Jim Azevedo is the Marketing Director of Smashwords, and was in Sydney for the Romance Writers Conference, and then on his way to New Zealand for The Romance Writers Conference in Auckland and a host of writers’ groups. Not only a PR and marketing expert, he’s also a drummer and author of a forthcoming book on Drumming – How to Get Your Band Out of the Garage. Keep an eye out for the release in the next few months.
Quick Facts on Smashwords
- Smashwords offers free conversions and distribution to a huge number of ebook retailers. No Amazon distribution, but more on that later.
- On Smashwords, authors use their word document – formatted as recommended in their excellent free guide – and use Smashwords for ebook conversions of every format they would need or want. You can also supply your own epub, prepared to industry standards.
- Smashwords enables free conversion to nine ebook formats. Nine? Yes, that was my reaction, but as you would expect it is epub, mobi and PDF that are the most popular conversions. Don’t forget though – some people DO read on their palm pilot!
- Australia is the third largest market for Smashwords, after the US and the UK. For Smashwords, their Apple iBook sales have 46 per cent that come are outside the US.
- At Smashwords their model is to take a cut of the sales for the work that they do with distribution.
- The division of each sale with their retail partners is that the author receives 60 per cent, the retailer thirty percent and Smashwords ten percent. For more detail read this page on the Smashwords site.
- For any sales received through the Smashwords site – not too many I’ve heard – an author will receive 85 per cent of each sale.
- Preorders are working really well for authors, enabling sales to accumulate and books released simultaneously on multiple retailer sites.
It was fascinating to hear that Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords has been the visionary – and still is. He was writing his business plan in 2005 when the US ebook market was tiny, but he could see that there was growth. Small growth, but growth. Wanting to create an online global plublishing platform, Coker launched Smashwords in 2008. At that stage self-publishing was not the preferred option for most authors so education was key. Coker focused on educating aspiring authors on how to create quality ebooks, and now the tide has changed. Smashwords offer a number of guides written by Mark Coker for free download to help authors self publish.
Smashwords offers a very wide distribution method, with ebooks distributed to iBooks, Kobo, Oyster, Baker and Taylor, Barnes and Noble, WH Smith and more. In Australia they distribute to Collins, Angus and Robertson and Bookworld. Their full list of partners are listed here.
Now, obviously there is one major retailer missing from their impressive list. Why no Amazon? It turns out to be as simple – or as complex – as the fact that Amazon don’t allow bulk uploading of ebook titles and their accompanying metadata. In order for Smashwords to distribute to Amazon they would need to manually upload each and every title – simply not practical with the number of books they have going through. However, Smashwords DO offer Amazon uploading to their best-selling authors and agents and Jim advised they are actively working on a solution.
Smashwords vs BookBaby is one question I get asked often by writers wanting to investigate their options for ebook creation and distribution. They offer quite different models to their authors, yet both have a lot to offer.
Smashwords = free conversion and take a cut of sales (as mentioned above)
BookBaby = either use their Premium Package where they charge US$249 and you get 100% of sales. OR supply your epub file and they take 15 per cent of net revenue from retailers OR have them convert your file for US$99 and they take 15 per cent. More details here.
What I’ve heard a number of times is that BookBaby may be better for authors that require a bit of hand-holding. Smashwords is pure DIY – they offer you all the tools to create the best possible files ready for conversion and then leave it to the author to do this. Authors format their own titles, click publish and then Smashwords does the rest!
By the way, there IS a list of suppliers available to help you with formatting and cover design. It’s called Mark’s List and is sent by auto responder when you email firstname.lastname@example.org. These suppliers are not associated with Smashwords, but will help ensure your book meets the formatting requirements to be included in the Premium Catalogue.
Another thing to be aware of is when an author creates an updated ebook file – perhaps you or your editor missed a typo – that Smashwords won’t charge you to resupply your files to all retailers.
I was also curious to ask Azevedo if the Smashwords auto-conversion was perhaps more suited to simple books? After all, an auto-conversion process can be perceived as being a bit like this?
Azevedo explained although it’s clear that narrative text is the easiest to format, they can also do more complex conversions that include tables, graphs and charts. Smashwords are looking at epub 3, but the timing of this is unclear. One thing that Jim stated is that they are not currently focusing on embedded video ebooks, sometimes called Enhanced Ebooks.
Smashwords and Marketing
We also talked about Marketing and Promotion – a subject that is one I’m currently focusing on. With a new edition of Crowdfund it! just printed and converted I’ll be swinging my efforts back into promotion.
Preorders: One of the features that is really working well on Smashwords is Preorders. They are working with Applie, Barnes and Noble and Kobo – at this stage. This enables readers to order a book in advance of publication. On release day, the customers credit card is charged and makes the book available. Naturally enough, this can really help with sales charts as well. With the accumulated sales, this can help discoverability by giving your book more visibility on retailer sites.
Interestingly enough, having a book on preorder means that it is all ready on these retailer sites to go on sale on the same day. Usually retailers take varying amounts of time to have a book on sale, so this ‘same day release’ is advantageous. Another great feature is that you can have a book sample available with preorders, helping build interest in your titles. More information n this system can be found here.
Keep Writing: Jim also discussed that one of the best marketing tools an author has is multiple books. With the ability to cross promote other titles in each of your books, and build on your success this is really one of the best things an author can do – more writing!
What trends do they see?
The growth of the digital reading market: One thing that we discussed is that although in the US, the huge growth in ebooks has slowed down… it’s still going up. Australia and UK are a number of years behind the US in ebooks so we still have additional growth to see. As tablets and smartphones are taken up, the digital experience is available to more. Of course that means book reading is also competing with social and other forms of media as well.
The growth of indie authors: Once the technology was available to self-publish, many authors took advantage to get their writing out into the world. The growth in Smashwords titles and authors (as well as other retailers no doubt) since launch in 2008 is a fascinating chart. Everyone is inspired some of the success stories, and either way you get your book out there to readers. There are authors I know who do not choose to be ‘traditionally’ published and prefer the flexibility, control and larger share of their earnings. They tend to be smart enough to know what of the process to manage themselves and what to outsource to an supplier to produce quality publications. Mind you, as someone who has spent most of my career in publishing you won’t hear me putting them down. I love my own publisher! US Industry guru Mike Shatzkin had some interesting things to say about indie publishing in this post. Not surprisingly, Romance writers, big adopters of ebooks account publishing account for 70 per cent of the Smashwords top ten bestsellers list.
Book Sales Online: It’s a fact that more and more sales are taking place online – of ebooks and print books. The specialised knowledge and love of books of our local bookseller is being replaced by the appealing lure of the cheaper prices from offshore retailers.
Collaboration: One of the trends that Smashwords is seeing is more books with authors collaborating. This enables not just co-writing, but co-marketing – doubling the potential reach. An interesting idea!
It was great to meet Jim and thanks to author Brian Lawrenson for the introduction! After speaking about Smashwords for so many years, it was a fantastic to drill down on their model. When training authors about their digital publishing options I usually talk about Smashwords, BookBaby, PressBooks and Amazon.
Let me know what you think about Smashwords in the comments!