By Mark Coker, Smashwords

Barnes & Noble Update
On Monday of this week, as I reported at Site Updates, Smashwords received notification that Barnes & Noble was proposing to institute 90-day payment delays to large publishers and distributors as they grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic. They were late in paying their February invoice, which is why B&N’s February sales were omitted from the payment round we completed earlier this week.

I expressed my concern about this to B&N. Their proposed 90-day payment delay struck me as improper, especially considering they had already collected the money from customers. Here at Smashwords, we consider paying authors on time not just an obligation – it’s a sacred responsibility.

I also explained that such payment delays would cause unnecessary hardship for indie authors and small presses. From my point of view, it shouldn’t matter if a retailer owes an author only $10. For some authors, especially in this time of economic anxiety, a timely payment of that $10 might make the difference between eating their next meal, or skipping it.

I’m pleased to share that Barnes & Noble was incredibly receptive to my concerns and gracious in their quick response.

I received word yesterday afternoon that Barnes & Noble is restoring Smashwords back to our regular payment schedule going forward, and that an immediate payment was forthcoming to make our authors and publishers whole. As a special cherry on top, they’re even paying for their March sales a few days early. How often does a retailer to do that? How about never?

Impressive. B&N is looking out for the indie author and small press community, and it makes me admire the company and their amazing people all the more.

B&N has always been a great partner for Smashwords and the indie authors and publishers we represent. Barnes & Noble was one of the first major bookstores to embrace indie ebook authors (Smashwords opened B&N to indie ebooks back in 2009). They’ve always paid their invoices reliably and on time for the last 11 years. That is, until this hiccup which thankfully has now been resolved.

Smashwords will now begin processing a special payment round to authors and publishers for unpaid February B&N sales from the payment round we issued earlier this week.

But read on, because a special treat is in store.

Smashwords Issues Early Author Payments
Since we’re already doing a special payment round today to cover B&N’s February sales, and B&N is also paying a few days early for the March sales which would normally be included in your next regular payment round in a few weeks, we decided now would be a great time for Smashwords to go the extra mile in this time of need.

We understand you’re experiencing hardship and anxiety. We all are. But we’re in this together, and together we’ll get through this.

We’re paying B&N February today. We’re also paying B&N March today. And because we received payment from Scribd a couple days after the last payment round went out, we’re also going to pay that early as well.

We hope this early payment might brighten your day. It’s your money not ours, and our balance sheet can support it.

Just remember that when you get your normal payment in May, it won’t include your B&N and Scribd for March earnings, because you will have already received it early in this special payment round! So budget accordingly.

Authors and publishers paid via PayPal should start receiving their money tonight. Paper checks will be mailed early next week.

Thank you for your trust and partnership. When you publish and distribute with Smashwords, you’re directly supporting our ability to advocate for you and support you!

How Smashwords Sales Channels are Performing in the Age of Covid-19
You might wonder how the pandemic is affecting ebook sales. It’s something I’ve been wondering about too. While it’s too early to make definitive conclusions, we have noticed signs of an uptick.

Below I’m sharing our top six channels for the month of March ranked by sales volume. It’s not data we normally share, but today feels like a good time to share it.

March was the first full month in which most countries began taking the pandemic seriously with shelter-in-place orders. Keep in mind this is only a small snapshot in time, and not necessarily indicative of how the rest of the year will play out.

The percentage change reflects the increase or decrease over the sales outlet’s average sales for the prior two months of January and February, 2020. January historically marks an ebook retailer’s best sales month of the year. The numbers below are based on actual sales data for the 475,000+ ebooks distributed by Smashwords.

March sales compared to the average of January and February:

Apple – Down 16%. This is a surprising drop at a time I’d expect strength.
Scribd – Up 22%. Scribd has been a solid performer the last couple years, so I’m pleased to see this trend continue. It’s a big deal that they’re now our #2 top seller. But another store is nipping close at their heels…
Smashwords Store – Up 43%. Our store is on track to turn in its fourth consecutive year of sales growth. This tickles me pink because our primary business is distributing to retailers and libraries. Our store’s March performance is somewhat exaggerated, given that we held two major promotions in March (this also tells me that Smashwords Store customers want us to organize more special promotions – duly noted!). One of those promotions, Authors Give Back, has been extended through the end of May (see the next section for more on that).
B&N – Up 2%. Slight uptick.
Kobo – Up 3%. There was a time when Kobo was our third largest sales channel.
OverDrive – Up 64%. Impressive. Smashwords was the first to open OverDrive to self-published ebooks back in 2014. The world’s largest library ebook provider is showing promising growth (albeit from a smaller base) as readers discover the joys of library ebooks.
I trust this information will help you prioritize your marketing and distribution.

My general long term view is that in a post-Covid world, ebooks will become more important to readers. Considering that indie authors earn the bulk of their income from ebooks, that’s some potential silver lining for the clouds that otherwise cover the publishing industry’s outlook.

In the weeks ahead I plan to write a post at the Smashwords Blog about publishing in the post-Covid world, similar to my annual end of year predictions. If you don’t want to miss it, you can sign up to receive email alerts whenever I post there by subscribing at https://blog.smashwords.com

Authors Give Back Sale Extended to May 31
Readers are rediscovering the joys of ebooks.

We began the special Authors Give Back sale March 20. It was originally scheduled to end earlier this week on Monday, April 20. Based on the positive feedback we’ve received from participating authors and customers, and the continued need for readers to access high-quality, affordably priced ebooks during the pandemic, we’re extending the sale through May 31.

We invite you to join the promotion by enrolling one or more books at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos

It’s our hope that your books might brighten a reader’s day during these otherwise troubled times.

Books are powerful. They can entertain, inspire, inform, and heal. They offer safe harbor to readers in need of comfort, escape, hope, and a smile. With the calamitous economic impact and job losses associated with Covid-19, indie ebooks are more appealing than ever to budget-minded readers.

There are three discount levels at which you can enroll a book: 30%-off, 60%-off, and free. As always, there’s a bulk enrollment option if you want to enroll all your books at once.

We invite you to join with thousands of other authors and publishers already participating in this sale who are lifting the spirits of fellow readers around the globe.

If you join the sale, we ask that you do so with heart, compassion and sensitivity. Before promoting your participation or a particular title, ask yourself, “How can my book(s) brighten a reader’s day?” Let that message drive your marketing.

Consider offering readers something special that you’ve never offered before. Maybe it’s a special discount on a book that you’ve never placed on sale. Or maybe it’s a fantastic discount – or even a title priced at free for a limited time – that makes it easier for readers to say yes to your special offer.

Since this will turn out to be our longest sale ever, consider mixing up your participation each week to keep it fresh with different books and different discount levels. Each time you mix it up, it’s another opportunity to get out there again and celebrate your promotion with readers.

To enroll your books now, visit the Smashwords home page or click to this direct enrollment link.

Please help spread the word with your author and publisher friends!

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