By Mark Coker, Smashwords

Welcome to my annual publishing predictions where I reflect upon the state of the indie nation and make predictions for the year ahead.

Also, don’t miss today’s companion post, my annual Smashwords Year in Review and Preview for 2022.

How has the pandemic changed the publishing landscape?  What does a post pandemic world look like for indie authors and publishers?  How has the pandemic changed readers’ relationship with books?  I’ll explore these and other questions as we look ahead to 2022.

As I prepare to press publish on the last day of 2021, Covid infections are hitting record levels.  A New York Times headline from yesterday screams, “Meltdown!” as Omicron infections surge to record levels, causing temporary staffing shortages across multiple sectors of the economy.

Equally concerning, deep rifts have formed during the pandemic over the nature of reality.  These disagreements have strained relationships with friends and family, and amplified social and political divides.  It seems everyone is feeling some measure of anger, fear, hurt and resentment.  

Yet amid this chaos and conflict, I see reasons for optimism.  Evidence is mounting that the Omicron variant causes less severe infection.  And early research out of South Africa this week found that the antibodies created by the body’s immune response to Omicron may confer partial protection against prior, more deadly variants.  If further data confirms these findings, it means we’re much closer to the end of this pandemic than the beginning.

The State of the Indie Nation

It’s impossible to separate the state of the indie nation from the state of humanity.

Unless you’re a maker of vaccines, respirators, or caskets, it’s difficult to find a silver lining in the biologic, psychologic and economic trauma that has been Covid.  

You’re an author and publisher, but you’re a human first.  This experience has affected you, too.

Those of us who survived this pandemic will live out the rest of our lives in the shadow of its memory.  All of us will carry some level of anger, anxiety, resentment, and sorrow we’ll need to overcome before we can feel normal again.  Any one of these distinct emotions can be debilitating all by itself.  In combination, the path to emotional recovery is even steeper.

Herein lies the opportunity for indie authors.

One common quality I observe in fellow authors is the ability to feel deeply.  Authors and publishers are an extension of humanity’s nervous system.  We help humanity see, feel, and understand.  Many of you are empaths.  Empathic sensitivity is a superpower for writers.  It can also be your kryptonite when you take on others’ pain as your own.  Now you will tap into both.

Millions of readers turned to books to help them cope with this pandemic.  Your books provided readers comfort when they needed comfort, companionship when they were lonely, distraction when they needed distraction, and a smile when they needed a smile.

Your work has always been important.  In the year ahead, your work becomes even more important.

Between now and the time this pandemic finally sputters to a close, humanity will re-emerge from its collective bunkers, eager to reconnect with the world but feeling wounded and disoriented from their experience.  

Humanity is in need of healing. People will look to books to assist their spiritual and emotional recovery.  They will need books that give them hope and inspiration.  They will need books that help make sense of the world.  Books that help them feel normal again.

You are the creator of books.  You have a critically important role to play in the healing to come.

Now on to the predictions.

Mark Coker’s 2022 Publishing Predictions

Book consumption remains robust – As we enter the third year of the pandemic, millions of readers have become re-habituated to the joys of reading.  Habits are difficult to break.  After two years of spending more time reading and less time outside the home engaged in other activities, the habit of reading will stick as life returns to a new normal.  Both print and digital (ebooks and audiobooks) formats will see solid sales in 2022.

Books become more important than ever – During the pandemic, readers found much-needed comfort, distraction, recreation, and value in books.  Books are a healthy salve to numb the feelings of isolation and anxiety during pandemic life.  Your readers after the pandemic might be the same readers as before the pandemic, but what they need from your books may change in subtle but important ways.

Books that heal will sell well in 2022 – Healing will be a major underlying theme of 2022.  After two-plus years of pandemic living, every human with a pulse will be working through some form of post-traumatic stress.  Books that bolster emotional well-being will be in higher demand.  I’m not just talking about non-fiction self-help about overcoming grief, or books on spirituality.  Fiction is a powerful vehicle for healing too, and it doesn’t matter if you write sci-fi, thrillers, romance, or erotica.  Put yourself in the shoes of the emotionally wounded.  Imagine the stories that will inspire or give hope and understanding to those who’ve suffered through the emotional trauma of the pandemic.  Give your characters these same challenges, and light the path for them to overcome these challenges (or not!).  Make it real.  For ideas to incorporate into your stories, you can burrow into your readers’ psyches by studying the science behind grieving and PTSD, and the recovery options for each.

Indies will publish tomorrow’s post-pandemic classics – With over 150,000 writers in the Smashwords stable, I’m confident many of you have the talent to pull this off.  You’re a first person witness to a once-in-a-century calamity.  You have a unique perspective.  When tragedies strike, writers rise to the occasion to help us make sense of it all, or at the minimum, to record for posterity what life was like during this time.  From this trove of writing fodder will emerge new classics that future historians will label as the definitive accounts of this period of the Great Covid Pandemic.  You’re living history, now take the challenge to write it.  Write that classic in your genre and you’ll be the writer readers read long after we’re all gone.  How’s that for immortality?

More book buying shifts online – During the pandemic, the shift to ecommerce accelerated.  More consumers shifted more of their consumption from physical retail to online across multiple categories of products, ranging from groceries to automobiles to books.  Many of those customers will continue transitioning more purchasing to online.  This bodes well for indie authors, since your books have democratized access to the virtual shelves of online retailers and library ebook platforms.  This then will further level the playing field between indie publishers and traditional publishers by negating the brick and mortar retail advantage that is now the primary domain of large publishers.  

More authors embrace print on demand – With print on demand (POD), your book is printed after the customer orders it.  POD offers myriad advantages to authors, publishers and readers.  For authors and publishers, single-copy prints and small print runs are economical.  POD eliminates the need to pay for and carry unsold inventory, and your book never goes out of print.  By offering your book in print as well as digital, you increase the accessibility and desirability of your book to readers who prefer print, or who want to purchase both.  Indie authors have historically made print publishing a secondary priority to ebooks.  POD’s setup expenses, which for most indies involves additional investment in graphic design and interior book design, do make the current state of the art in POD more costly than the low-cost and simplicity of ebook publishing, but this is changing as the technology improves.  With more book buying shifting online, POD makes more sense for indies than ever, especially considering that 75% of book sales by dollar volume go to print.  

Auto-narrated audiobooks – At Smashwords, we’re big fans of audiobooks, which is why we formed our partnership with Findaway three years ago to handle audiobook production and distribution for our authors.  Yet the cost of professional audiobook production is still out of reach for most indies.  Even bestselling indies find it cost-prohibitive to invest the thousands of dollars it takes to produce a professional audiobook.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could click a button to convert your ebook into an audiobook?  That day is not far away.  Auto-narrated books have been around for a while.  The Daisy Consortium, which oversees the epub standard, has done a lot of great work over the years on what they call “talking books,” drawing upon Daisy’s roots as an organization committed to making books more accessible for the vision impaired.  Yet their synthetic voices are still first-generation, not much better than Stephen Hawking’s synthetic voice.  Now the second generation is coming.  Thanks to artificial intelligence advancements in text-to-speech technology, it’s now possible to create more natural sounding audiobook experiences for customers at a fraction of the cost – for free, actually.  In December 2020, Google previewed what they call, “Auto-narrated audiobooks,” a free solution that allows ebook authors to convert their ebook into an audiobook.  Authors can select from a range of different narration voices and styles.  It’ll be interesting to see if other major ebook retailers follow Google’s lead.  While Google’s technology isn’t perfect, it’s still quite impressive (listen to samples here).  And because it’s all based on rapidly-improving technology, we can expect the quality you hear now will improve dramatically in the next few years.  

By the end of 2022, most writers conferences resume – Writers conferences provide an essential service to authors.  Conferences are where writers learn essential best practices, make industry connections, and find community with fellow members of their author tribe.  With most conferences canceled or on hiatus the last two years, it’s created a knowledge void, especially among newer indies who are still learning the ropes.  It created a void of community as well.  Writers need other writers.  By the latter half of 2022, more writers will feel safe enough to mix and mingle in large crowds, thereby allowing more conferences to resume normal operation.

