Smashwords Year in Review 2014 and Plans for 2015

By Mark Coker

Each year I provide Smashwords authors and publishers a review of our progress in the year as well as hints of our plans for the coming year.  So here goes.
smashwords growth 2008-2014

2014 marked another exciting year for Smashwords as we create new ebook distribution tools and capabilities that give our authors and publishers a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

If you’re new to Smashwords, a brief introduction to Smashwords is in order.

I founded Smashwords in 2008 to empower writers to become professional self-publishers.  I wanted to transfer the power of publishing from publishers to authors.  Back in 2008, large publishers controlled the printing press, the knowledge of professional publishing, and the all-important access to retail distribution.  Publishers had the power to determine your fate as an author.  No more.  I wanted to make authors the captains of their own destiny.

Over the last six going on seven years, Smashwords introduced our free ebook printing press, Meatgrinder, which made it possible for any writer anywhere to publish an ebook in minutes; we opened distribution for the first time to major retailers and library partners that were previously inaccessible to self-published authors; we developed sophisticated yet easy-to-use publishing tools that help writers and small indie presses publish with pride and professionalism; we worked to actively educate our authors and publishers how to leverage best practices to publish with greater success; and we’ve been fierce (but friendly!) advocates for the rights and long term interests of the indie author community.

We exist to serve our authors and publishers, and we serve you by developing tools and relationships that help you publish faster, smarter and more effectively. Our time-saving tools help you spend more time writing and producing and less time managing multiple upload platforms.

In the years since we launched, Smashwords has grown to become the world’s largest distributor of self-published books.  To the extent we’ve been successful is entirely thanks to the continued support of the authors, publishers and retailers we serve.  You’re running a business, and we realize you work with Smashwords by choice, not by necessity.  Through continuous improvement of everything we do, we will always work to earn and deserve your continued business, trust and partnership.

So let’s take a look at our progress for the year.

Among our service milestones for the year:
New distribution channels – We added new distribution partners including OverDrive, the world’s largest ebook supplier serving over 20,000 public libraries, and Txtr, a European retailer.  New partners Oyster and Scribd were brought fully online.
Faster distributions – Working in close partnership with all our retail partners, Smashwords dramatically increased the speed and reliability of our distribution systems in 2014.  We’re now shipping multiple times daily to most of our retailers, and near-real time to iBooks, where, for example, and it’s not uncommon for authors to upload a book to Smashwords and see it appear at iBooks the same day.  Faster distributions of new titles and metadata updates give our authors more control over their publishing.
Faster sales reporting – We improved the speed of sales reporting.  In May, we introduced our Daily Sales tool which provides next-day and same-day sales reporting from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, OverDrive and Kobo.
Added EPUB 3 support – Smashwords now accepts EPUB3 files as part of our Smashwords Direct feature.  EPUB3 gives authors and publishers greater language support and text layout options, including right to left reading and vertical reading.
We helped more authors realize their full potential – Smashwords authors bring us their talent, and we give them tools to help realize the full potential of their talent.  Multiple Smashwords authors hit retailer bestseller lists in 2015 as well as national lists such as New York Times and USA Today, aided in part by the power of Smashwords preorders to iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and also supported by enhanced metadata tools such as Smashwords Series Manager which improves series discoverability at retailers.
Diversification pays off – Our broad distribution network helped authors and publishers diversify their exposure to an industry-wide slowdown in ebook retailing.  Strong merchandising support for Smashwords authors by our wonderful colleagues at iBooks combined with sales growth from new distribution partners FlipKart, OverDrive; Oyster and Scribd helped many Smashwords authors and publishers have a great year.
Diversification pays off again – Authors who fully distributed their titles with Smashwords were partially insulated from the dramatic sales drops many Amazon authors reported following the introduction of Kindle Unlimited.  If you know indie authors who only upload to Amazon, invite them to diversify their distribution with Smashwords.
Among our business milestones for the year:
Title growth – The Smashwords catalog grew to 336,400 titles, up 60,300 titles or 22% during the year from 276,100 at the end of 2013.
Word count – Smashwords helped indie authors and small independent presses publish over 2.5 billion words in 2015, up 26% to over 12 billion words!
Author growth – Smashwords now serves over 100,000 indie authors and small independent presses around the globe.
Profitability – For the fourth year in a row, Smashwords maintained profitability.  Profitability is important to our authors and publishers because it allows us to reinvest in the development of new tools and capabilities to serve our authors and publishers.  We continue to achieve this profitability by aligning our interests 100% with the interests of our authors, publishers, retailers and readers.  Unlike many competing self-publishing services organizations, we don’t employ sales people and we don’t sell services or publishing packages.  We only make money if we help our authors and publishers sell books.
26 team members to serve you – We end the year with a team of 26 full-time professionals, up from 23 in 2013, 19 in 2012, 13 in 2011 and 3 in 2010.  This year we made significant investments in technology, distribution systems and finance.
Independence – Smashwords remains entirely self-funded without the assistance or interference of outside investors.
ALLi Award – The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) named Smashwords its service provider of the year, in recognition for the depth and breadth of our distribution capabilities, our advocacy for authors and our relentless commitment to continuous service improvement to empower the success of indie authors worldwide.
INC 500 – INC Magazine named Smashwords to its INC 500 list of America’s fastest growing private companies.  They named Smashwords the #1 fastest-growing media company.  Full credit for this accomplishment goes to Smashwords authors and publishers!
Bowker survey – Bowker, in their annual survey of self-publishing services, named Smashwords the #1 producer of ebooks in the U.S.  View the report here (opens a PDF)
Forbes America’s Most Promising Companies – Forbes Magazine, for the second year running, named Smashwords to its list of America’s Top 100 Most Promising Companies.
Despite our accomplishments in 2014, we’re not finished pushing the envelope.  We still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.  Our roadmap for 2015 and beyond is exciting.

Here are some hints to our direction.  In 2015, our authors and publishers can expect to see continuous improvements across every part of our business, including:
New distribution and merchandising tools that make your books more discoverable and desirable by readers
New price management tools that give our authors and publishers more granular control over pricing in multiple currencies and territories
New retailer additions to the Smashwords distribution network serving retailers and libraries
Improved, more intuitive sales reporting
An upgraded Meatgrinder to improve the ease and capabilities of our flagship ebook conversion tool
Improved search for the Smashwords retail store
… and some fun surprises that will set the stage for even greater things to come.
On behalf of the entire team at Smashwords I want to thank you for your continued trust, partnership and inspiration.  We’re looking forward to serving you in 2015!



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