As one more contribution to the author earnings and self-publishing debate, alongside the UK Society of Authors, the UK ALCS, and Hugh Howey’s AuthorEarnings, we have the 2014 Smashwords Survey from Mark Coker’s Smashwords. Available in full via Slideshare, the Survey examines “aggregated retail and library sales data of Smashwords books,” amounting in this period to “$25 million in customer purchases  aggregated across Smashwords retailers,” over the period April 2013-March 2014, with one or two updated insights, and then parses the results “to identify Viral Catalysts … anything that makes a book more discoverable and more enjoyable to readers.”

Smashwords Distribution Network

The key insights are summarized on Smashwords’ introductory page and detailed in full in Coker’s presentation. Nuggets include: “A few titles sell fabulously well and most sell poorly,” but “despite the steep sales curve, a lot of Smashwords authors are earning good income from their books.” Also, “longer books sell better”: indeed, “longer books give authors such a huge sales advantage.” And, despite continuing high performance of free giveaways, “the effectiveness of free is down dramatically … the effectiveness of free will continue to decline as more authors learn to take advantage of it.”

Coker, of course, is talking up his own game, but he does a very good and convincing job of it, and there’s no reason to doubt his insights. Most of them can be turned to account by just about any kind of author, whether independent or traditionally published, and his entire presentation deserves studying in detail. Plus, it’s good to have a push for the self-publishing thesis that doesn’t come straight from the Amazon camp.

Interestingly, Coker has come out somewhat against Amazon in the Amazon/Hachette debate, although this isn’t so surprising from Amazon’s Number One self-publishing competitor. That said, his commitment to self-publishing per se is obviously still right there.


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