Saturday, December 31, 2022

Smashwords 2022 Year in Review and 2023 Preview

Welcome to my annual Smashwords 2022 year in review and 2023 preview.

2022 was a pivotal year for Smashwords, our authors, our publishers, and our readers.

For those who haven’t heard, Smashwords was acquired in March by our former competitor, Draft2Digital.

When I founded Smashwords 15 years ago, I set out on a crazy mission to change the way books were published, marketed, and sold.  I wanted to publish authors that traditional publishers refused to publish, in a format (ebooks) that few readers were reading, and I wanted to offer this service at no cost to every writer in the world.  And I wanted to do this without venture capital backing.

Traditional publishers were unable and disinterested to say yes to every author.  We said yes.

We developed professional publishing tools any writer could use at no cost, and we opened distribution to major retailers and library platforms that were previously inaccessible to self-published authors.  In partnership with our authors and readers, together we pioneered many of the essential best practices for digital bookselling.

Most importantly, in everything we did, we always fought to give authors higher royalties, more independence, and greater opportunities to reach readers.  We've always believed that indie authors deserve complete control over their rights, publishing, distribution, pricing, and promotion.  And we believe an author's chosen publisher deserves those freedoms as well.

From day one, as embodied in our original tag line, “your book, your way,” we believed that writers should have the freedom to publish what they want, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want.

This core philosophy of ours marked a radical departure from the old thinking that believed only traditional publishers and their gatekeepers had the wisdom to decide which books were worthy of being read by readers.

This authors-first, readers-first philosophy remains remarkably rare among publishers and publishing service providers today.  Sure, many players pay lip service to this philosophy, but few deliver.  One company that embraced our model and improved upon it better than anyone was Draft2Digital.

At the risk of sounding gushy, I think our first nine months as a combined company have gone extremely well.  We share the same relentless commitment to put authors and readers first.

I think this is why our two companies and teams have meshed so well together.  We each strengthened the other with new approaches and new perspectives to achieve our shared mission.

Our union is already bearing synergistic fruit for the collective benefit of our authors, publishers, readers, retailers, and library partners.  And we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we’ll deliver for our constituents in 2023 and beyond.

As part of our business combination, I happily traded in my old CEO hat for a new role as Draft2Digital’s Chief Strategy Officer and board member.  FWIW, I think Kris Austin, Draft2Digital’s co-founder and CEO, is a much better CEO.  I think the entire team at Draft2Digital is awesome.  They respect and admire authors as we always have.

Much of my time over the last nine months has focused on developing plans for how we can create ever-brighter futures for indie authors, publishers, and readers.  I’m attacking this challenge with the same enthusiasm that inspired me to begin drafting the original Smashwords business plan back in 2005.  If you thought Smashwords 1.0 set the stage for the indie author revolution, then wait for what’s in store with Draft2Digital 2.0.  The best is yet to come as we work to place authors and readers at the center of publishing universe.

My other role here at Draft2Digital is overseeing the Smashwords store.  As we previously announced at the merger, the first phase of our merger was to make it possible for Draft2Digital authors to distribute their books into the Smashwords Store. We successfully completed that first phase on December 6.

Considering this is the Smashwords blog, my future blogging here and my annual end-of-year reviews and look-aheads will become more store-centric.  To follow what’s happening at our parent company, please subscribe to the Draft2Digital blog.

This is the first year in almost forever that I won’t be doing my annual predictions post and its “state of the indie nation” preamble.  I’m redirecting that crystal ball energy into my other aforementioned responsibilities.  

For the authors who looked forward to those posts each year and feel saddened by their end, I encourage you to revisit the prior posts, starting with last year's 2022 publishing predictions. You'll also find links there to all my prior predictions posts and preambles.  There's still much evergreen gold to be mined by authors seeking to navigate the confusing and turbulent cross currents of this industry.

So now to the summary of Smashwords milestones for 2022 and our plans for 2023.

2022 Milestones

  • Smashwords Store – The Smashwords store achieved all-time record sales, turning in its sixth consecutive year of increased sales.  During this same stretch to time, many other retailers have seen their ebook sales flat line or decline.  Thank you authors and readers!

  • Books listed in the Smashwords Store – We now list 731,100 ebooks, up 24% from 590,200 at the end of 2021.

  • Words represented – We now carry 27.2 billion words, up 31% from 20.8 billion words a year ago.

  • Authors represented – We now carry the books of 192,100 authors, up 20% from 160,568 a year ago.

  • Merger completion - We announced Draft2Digital’s acquisition of Smashwords in February, and completed it on March 1.

  • Completed Phase 1 of our merger integration - The first priority we set was to open the Smashwords store to the books of D2D authors.  This was completed December 6 thanks to amazing teamwork and effort at all levels of the company.  More than 120,000 Draft2Digital books have already arrived at the Smashwords store, with more flowing in each week

  • Opened the Smashwords End of Year Sale to Draft2Digital authors - This was the first time we allowed books from another distributor to participate in one of our annual site-wide super sales.  This allowed us to grow sale enrollment to 125,000 books, nearly twice our previous all-time record enrollment set during our July Summer/Winter sale earlier this year.  More books means more readers and happier readers for benefit of all our authors.

