Smashwords: World’s Largest Distributor of Self-published Ebooks

Apr 18, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Going Green, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terry Ambrose

One of the players affecting the changes in the publishing industry is Smashwords. Founder and CEO Mark Coker expected the company to be popular, but even he has been surprised by the success.

“Smashwords has exceeded my expectations on a number of fronts,” Coker said. “When I launched Smashwords in 2008, I wanted to make it fast, free and easy for any writer, anywhere in the world, to self-publish an ebook. I had no idea we’d go on to become the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks.”


Mark Coker

In 2008, Coker said ebooks accounted for only about 0.5% percent of the book market. He added, “I never expected the market to grow so quickly. Today ebooks account for 20-30% of book sales, and for some genres like romance ebooks probably account for over 50%.”

The market for self-published books closely mimics that of the traditional publishing industry with most books not selling well and a few making it to the bestseller lists. One of those bestselling authors is Chanda Hahn, whose Unfortunate Fairy Tale series has made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

bookHahn described how Smashwords helped her career. “Mark Coker has grown Smashwords exponentially over the years and I’m proud at how hard he works to give his authors the best he can. The best royalty rates, a continually growing list of e-book vendors and the ability to do pre orders, which has been a huge asset in helping me hit the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists along with winning awards and recognition across all platforms and countries.”

Feeling that Smashwords gave her the tools she needed, Hahn added, “I had a voice and a story that I wanted heard, and when traditional routes were getting me nowhere, I tried Smashwords and overnight my story was heard loud and clear across the world.”

The company mission at Smashwords is to help authors get read by readers. Coker said, “You’ll see us continue to provide writers with free, easy-to-use tools that help writers publish with greater pride, professionalism and success. We’ll continue to innovate so our tools become faster, easier to use and more effective. We’ve got an exciting development roadmap planned for the next few years. Our goal is to help authors who publish with Smashwords be more successful than authors who do not.”

Elizabeth Spann Craig is an author who joined Smashwords in 2011. She publishes independently, but also writes for Midnight Ink and two Penguin imprints. A full-time writer, Craig sees several advantages to having her books on Smashwords. “I have the ability to list a book as free on Smashwords, which ensures that Amazon will price-match the free listing. This listing serves as a perma-free marketing funnel for my self-published series. The second biggest pro is that Smashwords handles uploading my book to large and small ebook distributors/retailers.”book

Wide distribution was once only possible through the big publishing houses. Coker said, “If a writer couldn’t sell their book to a publisher, it was impossible for them to reach a lot of readers. Today, self published authors are in the cool kids club. The move to digital made it possible—desirable even—for every major ebookstore to carry every self-published ebook. This democratized distribution revolutionized the publishing industry.”

Where independent authors once wore the stigma of being self-published, they now call themselves “indie authors.” Is this just marketing hype or is there something tangible behind the catchphrase?

Amy Miles is another of Smashwords’ best selling authors and agrees that the stigma has largely disappeared. She said, “A couple of years ago the words ‘self-publishing’ and ‘indie author’ definitely left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths. It was seen as the easy way into publishing and the idea was put forward that indie authors were not paying their dues. Today I believe that stigma has greatly shifted, helped along by the fact that many wildly popular traditional authors have begun to self-publish some of their own books.”

Reasons Miles cited for her shift to independent publishing include freedom to control the content, covers, and pricing. Miles added, “Authors can now blend genres together that would never fit into a traditional box. Are indie authors part of the ‘cool kids club?’ Definitely! And that club continues to grow every day!”book

Coker sees several reasons why indie authors are gaining market share, including attempts to pioneer best practices for professional authorship and the consolidation of New York publishers. Unlike Amazon’s “winner-take-all” war against traditional publishers, Coker believes traditional publishers are still valuable. He said, ”I don’t view publishers as competitors. I want publishers to be successful, because they create new opportunities for our authors.”

Among those opportunities is the ability to market everywhere. Elizabeth Spann Craig said, “I have made my book available in as many areas as possible. Although my sales are strongest with Amazon, I believe that exclusively selling with one retailer could lead to problems farther down the road.”

Even Coker echoes Craig’s advice. “Avoid the mistake of making your book exclusive to any single retailer. You want your book in as many different stores as possible. You should also upload your book to Amazon, but be careful not to make your book exclusive to Amazon. Every writer beginning a book today has 100% assurance that one way or another, their book can be published.”book

For more information visit to learn how to publish and distribute an ebook. Mark Coker’s free ebooks about ebook publishing best practices include The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, and The Smashwords Style Guide.

In this our Earth Day issue, you will find reviews of several ebooks!

Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist. You can learn more about Terry on his website.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for a very interesting, informative article. Smashwords is a true success story and I’m so happy that more authors will be able to get their works on the market quicker!


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