ebooks by Phillip Thomas Duck

Five Questions for Mark Coker, Founder, CEO of Smashwords

Mark Coker founded Smashwords to change the way books are published, sampled, marketed and sold. During this short but informative interview Coker speaks about the differences and challenges of traditional versus indie publishing, gives his bold predictions for the future of Ebooks, and more.
Phillip Thomas Duck: 
There has been a great deal of debate at blogs and online forums pitting 
traditionally published authors against indie authors. So let me start off 
by asking you a question you likely are not asked very often.What do you
see as the benefits of the traditional route to publishing?

Mark Coker:
A good publisher assumes all the publishing risk for you.  They pay you 
an up front advance that they understand they're unlikely to earn back, 
and they invest significant sums of money to give your book a chance 
at success.

Here in the US, print books still account for 90% of all book sales, and
most of these sales are through brick and mortal retail stores.  So today,
if you want the chance to sell a lot of books, a traditional publisher is 
the best route because they have the power to get your book distributed 
overnight (well, 12-18 months after they acquire it) to thousands of
bookstores.  The operative word, however, is "chance." Most of those 
sales are derived from a handful of bestsellers, so most traditionally
published authors are destined for a quick trip to the remainder bins. 
The distribution benefit of the traditional publisher will diminish as 
print declines and ebooks rise, and as more and more book buying
(both print and ebook) shifts to the Web.

I see an entire spectrum of publishing options, ranging from 
self-publishing to traditional.  Many authors will enjoy the benefits 
of both.
A lot of authors mistakenly believe that publishing begins and ends 
with them writing a book and uploading it to Smashwords.  An indie
author must become their own publisher, and this carries a responsibility 
to fulfill the business obligations of the traditional publisher, such as editing, 
proofing, production, sales, marketing, distribution and backoffice 
accounting.  It's tough work. Traditional publishers have the power to 
put enormous weight and talent behind an author and title. 
A great publisher has the ability to do for the author what that author
cannot do, or may not want to do, for themselves.  A great publisher
can take a good book and make it great.  This power to transform an
author's work into something better is why I think the good publishers
out there still have a very bright future.

Phillip Thomas Duck:
Now, the more obvious question: Why should an author consider the
indie route and a distributor such as Smashwords?

Mark Coker:  
Next to Amazon and their DTP platform, Smashwords is probably the
largest ebook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors. 
We're now publishing and distributing nearly 19,000 original ebooks 
from over 8,000 authors around the world, and we're adding over 2,000
new releases each month.  Our platform provides the author
unprecedented control over all aspects of their book.

Ebooks are the fastest growing segment of publishing today, and 
Smashwords helps the author quickly and easily get their book 
distributed to all the most important retail outlets.  The book will 
never go "out of print." It's immortal.  If the author wants to be their 
own publisher, Smashwords is a no-brainer for them.  The author 
retains all the rights and we pay them 85% of the net proceeds (equal
to only 7.5% to 10% of the suggested retail price at retailers), and in
exchange for a small commission we distribute the book to a growing
network of the world's most important ebook retailers. Unlike with print
books, the distribution of ebooks is fully democratized.  A Smashwords
book appears alongside the books of traditionally published books.  
Some Smashwords books are already starting to find their way to the
best-seller lists.  A book's potential is limited only by the book's ability
to resonate with readers.

Phillip Thomas Duck:
Share with us THREE predictions you have regarding the future of 
publishing as well as your timetable for when you believe these things
will occur.

Mark Coker: 
1. Ebooks eclipse print books:  Ebook sales will exceed print sales 
by 2015.

2. Pro authors go indie:  In the next 12-24 months, we'll see a wave
of well-known authors go indie for their next books, driven by the 
opportunity to reach more readers, more profitably, by selling low
cost, high-profit indie ebooks. 

3. Indie authors to become tomorrow's best sellers:  Five years from 
now, multiple Smashwords authors will grace the charts of the NY 
Times best-seller lists.  It's inevitable, because we're enabling the
publishing and discovery of tomorrow's next big literary greats.

Phillip Thomas Duck:
You are stranded on an island with your e-reader of choice, what FIVE
books are you happy you downloaded?

Mark Coker:
I'll be happy that I remembered 5 other things:  a satellite phone, 
modem, solar power generator, e-reader and laptop so I can 
download anything I want.  :)
Phillip Thomas Duck:
Finish this sentence: Mark Coker is...
Mark Coker: 
on a mission to transform book publishing by liberating the creative 
talents of the world's indie authors.

Mark Coker
Smashwords, Inc.

Mark is co-author along with his wife, Lesleyann, of Boob Tube, a novel that explores the behind-the-scenes world of daytime television soap operas. It was Mark's frustration trying to get Boob Tube published that inspired him to start Smashwords. He believes Smashwords holds the promise to make publishing more enriching for authors, readers and publishers.  

With Mark's previous startup,, which he launched in 1999, he helped level the playing field for small stock market investors, who at the time were denied access to the earnings conference calls of publicly traded companies. His work with BestCalls, as a champion for fair disclosure, was a catalyst for the SEC’s ground breaking Regulation FD. BestCalls was acquired in 2002 by and is now owned and operated by the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.  

In addition to Mark's work with Smashwords, since 1993 he has owned Dovetail Public Relations, an award-winning Silicon Valley PR firm.  Mark is a long time angel investor and advisor to technology and media startups. He currently serves on the advisory boards of Knowledge Genie, a digital publishing startup, and GetQuik, a fast-growing provider of restaurant order automation technology and services. Between 2007 and 2009, Mark served on the advisory board for Flat World Knowledge, the leading publisher of open source textbooks.

Mark is a contributing columnist for the Huffington Post, where he writes about ebooks and the future of publishing.  You can find his previous columns here.

Mark is a graduate of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, where he received his B.S. in marketing.


Shayne Parkinson said...

Nice interview! Thanks, Phillip and Mark.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. If you do a followup ask him why they force authors to use their meatgrinder for uploading books instead of making it optional. Every single book I've bought from Smashwords has had crappy formatting and according to the authors they aren't allowed to upload their own nicely formatted files. Not trying to sound harsh. I'd really like to know their reasoning.

Sibel Hodge said...

"Indie authors to become tomorrow's best sellers" I'm particularly enjoying this quote!

Sheila Deeth said...

Nice interview and lots to think about. Thank you.