Scribd goes public in 2022 – In July 2021, Bloomberg News broke a story claiming Scribd was planning a billion-dollar initial public offering for as early as late 2021.  That didn’t happen, and I have no inside knowledge as to the timing of a potential IPO.  However, I do have insight into Scribd’s historical sales volume for Smashwords’ books.  For years here on the blog and elsewhere I have celebrated their impressive growth.  I’m excited about this potential IPO, not just for what it means for our well-deserving friends at Scribd, but also for what it means for our authors.  By going public, Scribd will amass a war chest of cash to invest in their business to the benefit of indie authors.  Readers who’ve read my prior analysis on Scribd’s subscription model vs. others know that Scribd’s model is more author-friendly.  Good luck, Scribd!

Spotify enters ebook market – File this under long-shots.  In November, Spotify entered the audiobook market in a big way by acquiring Smashwords partner Findaway, citing, among other things, the work they do with indie authors.  One of Findaway’s missions is to offer a more author-friendly alternative to Amazon’s Audible, which has come under fire in recent years for their treatment of indie authors. With Spotify making a commitment to bring audiobooks to their nearly 200 million paid subscribers, they’re one simple step away from entering ebooks too, if they choose.  Spotify’s current focus is audio.  If they do enter the ebook market (they’d be smart to acquire Scribd, which would make them an overnight force in ebooks), it will reconfigure the power balance in the market.  Such an entry would make the book content of indie authors more valuable than ever, since lower cost indie ebooks are what make the subscription model viable.  As an indie author, you want your work to be recognized as valuable, because your value gives you leverage to grow and protect your publishing business.  

Subscription takes more market share from single-copy sales – File this one under things that are already happening, but will pick up steam in 2022.  Just as print, audio, and ebook are three great consumption formats for books, subscription is a great consumption method alongside single-copy purchases.  In the long run, I think subscription will become the most popular consumption method among power-readers, much in the same way streaming media services such as Netflix have supplanted DVD purchases and rentals.

Indie content is king in 2022 – Any retailer or subscription service that wants to be competitive in the ebook market faces the same challenge:  how to lower the cost they pay for ebooks so they can offer more reading pleasure to their customers at less cost.  Since indie ebooks are priced much lower than traditionally published ebooks, it means indie ebooks will continue to be of high strategic value to every retailer, especially to the subscription services.  Every major retailer or subscription service has strong incentive to forge closer relationships with indie authors.

That’s it for my 2022 predictions.  I hope these predictions stir your imagination and give you productive ideas for your publishing business in 2022.  What are your predictions?  Please share in the comments below.

On behalf of the entire team at Smashwords, we wish you, your family, and everyone in our indie community the best of health, happiness, and prosperity in the year ahead.  

By Mark Coker, Smashwords

Welcome to my annual publishing predictions post, where I recap the state of the indie nation and share publishing predictions for the year ahead.
Also check out my annual Smashwords Year in Review and Preview of 2021.

The purpose of these predictions is to focus our attention on the future.

Some of my predictions will inspire you, and others might surprise or anger you. That’s the point. By imagining potential futures, you can work to shape the future you desire.

Although it’s easy for an individual author to feel powerless against the broader forces of this industry, the opposite is true. Authors hold great power. The collective actions of authors determine the direction of this industry and the exciting opportunities you’ll find within it.

Your future success can be distilled down to four high level factors:

The foundations you laid for yourself in the past (skills, training, experience, past actions).
The actions you take today.
The future actions taken by others in the publishing industry.
Black Swan events that come out of nowhere to cause abrupt and massive shifts in direction.
My friend Jennifer Leggio sports prophetic dumpster fire halloween costume in 2019
My friend Jennifer Leggio sports a
prophetic dumpster fire costume in 2019.
You control the first two factors. For the third factor, through your mentorship and conversations with fellow authors, publishers, retailers and service providers, you influence the direction of the industry. You have minimal influence over the fourth category of Black Swan events, though with proper planning and diversification you can make your publishing business more resilient to unexpected shocks.

When I look back at the raging dumpster fire that was 2020, I find it impossible to separate a discussion of publishing futures from a discussion of the unfolding Black Swan event that is COVID-19.

If COVID-19 teaches us anything, it’s that our fates are intertwined. Whether we’re talking viruses or indie authorship, we are all neighbors. We share the same air. Take care of your indie author neighbors and all who support them.

The State of the Indie Nation

COVID-19 was a Black Swan event that continues to have enormous impact on authors, readers and retailers. It created new winners and losers, and it accelerated the progression of several entrenched trends in publishing, while pausing or redirecting other trends.

For most indie authors, 2020 was an up year for ebook sales after several years of decline. I find it difficult to celebrate this achievement when we consider the cost.

2020 started weak for indie authors, with most ebook retailers experiencing year over year sales declines for the first two months of the year. This marked a continuation of a multi-year trend of lackluster ebook sales exacerbated by rampant devaluation pressures in a slow-growth industry. I’ll explore some of these pressures later in the post.

COVID-19 reversed that lackluster sales trend in March.

As I discussed back in June for my special edition mid-year predictions post, Post-pandemic publishing for indie authors, indie ebook authors found themselves well-positioned to meet surging ebook demand from readers who were home-bound by choice, unemployment or government mandate. Sales moderated somewhat as the year progressed and people returned to work.

Democratization vs. Authoritarianism

In a democracy, power lies with the people. With authoritarianism, power is consolidated under the control of a single supreme leader. Authoritarians come to power when the people surrender their power.

I founded Smashwords 13 years ago to enable freedom of expression and author self-determination. I wanted to democratize publishing by breaking down the barriers to publication and retail distribution. I wanted to empower any writer anywhere to self-publish at no cost and control their own rights, production, pricing and promotion. And I wanted to give the readers – not gatekeeping publishers – the freedom to choose what was worth reading.

The old world of publishing was somewhat authoritarian by nature. A small group of powerful publishers dictated which writers would become published authors, which books were distributed to retailers, and how much authors would earn for their labor.

Authoritarianism is the opposite of democratization.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a troubling rise in authoritarian tendencies here in the US. The US isn’t the only country facing this challenge.

When people are hurting and losing hope, they become susceptible to nihilistic thinking. This makes people ripe for exploitation by the siren call of authoritarian leaders. Authoritarians promise overly simplistic solutions to complex problems. Never mind that more often than not, their tainted remedies exacerbate the very reality their supporters seek to escape.

There’s always been a dramatic income inequality gap in publishing, even though few think of it in these explicit terms. It’s time we acknowledge this as an industry. A few authors do really well, and the vast majority live hand to mouth as they struggle to find their next reader.

No, I’m not advocating socialism for my fellow Americans haunted by the ghosts of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez. There’s nothing wrong with some books selling better than others. Excellence should be rewarded.

As I share in this post and many that preceded it, I’m concerned about greater forces at play working to steal power from indie authors. These forces have been persistent, increasing, and well-documented for many years.

As I discussed in my podcast episode, The Indie Author Manifesto, ever since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, there have been forces that seek to control the power of the printed word.

Although indie authors benefited this year from COVID-19 in the form of stronger ebook sales, the pandemic also altered the power structure of the publishing industry in ways that will amplify future inequalities and jeopardize author independence.

Physical bookstores were big losers in the pandemic, while enormous power consolidated around a small number of major online platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google. These dominant platforms wield their supreme power to stand between you and your audience.

We’ve traded one group of authoritarian overlords for another. These platforms are the new gatekeepers for indie authors.

But rather than gatekeeping an author’s books based on editorial quality, author reputation, sales potential, or relevance to the reader, they gatekeep based on the author’s willingness and ability to pay for access to those readers. The payment comes in the form of paid advertising, and in the particular case of Amazon, pressure to accept additional concessions such as reduced royalties, control, and distribution.

I’m concerned that far too many authors have been hurting for far too long, and this hurt is forcing short term thinking that undermines the long term opportunity for all authors.

Here in the US, it’s becoming all too common to turn on the television and witness the modern day equivalent of Depression-era bread lines, with thousands of people lined up in their cars, waiting for food assistance. My mom, who volunteers at a homeless shelter to distribute food here in the San Francisco Bay Area, tells me donations are way down while the need for assistance has skyrocketed.

Although COVID-19 is the immediate trigger for the sudden unemployment and destitution of millions of families, income inequality is more to blame. Too many people here are living too close to the financial edge. This holds true for authors as well.

