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Scribd and Smashwords Working to Build New Publishing/Distribution Models for Ebooks
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Posted On January 14, 2014
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Last month, the ebook subscription service Scribd and Smashwords, “the world’s largest distributor of independent ebooks,” announced a two-part collaboration they hope will consolidate their position in the emerging independent ebook publishing/distribution marketplace. According to a blog post by Mark Coker, Smashwords founder and CEO, “Smashwords will supply books to Scribd’s new ebook subscription service, where for $8.99 per month subscribers can enjoy unlimited reading. Smashwords ebooks will also be available for individual sale to Scribd customers under our standard retailer terms.”

Scribd, launched in 2007 by CEO Trip Adler and CTO Jared Friedman, boasts 80 million monthly readers on its website. Smashwords currently claims to have more than 70,000 authors and publishers in its distribution network. “Scribd’s roots are in community publishing,” Coker continues. “They’ve been a pioneer in user generated content, and in making it possible for content creators to share their works with the world. Their platform makes it easy for people around the world to upload documents, presentations and books, and they’ve always done a great job of making the content discoverable, readable and sharable.”

More Changes on the Horizon

“The ebook marketplace is still the wild wild west,” explains ebook author Carla King,” which makes it all the more exciting, because there are no rules. There are so many ways to publish, starting with beta testing your book on a site like Wattpad, Scribd, or Leanpub or all three! Beta testing books or parts of books shows authors where their market lives online. Finding where your audience reads and has conversations is the first step that authors need to take when they start thinking about book marketing.”

Clearly, the ebook market is still in its formative stage, with many entrants hoping to make a difference. Public libraries in Colorado and Texas are exploring potential roles as book publishers themselves. By working directly with authors, the middle men would be cut out from the process, giving libraries greater control and flexibility when it comes to copyright and title-ownership issues. The Douglas County Libraries system in Colorado not only broke new ground with its ebook publishing program, but it has become a model program and strong proponent for the field. “I’m kind of wandering around as an evangelist saying we have two choices: Either we can be marginalized by people trying to lock us out of the market or we can say we don’t want to hang out on the fringe of the revolution, we want to be at the heart of it,” library director Jamie LaRue said at last year’s annual conference of the Texas Library Association.

A year ago, Bookish was launched by three key mass market publishers—Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Penguin Group—in a unique effort by publishers themselves to create a “one-stop, comprehensive online destination designed to connect readers with books and authors … providing visitors with exclusive content and insider access to A-list writers.” Just last week Zola Books announced its purchase of Bookish, marking yet another significant move in ebook publishing and distribution. Zola Books was founded by literary agents who worked to create it as a combination bookseller, recommendation engine, and social networking site. The decision on the part of the three publishers in selling Bookish would appear to indicate their decision to focus on transforming their existing businesses rather than trying to take on the independent ebook publishing at this early stage of the industry’s evolution.

“Ebook publishing is easy and cheap,” King explains, “and new authors can find their place in the ecosystem by using available publishing and social media tools to find and converse with their readers. I think that the market is permanently shaken up. That is, traditional publishing will never dictate the market for books again. Just look at what they’re doing now—creating self-publishing arms of their companies—and wooing the most successful self-publishers into a traditional contract.”


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Nancy K. Herther is American studies, anthropology, Asian American studies, and sociology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities campus.

Email Nancy K. Herther
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