It’s time to look back on the year that was and look forward to what may be in the year to come. Join the D2D team as we say goodbye to 2022 and greet 2023 with high expectations.
Join D2D’s usual suspects as we reflect on news and events that impacted indie publishing in 2022 and offer our predictions for 2023.
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Mark Lefebvre, Dan Wood, Kevin Tumlinson
Kevin Tumlinson 00:03
Hello, everybody, thank you for tuning in to the final Self-Publishing Insiders of 2022. I am here as one of your three hosts, we also have our good friends and coworkers, Mark Leslie Lefebvre and Dan Wood. Welcome guys. Mark, I don’t know if you know your microphone is muted, but your microphone is muted. So this is gonna be a special show, we’ve done this before a couple of times, actually. And you’re probably familiar with Mark likes to take a look at how the industry is doing, give you some numbers and things. And today is not going to be any different on that front. We’ve got some not numbers, per se, but we’ve got some details about what’s performing, what’s doing best out there. And we’re all three going to look into our crystal balls and tell you exactly to the syllable what’s going to happen over 2023. Right, guys?
Dan Wood 01:00
Kevin Tumlinson 01:02
So, Dan, we talked a little bit about what we’re going to say here. But what was your biggest observation for 2023? I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the highlights of what happened for D2D. But if you want to dive into that first, we certainly can. But I was really curious what you saw as like the biggest event of 2023. Or 2022, I’m sorry, I’m already in the next year.
Dan Wood 01:34
Yeah, I would say for Draft2Digital, definitely the merger with Smashwords has been really great. And just how smoothly it’s gone has been wonderful. We knew when we started talking about it, there was a lot of synergy. And there’s a lot of different things they brought to the table with the Smashwords store and some of the features they had there. And we knew some of the distribution agreements they had worked on, just opens up a whole other group of retailers and library systems and subscription partners for us to start down the road with, so I’m excited about that. I would say at the industry level, I think the two biggest things of this year have been some of the trends we’re seeing with direct sales and how that’s becoming more and more feasible. And then just everything happening around machine learning or AI depending on what you want to call it. But we’re seeing things in the art world, we’re seeing things in the text world, we’re seeing things in the coding world that are all pretty exciting. Things like audiobook narration, translations, like all of that, we just made some remarkable strides this year. And that’s also slightly controversial. And so just all those things are going to take us all some time to figure out and how they might be a part of our system going forward.
Kevin Tumlinson 03:11
And when I think about, because you’re right, the AI stuff is what seems to be the most controversial thing across the board. Audiobook narrators are a little leery, cover designers are leery, and there’s even some stuff happening on like the copywriting and even first draft fictions front. I have my own theories about why people are panicking or feeling, we’ll just say feeling uneasy about that. But what do you guys think is driving some of the tension with AI?
Dan Wood 03:51
I’ll let Mark take a stab at that first.
Mark Lefebvre 03:54
Yeah, I think one of the patterns we’ve consistently seen, particularly in the author space, is the best path up the mountain to success is producing a lot of content. And we know as online retailers and having been in the industry for a long time, and this is an old concept from the beginnings of the internet, the longtail right? That a lot of content, and again, we make money by keeping a small percentage of the sales of our authors and based on the sales of our authors manages to keep us very successfully moving along and continuing to create free tools for authors. So a lot of the strategies authors have been employing have been about pushing content out and getting on that treadmill and working really, really hard. So if that’s been your main strategy, it’s terrifying to think that a machine is always going to be faster than us. So I think a lot of the fear comes from that. What I would say to that is, it negates the idea of the personal connection, which I’ve always believed was so important and so critical. I’ve always said that the future of publishing is going to be more collaborative than ever before. And I had no idea that the collaboration was going to involve collaborating with the technology, not just with each other, like the technology enables us to collaborate, right? The three of us in three different cities doing this, it’s a great way that we can kind of work together and throughout the year, we work together, even though we’re only physically in the same location very rarely. But imagining that collaborating with a machine, not all that different than going from walking somewhere to jumping on a horse to get there faster to suddenly, you know, Mr. Ford invented another means of getting from point A to point B. I think we have to take a look at the technology as something we can leverage. And hopefully, that helps abate some of those fears that people have.
