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.  This proved true.  As with all emerging best practices destined to grow strong legs and stand the test of time, the early adopters reap the greatest long term benefits due to how incremental advantages compound over time.  The same will be true for presales.  Presales are a new best practice every author and publisher would be wise to implement now to reap the greatest benefits in the future.

As is customary in my end of year review, I’ll summarize some Smashwords metrics and milestones and then I'll share broad stroke hints of what’s coming in 2020.

Smashwords 2019 Milestones:

Books published – We now publish 526,800 books, up about 4% from 507,500 books at the end of last year.

Words published – We now publish 18.7 billion words; up 690 million words, or 3.8% from a year ago.

Authors served – We’re now serving 146,400 authors and publishers, up 3% from 142,200 a year ago.

Smashwords files presales patent – On October 22, 2019, Smashwords filed our first ever patent application titled, “A PRODUCT RELEASE SYSTEM, METHOD AND DEVICE HAVING A CUSTOMIZABLE PREPURCHASE FUNCTION.”  The full application, which won’t be publicly disclosed by the US Patent & Trademark Office until April 2021, describes the methods, systems and devices necessary for product creators, product distributors and online retailers to collaborate on the creation, management and execution of presale events attached to new product introductions.

The launch of Smashwords PresalesSmashwords Presales, and the patent-pending technology behind it, represent our most ambitious undertaking since the launch of Smashwords 11 years ago.  Not only have we created an elegant tool for running public and private ebook presale events that will thrill your readers and help you build a marketing platform you control, we’ve also created a new foundation upon which we will build and reveal additional first-of-their-kind book marketing capabilities described in the patent application.  Underpinning everything about Smashwords Presales and its underlying technology is our desire to help authors and publishers harness more of the energy and excitement of each book launch for their personal benefit.  With the launch of Smashwords Presales, we showcased how one of the many exciting presale opportunities for authors and publishers is to use the promise of presale access to build their mailing list.  Smart authors and publishers recognize that if your access to your readers is mediated by another party whose goals aren’t aligned with your own, it means you’re at the mercy of that intermediary’s benevolence, assuming it is benevolent.  It means you’re vulnerable to having that intermediary erect tolls and taxes – such as requiring exclusivity or paid advertising to improve your discoverability – that stand between you and your customers. These tolls and taxes sap your profitability and independence, and undermine your long-term opportunities as a writer and publisher.  At Smashwords, we’re here to help authors and publishers take back their independence!  View the complete Smashwords Presales announcement here, or check it out in your Smashwords Dashboard.

Improved book discovery – Back in late 2018, we introduced a completely revamped book discovery experience on the Smashwords home page with multi-dimensional search.  In 2019, we continued improving our multi-dimensional search capabilities.  In January, we added the ability for readers to toggle between horizontal shelf views, a grid view, and a vertical list view.  We added the ability to expand a single shelf into a full page of 25 listings.  For example, the “Featured New Releases” shelf normally recommends four to five featured titles at a time, but when the reader expands it, they can view up to 25 Featured New Releases on a single page, as shown in this live example.

Improvements to the Smashwords Library – The Smashwords Library is where customers of the Smashwords Store track and manage books on their wishlists, and access purchased books.  In February we revamped the Library to give purchased books, wishlist books, and gifted books their own tabs.  Readers can display their books either as a list with full details or a grid display of book covers.

Introduced Global Coupons – Also in February, we introduced Global Coupons, which give authors and publishers the ability to create a single coupon code that works with multiple books.  For example, you can assign your coupon code to all the books in a series, to a specific few titles you want to place on sale, or to all the titles you publish.  Global Coupons can also be customized with the myriad other exclusive coupon capabilities offered by Smashwords, such as cents-off, dollars-off, percentage-off, metered (limited redemption) coupons, public coupons, private coupons, and time-limited coupons. You’ll find Global Coupons within the Coupon Manager tool of your Smashwords Dashboard.

Improved Smashwords Dashboard – We made numerous updates to the Dashboard to improve title management and bring more relevant information forward.  It’s not uncommon for some publishers to manage dozens or even hundreds of titles and authors from their Smashwords Dashboard.  Previously, all those books appeared in one giant listing, and that could get unwieldy when managing large catalogs.  To solve this challenge, we added pagination and filtering to the Dashboard so you can filter by words in the title, by author (great for publishers managing many authors), and by series.  In addition, each of the column headings are clickable to enable instant A-Z alphanumeric and reverse-order sorts and sort by title, series, author, publishing status, retail price, library price, books sold, date published, premium catalog status and more.  We also brought forward more summarized data, such as the number of times your books have been wishlisted in Smashwords customer libraries, the number of copies sold across all retailer and library sales channels, and a running update of current payable earnings you can look forward to in the next monthly payment round.