When someone’s living hand to mouth, uncertain if they’ll make their next meal or mortgage payment, they don’t have the luxury to think long term. This further perpetuates the cycle of short term decision-making which leads to greater exploitation and lost independence. Your decisions are your votes for the future.

So ask yourself: Are you okay that a multi-billion dollar publishing industry continues to profit on the backs of starving artists?

Are you okay that Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon – the company whose business model is predicated upon nickel and diming its suppliers, devaluing your books and forcing you to trample your fellow authors when you advertise – saw his net worth rise by nearly $100 billion during the pandemic?

If you’re okay with that, carry on with business as usual. If not okay, act accordingly if you are able.

Now on with the predictions.

Mark Coker’s Publishing Predictions for 2021

Nesting will favor digital reading – With eight billion people around the world in need of COVID-19 vaccinations and not enough vaccine supply to go around, many consumers of books will spend more time at home than they did pre-pandemic. The indie author community, which earns the bulk of its income via ebooks, will be a beneficiary.

Trump effect will lead to more book reading – Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, most people would agree that he held a sizable portion of our daily media consumption attention. With each day, his presidency served a tantalizing new episode of must-see reality TV. The episodes got more and more riveting as he broke every imaginable norm and then some. Last month voters cancelled his show due to poor ratings and replaced it with what promises to be a less dramatic presidential show. This means we can now spend less time shouting into our echo chambers on social media about why he’s the worst or greatest president of all time. What are we going to do with our extra hours of free time each week? A portion of that time will shift to reading. Yay for books!

Consolidation in traditional publishing drives more authors to self-publishing AND vanity presses – The big four publishers are about to become the big three with Penguin Random House’s pending acquisition of Simon & Schuster. In slow growth or overcrowded markets, consolidation yields greater efficiencies, profits and competitive advantages for the surviving entities. The combination will give Penguin Random House about 30% of the US book market. With fewer publishers bidding for the best books, it means fewer opportunities and lower advances for authors interested in a traditional publishing deal. This will drive more authors to self-publishing. For authors that don’t have the desire or the ability to put in the hard work to become a professional self-publisher, many will turn to vanity presses and subsidized presses. These companies earn their income not by selling books to customers, but by selling services to authors.

Consolidation coming to indie publishing as well – The self-publishing market is overcrowded with too many companies fighting for too few dollars. You want to get your book to Apple Books? Apple lists Smashwords and 20 approved aggregators and conversion houses to help you, or you can upload direct. And there are thousands of other service providers who can help you do the same. This is unsustainable. For the same reasons the big New York publishers are consolidating, consolidation is inevitable for self-publishing as well. Does the world really need hundreds of ebook distributors? The answer is no. In fact, the plethora of all of these companies doing the same thing is confusing and counterproductive for most authors.

Book discovery continues to shift from organic to inorganic – There was a time when most online book discovery was organic. If a quality read attracted enough readers, their purchases and reviews would cause the online store’s algorithms to elevate the book’s visibility to other readers. Today the ebook market is dominated by a single toll-taking retailer that grants preferential discoverability to authors and publishers that pay tributes in the form of paid advertising and exclusivity. Other retailers will face pressure to do the same. I’ve lost track of the number of times authors have asked Smashwords to create a paid advertising “opportunity” in the Smashwords Store. Sure, we could make a lot of money doing that, but I’d have difficulty sleeping at night. Nor would I want to disadvantage our authors who can’t afford to advertise. I’d be the guy to say, “Oh, your ad spend didn’t earn back? Here’s a refund.”

Subscription consumption grows, single copy sales fall – The two dominant ebook consumption models are single-copy sales and subscription. The three major ebook subscription services for indie authors are Kindle Unlimited, our partner Scribd, and the newer entry, Kobo Plus. Apple doesn’t have such an offering yet, nor do I know if they plan for one, though I expect they’ll feel pressure to introduce a similar service one of these years. Apple has a lot of experience in subscription businesses. Over the long term, subscription will probably win, driven by the extreme value to consumers, the greater profitability to the retailer, and the proven willingness of many indie authors to accept ever-lower royalties in exchange for greater book visibility.

Subscription services to drive devaluation – For indie authors, two of the three major subscription services (KU, KP) pay via a pool model in which the provider pays less than a 70% royalty from the pool to authors and publishers. This means devaluation – readers can enjoy your book risk-free for less cost than a single copy purchase, and you earn a lower effective royalty rate for the read. This contributes to a double devaluation of your books. Readers become accustomed to consuming books for what feels like free, and the author is paid less per read. Not all authors can make up the difference with higher unit consumption because there are only so many readers to go around. And since when is a $4.99 ebook from a professional indie author too expensive?

Royalty compression accelerates – Say goodbye to 70% ebook royalties. Yes, every major retailer will continue to offer 70% list (60-80% if you work through Smashwords), yet effective royalty rates will drop. The drop will come in the form of hidden tolls, taxes and so-called “opportunities,” such as the opportunity to raise the visibility of your book by paying the retailer for visibility; or by discounting the book to appear in a feature or special catalog; or discounting the book so that it can appear in a subscription service that can only list lower priced books that don’t break their business model. The net effect on your income is that you’ll be paid less for each sale. Many forms of royalty compression have existed since the start of the indie ebook revolution in the form of delivery fees, generous no-questions-asked product returns on the backs of authors (#Audiblegate anyone?), or royalty rules that drop royalties in half if you price under $2.99 or over $9.99. Every major retailer will face pressure by their customers to enact more royalty compression so customers can read more books for fewer dollars. If stores resist this move, they’ll lose more customers to Amazon. Of course, if authors refused to sell their books anywhere their effective royalty rate dropped below the highest single copy rate of 60-80%, then retailers would be forced to maintain the high royalties. But the cat is already out of the bag. Too many indie authors followed the siren call of KDP-Select, and too many authors have shown themselves too willing to accept more compression if it helps them skip to the front of the line in the short term. Once you surrender your power, it’s difficult to take it back.

Advertising ROI drops further – Advertising is already ineffective for many authors, yet authors still throw good money after bad hoping to be among the lucky few who can crack the formula. Because ads on Facebook, Amazon and Google utilize an auction model where the highest paid spot earns the best visibility, economic theory would dictate that authors will continue to bid on such ads until the effective ROI of the ad reaches zero, the point at which book sales can’t cover the ad expense. But economic theory doesn’t know indie authors. This mad scramble to the bottom of ad ROI is exacerbated by authors’ willingness to over-invest on loss leaders (such as series starters or a debut book) in the hope that they can make up the difference later with follow-on sales.

The mad dash to the bottom of advertising ROI undermines non-advertisers – Not all indie authors spend money on advertising, yet those who don’t advertise will continue to see their visibility marginalized by those willing to pay for visibility. As I discussed last year, at Amazon their ad program is constructed to help advertisers leech off the brands of other authors. You can test this for yourself. Type your pen name into the search bar at Amazon and marvel at all the paid ad spots for other authors that appear at the top of your search results and mixed within.

Self-publishing to receive increased scrutiny – As society comes to grips with the collision between free speech and its ugly cousins misinformation, disinformation and fake news (I’m talking truly fake, not quality journalism erroneously labeled as fake), public pressure will build to demand more curation and accountability for the platforms that enable its publication. Facebook and YouTube, which are two of the largest self-publishing platforms are facing such scrutiny (when you post a video to YouTube or comment on Facebook, you’re self-publishing!). If a self-publishing platform like Smashwords – or a retailer like Amazon – allows the publication and distribution of a harmful conspiracy theory or bad medical advice, should the platform or retailer be held liable when a reader believes it as true and drinks the proverbial bleach? It’s a challenging question we’ve had to grapple with. Our ethos at Smashwords is free expression, but per policy we will ban authors for publishing information we deem harmful to the public. But who are we to decide, and where should the lines be drawn? We don’t employ medical doctors or trained epidemiologists. I didn’t start this business to squelch voices, but I didn’t start it to help authors publish bomb-making manuals either (which we’ve never allowed). If you want to place a long shot bet on the next Black Swan event affecting indie authors, it could very well be that a retailer is found financially liable for what it allowed in its store from a self-published author, and as a result of the costly ordeal, decides it’s not worth the risk to allow such unfettered, freewheeling access to their sales platform.

