Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smashwords Seeking Agented Writers For Backlist E-publishing.

In a hot off-the-web PW release today, Smashwords founder Mark Coker is cited as being in the process of pursing agents and agented writers for the purposes (obviously) of providing additional content to the Smashwords e-list of available titles.

The explosive growth of E-pub has clearly made the case for the E-Pub commerce value of back-list, out of print, and midlist titles. "Never published" authors (B.V. Larson and Ms. Hocking anyone?) established authors with out of print backlists and completed works that were passed over by publishers have all contributed to the current "gold rush" of E-pub. These results are now very public in the movement that traditional publishers are now taking to adapt to more profitable E-pub models.

This is clearly an example of a smart market expansion on the part of Smashwords as increasing numbers of established writers are no doubt looking  at E-pub options, now that the platform is clearly out of the alleged "fad" stage (as was widely alleged by critics of the market and those resistant to the clear changes in reader preference) and is now poised for explosive global growth.

The questions that come to my mind are of the possible rewards, profitability and the beneficiaries. My thoughts in a sec but first: 

From PW:

"Smashwords, the California-based company that converts and digitally distributes Word files uploaded through its interface, is offering a suite of services to literary agents. The company will allow agents to digitally convert their authors' files, for free, and also provide agents with metadate on the files, as well as merchandising at Smashwords.com.

So the Agents handle the consversion, uploading and management leaving the writer free to write. Ok, sounds like a good deal.

Speaking to the decision to court agents, in particular, Smashwords founder Mark Coker said many authors, with out-of-print titles, would prefer to let their agents handle things like digital publication. "Agents represent the most commercially successful authors. These authors are now asking their agents to add e-publishing services to exploit the potential of their reverted-rights works and unpublished works. Although all authors have the freedom to self-publish, many would prefer to delegate the e-publishing and back office duties to their agent so the author can focus their energy on writing."

This practice is reflective of  number of predictions that have been made by popular bloggers regarding the future of publishing, one I believe in, that cottage industries will sprout offering writers the benefits of managing the plethora of duties required for successful 'independent' e-publishing. Most likely, for a cut. I think it goes without saying that the quality of the end result of such arrangements will depend wholly on the quality of the agent in question managing them.

Here's the rest:

Through a change in its metadata tagging, Smashwords will now have a field for publisher and agent, where previously there was only the option to indicate a publisher for a title. Agents, who can create an account for free, will also be able to have the titles they upload onto Smashwords appear in co-branded Smashwords bookstore that will group represented titles by agency.

Interesting visibility boost tactic though I doubt many readers search for work based on agency.

Smashwords does not charge to convert files, but does take a 10% commission on the list price of books it converts and then sells through other retailers, such as Apple and B&N; it takes a 15% commission on titles sold directly through Smashwords. A number of agencies have titles available on Smashwords, including Dystel & Goderich and the Beverly Slopen Agency.

Recently this October McMillan Bello and the Curtis Brown agency announced they were releasing 520 previously out of print titles starting in 2011 and into 2012. This raised eyebrows and criticisms alike as it seemed unlikely that any degree of quality could be applied to that many uploaded works in that small a timeframe.  It was also noted that a number of the authors were deceased raising some questions about who was best being served by this arrangement. At the outset it sounds likea good deal for widows and surviving children who'se deceased relatives work was generating 0 dollars to perhaps make something. Read the full story here.

This issue arose even earlier when Dystel-Goderich announced it's own e-publishing service which was touted by some as a conflict of interest and a "royalties" grab, full story on paidcontent.org here. with a link to a new release below it.

Are writers entering a new age of  predatory royalty and rights grabbers? To be sure there are a number of questionable operations in place attempting to lure new writers in (see my thoughts on Penguins Book Country Fair below) but I'll keep my opinions objective regarding Smashwords agent outreach for now.

Your thoughts?    

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