With the end of a pretty rough year behind us and the first few weeks of 2017 under our belts, it’s a good time to take a deep breathe and take stock of the state of publishing. There’s perhaps no more comprehensive analysis of the current trends than the annual Smashwords Book Industry Predictions, written each year by founder and CEO Mark Coker.
Before looking at Coker’s thoughts on the industry, it’s important to refamiliarize with a company that has been quietly plugging along in the retail ebook space all this time. While major name startups have come and gone and some of the once-power players in digital publishing have found new jobs elsewhere–heck, even ePub has found a new home after the IDPF voted to let it live under the W3C umbrella–Smashwords has been doing it what it does all this time, which is making book publishing and buying possible for a lot of people.
For the most part, Coker’s 2017 predictions look pretty spot on, but there was one incredible, eye-opening statement that doesn’t get touted from many other sources. No one argues that the ebook market is saturated with content (to the point that book discovery has been a buzzworthy topic for years now); in fact, a report emerged last week that Amazon now contains over 5 million ebooks in its retail catalog. But all this time, naysayers have complained that the ebook market has been glutted with garbage, so much so that the cream can no longer rise to the top.
Coker disagrees. More accurately, he’s argued that the market is beyond saturated with GOOD books, giving readers several lifetimes of non-stop literature. Yes, this does still make book discovery somewhat of an issue, but the oft-flung accusation that the majority are pure crap doesn’t hold water, and Smashwords has the book sales to prove it.
However, he offers again one of his long-standing predictions, namely that Amazon is destroying everything good about books, publishing, and retail. This is not a new prediction, although it is backed up with some key numbers and business model changes. To be completely fair, Smashwords has never railed against the concept of Amazon as a retail business, but rather in its practices towards authors, namely their insistence on exclusivity if you hope to benefit from any of KDP’s features.
But there’s some truth in the old adage, “A broken clock is right twice a day.” Coker has been shouting from the rooftops for years that Amazon is dangerous, that it treats authors unfairly and is barely better to its reading customers. Has the time come for this annual prediction to come true?
His darkest prediction–that Amazon will face the same kind of anti-trust legal woes that Apple and the then-Big Six faced–may be his most negative prediction yet, but again, it’s not based on wishful thinking or an attempt to further the interests of his own company by targeting the competition. Hopefully, Smashwords isn’t the madman who’s been trying to warn us all for years that the end is nigh, only to be scorned and ignored; it bears some serious thought, and perhaps a few preparation steps to protect indies’ future livelihoods. The smart money may be looking for alternatives to Amazon should any of this finally come to pass.