Mailing list development again a top priority for indies – The most important platform-building tool is your private author newsletter. When readers subscribe to your newsletter, you own that relationship. You can contact the reader directly on your terms without having to rely on a toll-taking intermediary that may inhibit or even prevent your ability to notify your current and prospective fans about your new release. When we surveyed authors this year who took advantage of our new patent-pending Smashwords Presales feature, one of the top reasons cited for using the feature was mail list development (the most common reason cited was sales channel diversification). Many of these authors are offering their subscribers the opportunity to purchase their new upcoming releases early, before the general public. It gives your most loyal readers a strong incentive to sign up and stay subscribed.

Books become more important in 2021 – In 2020, millions of readers rediscovered the joys of reading. This trend will continue through 2021 and beyond. The pandemic is not over. It’s difficult to emotionally process trauma when we’re living it. Even after every last soul is vaccinated and this plague is eradicated from the earth, it will take years to heal from this collective trauma. Books have always provided readers great comfort, pleasure, escapism and understanding. I can’t think of any time in the 55 years of my lifetime when books have been more essential to the healing, recovery and progress of humanity. As an indie author, you are the creator of this magic we call books. Your work is important now, and will become more important in the years ahead. It doesn’t matter if you write fiction or non-fiction, romance or self-help, you will help heal the world.
That’s it for my 2021 predictions. Feel free to contribute your own predictions in the comments below.

I wish you, your family and our indie community the best of health, happiness and prosperity in the year ahead.

Here are links to my prediction from prior years:

Summary of Prior Publishing Prediction Posts by Mark Coker

2020 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2019)
2019 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2018)
2018 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2017)
2017 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2016)
2016 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2015)
2015 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2014)
2014 Publishing Predictions (Published December 30, 2013)
and Huffington Post (Published January 7, 2014)
2013 Publishing Predictions (Published Dec 21, 2012)
2011 Predictions at GalleyCat (Published Dec 28, 2010)
10-Year Predictions at GalleyCat (Published Jan 4, 2010)

Smashwords 2020 Year in Review and 2021 Preview
Posted: 31 Dec 2020 01:40 PM PST

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!

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

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

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!

By Mark Coker

Readers are rediscovering the joys of ebooks.

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

We invite you to join the promotion by enrolling one or more books at

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

Books are powerful. They hold the power to 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 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 already participating in this sale who are trying to use the power of their written words to lift 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 before. 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.

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 friends!

Last chance to register for Smashwords Author Education Day April 18
Writers conferences everywhere are being canceled or postponed. Here at Smashwords, weeks ago we made the decision to cease all physical appearances at conferences until there’s a vaccine.

Yet an indie author’s need for continuing education never ends.

To help new and veteran authors alike who are looking for fresh ideas to take their ebook publishing to the next level, Smashwords is planning a special one-day online author education day for this Saturday, April 18.

If you haven’t yet registered for this free online event, this is your last chance.

We’ll teach proven tips, tricks and strategies to make your books more visible, desirable and enjoyable to readers. We focus on evergreen best practices. These are the foundational best practices upon which you will build long term success as a writer and publisher.

If you’ve never experienced a Smashwords workshop face to face, this is the next best thing.

To view the day’s full schedule and access the registration link, please visit

Registered attendees will have full access to the following four one-hour workshops, presented live by Smashwords marketing director Jim Azevedo. Each presentation will be followed by at least 15 minutes of interactive Q&A and a 15 minute break between sessions.

Smashwords Author Education Day Schedule
April 18, 2020
10:00am Pacific – 4:00pm Pacific
10:00-11:15am – 10 Trends Driving the Future of Publishing (for beginners, intermediates, experts) This presentation identifies the top trends influencing your future as a publisher of indie ebooks. You’ll learn how to navigate these trends to build a successful career as an indie ebook author and publisher.
11:15-11:30am – break
11:30-12:45pm – Introduction to eBook Publishing (beginners to intermediate) If you’re just getting started with ebook publishing, this introductory session will set you on the right path. Learn why there’s never been a better time to publish ebooks. We’ll share a step-by-step checklist of how to quickly publish your ebook with minimal cost or hassle. And then don’t miss the next session, which builds upon this one!
12:45-1:00 pm – break
1:00-2:15pm – The Sixteen Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success (intermediate to advanced) Throughout the years, this has been the perennial favorite of new and experienced authors alike. Jim will share sixteen proven best practices for improving the visibility, desirability and sales of indie ebooks. Learn fresh ideas that you can apply immediately to improve the effectiveness of your book marketing strategy. Learn multiple “set-and-forget” strategies for placing your marketing on autopilot so you can spend more time writing and less time on the nonessentials.
2:15-2:30pm – break
2:30-3:45pm – The Book Launch: Preorders and Presales Learn how to make your next book launch more successful with ebook preorders and presales. Preorders and presales serve different roles, yet each tool is critically important to your long term success. Preorders enable readers to reserve a copy of your upcoming release up to 12 months before release. Learn why books that are released as preorders sell significantly more copies than those that are not, and learn how to put this powerful tool to use. Presales are a new best practice that enable select readers to purchase your new upcoming book earlier than the general public. Presales help turn fans into superfans, and are one of the best kept secrets for growing your private mailing list between releases. Learn effective strategies to put both preorders and presales to use for your next launch!
More information at


By Mark Coker, Smashwords

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 Presales – Smashwords 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!
2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire
Posted: 31 Dec 2019 06:10 PM PST

Welcome to my annual publishing predictions, and hello 2020!

Also be sure to check out my annual companion post, Smashwords 2019 Year in Review and 2020 Preview.

2020 makes me think of 20/20 vision. Can you see what’s coming in your publishing future?

Each year at this time I polish off my imaginary crystal ball, read the proverbial tea leaves, and generally attempt to divine a future that is anything but divinable.

The value in speculating about the future is that it gives us all an opportunity to imagine our place in that future. We can identify opportunities and threats, and a take steps now to alter the course of future history.

I recall watching an interview earlier this year with Margaret Atwood discussing the prophetic insights of The Handmaid’s Tale, first published 35 years ago. She said (and I’m paraphrasing) that although some would label her writing as speculative fiction, she really writes about things that are already happening. I get that. She calls attention to stuff hiding in plain sight that others should see too.

My predictions are based on what I’m seeing. I’m the first to admit I’m not without my blind spots. Your vantage point might be different. I welcome your perspective in the comments. Working together, we can paint a truer picture.

I try to spot emerging and entrenched trends, analyze the economic and psychological drivers of those trends, and speculate how those trends will play out over time.

I’ll start by sharing my thoughts on the state of the indie nation and then I’ll jump into the predictions.

Also be sure to check out my other annual companion post for today, Smashwords Year in Review and 2020 Preview. Odds are, if you read anything upsetting below, and you will, Smashwords has already built tools to help you overcome it.

The State of the Indie Nation

If you’ve followed my publishing predictions over the last decade, you may have observed that in the early years my predictions were rife with gushy optimism about the increasingly important role that indie authors and indie ebooks would play in the future of publishing. Those posts proved prescient, because indies did indeed become a force of nature in this industry.

Indies pioneered the best practices of ebook publishing and ebook marketing; proved that self-published authors can achieve awe-inspiring commercial success; and captured significant ebook market share from traditional publishers. Indies introduced readers to an amazing diversity of new voices that would have been lost to humanity were it not for the amazing opportunities presented by ebook self-publishing and democratized retail distribution.

In recent years my publishing predictions have taken on an increasingly ominous tone. Although I’m a naturally optimistic person and more inclined to see cups as half full than half empty, I’m a realist as well.

I care about truth. Truth is my anchor, and I’m always searching for it to keep me moored in the choppy seas of an ever-changing reality. In business as in life, I try to keep my opinions flexible and open to modification when facts change.

It’s time to recognize that if the indie publishing movement were a house, the house is on fire and not enough people have noticed yet.

I celebrated the virtues of the indie author movement back in 2014 when I published the Indie Author Manifesto. I celebrate the movement and its world-changing potential to this day.

Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the indie author movement and everything it represents is in jeopardy. Authors liberated themselves from one gatekeeper only to find themselves in the clutches of another.

Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?

What is independence anyway? If I wrap myself in chains and submit myself to the mercy of a single sales outlet, am I still an indie author if such bondage is by choice?

