By Mark Coker

Imagine if your indie ebook was purchasable by thousands of public libraries around the globe.  Now imagine no more.

Smashwords today announced an agreement to supply more than 200,000 titles to OverDrive, the world’s largest library ebook platform.

OverDrive powers the ebook procurement and checkout systems for 20,000 public libraries around the world, including 90% of US public libraries.

This agreement marks a watershed moment for indie authors, libraries and library patrons around the world.

It’s also a big deal for thousands of small independent presses around the globe who now have a convenient onramp into the OverDrive network.

Millions of library patrons will now have access to the amazing diversity and quality of the Smashwords catalog.

At a time when many large publishers are charging libraries high prices for ebooks (front list ebooks from Big 5 publishers can cost libraries $80, and even backlist ebooks can cost libraries $20-40), Smashwords authors and publishers are stepping in to supply thousands of affordably priced, library-friendly ebooks.  Faced with the option of purchasing a single James Patterson novel for around $40.00, or ten thrillers from today’s most popular indie authors at $4.00 each, libraries now have exciting new options to build patron-pleasing ebook collections.

To help librarians streamline collection development, in the weeks ahead OverDrive and Smashwords will create curated buy-lists lists libraries can use to purchase the most popular indie authors and titles. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the top 100 YA fantasy novels (approximate price: ~$400), or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances (~$4,000) or top 200 complete series across multiple categories (~$2,000), or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs.  With most of our bestsellers priced priced at or under $4.00, you can do the math to appreciate how incredibly affordable these collections will be.  We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.

Our lists will measure title popularity by aggregating sales data from across the Smashwords distribution network.  Indie authors: If you needed yet another reason to fully distribute all your titles to all retailers via the Smashwords distribution network, now you have it.  Stand up and have your sales counted because we want to help libraries purchase the greatest diversity of high-quality ebooks across multiple genres and categories.

Here are a couple additional stats to help you appreciate the massive scale of the OverDrive network:
Library patrons borrowed more than 102 million digital titles across the OverDrive network in 2013, up 44% over 2012.
OverDrive delivered over 1.8 billion cover image impressions to library patrons in 2013, up almost 70% from 2012.  This gives authors incredible exposure and branding to readers searching for their next read.
Per our agreement with OverDrive, libraries will lend purchased ebooks under the one copy/one user model, meaning each copy they purchase can be checked to only one reader at a time.  This is the same licensing arrangement we use for books we distribute via Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 service which we launched two years ago.  Once a patron’s borrowing time expires, the book is ready to be checked out by another patron.

Library patrons at OverDrive are able to recommend titles to their library from the Smashwords catalog, which will help libraries round out their collections.

Alternately, if a library ebook is already checked out, patrons will be presented with the option to purchase the ebook through a link on participating libraries’ websites through OverDrive’s “Buy It Now” feature. In this sense, the OverDrive library network becomes an ebook retailer for popular books.  The library also earns a commission in the process.

Libraries are engines of book discovery.  Libraries buy ebooks.  Library patrons buy ebooks.  According to a Pew research study in 2012, 41% of library cardholders who read ebooks purchased their most recently read ebook.  Indie authors who distribute to libraries will not only sell books to libraries, but they’ll also sell more books at retail as their readership grows.

Smashwords distributes many of the world’s bestselling indie authors, including numerous New York Times and USA Today bestsellers. Among the many bestselling Smashwords authors available to OverDrive libraries are Amy Miles, Brian S. Pratt, Chanda Hahn (Chanda is a former librarian!  Read her story here), Colleen Hoover, GJ Walker-Smith, Jamie McGuire, JD Nixon, Kirsty Moseley, Kristen Ashley, Lauren Blakely, Melody Grace, Natasha Preston, Quinn Loftis, R.L. Mathewson, Randolph Lalonde, Shayne Parkinson and T.C. Southwell.

The full Smashwords Premium Catalog of non-erotica titles is eligible for the distribution to OverDrive.

Smashwords authors and publishers can set custom library prices through the Smashwords Dashboard’s Pricing Manager feature.  Many Smashwords authors, in a show of support for public libraries, setting lower-than-retail prices for libraries.

Smashwords authors will earn 45% of the library list price they set.

OverDrive does not support prices under $1.99 due to per-checkout transaction fees OverDrive must pay to their DRM vendor.  Therefore Smashwords books priced under $1.99 – including FREE titles – will be priced at $1.99 at OverDrive.  Even at $1.99, this low price represents a tremendous value for libraries that are accustomed to paying 20-40 times more for a single title.

OverDrive has already completed ingestion of the first 100,000 Smashwords ebooks.  Books will become purchasable by Overdrive libraries as early as this Friday or next week.

All non-erotica Premium Catalog books are automatically opted in to OverDrive distribution.  If any Smashwords authors or publishers wish to opt out of OverDrive distribution (not recommended!), they should do so via their Dashboard’s Channel Manager feature before Thursday end of day to prevent titles from appearing for sale at OverDrive.  Of course, authors and publishers have the freedom to opt out at any time.  Later today I’ll send an email to all Smashwords authors and publishers notifying them about this exciting new distribution opportunity.

