Saturday, February 28, 2009

Expanding my ebook presence online at Smashwords

For some time I've understood the potential of marketing my fantasy novels to readers of ebooks if they could be included in the catalog of an online ebook retailer. Until now I have been shy about this course because many barriers are in place at most ebook retailers.

One barrier is the outright exclusion of self published work. Similar to this is the requirement that an ebook be given an ISBN to be listed. As a publisher I have ISBN numbers but I have only been assigning them to print products. I can't quite imagine why I would need an ISBN for an ebook because it is not like some retailer somewhere is scanning a barcode at checkout time for an ebook. Also, if I were to assign an ISBN to an ebook, I would have to do it for each format, which would get expensive very quickly. ISBNs cost money, you know.

Another typical barrier is a listing fee. Because I am religiously cheap and reserve my marketing dollars for getting people to my websites, I have not taken this route. And finally, some retailers just give terrible terms. Listing my titles at the Amazon Kindle store will only get me a 35 percent share of the retail price. Insulting -- especially because Amazon already gives me 45 percent on my paperbacks.

These various barriers have directed me to an emerging ebook publishing and retail site called Smashwords.

Smashwords, founded by Mark Coker, appears to be positioning itself to benefit writers, publishers, and readers. What a concept. Writers can publish their work as ebooks and connect with a print on demand service. According to a recent interview with Coker at Teleread, Smashwords will soon be supporting publishers who produce multiple authors. Smashwords is so great for self publishing writers and publishers because it gives an 85 percent share of sales minus payment processing fees. Now, that is something worth looking at as a business person. Now how is Smashwords reaching out to ebook readers? It does this by encouraging publishers to offer free samples, producing ebooks in numerous formats, and skipping all the digital rights management (DRM) encryption nonsense that often confuses or annoys customers.

Smashwords is a relatively new service, and right now it is building its catalog and is only entering the phase of improving its merchandising. A big barrier to its success is the fact that anyone can publish here. So, its catalog is filled with a bunch of unknowns. The problem with aggregated self published works is that some might be good and some might be junk. But I suppose that describes the entire publishing industry and all bookstores. Just because something was self published does not mean that it is bad. Just because a publisher selected a book for production does not mean that it is any good. Still, it is difficult to get any marketing traction without any big names, but with the Smashwords system being opened up to actual publishing companies, the system could fill up with titles that have some name recognition. Smashwords certainly presents a fantastic system for a publisher looking for an ebook distribution system at an affordable price.

Another aspect of Smashwords that got me to sign up was the integration of its catalog with the Stanza ebook application that is popular with iPhone users. Apparently ebooks are getting read on smart phones, so joining Smashwords gives me extra visibility to this potential audience.

I look forward to seeing the development of Smashwords. I have added Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I to Smashwords. I am listing it as a free ebook just like at my website. Over the next days I will be adding the rest of The Rys Chronicles novels to Smashwords.

Check out Smashwords and read my free fantasy novel.