If each of Amazon’s ebook retailing competitors left the ebook market tomorrow, would it make a difference to your future?

Indies appear to have made their choice. Get a group of indies together for any period of time, whether it’s in an online forum or in person at a writers conference, and the conversation invariably devolves into questions of how to please Amazon and its algorithms. Shouldn’t the conversation be about how to please readers?

The indie community is beginning to grapple with these difficult but important questions of what it means to be indie. Although I remain optimistic about the potential of the indie author movement, I’m losing confidence that the community at large has the necessary situational awareness to dig itself out of the hole it now finds itself in.

I’m communicating with authors every day. I love to hear what authors are seeing, thinking and experiencing.

To my eyes and ears, indies are experiencing increased pain, anxiety, desperation and depression.

Many bestselling authors from four or five years ago have seen their sales plummet. Some have cut back production or quit writing altogether to take on a “real” job that pays. Jobs that don’t involve writing. This saddens me, because when you strip a person of their ability to pursue their creative passion, a part of them dies, and humanity as a whole suffers.

None of these talented writers suddenly became crappy writers. These writers have readers who want them to write more books but the authors are refusing to write them. When you depend on your author income to pay the bills and feed your family, you can’t write for charity.

The same factors hurting bestsellers are hurting every other author who’s trying to reach readers with their books.

When I meet an author who’s suffering, they’re often quick to blame themselves for any misfortune. This year I heard each of the following repeatedly:

I need to learn how to do better on Amazon ads.
I need to learn how to do better on Facebook ads.
I need to find more paid marketing opportunities.

The above answers are like a moth saying, “I need to fly faster toward the flame.”

You can’t fix a problem if you’re unable to identify the cause. In my 2019 publishing predictions post last year, I identified the primary cause, and expressed my bewilderment that so many authors and even large traditional publishers were continuing to make decisions that ran against their best long term interest. As I wrote in that post, when I posed this conundrum to literary agent Michael Larson, co-founder of the San Francisco Writers Conference, he responded, “Pain seeks simple solutions.”

Myriad factors contribute to the declining fortunes of the indies who are feeling the pain. Even if you think you’re doing well, know that you’d be doing much better were it not for these factors that are dragging you down. But to recognize and fully grok these factors, one must delve into the complexity. The solutions are not simple or easy, and they’re not quick fixes.

Some industry watchers have attempted to divide the indie universe into two camps: The serious professionals and the amateur hobbyists. As this thinking goes, the professionals are serious and implement best practices, and the amateurs are amateurs and therefore flail and fail. I find this view unsatisfying and even dangerous.

Yes, there are lazy amateurs out there who still think their illegible homemade ebook cover is wonderful because if you click to expand the cover image and squint, you can read all the important words in the image (!!!!). Darwin will sort out the delusional, pig-headed and willfully ignorant.

Yet there are talented professional authors who implement best practices, write super-awesome reader-pleasing books, invest in expensive professional editors and cover designers and marketing teams, and they too flail and fail. Something else is going on here.

Over the last eleven years, in my books, workshops, Smart Author podcast and here on the blog, I attempted to help authors navigate the confusing darkness to realize a brighter, more prosperous future. Sometimes it felt like I was herding cats. I helped some people find their way, but I couldn’t reach everyone.

It pains me when I see an author fail. I believe every writer is blessed with untapped potential. It doesn’t matter if that author works with Smashwords or not. If you truly love books, you can’t help but care for the magicians who write them.
Mass Confusion for Newbies

Publishing is not an easy business to learn. It takes time, an inquisitive mind, and a lot of hard work. A newbie author might have a master’s degree in biochemistry, neuroscience, or sociology, but that doesn’t mean they’re equipped to make intelligent publishing decisions.

Thousands of new indie authors enter the market each year. The path forward for them is more confusing than it was a mere 10 years ago. New authors are confronted by a cacophony of advice and unlimited options from so-called experts.

Often the advice from experts is conflicting or just plain wrong which causes further confusion. Confusion leads authors to make poor choices. Often the simplest solution to the pain is the wrong solution. Confusion makes aspiring authors more likely to fall prey to predators, and more likely to make decisions that undermine the long term opportunities for all writers.

It’s not just the newbie authors who are making poor choices.

The Wisdom and Stupidity of the Masses

I had a revelatory epiphany earlier this year that helped me view the challenges faced by indie authors in a new light. The epiphany was triggered after stumbling across a brilliant essay from the 1980s titled, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Italian economist, Carlo M. Cipolla. Check it out. It’s a fun, thought-provoking read that will cause you to view humanity in a completely new light.

His essay attempts to explain how the behavior of each individual affects a society at large. He posits that people occupy one of four quadrants, defined as follows:

Intelligent people contribute value to society.
Stupid people cause losses to themselves
and others. Image by Vincedevries

Intelligent – Cipolla argues that Intelligent people make decisions that reap mutual benefit for both the individual and society. These people naturally gravitate toward win-win decisions and relationships. Their actions elevate a society for everyone’s benefit.

Bandits – Bandits act selfishly with callous disregard for society. Think of thieves, cheaters, scammers, and others who are only out for themselves. Although no one likes thieves, Cipolla posits they’re a net neutral to society because they’re just transfering value from one pocket to another.

Stupid – Cipolla definines stupid people as those who make

Image source:
self-destructive decisions that also harm society. Stupid people are a net negative to society. Their actions sap society of its wealth and potential.

Helpless – Helpless people are adept at making decisions that never benefit themselves, but always benefit someone else. Similar to bandits, helpless people are a net neutral to society because their loss is someone else’s gain. Although bandits and the helpless don’t drag a society down per se, they also don’t contribute to the society’s prosperity.

The essay makes clear that intelligence, banditry, stupidity and helplessness have nothing to do with education level, race, religion, political orientation or socioeconomic class. Instead, these labels are more a reflection of one’s personal priorities, world view, curiosity or willful ignorance, and the desire and capability – or lack thereof – to not act stupid.

Every society, country or large family will have a mix of each of the four types of people, as well as those who straddle the gray areas of each quadrant’s border. The same holds true for any business entity, retailers included. The really interesting stuff happens in the gray areas, because that’s where an otherwise stable or vibrant society can slip into stagnation or decline when things tilt out of balance.

The lessons in Cipolla’s essay are rich in their applicability to any situation, especially if rather than viewing it as an explanation for why a society might rise or fall, you view it through the lens of how a movement might rise or fall. The outcome for any movement – whether it’s the indie author movement or a political movement – is determined by the interplay between the four groups.

Put another way, a society or movement performs best when the majority of participants are making decisions that produce enough positive benefits to society to counter the decisions by those that sap a society of its strength. The more participants who occupy the Intelligent group, the more prosperous the society. While it would be wonderful if all members of society landed in the Intelligent group, such a utopian dream is unattainable.

The essay’s wisdom provides some degree of insight into the generally troubled fortunes of authors, publishers and retailers.

Back in 2011, Amazon introduced a predatory scheme with KDP Select which later spawned Kindle Unlimited (2014). These interconnected publishing options devalued indie ebooks, stripped indies of their independence, and starved Amazon’s ebook retailing competitors of books and customers. Traditional publishers acted like KDPS/KU was only a problem for self-published authors who were already selling their cheap books too cheaply anyway. But when indie ebooks are artificially devalued to the point that readers are reluctant to purchase single-copy ebooks, all books are devalued.

In other words, the entire industry had a hand to play in the banditry, stupidity and helplessness that authors observe today.

If you question why an individual author, publisher or retailer should care about the success or failure of the indie author movement, the answer is that we’re all in this together.

If we allow a single retailer to grind all the profit out of publishing, we can look forward to a dim future Amazon’s competitors exit the market, royalty rates drop further, and where the only books that get published are from deep-pocketed hobbyists who are willing to pay more to be read than they earn in income.

It’s not too late for indie authors to chart a more prosperous course for their careers. It starts with fiercely defending the independence upon which the indie author movement was born. Your independence is your power. Don’t let others take it away.

Now to the predictions.

Mark Coker’s 2020 Publishing Predictions

Sanctions coming against Amazon and Facebook – In my predictions for the last two years, I predicted that the pressure would grow for the political establishment to bring some of these too-powerful platforms to heel. When a company tangles its tentacles too far, too wide and too deep, it suffocates innovation. Here’s a cooking metaphor for those of us who’ve mastered the art of boiling water. If 2018 was pre-boil, then 2019 became a full-on simmer, with politicians on both sides of the aisle agreeing that something needs to be done. In 2020, the calls to break up these companies will reach a full boil.