Kevin Tumlinson 06:00
Yeah, I feel like most of the reaction to this sort of thing is kind of, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And so there is a kind of knee-jerk thing happening. But I look at all of it as being assistive technology, just like Photoshop or sound editing software on your computer or whatever. There’s all kinds of assistive technologies out there that were disruptive when they first arrived on the scene. And I think AI is probably going to go in that same direction, personally. Now, I’m looking forward to seeing how we use it creatively.
Dan Wood 06:37
I would agree with you, Kevin. I think there’s a lot of justifiable fear in people who have made their money off of some of the services that AI might cut into, some of those opportunities. I think we can probably all agree that in most areas like editing and narrators and translation, there’s not nearly enough people to keep up with the demand, like the actual workers. And so I think really, the workers to learn how to use the new technology to help them produce quicker to work with authors and different professional and different creatives are going to be the ones that find the most success, I think there’s still a huge lack of just human resources to do all the things everyone wants to do. And that’s completely evident when you look at how few books have audiobooks, how few books have versions in different languages. You know, editing is still very expensive to the point where some authors are just not editing or they’re self-editing. I think it’s a lot of opportunity. And I understand why people are afraid, but at the same time, I would encourage them to … It’s always scary when things change, we as people hate change. But different technologies in our lives that we take for granted now were change. If I recall correctly, one of the biggest upheavals in automating a human job was when they replaced operators, the people that you would connect people on the telephone calls, if any of the young people out there understand that. But you know, based on our YouTube demographics, I’m guessing no young people are watching this. However, there were people that physically connected to people when you called in to make a phone call. And they replaced that with electronics, and everyone thought that that was going to be horrible for the economy. But those people retrained, they learned to do other stuff, and the world moved on. And it’s a much better system than having people plugging cables in and out. Because that was just inherently limiting. Excel replaced floors of accountants. That just happened, but it opens up more room for people to take on jobs they actually enjoy and like I think, in areas where it’s creative. Where I agree with a lot of people that are not necessarily scared by it, but are angry about it are, there are some of the areas like art and conceivably some of the writing pieces, where the training data used things from different authors and different artists and is not going to be properly compensating them and so that I think that’s something where there are a lot of legal questions out there. I would say with the art, I would wait if I were an author, I would wait to use some of the AI generated art in a commercial capacity, like say on your book cover, while some of those questions get settled in court by people with more money to settle that kind of stuff. But you know, when you think about how awesome a tool things like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney are for an author to say, okay, this is what I was thinking for my cover, and then generating a couple of different variations and then sending it to their artists, I think it will speed up the whole process of authors working with their cover designers. Hopefully, authors will remember the cover designers are professional and generally know a little bit better than they do about what commercially works and what doesn’t. But I think this is gonna let everybody be able to communicate better in a way that has not been possible before.
Mark Lefebvre 10:42
I’ve done that already, Dan. I’ve used Midjourney for some concepts, and basically sent those concepts over to not the cover designer, but the artist, and then the artist is going to work based on some concepts and do original art. And then my cover designer is going to then add the layers of the text and stuff that makes it look like a professional cover. So I’ve already leveraged the technology that way. But it also, here’s a reminder, and it’s the acknowledgement. Do I acknowledge the fact that I’ve read a lot of Stephen King, and I’ve read a lot of this, and I’ve read a lot of that. And when I write, I’m influenced by these people? I just can’t read as fast as a machine can. But that is the reality, is as artists, as creatives, we’re constantly inspired not only by the world, people and things around us, but we’re also inspired by other art in all its formats. And, you know, I read a great story that Kevin wrote, and I’m like, oh, that makes me think. This is really coold, but what if this happened instead? And what if this character was this instead of that? And what if … And suddenly, it’s a whole new thing. I mean, we’ve been doing it since Shakespeare’s time, right?
Kevin Tumlinson 11:47
That’s what’s really gonna make things challenging, because the AI isn’t doing much more than what human artists do when they’re training and trying to imitate the masters. You know, where’s that line going to be? That’s why it’s so interesting. We’re living in those proverbial interesting times right now. There are a lot of legal questions, it could actually initiate a wholesale sweeping change to IP law by the time it’s all said and done, like, what is considered intellectual property at this point? So surely, if you are using it to flat out copy a copyrighted or trademark protected image, that’s clear, that’s wrong. And the question comes from, you know, is imitation theft? So yeah, lots of lots of interesting questions there. And we have some comments. We don’t want to make this the AI hour. But I do want to get a couple of these. K.N. Listman says, “I’ve used both AI and live narrators, AI and live translations. I prefer live.” And I think that’s going to be largely a function of, you know, the AI will improve over time. So there’s going to be a point where you may not be able to tell the difference.
