Thursday, December 31, 2020

Smashwords 2020 Year in Review and 2021 Preview

Welcome to my 2020 Smashwords year in review and 2021 preview.  Can you believe we’ve been in business for 13 years?  We couldn’t have done this without your partnership and support.  Thank you!

Don't miss my annual companion post, 2021 Publishing Predictions – Pandemic Reshapes Publishing, Accelerates Consolidation

I feel a little uncomfortable talking about our accomplishments at a time when a pandemic is raging and so many are hurting.  So, I’ll keep things briefer than normal.

As I mentioned in my predictions post today, 2020 was a good year to be an indie ebook author.  Most Smashwords authors experienced a strong uptick in sales starting in March of 2020 due to millions of people spending more time at home because of government-mandated lockdowns, unemployment and personal choice.  

The growth moderated somewhat as people returned to work, but for most authors it will still be an up year despite a weak start in January and February.

What have we been up to at Smashwords in 2020?  Here are some highlights, as well as some broad stroke hints of where we’re focused for 2021.

Smashwords 2020 Milestones:

Books published – We now publish 556,800 books; up 5.7% from 526,800 books at the end of last year.

Words published – We now publish 19.7 billion words; up exactly one billion words, or 5.3% from 18.7 billion a year ago.

Authors served – We’re now serving 154,100 authors and publishers; up 5.3% from 146,400 a year ago.

Smashwords Highlights for 2020

Smashwords Presales - Our patent-pending Smashwords Presales feature, which we launched in December 2019, is getting good traction from early adopters.  I’m pleased by how sales are trending and I’m looking forward to introducing more authors and publishers to this exciting tool in 2021.

A key motivation behind Smashwords Presales is to help indie authors gain greater control over their publishing future.  Early adopters are discovering the power of ebook presales to thrill their readers, diversify their sales channels, build greater reader loyalty, and grow their private mailing lists.  Unlike preorders, which require readers to wait until a book’s public release date before they can enjoy the book, presales give your most loyal readers exclusive early access to your new releases in the form of public and private presales.  Readers love early access!  

As I discussed last year, Smashwords filed a patent with the US Patent & Trademark Office in 2019 describing our presales invention. The full scope of the invention is yet to be revealed in the current iteration of our Smashwords Presales offering.  We continue to work through the approval process with our patent examiner.  It’s been a fun and exciting process, though it’s too soon to know if the patent will be granted.  Patent or not, we’ll continue to build out this innovative technology for the benefit of indie authors.  In 2020 we also filed what’s known as a PCT, the first step in securing international protection for the invention.

Smashwords Store achieves fourth consecutive year of sales growth - Although our primary business is ebook distribution to major retailers and library platforms, we also operate our own ebook store.  Our store pays up to 80% list on ebooks, among the highest of any retailer.  With the exception of this pandemic year, most major ebook retailers have seen flat to declining ebook sales the last few years, but our little store has managed to buck the trend, turning in its fourth consecutive year of sales growth.  Some of our authors now sell more in the Smashwords Store than they sell at Barnes & Noble or Kobo.  Your mileage may vary month to month, but a key factor in your performance is to make sure your readers know that your book is available at Smashwords in addition to our other great retail partners.  Many Smashwords authors utilize our store as their personal sales platform.  They leverage our exclusive sales, marketing, and platform-building tools such as Smashwords Coupons, the new Smashwords Presales feature, Smashwords Interviews, and our popular Smashwords Alerts feature that notifies fans of new releases.  Thank you Smashwords authors and customers!

New curated merchandising at Smashwords Store - Everyone’s familiar with our annual sales such as Read an Ebook Week, the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale and the Smashwords End of Year Sale (now running until January 1st).  These promotions are open to all Smashwords authors and publishers.  For a long time, we’ve wanted to add additional themed merchandising features to showcase and promote a broader diversity of authors, book categories and themes at the top of our store.  We have an ambitious promotions calendar planned for 2021.  Almost every week in 2021 you’ll see new curated features.  There’s a good chance we’ll publish an editorial calendar down the line so that authors can nominate books for consideration.  We’ll also look to showcase highly anticipated exclusive presale releases.  Our selection criteria focuses on an author’s track record of pleasing readers, as measured by their sales and downloads across the Smashwords distribution network.  By showcasing more categories and themes, we’ll create new opportunities for more authors and a lot of excitement for readers.

Smashwords introduces two factor authentication - To help authors and publishers protect access to their Smashwords accounts and payment settings, Smashwords introduced a two factor authentication (aka 2FA) solution.  2FA increases the security of your Smashwords account by preventing other persons from accessing your account, even if they've stolen your password.  You'll find the feature under the new "Account Security" section on your Account page.  Here's a direct link you can use to activate 2FA in your account - 2FA setup for Smashwords authors.