Backlash coming against Amazon Ads for stealing author platform – Last year I predicted that Amazon would become recognized as pay-to-play in 2019, and certainly that view became more accepted in 2019. Amazon’s transition into pay-to-play marks a sad realization of the satirical April Fools post I wrote in back in 2017 titled, Kindle Power Bucks, which solved the age-old book marketing problem by allowing authors to pay to be read. In 2020, we’ll see the author backlash. It’s not that the idea of advertising is a bad one. What’s bad is how Amazon implements advertising. Amazon replaced their also bought shelves with sponsored ad shelves. This means they removed the organic book recommendation wisdom of fellow readers and replaced it with paid advertisements. It’s a disservice to readers because now a book’s visibility is measured by the author’s ability to pay for that visibility. As I wrote in Publishers Weekly last month in my column titled, Platform Theft, Amazon Ads enable Amazon to sell your author platform to the highest bidder. Try this exercise learn how this affects you: Click to the Amazon home page, select Books, and enter your pen name. It’s not uncommon for the first three search rows to be occupied by sponsored ads for four books by other authors. It’s also common to find that up to one third of all your results on that search results page are promoting other authors that Amazon knows are not you. Each is a detour designed to take your reader away from your books. It also means that Amazon is forcing indies to trample upon the platforms of fellow authors simply to remain visible in the store, in the same way that KDP-Select causes authors to trample upon the visibility of their fellow authors who refuse to go exclusive. You work hard to build your readership and your author brand. Now Amazon’s working hard to take it away, cloaked in the vapid veneer of a paid marketing opportunity.

Audiobooks disappoint – For indie authors, peak audio may already have come and gone. The audiobook market will grow in 2020, but the average participating author will see slower growth or even declines. The first indie authors to do audiobooks reaped the most benefits. Now the market’s getting crowded. Amazon’s Audible division continues to maintain a stranglehold on audio, and similar to Amazon’s strategy to commoditize and devalue everything they sell, they’re successfully devaluing audiobooks (by restricting the author’s ability to set their own prices, and demanding long term exclusivity for the best visibility) which means your profit opportunity will continue to decline in audiobooks for the same reasons it has declined in ebooks. This leads to my next audiobook prediction.

Most indies to forgo audiobook opportunity – I love audiobooks, and want them to be successful (Smashwords has been partnered with audiobook distributor Findaway since 2018), but professional production costs are beyond the reach of most indie authors. As audiobook growth slows and devaluation pressures persist, and as more immortal audiobooks forever occupy the virtual shelves of online retailers, more indies will be shut out of the audiobook opportunity. It’s extremely difficult to lower production costs without sacrificing quality. Your choice of narrator can make or break your audiobook. The best narrators are reluctant to work on spec. Although there are interesting efforts afoot to leverage machine-learning and artificial intelligence to bring production costs lower, I remain skeptical that these efforts will produce anything but subpar audiobooks. It’s extremely difficult for a machine to match the intricate and dynamic cadence, emotion and tonality of a professional voice actor. It’s equally difficult to replace a talented audio editor for post-production.

Single-copy ebook sales face continued pressure from Kindle Unlimited – I’ve made similar predictions in prior years, and we’ll see this trend continue into 2020. When readers have unlimited access to over one million ebooks with their Kindle Unlimited subscription they can read for free, and when the subscription service decouples author compensation from the author-set single-copy price of the book, it’s a recipe for significant devaluation, and it gives readers over a million reasons to never purchase another single copy ebook again. Even 99-cent ebooks start to look too expensive to readers when they read other books for what feels like free.

Platform ownership to become a top indie imperative – Most authors already know the importance of building their marketing platform. Your platform is your ability to reach your prior and prospective readers. To date, most authors have focused the majority of their platform-building on growing their social media following, and building readership at the various retailers. But when your relationship with your readers is mediated by a third party, it means that third party is the gatekeeper to your readers. That third party can erect tolls or implement other policy changes that make it difficult, expensive or impossible to reach the readers who want to purchase your book. In the examples of Facebook and Amazon we see blatant toll-taking. In 2020, more authors will wake up to the danger and realize the imperative of building an author-controlled marketing platform. This doesn’t mean authors will need to open their own ebook stores (most who try gain a new appreciation for the valuable services offered by a retailer). Not all retailers are the problem. I can’t think of a single instance in the 10-year indie ebook retailing history of Apple Books or Barnes & Noble, for example, where either implemented a single policy change designed to tax authors, reduce royalty rates, or strip them of their publishing freedom. Despite Apple and Barnes & Noble being the second and third largest sellers of English language ebooks, both are small potatoes compared to the worst offender Amazon that has implemented new policies each year for the last 10 years that strip authors and publishers of their profit margin and independence. This brings me to my next prediction.

Indies will redouble efforts to build their mailing lists – When a reader subscribes to your author newsletter, you own that relationship. You can reach that reader on your terms whenever you choose. You can direct the reader to retailers whose missions are aligned with your own, and who are not trying to sell your reader someone else’s book when they’re looking for your book. It means no third party can control your access to your reader. If you don’t yet operate your own opt-in newsletter, or you’re looking for tips on how to grow your subscriber list, check out another of my Publishers Weekly columns from this year, titled, Taking Control, for help. Also of help is my next prediction related to presales.

Ebook presales join the author’s best practices toolbox – This prediction is blatantly self-serving on the heels of our Smashwords Presales announcement on December 3, but I also know it to be true. When we first introduced preorder distribution at Smashwords back in 2013, I predicted preorders would become an essential best practice for all professional indie authors and that’s what happened. The same will happen for presales. In the long run (beyond 2020!), readers will find presales much more exciting than preorders because presales allow the customer to read the book earlier than everyone else. Smashwords Presales is an author-friendly, author-controlled alternative to the more draconian KDP Select. And for authors plan to enroll their new releases in KDP-Select, Smashwords Presales is compatible with publishing strategy that too! Just run the presale BEFORE enrolling in KDP Select. With Smashwords Presales, the time period of early release is entirely controlled by the author. The period can be minutes, hours or months in advance of the book’s general release. The author also sets the price and decides who can gain access to the presale. This gives the author a greater ability to harness the value of the presale. At Smashwords, ebook presales are designed to allow the author to trade something of value to the reader (early release and reading) with something of value to the author (using the promise of presale access to grow a private mailing list; earning higher royalties; capturing additional newsletter signups at point of purchase, diversifying their sales channels). The early adopters have already started adopting this in the last few weeks. 2020 will be the year thousands more early adopter authors adopt ebook presales. These early adopters will derive the most long term benefit, and they’ll set the example for the next authors and publishers.

Romance Writers of America faces make or break year in 2020 – I’ve long been a fan of Romance Writers of America, one of the largest and best organized professional writing organizations here in the US. The organization has been operating continuously since 1980 when editor Vivian Stephens joined with other romance writers to form a national organization to advocate for the interests of romance writers. In the years since, RWA has helped tens of thousands of romance writers. This past July, it was my great honor when the RWA board of directors awarded me their 2019 Vivian Stephens Industry Award for my contribution to the genre. Following the acceptance of my award in New York, I enjoyed meeting several RWA board members during the conference’s after-party. Therefore, as you might imagine, I was shocked and saddened to learn that most of the RWA board abrupty resigned over the Christmas holiday in protest to what they viewed as secret backroom dealings related to how they handled allegations of racial insensitivity. The story even caught the attention of the New York Times who covered it yesterday. Many members now feel angry, hurt and disappointed. This turmoil is a critical test for RWA’s leadership. How they deal with it will have lasting implications for RWA’s future and possibly even its survival. I hope they rise to meet the challenge and emerge from this crisis stronger, better, and more inclusive than ever. Diversity is strength!

Ebook sales will rise if major book-buying countries enter recession – This was a big miss for me last year, so I’m going out on a limb and making the same prediction again. Last year I predicted the US economy would enter recession in 2019, and this would cause consumers to become more frugal and therefore shift more of their book-buying budgets to ebooks. But somehow, the US economy hasn’t fallen off the rails yet. With every passing month, however, a recession becomes more inevitable, and the longer its arrival is postponed, the deeper the next recession is likely to become. Just as a forest fire plays a natural and essential role in maintaining healthy forests, so too are recessions a difficult but necessary event to maintain the long term health of growing economies.