Smashwords home page displays the number of titles currently running sales – In the upper left corner of the Smashwords home page, we now display the number of titles that are enrolled either in one of our site-wide sales, such as Read and Ebook Week, plus the number of titles participating in Special Deals promotions.  Special Deals is our popular self-serve ebook merchandising tool, first introduced two years ago (read the Special Deals announcement here) that allows authors and publishers to launch temporary sales promotions.  These promotions are a great way to raise the visibility of your books in customer home page searches.  As I began drafting this post before Christmas, over 7,200 titles were on sale as a Special Deal, and then once we launched our annual Smashwords End of Year Sale on Christmas day, that number ballooned to over 60,000.  With a click of the link, customers can jump directly into the sale catalog.  To launch a Special Deal promotion, simply create a public coupon from your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager tool.

Improved tracking of coupon campaigns – In the Dashboard’s Coupon Manager tool, where all coupon campaigns are configured, we updated the “Manage Active Coupons" and "View Disabled/Expired Coupons" tabs to display a complete summary of ongoing and expired coupon events, including information on the number of coupon redemptions, and gross and net earnings for each campaign.  Expired coupon campaigns can be reactivated with a click of the button.

Onscreen alerts tell you if we’re having trouble sending you email – Email is our primary communications link with our authors and publishers, and also for our most popular payment method, PayPal.  Your email address comprises one half of your login credentials to the Smashwords site, with the other half being your password.  If our emails to your account’s email address or PayPal address bounce back to us as undeliverable, it can jeopardize our ability to pay you, cause you to miss important sales or merchandising opportunities, and even cause us to close your account.  We’ll provide you on-screen alerts at the top of your Dashboard, author/publisher profile page, profile editing page, account editor and your payment settings.

Improved tracking of customer favoriting and Smashwords Alert subscribers – When a Smashwords Store customer “favorites” an author, or subscribes to an author’s Smashwords Alerts (automatic email notifications to readers whenever you release a new title at Smashwords), those counts are reflected in your Dashboard.  For publishers that manage multiple authors, in June we enhanced this summary to break out these “favorites” and Smashwords Alert subscribers by author name.

Improved geographic sales reporting – The Sales & Payments Report and Per-Payment Report generator now display more human readable, country-specific sales locations, when such location is known.  For example, previously we reported sales from Germany as “country_de” rather than “Germany."  Now it’s plain English so you don’t need to guess or remember arcane country codes.

Sales Map – In September, we introduced Sales Map, a visual color-coded map that displays and ranks the countries from which your sales originated in the last 90 days.  If our retailer, library partner or Smashwords Store customer shares their country location, we’ll report it in the Sales Map.  The Sales Map makes it really easy to drill down and view author-specific and title specific maps. You’ll find your own Sales Map under the Sales Reporting section in your Smashwords Dashboard. 

Sales reports now show a book’s publisher / agent, when applicable – For authors who indie publish with Smashwords for some of their titles and work with a publisher who publishes and distributes their publisher-represented titles via Smashwords, the author’s Sales and Payments report now shows which sales will be paid by Smashwords, and which will be paid by the author’s publisher.  You’ll find this itemized in your Dashboard’s Sales & Payments Report and your Per-Payment Sales Report Generator.

Improved gifting delivery – In October, we made it easier for Smashwords Store customers to ensure that ebooks they purchase as gifts are actually delivered to the intended recipient.  When a customer purchases an ebook as a gift for another reader, Smashwords automatically generates an email to the intended recipient that allows them to access the gifted book.  Previously, if the intended gift recipient lost or misplaced their redemption email, there was no way for the gifter to re-send the special gifting link.  Now, it’s easy.  The gifter can re-send the gift link by clicking to their Account page’s purchase record.  The purchase record shows if the giftee picked up their gift.  If not, you can click “re-send gift email.”

Smashwords Store grows – As any indie publisher can tell you, it’s a tough market out there.  Most long-time indie authors have experienced precipitous sales declines at most major retailers over the last few years as Amazon works to devalue indie ebooks, and as other retailers lose customers to Amazon.  The Smashwords Store has been bucking the trend the last few years, eking out its third consecutive year of sales growth at a time when most retailers are shrinking.  This accomplishment is all the more remarkable given that our primary business focus for the last decade has been distribution to major retailers and library platforms, not the operation of our store.  Thank you to Smashwords authors, publishers and customers for making 2019 another year of growth for our store.  We’re looking forward to building on this growth in 2020!

