Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks, on May 20 announced a new partnership with OverDrive that will make more than 200,000 ebooks from 80,000 self-published authors and independent presses available to libraries and their patrons via the OverDrive platform. All titles will be sold as perpetual, non-expiring licenses with no loan caps, and will be made available to patrons under a one ebook, one user model.
The move has been long anticipated, said Henry Bankhead, town librarian for Califonia’s Los Gatos Public Library and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker. Smashwords ebooks have been distributed through Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 ebook platform for about two years, but as Bankhead pointed out, OverDrive’s scale will expand the availability of these titles to a much larger contingent of libraries.
“We have been waiting a while for this,” Bankhead told LJ. “This is awesome news that it’s finally happening, that self-published ebooks are available through the biggest national [aggregator].”
The pricing and licensing terms for Smashwords ebooks are by far more generous to libraries than terms offered by the Big Five, and many Smashwords authors have elected to offer discounts to libraries. This distribution arrangement supports this special pricing, although OverDrive has set the minimum price for all Smashwords titles at $1.99 per license. “Libraries have the ability to build massive catalogs of high-quality indie content at a fraction of the price of traditionally published ebooks,” Smashwords founder Mark Coker told LJ.
Authors planning to offer their full Smashwords catalogs through OverDrive include Amy Miles, Brian S. Pratt, Chanda Hahn, Colleen Hoover, GJ Walker-Smith, Jamie McGuire, JD Nixon, Kirsty Moseley, Kristen Ashley, Lauren Blakely, Melody Grace, Natasha Preston, Quinn Loftis, R.L. Mathewson, Randolph Lalonde, Shayne Parkinson, and T.C. Southwell.
Sorting Through the Slush Pile
Libraries will have the option to purchase titles individually, or choose from a variety of bundled collections curated by Smashwords and OverDrive, such as Smashwords’ top 100 bestselling romance ebooks, or the best 1,000 mysteries, or the complete catalogs of the top 100, 500, or 1,000 bestselling Smashwords authors. Bestseller lists will be compiled using sales data from throughout Smashwords’ distribution network, which currently includes online retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony.
“Because we’re a distributor—and we know which [self-published] books are popular out in the marketplace because we can see what we’re selling at the major ebook retailers—we’re going to be able to take that knowledge and create curated buy lists of the most popular indie titles and make them available for librarians,” said Coker.
“In the past, the reason that self-published work and e-only release stuff was less attractive to libraries was because it’s not reviewed as much, and there’s not as much information about it,” Bankhead said.
This is particularly important because, as it has become easier to self publish, indie titles have proliferated, and reviews and other collection development tools have not kept up.
“So to have any kind of metric…. The fact that Smashwords is willing to create these curated lists is going to be very useful to collection development people,” said Bankhead.
(Full disclosure: LJ is making its own entry into the field. On May 20, LJ and BiblioBoard announced the upcoming launch of SELF-e, a portal where authors can submit self-published ebooks for evaluation and possible inclusion in genre collections curated by LJ.)
Bankhead is a leading proponent of the role that libraries can play in helping aspiring authors publish their work and build their audience. He recently worked with Smashwords—which is also based in Los Gatos—to help the freshman English honors students at Los Gatos High School publish the poetry anthology ebook Windows to the Teenage Soul. As School Library Journal reported this week, the title managed to briefly become the #1 bestselling poetry ebook in the Apple iBookstore on the day of its release.
This new distribution arrangement between SmashWords and OverDrive will make this type of collaboration between a library and its local writers easy to facilitate, Bankhead said. Buying and circulating an ebook is much simpler than accepting the donation of printed copies of self-published titles, which can present complications in terms of cataloging, presentation, storage, circulation, and preservation.
“Instead of just [cataloging] an independently printed book in the library, if they publish it as an ebook, and we’re then able to purchase it through OverDrive, we can showcase authors from the town and community in a much more effective way.”
The writer also benefits by making their work available to Smashwords’ retail customers worldwide, Bankhead said.
LGPL hosts programs that teach interested local authors how to use the Smashwords platform to publish their work, and their website features a link directing writers to those free tools. And, the Los Gatos High School poetry anthology was the first product of a broader outreach program that Smashwords and LGPL have developed to help local community organizations through the publishing process.
Coker at Smashwords has been enthusiastic about his company’s work with LGPL, and hopes that other libraries can use the platform as a way to engage local writers as well, ultimately resulting in relationships that are beneficial to both parties.
“There’s an opportunity for libraries to mentor the next generation of authors,” he said. “Authors who are going to supply libraries with low-cost, affordable books… Most authors are library friendly, and most want their books in libraries. Many of the authors I talk to at Smashwords discovered their love of books at their public library, and many of our authors want to supply their books to public libraries at a discount to retail, and that runs completely counter to how the big publishers are currently treating libraries. I think there’s going to be a lot of indie author love for public libraries, and that it’s going to have positive implications for the future of libraries.”