Thanks for taking the time to consider my predictions. Please tell me what you think, and feel free to make your own predictions in the comments below.

By Mark Coker, Smashwords

Smashwords today unveiled Smashwords Presales, a new book launch tool that will thrill your readers.

Smashwords Presales leverages patent-pending technology to enable the creation, management and merchandising of ebook presales. An ebook presale allows readers to purchase and read a new book before the public release date.

Presales are different than preorders. Presales provide readers early and immediate access to an upcoming book release, whereas preorders merely act as product reservations where the customer must wait until the public release date to read a preordered book.

Several New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors have already expressed interest in running Smashwords Presales for future book launches.

“I’m planning to use Smashwords Presales to offer early releases to subscribers of my newsletter,” said R.L. Mathewson, a New York Times bestselling author of romance novels. “When I asked my readers how’d they feel if I were to begin offering presale access as a perk for signing up for my newsletter, the response was overwhelmingly positive. My readers want this.”

How to Run an eBook Presale at Smashwords

The Smashwords Presales tool is available now to all authors and publishers that have upcoming releases on preorder.

When you’re ready to activate your presale, go to your Smashwords Dashboard, click the Presale Dashboard link, then click “Create Presale” to configure and preview the elements of your presale.

You can start and stop presales at any time in advance of your general release date. Your presale doesn’t impact your general release dates at retailers and library platforms supplied by Smashwords.

10 Reasons to Run a Presale

Thrill your readers – Your most enthusiastic readers will go wild over the opportunity to purchase and read your next release early, before its official publication date.

Run private or public presales – Smashwords Presales supports both private and public presales. With a private presale, Smashwords issues the author a private hyperlink to share with select readers or groups. The hyperlink leads to a secret landing page from which the reader can make their purchase. With a public presale, the presale is merchandised in the Smashwords Store and available to any reader.

Turbocharge newsletter signups – Offer presale access as a loyalty reward for readers who subscribe to your private newsletter. Your private newsletter is where most of your presales will come from. Build a marketing platform you control!

Capture customer email addresses – Wouldn’t it be cool if ebook retailers gave customers the option to subscribe to the mailing lists of their favorite authors and publishers? Now it’s possible at the Smashwords Store thanks to Smashwords Presales. To take advantage of this capability, authors and publishers must first digitally sign a Smashwords Customer Email Privacy Pledge. The customer is then presented with the option to subscribe to your private newsletter. Or, if they don’t want to share their email, they can add the author to their Smashwords Alerts subscription, which notifies the reader whenever the author releases a new book at Smashwords. Captured email addresses can be downloaded any time from the Presale Dashboard and then imported into your private mailing list. Email capture is only available during the book’s presale period.

Incentives for email sharing – We’re going the extra mile to help you build your mailing list. Smashwords Presales enables authors and publishers to offer optional discount incentives to entice customers to share their email address. Authors can configure a custom, pre-set discount offer that is presented to the customer at checkout. Once the customer agrees to share their email with a specific author or publisher, they won’t be presented the incentive offer again for future releases from the same author.

Compatible with KDP Select/KU Book Launches – Authors who plan to make their next ebook release exclusive to Amazon via KDP Select can satisfy a wider audience of readers by running a private or public presale at Smashwords BEFORE they enroll their ebook in KDP Select. Here’s how: 1. Upload your book to Smashwords as a preorder with a future release date, then immediately click to your Dashboard’s Channel Manager and opt the book out of all distribution channels (this will prevent your preorder listing from appearing at other retailers if that’s your goal). 2. Click to your Dashboard’s “Presale Dashboard” and follow the simple instructions to create and launch your public or private presale. 3. When you’re ready to end your presale and enroll in KDP Select, click back to your main Dashboard, click unpublish and confirm, and voila, your book disappears from the Smashwords Store in seconds. This same technique can be used by authors that distribute wide but prefer to upload direct to the major retailers.

Works with Smashwords Coupons – Smashwords offers the industry’s broadest array of customizable coupon creation options for authors and publishers. Authors can create custom coupon codes for cents-off, dollars-off, percentage-off, metered (limited redemption), public coupons, private coupons, time-limited coupons, and coupons that work across multiple books. These features can be mixed and matched to create myriad customizable promotional options. Using the metered coupons, for example, an author of a highly anticipated new release could create additional launch buzz by creating a coupon code that would entitle the first 1,000 presale customers to receive a dollar off, after which the coupon expires and the next presale customers would pay the regular price. After you create your presale, click to your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager to create the coupon code.

Satisfy readers on all e-reading devices – A popular feature of the Smashwords Store is that one purchase gives the customer access to multiple ebook file types (if authorized by the author/publisher), thereby allowing authors to satisfy readers on any e-reading device. The author can use Smashwords-generated files by uploading their book as a Microsoft Word file or they can upload custom-designed .epub or .mobi files.

Earn higher royalties – The Smashwords Store pays royalty rates of up to 80%, based on the checkout amount of the customer’s shopping cart. Among common pricing sweet spots, a checkout amount of $2.99 earns 74% list; $3.99 earns 75% list, $4.99 earns 76% list and $5.99 earns 78% list. Book or shopping cart totals at or above $7.99 earn 80% list or more.

Option to require customers to sign anti-piracy pledge – One of the most common forms of ebook piracy is accidental piracy, which is when an enthusiastic reader shares a great ebook with a friend. Authors and publishers have the option to require presale customers to digitally sign an anti-piracy pledge in which the customer must affirmatively agree that the book is licensed for their personal enjoyment only and they may not illegally share the ebook with anyone. The pledge acts as a gentle reminder to customers of their legal and ethical obligation to respect the author’s intellectual property.

The Patent-Pending Technology Behind Smashwords Presales

The technology, systems and methods behind Smashwords Presales are patent pending. This is the first time in our 11-year history that Smashwords filed to protect one of our many inventions.

The features revealed today within the Smashwords Presales tool barely scratch the surface of the innovations covered within the 65-page patent filing. Smashwords submitted its patent filing to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on October 22, 2019 under the title, “A PRODUCT RELEASE SYSTEM, METHOD AND DEVICE HAVING A CUSTOMIZABLE PREPURCHASE FUNCTION.” I’m a co-inventor along with Smashwords CTO Bill Kendrick. An amended filing was made November 20 to consolidate claims and request fast-tracked review by the USPTO. The USPTO, per law, publicly discloses and publishes patent filings 18 months after the filing date. This means the general public can read the full patent filing starting around March 20, 2021. International filings are planned.

To be clear, presales, alternately known as pre-purchases or exclusive early releases, are not a Smashwords invention. Since the dawn of time, and before there were labels for such product release events, product creators have enjoyed varying degrees of freedom to launch their product when and where they choose.

When most people think of presales, they think of ticketed events.

What Smashwords has invented, as documented in the patent filing, takes the concept of presales to an entirely new level.

Unlike ticket presales where the customer must wait until the public performance to enjoy that performance, the Smashwords patent application covers products and services that are released early to select customers or affinity groups.

The Smashwords patent application describes a networked system that redefines the conventional temporal timeline for how online retailers and distributors collaborate with product creators to bring new products to market.

The patent application covers the creation, management, distribution, and merchandising of presale product listings across the ecommerce supply chain. It covers physical and digital products and services sold over ecommerce, as well as the early release of products and services fulfilled to customers via subscription, streaming media, in-store customer pickups at brick and mortar retailers, and other methods.

We developed Smashwords Presales to address some of the most critical marketing and platform-building challenges faced by authors and publishers. The same product marketing challenges faced by indie authors and publishers are shared by any individual or company that utilizes ecommerce to bring new products and services to market.

When shelf space moves from the physical to the virtual, it fundamentally changes everything for authors, publishers, any product creator, and customers. Online retailers enable product creators to reach customers that were previously inaccessible to them, but it also creates new challenges. Online shelf space is infinitely scalable, which means there’s no theoretical limit to the number of products that can be listed. Retailers can list and stock an ever-increasing selection of products, and they’re able to keep those products in stock longer if not forever. This creates a glut of millions of product listings crowding the virtual shelves of retailers, making new product launch discoverability more and more challenging with every day that passes.

