Friday, August 10, 2012

The Survivors

A friend of mine is a science fiction fan from way back. She has read most of my novels, and she gives me grief whenever I kill off a character. And yet, she once recommended the Tom Godwin sci-fi classic (1958!) novel The Survivors to me.  In spite of the name, the kill rate in that book is worthy of Stephen King.

The story didn't work for me mostly because from the vantage point of a few extra decades I could see the Cold War polemic nature of the story— no matter how hard you try, you can't kill us off! But it did provide an illustration of the point that when you are threatened by a radical shift in your environment, you have to act fast to survive; whining does no good at all.

Smashwords is a good illustration of the fact that forward-thinking actions work better than backward-looking wailing about change. Smashwords is a self-publishing platform for ebooks that started as something of a shoestring operation in 2008 with 140 titles. In fact, it started because Mark Coker, the founder and CEO, had had no luck getting a nonfiction book (written by him and his wife) published, and that made him assess the state of publishing. Smashwords managed to make a profit after only two years in operation because Coker realized that he (and his authors) could make more money selling ebooks through more established retail outlets like iBooks, Sony, and Barnes and Noble than by expecting readers to find his site. According to an article in Forbes, Smashwords expects to pull in $12 million in revenue this year and make a pretax profit of near $1 million. That's rapid growth!

And Smashwords is so not standing still! They're up to 127,000 titles, and they keep adding retail outlets. Recently they added a channel to sell ebooks to libraries. They do all this and still manage to review every book that is loaded to their platform to make sure the formatting isn't garbage; a book can't go into the premium catalog (and thus to retail outlets) if it looks bad. As I posted about earlier, they can get a book that has passed review onto iBooks in just over a week, and my latest title took only three days to make the premium catalog! The only problem they have (aside from slow sales reports back from retailers) is they need to redesign their distribution channel screen.  It's getting crowded!

Amazon is one of their outlets, but that company has not yet developed a bulk load process for Smashwords so the only Smashwords books on Amazon are the big sellers. Most authors are better off using KDP to publish in the Kindle store and using Smashwords for the other retailers.

In short, a tiny start-up has become a success by looking around, realizing publishing had changed, and taking advantage of the changes. Smashwords is a survivor!

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