Dan Wood 13:08
I’m 100% of the opinion that there’s room in the market for both a live narrated audiobook and a machine learning or AI voice narrated book. There are segments of the population that just can’t afford the more expensive live versions. You know, audiobooks are fairly expensive, especially to libraries. So I think that’s where AI narration, especially now that it’s really getting good. I’ve been very impressed with some of the solutions that are out there as of recently. You know, I compare it to like a trade, the mass market trade paperback back in the day, and I think that there’s always going to be room for that human acted version that’s like a hardback or a special edition, that we’re gonna, there’s so many readers to follow narrators. And so the narrators that are really incredible are bringing their own audience. And so I don’t think anything about that’s gonna change.
Mark Lefebvre 14:13
I look at accessibility when I think about this. So I wrote the book Wide for the Win in 2020, I believe. I can’t remember now. It’s been, the last three years have been like 12 years. But I had somebody reach out to me for accessibility and said, hey, is this available in audio? And I wanted to do it myself, but I didn’t have the 80-plus hours it would take to do it. And so I emailed him back, and I felt bad. I said, would you mind if it was an AI version? And he said, no, I just want to be able to enjoy it. I want to be able to consume the content. So I went into Google AI, Google Play, and two hours later I had a book for him. It was accessibility. He needed accessibility. There are people who, that may be the only way that they can read. So I look at that as choice, whether it’s something you can afford, whether it’s something you prefer, or whether you just don’t have a choice. And this is just a way to consume it. I want my books to be available. You know, I’d love to have five different audio versions of a book, an AI version, a duet narrated, a single narrator. You know, the radio drama style, like that would be great to have all that. And we can’t have it all. It’s just too cost prohibitive to do that without some sort of technology.
Dan Wood 15:22
Yeah, and when you think about the speed as well, how few indie books come out with the audiobook version at the same time as the ebook version. And with AI, that probably will be more possible to have a AI audiobook ready day one. And then follow it up later on and hopefully reinvest some of those profits you’ve made from the machine-based version to help pay your human narrator. I just think that use case is a killer one.
Kevin Tumlinson 15:56
Well, moving on from AI and our eventual robot overlords. Let’s look back for a moment over 2022 There were a couple of milestones that D2D hit. One of them was that in March of 2022, we actually turned 10 years old as a company. Now, once we acquired Smashwords, we can actually say we’re slightly older than that. But 10 years is a pretty remarkable milestone for a company of our type, wouldn’t you think?
Dan Wood 16:29
It really is, considering how far we’ve come as a company, how far the indie side of the industry has come. And Mark and I can certainly speak towards those first few years of conferences that we were doing were so traditionally based in focus, like every one of them. And there were agents and all the authors were like timidly trying to get the attention of the agents. And now it’s a whole new world where people have learned there’s another way to do things.
Mark Lefebvre 17:06
Can I propose that we’re not 10 years old, but in analog years, that makes us 30 years old probably right?
Kevin Tumlinson 17:14
Yes, I can accept that. Yeah, it has been interesting to see just the shift in the way people think about the industry. That’s one thing. But the technology, I remember when I first started self-publishing way back in like 2008 or so, 99% of what I have available to me now wasn’t around at all. Well, you know, Draft2Digital wasn’t around. I think at that point, maybe Smashwords? Let’s see, they were a couple of years ahead of us.
Mark Lefebvre 17:48
KDP and Smashwords were around in 2009. I think that was when I did my first ebooks, I went from the only print on demand to ebooks back then.
Kevin Tumlinson 17:57
Yeah, but no Vellum, no BookFunnel, no Reedsy, none of the things that I rely on today. No Draft2Digital. Very different landscape. BookBub. Yeah, no BookBub. So, yeah, how were we even surviving without these things?
Dan Wood 18:16
I mean, back in the day, there was nowhere to spend your advertising money that actually worked. You know, that was back when the way traditional publishers were advertising was like in newspapers and magazines.