Author Education Day - With writers conferences cancelled around the globe, Smashwords produced our first ever online education conference called Smashwords Author Day.  Hundreds of authors attended, the feedback was excellent, and we’re encouraged to do another one in 2021.  Click here to view the full recorded sessions presented by Smashwords Marketing Director, Jim Azevedo.

Smashwords launches special Authors Give Back sale - For the period of March 20th through May 31st, we launched the one-time Authors Give Back sale, designed to help readers affected by pandemic lockdowns and subsequent job losses to access discounted ebooks.  The sale was well-received by customers and authors alike.

Smashwords goes virtual - For the first 12 years of our business, Smashwords maintained a physical office in Los Gatos, California.  Over the years most of our employees, including yours truly, transitioned to working from home offices.  When we decided to eliminate our underutilized office in February, we had no idea how propitious our timing would be.  The physical lockdowns that were disruptive to other office-bound businesses didn’t affect our operations.  It’s encouraging to see many large corporations, initially forced to allow employees to work from home during the pandemic, now plan to make greater use of teleworking in the future.  It offers team members more hours in the day for work-life balance.

Plans for 2021

One of the worst planning investments anyone could have made in 2020 was the purchase of a 2020 day planner or calendar.  COVID-19 and its spawn will continue to disrupt the global order in 2021, but we’re prepared to carry on with the business of helping authors publish, distribute and market ebooks.

Among new features, keep an eye out for a new book uploading experience in 2021.  We had hoped to complete this project in 2020 but alas did not.

We’ll continue to evolve our tools, processes and technology to make your publishing and distribution faster, easier and more rewarding. 

Thank you, Smashwords authors, publishers, customers, retailers, and libraries for your continued trust, support and partnership.  It’s our sincere honor to work with you.

We hope you and your family enjoy a safe and prosperous New Year!


ME! said...

Read your newsletter & blog with interest. Here're my thoughts as both author and reader.

As an author - I used to do Amazon ads but quickly became aware of how costly, ineffective and basically 'claw-your-way-above-other-authors' it was. Now I save my money and invest in ads in newsletters that work - i.e. Bargain Booksy, ENT etc. IMO and experience, it's better to have several more costly ads in well-known, wide-reaching newsletters, where you get what you pay for (my ad SEEN). I've had better returns, and it worked for me in 2020, and I plan to continue this way until I find it no longer working for me.

As a reader - I sign up to newsletters while trying ebooks from new authors (so via the newsletter 'drives') and I like the 'welcome' newsletter. However, I find it REALLY annoying to be bombarded with two or three more newsletters within a week of signing up (sometimes within a few days) asking if I've read the book yet, please post a review, offering me more free reads etc. It smacks of desperation and ends with me unsubscribing. Maybe I’m wrong and just a grouch!!

As an author I'm told this is effective, but as a reader I find it annoying. My own newsletter simply gets a welcome - that's it until it's time for the next newsletter. Am I wrong or right? I can only go by my own experiences.

Sales-wise - yes, I’ve seen a big down-turn in my sales over the lat few years. Thank God I kept my day job! The heady days of big royalties seems to have petered out a lot for me. Trying to stay visible above the rising tide of indie authors isn’t easy. However, the Smashwords sales work really well, so thank you for that!!

In regards to KDP Select. Yes, I agree, it devalues writing. My contemporary romances sell fine wide-spread. But sci-fi romances? I have yet to find a good market for them, no matter how I advertise. The only readers for this not-as-popular genre seems to be at KDP Select. I’d like to keep the sci-fi romances wide-spread but I often went for months without them selling. So yes, as much as I don’t like it, my sci-fi romances are KDP Select and at least I’m seeing ‘reads’ and making a bit of money on them. I only keep them on Smashwords for a month as new releases. If anyone can point me in a better direction with great hints on marketing my sci-fi romances, I’m all ears! I prefer wide-spread.

Gabriella West said...

I'm delighted to have been on Smashwords since 2011. I've seen some good changes. My income stayed pretty strong this year, though 2019 was better.

I admit it took my breath away to read that the Los Gatos office is gone. That's pretty symbolic... and I hope, in future, as office rents go down, you can pick up another space.

Been a difficult year, hasn't it? Let's hope 2021 has some consolations in store.

And yes, a new Publish page would be nice :) I hope you keep the "You are number X in the queue" language... I've always found that fun.

Carla Krae said...

@ME! Read "Newsletter Ninja" by Tammi Lebrecque. It'll tell you all you need to do for a successful author newsletter.

Kate Robinson said...

Thank you for all you do. I like publishing at Smashwords. The optics are not as nice as some other venues but the quality of the work behind the scenes is superior.