What to expect in 2020

I’m excited about our plans for 2020.  You’ll see us continue to introduce continuous enhancements to our publishing and distribution systems, add new sales outlets as appropriate, introduce new enhancements to the Smashwords Store, and you’ll see us introduce new tools and never-before-seen capabilities covered by our presales patent application.

With your continued support, 2020 will be a year of pleasant surprises as we work to make Smashwords the best partner for indie authors, publishers and retailers.

How can you support our mission at Smashwords?  Publish and distribute with us.  Take advantage of all our free and exclusive tools that will help you create a more sustainable publishing future for yourself and your fellow indies. And lastly, please encourage your author friends to check out all our new tools and capabilities so we can help them too!

Here’s wishing you and your readers an amazing 2020!


Webistrator said...

All well and good, Mr. C. Maybe after five years of being shunned, your crew will let me back in to Smashwords so's I can manage my paltry two tomes...


Jack Turbes (n.d.p.)

Dr. King said...

Hi Mark
I was expecting a surprise from you on my long standing suggestion for Smashwords to start audio book distribution. But disappointed ;-)

henrytobias said...

It is still an almost impossible task to sell enough books to take one's family out for a meal at MacDonald's even once a year. The market is flooded with books, 99.99% of which are rubbish. Too many authors give their books away for free.
As well as short story anthologies and love stories, I also write adult erotic novels and decided to illustrate these novels with nude and erotic non-pornographic photos. Smashwords rejected these novels, so I now publish on Amazon Select.
My other novels are still on Smashwords.
It seems almost impossible to receive recognition without spending a lot of money advertising via Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Dex MacLeod said...

I was wondering if there are any plans in place to make it easier for authors to interact with their fans? I was thinking maybe a comment section at the bottom of our profile page or maybe even just a way for authors to reply to reviews?

AR Williams said...

Idea for the future -- Author Stores:

What if it were possible for Smashwords to help authors set up their own stores? What if
Smashwords created a way to assist authors in selling to customers directly from their websites or blogs?

This is an area many authors are loathe to do on their own for many different reasons.

This store could be linked to Smashwords and when the author made sales it would update their information on their Smashwords dashboard, increase ranks for their books, provide information on where the sell originated.

It would make it more convenient for customers and authors to use Smashwords coupons. Provide higher profits for authors. Encourage authors to advertise their own platforms and not just the retailers. Help authors make the decision to move away from Amazon exclusivity. Encourage readers to sign up for new release/author newsletters. And I'm sure many other possibilities I haven't thought of.

That would be an awesome addition to the services Smashwords provides to authors.

Nicky Charles said...

Thank you for all you have done for authors over the years and for the work you will do in the future. Rest assured, I will continue to promote Smashwords to anyone who will listen!

I crunched some numbers today and for every 2 books I sell on Amazon, I sell 3 elsewhere (Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, B&N etc.) To put it in dollars and cents: If I make $500 a week, only $200 of it comes from Amazon. If I was exclusive on Kindle I'd be losing $300 a month! (Note: these are not real sales numbers. I'm only using them to illustrate my point.)

Your new features sound interesting and I look forward to exploring them in the future.

Wishing you and all the team at Smashwords a Happy New Year!

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I'm reading up on how to format my manuscript to publish on Smashwords.

It is daunting.

Dr. King said...

Unless you want smashwords to covert your files to all kinds of formats, you don't really have to bother about reading about how to format your book for smashwords. Just use a free software called calibre which can give you epub format from your word file. As long as you don't use nested numbered lists etc. in your file, calibre does a decent job. This epub can be submitted to smashwords or even amazon without problem.

Unknown said...

I am also having a problem getting my manuscript that is already published in the correct format for Smashwords to make available to other outlets. I have followed all the instructions given by Smashwords, read the Smashword style guide and still having a problem.

Webistrator said...

I'm with Dr. King on this, @Unknown. Try Calibre for creating the ePub file, submit it to Smashwords and you should be OK. That's what I did when SW locked me out for a number of years (I'm ba-a-ack, thanks to a caring associate there).

Rafa said...

Hi! When is the Smashwords website in Spanish? Thanks! :-)