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Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords Founder

If 2010 was the year eBooks went mainstream, 2011 will be the year indie eBook authors go mainstream.

According to Smashwords founder Mark Coker, indie eBook authors are becoming more professional and sophisticated, and they’re starting to climb the best-seller charts without the assistance of a publisher. 2011 will be the first year traditional publishers feel the need to compete against the indie ebook alternative. Here are Coker’s predictions for the new year:

1.Ebook sales rise, unit consumption surprises – Ebooks sales will approach 20% of trade book revenues on a monthly basis by the end of 2011 in the US, yet the bigger surprise is that ebooks will account for one third or more of unit consumption. Why? Ebooks cost less and early ebook adopters read more.

2. Agents write the next chapter of the ebook revolution – Agents, serving the economic best interests of the best-selling authors, will bring new credibility to self publishing by encouraging authors to proactively bypass publishers and work directly with ebook distribution platforms. Agents will use these publishing platforms for negotiating leverage against large publishers. The conversation will go something like this: “You’re offering my author only 15-20% list on ebooks when I can get them 60-70% list working direct with an ebook distributor like Smashwords or a retailer like Amazon?”
3. More big authors reluctant to part with digital rights – Indie ebook publishing offers compelling advantages to the author. The economics are better (see #2) and the publishing cycle times are faster (an ebook manuscript can be uploaded today and achieve worldwide distribution in minutes or days, not years). Ebooks also offer greater publishing flexibility (shorts, full length, bundles, free books), and the opportunity to reach more readers with lower cost (yet still higher-profit) books. The advantages will entice more professional authors to self-publish some or all of their future catalog, and all of their reverted-rights catalog.

4. Self Publishing goes from option of last resort to option of first resort among unpublished authors – Most unpublished authors today still aspire to achieve the perceived credibility and blessing that comes with a professional book deal. Yet the cachet of traditional publishing is fading fast. Authors with finished manuscripts will grow impatient and resentful as they wait to be discovered by big publishers otherwise preoccupied with publishing celebrity drivel from Snooki, Justin Bieber and the Kardashians. Meanwhile, the break-out success of multiple indie author stars will grab headlines in 2011, forcing many unpublished authors off the sidelines. As unpublished authors bypass the slush pile, publishers lose first dibs on tomorrow’s future stars.

5. Big 6 publishers increase ebook royalties – They will have little choice. See #2 and #3. But don’t count big publishers out of the game. To the extent publishers can provide high value publishing services that authors cannot or will not fulfill on their own, smart publishers will continue to thrive. Not all authors want to be publishers, and most book sales are still in print, a format that is dominated by traditional publishers since they control access to brick and mortar stores.

6. Ebook prices to fall – It’s all about supply and demand. Demand is surging, but supply will overwhelm demand. Average ebook prices will decline, despite attempts by Agency 5 publishers to hold the line. The drop will be fueled by the oversupply of books, abundance of low-cost or free non-book content, influx of ultra-price-sensitive readers who read free first, fierce competition for readership, and digitization of reverted-rights and out-of-print books. Indie authors, since they earn 60-70% retail price, can compete at price points big publishers can’t touch.

7. The customer is king- Readers will decide which books become hits, not publishers. Marketing dollars will become less effective. Reader word-of-mouth, catalyzed by social media, will reign supreme as the single most important driver of book sales. Publishers begin to learn their “customer” is the reader, not their distributor or retailer.

8. International ebook market explodes, causing publishers to rethink territory rights restrictions – The proliferation of affordable, high-quality dedicated ereading devices, smart phones and ereading apps, and the international expansion of big US-based ebook retailers into green field markets, will power significant revenue for US authors, publishers and retailers. Large publishers will miss some of this growth due to self-inflicted territory rights restrictions, whereas indie authors and small publishers won’t face the same limitations. Publishers begin to realize geographic territory rights hinder ebook sales by limiting distribution, and will instead look to carve rights (or hold on them) language by language.

9. Discoverability becomes HOT – Amid glut of content, discovery will become the new obsession of publishing. Publishers of all sizes will begin to realize obscurity is the biggest threat facing their business. Solution: maximize availability of product, leverage metadata, create books that resonate with readers, enlist fans as extension of sales force.

10. Big 6 publishers refuse to abandon DRM, Continue to Mistrust Customers – More evidence will emerge that DRM -free lowers publisher expenses, increases customer satisfaction and sells more books, yet none of the major commercial publishers will fully abandon DRM in 2011, even though most of the major ebook retailers now support DRM-free. New research will reveal piracy is not the great boogeyman publishers believe it to be, yet publishers will continue to run scared. Please, my publisher friends, prove me wrong!

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