  • Achieved record December sales volume - As I write this on New Year's Eve, the Smashwords store achieved the highest monthly sales volume in its 15-year history.  If you're not yet distributing your ebooks to Smashwords, please join us by opening a Draft2Digital account today!

What’s coming to the Smashwords store in 2023

  • Phase 2 merger completion – In phase 2 of our merger integration, which we expect to complete in the first half of 2023, Draft2Digital will migrate Smashwords’ industry-leading book marketing tools – including Smashwords Coupons, Smashwords Presales, and Smashwords Interviews – over to the Draft2Digital dashboard.  Once these features become available at Draft2Digital, we’ll initiate phase 3.

  • Phase 3 merger completion – In phase 3 of our merger integration, anticipated for completion in the second half of 2023, we’ll migrate all Smashwords publishing and distribution operations over to Draft2Digital.  Ahead of this, likely in January or February 2023, we will stop accepting new author/publisher accounts at Smashwords.  Instead, we will direct new authors and publishers who want to sell in the Smashwords store to publish directly at Draft2Digital.  Current Smashwords authors and publishers can continue managing their publishing and distribution through their Smashwords Dashboard until Phase 3, at which point your publishing-related tools and interfaces will begin moving to Draft2Digital.

  • A better store-like shopping experience – After we migrate Smashwords publishing tools and operations over to Draft2Digital, we’ll remove those tools and their associated interfaces and documentation from the Smashwords website.  This will give customers of the Smashwords store a cleaner, more intuitive book discovery experience.

  • Preorders – Smashwords has been distributing preorders to other retailers since 2013, but we’ve never allowed customers to place preorders in our own store.  Last year I said we’d bring preorders to the Smashwords store in 2022.  I was wrong.  As we were nearing completion of this exciting project in early ‘22, the merger happened.  Now we’re aiming to complete this in late 2023.

  • Broader ebook selection – Now that we’ve opened the store to Draft2Digital, look for an ever-expanding selection of great books in 2023.

  • Opening the store to other distributors - By late 2023, we’ll take steps to begin opening the store to other ebook distributors and to larger DRM-free ONIX-capable publishers too.  This is all with an eye toward offering our store’s customers an even greater selection and diversity of titles in 2024 and beyond.

  • New blockbuster sales events – Smashwords is famous for our collaborative sales events, where tens of thousands of authors join together to show their appreciation to readers by offering exclusive deep-discounts, and to promote their fellow authors.  Look for us to introduce one or two new annual sales events in 2023.  Whereas our current site-wide sales include all genres and categories, these new super sales will be thematic.  To start, I’d like to do one focused exclusively on erotica, and another focused on romance. If the new thematic sales gain the traction I expect, look for additional thematic site-wide sales in 2024. These new events are sure to become popular traditions right alongside our 14th annual Read an Ebook Week Sale coming March '23, our 15th annual Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale coming in July '23, and of course our 7th annual Smashwords End of Year Sale next December '23. 

  • More library distribution – With the completion of Phase 3 above, Smashwords will no longer serve as a distributor to retailers and library platforms.  But ahead of Phase 3, Smashwords authors and publishers can look forward to a new, exciting library distribution opportunity we plan to announce sometime in the first quarter of 2023.  It’s a new partner we’ve been working with behind the scenes since before the merger. We look forward to introducing you to them!  Authors that publish at Draft2Digital will have access to this new partner as well.

In closing, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported our crazy startup over the last 15 years.  This includes current and former Smashwords team members; authors; publishers; readers; retailers; library partners; business partners; media; conference organizers; competitors; and industry supporters, mentors, critics, doubters, haters, and naysayers.  You made us stronger and more successful, and set the stage for the positive innovations yet to come.  My love and appreciation to you all!  

With your continued support and partnership, there’s no limit to what we can achieve for authors, publishers, readers, and the culture of books.

On behalf of all of us at Draft2Digital, we wish you a joyous New Year’s celebration and fabulous 2023.


Catseye1979 said...

Thanks for all you do, it has been so great being able to consolidate my ebooks and print books in one place that makes me feel respected and gives great customer service. As opposed to Lulu who I have been pestering for 9 months now to delist the now unauthorized listings of my books which I ended up getting blocked from Amazon over.

Berrit Bites said...

I truly appreciate all the work you put into this. (I was actually reading this during the 4th while trying to keep dogs calm, lol.) I look forward to all the changes to come with publishing through Draft2Digitalto Smashwords. And with the merge itself. I am grateful that it's been such a smooth transition for me as an author as well.

Laura Lovecraft said...

Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to the indy publishing community, and I am glad to hear you'll be the one in charge of the Smashwords store, ensuring current content policies are upheld.

Entering my 12th year with you and more excited than ever.

Kevin Williams said...

Rats! My tinfoil hat doesn't fit anymore. You're not helping that, mark.

I am hoping a new music comes up thru this, tho. (NOT audio-books) cds, albums, tape etc being fairly zombied into d-loads and streaming.

See what ya can do, eh? (The apple multi-media ebook extravaganza would do, if popular. Open up the pay options a bit too, all that.)

If you're anything like the rest of us, boredom will kick in in 3,2,1...
Kevin Williams