For the last 30 years that I’ve been involved in helping companies and individuals bring new products to market, the conventional approach to product launches has always revolved a single product release date. This single release date serves as the focal point around which all product development, production, distribution, marketing, merchandising and customer fulfillment revolves. The product’s public release date also typically marks the point of peak customer demand and sales.

Tremendous energy and excitement
builds in advance of a release.
Harness the energy with presales.
There’s a tremendous amount of built-up energy tied to that single product release date. Think of that single product release date as an atom. Our invention splits the atom to unleash that energy for the product creator’s benefit.

In the features of Smashwords Presales launched today, for example, the author has the option to create a private presale they can choose to make available only to subscribers of their private newsletter. This gives readers a strong incentive to subscribe, and when readers subscribe the author gains a double benefit – not only do they gain a high-margin sale, they’re also building an author- or publisher-controlled marketing platform where their relationship with the reader is no longer mediated by a retailer. The option to require the customer to digitally sign an anti-piracy pledge illustrates another positive implication – the opportunity for the product creator to exchange one thing of value to the customer (early access to a book) for something that’s of value to the author (customer email address, reduced piracy). The patent envisions myriad conditional access requirements that can be applied for the mutual benefit of customers, product creators and retailers.

The Smashwords patent application envisions a future ecommerce where product creators, and the retailers and distributors that support them, can collaborate on the launch of new products where, in addition to the public release date, there can be one or more early release dates, referred to in the patent application as prepurchase events. It fundamentally transforms the conventional temporal timeline for new product introductions, and along with that transformation comes exciting new opportunities for product creators and retailers to generate greater customer excitement, target different customer segments more effectively with custom marketing campaigns, and to raise the visibility of new product launches.

Although the patent application – if granted – would provide Smashwords the exclusive right to exploit the invention as described in the application for a period of 20 years, it is not our intention to keep this to ourselves. Smashwords is but a small fish in the small ocean that is book publishing.

Millions of new products and services are brought to market each year via ecommerce. The invention raises the prospect that each of those new product introductions could sport multiple, customizable public or private product launch events. We’re confident that such orchestrated presale events will eventually be recognized as an essential best practice for all new product launches, just as preorders are today. We think readers will find presales more exciting than preorders.

What’s good for the creators of ebooks is also good for the creators of audiobooks, print books, digital music, games, software applications, art, consumer electronics, apparel, financial services, hospitality services and any other new product or service that can be listed, marketed, launched, and released early via online retail.

The global market for ecommerce, measured by the value of products and services sold online, is over $4 trillion annually. In the U.S. alone, the market is nearly $600 billion. A sizable percentage of these annual sales are derived from new product introductions that can directly benefit from our invention.

Smashwords Patent Licensing

We want to accelerate the adoption and commercialization of the invention across the industry so every product creator, retailer, distributor and customer can benefit from this. This means that in addition to our desire to make this invention available to Smashwords partners, competitors and others in the book publishing industry, we also want to make the invention available to product creators, retailers and distributors outside of publishing.

Therefore, effective immediately, we’ll begin opening up licensing discussions with online retailers inside and outside of book publishing. Since the patent has not been granted yet, it means we’ll be licensing trade secrets, technology and know-how to help retailers build elements of the invention into their platforms so product creators can take advantage of it.

As described in great detail in the patent filing, retailers and distributors have enormous flexibility to build the invention into their existing platforms, and then to use it as a foundation for further innovation and collaboration across the supply chain.

Retailer licensees will be offered the ability to issue limited sublicenses of the invention to their distributors, aggregators and product suppliers. Licensing inquiries can be directed to my attention at

What Comes Next

The first major retailer or subscription service to adopt this will gain the ability to onboard a lot of exclusive product listings, and to harness the energy and excitement of early access.

In the meantime, we’re not waiting for potential licensees to recognize the potential and build this into their platforms. Smashwords Presales is available today in the Smashwords Store. In the months and years ahead you’ll see Smashwords continue to build out Smashwords Presales with additional first-of-their-kind capabilities covered within the patent application.


By Claire Youmans

(2014, 2019; American I Publishing)

Her only choice is to run away. But if she can’t return in time, she’ll be an outcast for life!

Japan, 1870. For bird-girl Azuki, being dual-natured is dangerous. With a greedy overlord coveting her beautiful Toki feathers, she attempts to keep her head down. But when he murders her parents in a failed kidnapping, Azuki’s only escape is to spread her wings and take to the skies. 

Sparrow-boy Shota has no time to grieve. As his mother dies in his arms, he makes a promise to find his sister and warn her that she must come back. For unless Shota and Azuki make it home by the quarter-day, they’ll lose their chance to return forever. 

As he barters his way across the country, the obstacles of ogres, storms, and time stand between two siblings and their hopes of citizenship and happiness.

In a rapidly-modernizing world, can Azuki and Shota return before they’re banished without a place to call home?

Coming Home is the enchanting first novel in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like mythical creatures, unique folklore, and fast-paced adventure, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ captivating tale from the Meiji Era.

Buy Coming Home to watch two siblings battle for their rights today!

By Claire Youmans

(2015, 2019; American I Publishing)

A bird-girl may fly between two worlds. But to protect her future, she must reclaim her human rights.

Japan, 1871. Toki-girl Azuki wants to share her talents with Japan’s changing world. But without proper status in her community, she can only watch and worry as war engulfs her beloved homeland. So, when she unearths a priceless treasure, she hopes she’s found the key that could stop the fighting and win her heart’s desire.

Embarking on a treacherous journey to the provincial capital to secure her lord’s approval, Azuki and her sparrow-boy brother join forces with a kindly warrior monk. But with hawk-like demons on the attack and bandits lurking behind every tree, she fears the peaceful land she loves could be lost forever.

Will Azuki defeat the demonic forces to reclaim her rights and her home?

Chasing Dreams is the thrilling second book in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like heroes from folklore, fiendish enemies, and action-packed adventures, you’ll love Claire Youmans’ mythical story, another tale from the Meiji Era.​

Buy Chasing Dreams to see a heroine fight for her future today!

By Claire Youmans

(2016, 2019; American I Publishing)

She loves to weave. Her brother dreams of sailing. But can two powerful siblings keep their way of life alive?

Japan, 1872. Dual-natured bird-girl Azuki delights in making her highly desirable woven kimonos. But something about her intricate loom work is making her sick. And even worse, the illness has spread to her majestic Toki plumage.

Sparrow-boy Shota worries that his friendship with the Dragon Princess is waning. With his sister falling desperately ill, he hopes to impress the royal dragon-girl by tracking down the legendary crane-woman who can heal Azuki. And as soon as she’s recovered, he can follow his ambition to become a master mariner and help sail Azuki’s gorgeous fabrics to far-flung destinations.

But with Shota’s perilous journey attracting the attention of foreign invaders and giant sea monsters, his adventure to save his sister and impress his friend could end up at the bottom of the ocean.

Can Shota, Azuki, and their dragon friends join forces to survive the turmoil and protect their dreams?

Together is the third book in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like classical Japanese folklore, enchanting characters, and heroic journeys, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ captivating tale from the Meiji Era.

Buy Together today to watch unlikely friends work to save their homeland!

By Claire Youmans

(2017, 2019; American I Publishing)

He was a warrior monk.  Now he’s wearing a western business suit. But will he risk his family’s future to fight for what’s right?

Japan, 1873. Yuta struggles to keep up with both his country’s rapid changes and his magical niece and nephew. And though he likes the look of his fancy new western suit, it doesn’t seem to fit with his trusted old-school weapons. But when he travels to a major event in Japan’s history, he’ll need both business and blade to survive.

As Yuta rides on the exciting new train he sees Japan’s industrial advances bearing down on his way of life at breakneck speed. While he tries to embrace the change, watching a textile factory mistreat its indentured workers makes the ex-monk’s blood boil.

Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure is the fourth book in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, historical fantasy series. If you like intriguing conflicts, clashes of culture, and rich Japanese settings, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ well-crafted novel from the Meiji Era.​

Buy Uncle Yuta has An Adventure to watch a monk turned teacher keep his family from drowning in waves of progress!