I anticipate OverDrive will complete loading the remaining 100,000+ titles to over the next 4-8 weeks.

Smashwords Authors, Here’s What you Can Do to Support Your Local Libraries
Distribute your full list of titles to OverDrive
Let your fans know that your books will soon be purchasable by 20,000 libraries around the world (remember, erotica is not distributed to OverDrive). Encourage your fans to contact their local library and ask them to order your books!
In the next few weeks, make a point to visit your local library and introduce yourself.  Let them know you’re a local author, and your books will soon be available on OverDrive (please keep in mind that it’ll still be several weeks before OverDrive completes the ingestion of our massive catalog so it’s possible not all of your titles are immediately available).
Offer to hold a book reading event at your library.  Or better yet, partner with other local Smashwords authors to collaborate on a multi-author reading event.  If your author friends are not yet distributing via Smashwords, show them how.  Here’s a link to my videos on YouTube that will help them learn to publish like a pro at Smashwords – http://youtube.com/user/Smashwords
Offer to present a free workshop at your library on how to professionally self-publish an ebook.  Be sure to promote your workshop to local media and event calendar listings.  Help mentor the next generation of library-friendly authors and have fun in the process!  You’re welcome to take my Powerpoint presentations and customize them for your own purposes.  Here’s a link to the two presentations I gave at the Los Gatos High School, in partnership with the Los Gatos Library, educating the students about ebook publishing for their amazing Windows to the Teenage Soul project (a great example of how libraries can partner with local schools to promote a culture of authorship).  The project has received nationwide press attention (see the story that came out yesterday in School Library Journal or see my write-up here at the Smashwords blog).
Many libraries face constant budget pressures.  The work they do is important!  Partner with your fellow authors to support your local library.  If you’re a member of a writing or critique group, support your library as a group.  Offer to hold book launch parties at the library once they have a copy of your ebook in their OverDrive collection.  Ask your local librarian what you and your fellow indies can do to support their good work.  Maybe a library fund raiser?  Contact your local city’s mayor and state political representatives and tell them how vitally important your local library is to your community.

Librarians, Here’s How You Can Support the Indie Author Community

1.  If you’re on OverDrive, check out our books!  Talk with your OverDrive rep.  We’ll be building recommended buy-lists in the coming weeks, so let us know your wishlists for categories and list sizes (or leave suggestions below).

2.  Promote indie authorship in your community.  This is your chance to support the next generation of library-friendly authors.  Libraries have always done a fantastic job promoting literacy and a culture of books.  Now’s your chance to promote a culture of authorship. Hold ebook publishing workshops.  Read my story at the Huffington Post about how the Los Gatos Public Library held a series of educational workshops for library patrons, aspiring authors and library staff.  Download my Ebook Publishing in the Classroom presentation which I gave as part of Los Gatos High School’s Windows to the Teenage Soul project (mentioned above) in partnership with Los Gatos Public Library (and feel free modify these presentations for your patron-training purposes).  Download the presentation I gave last month at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference titled, Launch Community Publishing Initiatives with Self-Published Ebooks.

3.  Partner with Smashwords to launch your very own co-branded publishing portal.  It’s free.  Click the “support” link at the Smashwords Website to request our fact sheet with instructions. You’ll simply provide us two marketing images.  We’ll place one of the Smashwords signup page and the other on the Smashwords Publish page.  We’ll provide you a custom hyperlink to the Smashwords sign-up page that you’ll place on your website.  Every time the author uploads a new title to Smashwords, they’ll be reminded of their association with your library.  Our ebook publishing services are FREE to you and your patrons.  We handle everything via our self-serve platform.  We don’t employ sales people and we don’t sell anything.  We earn 100% of our income on sales commissions which run only 10% of book’s list price for retail and library sales.  Our entire business is oriented around empowering writers with free ebook publishing services, best practices knowledge, and an ever-growing global distribution network of retail outlets and libraries.  Click here to learn why Smashwords is the world’s #1 ebook publishing and distribution platform!

The news of our agreement is getting picked up everywhere.  Here’s an alpha-sorted sampling of some of the stories that have appeared in the last few hours (please share on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere!):

Crains Cleveland Business by Scott Suttell – OverDrive in partnership with Smashwords to  add self-published ebooks to public libraries

GalleyCat/MediaBistro by Dianna Dilworth – Smashwords Books Are Coming to a Library Near You

GigaOm by Laura Hazard Owen – Self-published ebook site Smashwords expands to more libraries in deal with Overdrive

GoodEreader by Mercy Pilkington – Smashwords, OverDrive Bring Indie Titles to Libraries

Infodocket by Gary Price – OverDrive and Smashwords Announce Distribution Deal

Publishers Weekly by Calvin Reid – Smashwords, OverDrive Ink Distribution Deal
Teleread by Susan Lulgjaraj – Smashwords partners with OverDrive
The Digital Reader by Nate  Hoffelder – Self-published eBooks Coming to a Library Near You

Official joint press release by OverDrive/Smashwords – Smashwords and OverDrive in Worldwide Ebook Distribution Agreement

Special Thanks

My thanks to OverDrive founder Steve Potash (uber library ebook pioneer!) and the entire team at Overdrive for their hard work that made this relationship possible.

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