Boost for self-publishers as Smashwords gets into OverDrive

Smashwords continues to power ahead, this time with a deal with OverDrive, the biggest library ebook distributor, that is a massive boost for self-publishers and a threat to traditional publishers.

The OverDrive platform is used by 20,000 public libraries around the world, including 90% of US public libraries. Smashwords will supply OverDrive with more than 200,000 titles.

“This represents a watershed moment for indie authors, libraries and library patrons around the world,” says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. “Smashwords authors now have distribution through OverDrive, the premier supplier of library eBooks. Millions of library patrons will now have access to the literary talent of the world’s best indie authors.”

Steve Potash, founder and CEO of OverDrive, says, “We’re thrilled to make the Smashwords catalog available to libraries and patrons in the OverDrive network. OverDrive helps to connect readers with authors and titles and, with Smashwords content, we are offering new voices, great interest and emerging self-published authors.”

Many big publishers are charging libraries high prices for ebooks, with new ebooks from Big 5 publishers costing libraries up to $80 and backlist ebooks around $20-40. Smashwords authors and publishers will supply thousands of affordably priced ebooks, with most of the distributor’s best sellers priced under $4.

No erotica, 45% of list price earnings

Erotica titles will not be distributed to OverDrive but the full Smashwords Premium Catalog of non-erotica titles is eligible for distribution. Authors will earn 45% of the library list price they set.

OverDrive and Smashwords are drawing up curated buy lists, which libraries can use to buy the most popular indie authors and titles.

For example, libraries will get the option to buy the top 100 Young Adult fantasy novels or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances or top 200 complete series across multiple categories or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs.

The lists will measure title popularity by aggregating sales data from across the Smashwords distribution network. The firm says this is a compelling reason for authors to fully distribute all their titles to all retailers through Smashwords

Massive selling potential

The sales potential of the deal is illustrated by the fact that:

  • Library patrons borrowed more than 102 million digital titles across the OverDrive network in 2013, up by 44% on 2012.
  • OverDrive delivered over 1.8 billion cover image impressions to library patrons in 2013, up by almost 70% from 2012, giving authors incredible exposure and branding to readers.

Under the agreement with OverDrive, libraries will lend purchased ebooks under the one copy/one user model, meaning each copy they buy can be checked to only one reader at a time. Once the borrowing time expires, the book is ready to be checked out by another borrower.

If an ebook is already checked out, library users the option to buy the ebook through a link on participating libraries’ websites through OverDrive’s “Buy It Now” feature.

According to a Pew research study in 2012, 41% of library cardholders who read ebooks bought their most recently read ebook.

Library patrons at OverDrive can recommend titles to their library from the Smashwords catalog.

Sell free titles for $1.99

Authors and publishers can set custom library prices through the Smashwords Dashboard’s Pricing Manager feature.  Many Smashwords authors who want to support libraries are setting their library prices at lower than retail but OverDrive has a minimum price of $1.99 due to per-checkout transaction fees to their DRM vendor. Any Smashwords books priced under $1.99 – including free titles – will be priced at $1.99 at OverDrive.

The first tranche of 100,000 Smashwords ebooks will become available to Overdrive libraries this week and early next week and the remaining 100,000 will become available over the next eight weeks.

All non-erotica Premium Catalog books are automatically opted in to OverDrive distribution. Any authors who want to opt out can do so through the Dashboard’s Channel Manager.

Smashwords does already offer ebooks through library distributor Baker & Taylor and also concluded a two-way deal with libraries in California and Kansas in 2012, which saw the libraries buy 10,000 ebooks through the company for a total of $30,000 while Smashwords set up a self-publishing link for library users to publish their own work.

Other ebook distributors, such as eBooks2go, offer distribution through OverDrive but the Smashwords deal represents by far the biggest library link-up for self-publishers. The Smashwords net is constantly spreading wider, with the OverDrive move coming after signing up with ebook subscription services Oyster and Scribd last year.

Smashwords has this week also added distribution through txtr, an ebook retailing and reading platform based in Berlin, which powers the ebook store for major UK bookshop Foyles and the stores of two Eastern European mobile network operators. The firm is also developing txtr-powered ebook stores for US-based mass merchant retailers.

It will retail Smashwords books at the price set by authors and publishers with no discounting, or at the local currency equivalent. Smashwords will pay authors 60% of list price after  deduction of any taxes.