Smashwords Goes to the Library

Smashwords, the largest distributor of “indie” ebooks, has created a Library Direct program to make these titles available to libraries. Their first client, Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries, has just received 10,000 ebooks. It involved some serious database tweaking to create a collection of titles appropriate for the library. This effort has been documented in a recent article at Library Journal’s The Digital Shift blog:

The transaction took much longer than initially expected, but it ultimately helped both parties discover ways to weed, filter, and tweak a list of independent titles to develop an optimal collection for DCL’s patrons.

“It was a lot more complicated for us than we expected,” said Smashwords founder Mark Coker, “We’re giving libraries the option to slice and dice by multiple categories and multiple filters. And, along the way we discovered some cool ways to surface titles more accurately, that we think better reflect the interests of readers.”

The list began with Smashwords’ top 10,000 bestsellers—titles that have proven their appeal through sales. However, DCL and Smashwords soon realized that relying exclusively on a sales ranking could cause problems, such as leaving popular book series incomplete. Focusing instead on bestselling authors, and simply purchasing everything they had written, wasn’t an ideal solution, either. Hypothetically, what if an author had published 1,000 books, each of which sold only a few copies, Coker said.

Smashwords responded by developing a simple new mathematical ratings model—total sales by author divided by their total number of books—to help identify titles that were truly in demand. The bestseller list was then based on this model, and specific filters requested by DCL were applied. DCL then had the opportunity to further weed the proposed collection using an early version of a new online procurement system that Smashwords developed for the Library Direct service.

This is good news to more than just Douglas County library patrons. According to the Smashwords article describing the program, one of the libraries waiting to complete their order is Internet Archive for their Open Library project. Author/publishers using Smashwords for distribution can choose whether or not they want their titles included in the library program and choose from several pricing options if they do. According to Smashwords, library exposure increases sales. This could be some of the best marketing an independent author/publisher can get.

It’s definitely worth watching how this program progresses. I look forward to seeing what kind of reads become available at Open Library and it will be interesting to see how this affects revenues.