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Smashwords Previews Breakthrough ebook Publishing Platform Where Authors Control the Pricing, Sampling and Marketing of Their Works
Feb 11, 2008 (08:02 AM EST)


NEW YORK, Feb. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- O'Reilly Tools of Change -- Smashwords, a new digital publishing startup, today previewed a breakthrough ebook publishing platform for authors and publishers at the O'Reilly Tools of Change publishing conference in New York City. The company began accepting applications today for a limited number of beta testers at http://www.smashwords.com .

Smashwords allows anyone to become a published ebook author in minutes. The site is ideal for full length novels, short fiction, essays, poetry, personal memoirs, non-fiction and screenplays. Authors receive 85% the net sales proceeds from their works, and retain full control over sampling, pricing and marketing.

The site offers authors free viral marketing tools to build readership, such as precent-based sampling; dedicated pages for author profiles and book profiles; support for embedded YouTube book trailers, author interviews and video blogs; widgets for off-site marketing; reader reviews; and reader "favoriting."

"We plan to do for ebook authors what YouTube did for amateur video producers," said Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, based in Los Gatos, Calif. "We make digital publishing simple and profitable for authors and publishers."

For fans of the written word, Smashwords provides an opportunity to discover new voices in literature, poetry and non-fiction. The site offers useful tools for search, discovery, and personal library-building.

It's easy to publish on Smashwords. Authors simply upload the word processing file of their work to the site; assign sampling rights to make up to 99% of the book available as a free sample; and then assign pricing (including the "Radiohead" honor system option where authors let customers decide what to pay). Smashwords automatically converts the book into multiple DRM-free ebook formats (.txt., .rtf, .mobi, .epub, .pdf), making the book available for download or online reading.

The inspiration for Smashwords grew out of founder Mark Coker's frustrations as an aspiring novelist. In 2002, Coker and his wife, Lesleyann, co-authored a roman a clef novel entitled Boob Tube that explores the behind- the-scenes world of daytime television soap operas (Lesleyann is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine). Despite two years of representation from one of New York City's most respected literary agencies, their agent was unable to land a book deal. Some publishers said they rejected the manuscript because they questioned whether soap opera fans read books.

Coker concluded that in today's digital age, there's no reason why authors shouldn't be able to publish anything they want - and readers should determine what's worth reading, not just publishers. He also determined that ebooks were the solution to enable low-cost, universal publishing for the benefit of authors and readers around the world. Thus Smashwords was born.

"The traditional book publishing industry is broken from the perspective of authors, readers and publishers," Coker says. "Most authors are never published. Authors lucky enough to land a book deal rarely sell enough books to earn royalties beyond their initial $5,000 to $10,000 advance. Trade publishers lose money on nearly 80% of the books they publish because of the high costs of production, warehousing, distribution and marketing. Further dampening profitability for authors and publishers is the fact that bookstores often return up to 50% of their unsold inventory for a full refund."

"I think ebooks will become increasingly important to the book publishing industry, and will make books more affordable to a worldwide audience," continued Coker. "By digitizing a book, authors and publishers can immortalize their works, making them permanently discoverable to new audiences. For authors and publishers of out of print books, ebooks offer a great way to bring these works back to life."

According to a survey published in May 2007 by the Association of American Publishers, ebooks are the fastest growing category of books in an otherwise moribund book publishing industry, clocking an average five year annualized sales growth rate of 65% vs. the overall industry average growth of 2.4 %. However, ebooks represent only two tenths of one percent of the overall US book market. Despite the rapid growth of ebooks, they have not yet achieved their full potential. Several factors have conspired to dampen the acceptance of ebooks:

1. Many publishers insist on crippling their ebooks with draconian digital rights management (DRM) schemes and proprietary file formats in a misguided attempt to reduce piracy. Consumers, however, resent being treated like criminals. They want the freedom to read the book on the multiple devices, or print the book at their home computer. 2. Most ebooks are overpriced. Consumers understand that ebooks cost publishers a fraction of what it costs to print and ship a print book, so they expect digital books to be priced differently (with Smashwords, an author or publisher can sell an ebook for $4.95 and make a per-unit profit tens times higher than if they had published a mass market paperback for $6.95). Publishers have insisted on high prices because they fear ebook sales will cannibalize print sales. While industry experts debate the veracity of this fear, with Smashwords, authors and publishers can earn higher per-unit profits at lower costs to consumers. 3. Digital books aren't paper. Although digital books hold great promise, it's tough to match the readability, portability and simplicity of a paper book. Yet over the last few years, significant advances in digital ink and LCD computer displays have begun to narrow the gap. At the current rate of technology advance, it's not unreasonable to expect that digital screen technology will soon approximate or supersede print on paper. The latest generation of ebook reading devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, the IREX Iliad and the Sony Reader, for example, deliver a satisfying reading experience for most people. Nevertheless, it's not necessary for digital books to supplant paper books. The two represent complementary means of consumption.

Background on Smashwords Founder, Mark Coker

Mark Coker is an entrepreneur, author and angel investor based in Los Gatos, California. He has a track record of leveraging the power of the Internet to bring positive social change.

His previous startup, BestCalls.com, which he launched in 1999, set out to level the playing field for small stock market investors who at the time were denied access to the earnings conference calls of publicly traded companies. At BestCalls, he championed fair disclosure and argued small investors deserved to receive market-moving information at the same time as big Wall Street investors. His work served as a catalyst for the SEC's ground breaking Regulation FD, which mandated a level playing field for all investors. BestCalls was acquired in 2002 by Shareholder.com and is now owned and operated by the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. See this link to Wikipedia for more background on his work at BestCalls.

In 2002, he and his wife, Lesleyann, began writing Boob Tube, a novel that explores the behind-the-scenes world of daytime television soap operas. Boob Tube is published on Smashwords.

In addition to his work with Smashwords, Mark serves on the advisory board for, and is an investor in, Flatworld Knowledge, a provider of open source textbooks.

Since 1993, Mark has owned Dovetail Public Relations, an award-winning Silicon Valley PR firm. Mark looks forward to translating his marketing knowledge into the book marketing tools offered at Smashwords.

About Smashwords, Inc.

Founded in 2007, privately held Smashwords operates an online self- publishing platform for authors of ebooks and screenplays. Smashwords allows anyone to become a published author in minutes. The free service puts authors in full control over the marketing, pricing, sampling and licensing of their works. In addition to receiving exposure to hundreds of thousands of potential readers, authors receive 85% of the net proceeds from sales of their works. For traditional publishers of print books, Smashwords offers a compelling distribution channel through which they can digitize their entire portfolio of frontlist, backlist and out-of-print books. For readers, Smashwords offers the opportunity to discover exciting new voices in fiction and non-fiction. Smashwords, Inc. is based in Los Gatos, California, and can be reached on the web at http://www.smashwords.com .

Media Contacts: Bryan Ferarro/Corey Oiesen Dovetail Public Relations smashwords at dovetailpr dot com 408.395.3600

CONTACT: Bryan Ferarro or Corey Oiesen, both of Dovetail Public Relations,smashwords at dovetailpr dot com, +1-408-395-3600

Web site: http://www.smashwords.com/