Kevin Tumlinson 18:30
Yep, Google ads. That was the closest thing we had at that time to what we have now. And that was a terrible waste of money for me, I didn’t make anything. No return on Google ads at that time. So yeah, so it’s interesting to see how things have shifted, and we’re continuing to grow, obviously, but there’s just, Draft2Digital itself in that 10 years has gone from the very basics of how we started, you know, we’re so much more advanced now. I’ve been with the company since 2016, and we’ve added so many features that are that are no brainers to me now, like thinking about the industry, of course that exists. A Universal Book Link, that’s something that should exist for authors. It should have existed from the start. And, you know, we pioneered a lot of this stuff. So it’s been an eventful 10 years. But the other milestone we had was, for this show, we had our 100th episode as of a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, about two or three weeks ago now. This show started in the midst of the pandemic as a daily broadcast, actually. We did a daily livestream, I’m still baffled that we pulled it off, especially with me being on the road, with places with virtually no WiFi. And sometimes not having a microphone with me or whatever. Like, we still managed to pull that off. That’s pretty impressive.
Dan Wood 20:01
We were often splitting some of the load. So, you know, each of us would cover about a show or two per week. But yeah, it’s kind of insane that five days a week for a while we were doing some of these interviews and some of these discussions.
Kevin Tumlinson 20:18
For like, a solid three months.
Dan Wood 20:21
I’m so glad we did, because during the pandemic and everyone being stuck at home, I feel like there was just that hunger for getting to hear some of the voices that you might get to hear at a conference and you weren’t able to.
Kevin Tumlinson 20:40
Yeah, yeah. I think we introduced a few folks too, who maybe don’t have a conference presence that you might not have been exposed to otherwise. And just sharing all that insight, it’s been a real growth opportunity for Draft2Digital as well. Our YouTube presence has grown, which has been kind of fun to watch. Still not in that million subscriber number yet, so make sure you subscribe to YouTube right now. But you know, just the availability, having all that content available, it wasn’t just a chance for you guys, the audience, to grow and learn. It gave us a lot of insight as well, we’ve actually benefited quite a bit from that. And, you know, we’re adding new stuff all the time. So it’s going to be fun. Mark, this one I want you to talk about, because you led this, you were on the leading edge of this. But in August of 2022, we actually partnered with Humble Bundle. Do you want to talk about how that went?
Mark Lefebvre 21:45
Yeah, this was a great opportunity. So Humble Bumble, for anyone who’s not familiar, is a platform where you get digital assets. So a lot of the audience there would be video games and stuff like that. So digital assets, bundled together for one low price. And then the authors split the profits on it. Well, Humble Bundle approached us and wanted to work with us. So we collaborated and got together a science fiction themed bundle. And what I loved about this is we did a combination of some big name authors, we had a Brandon Sanderson book in there, we had some other New York Times bestselling authors. But we made sure, and this was something Megan and I were digging in to look at, finding great content from both the Smashwords side and the Draft2Digital side. Because, you know, we’re still in the process of merging those systems into one, which we can talk about a little bit later on. But trying to find some content that looked really, really good, but hadn’t yet had a lot of visibility or a lot of sales and success. So we’ve very proudly added some titles into that to try and give more authors more visibility, which is part of our ongoing goals as we move forward with merchandising and promotions. And that was a really great one. And we are looking at doing different themes with Humble Bundle. And so as 2023 rolls around, we have a meeting with them in early January to discuss what the next steps are. It’s all very manual, it’s done outside of our systems. But all the authors who participated have already been paid. And that was just put directly into their accounts. The only downside is you didn’t see the sales in your dashboard. So for those of us who like to look at the dashboard and hit the little refresh button, you missed out on that. But hey, better to have the coin in your pocket at the end of the day.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:34
So we are we looking to do any more of those over 2023?
Mark Lefebvre 23:40
Yeah, the hope is to do some different themed ones, right? This was a sci fi one, specifically, but we’re hoping to do different genres. Now again, we’re trying to cater more to the Humble Bundle audience, which is going to be more sci fi fantasy based. But we’re seeing, hey, what if we tried to introduce some new audiences to them, too? So that’s the discussions we’re going to be having with them. The other thing we’ll probably want to do a better job of is provide like we did for, and I don’t want to give away any of the things here talking about the Smashwords sale, but create some assets that authors could more easily share, to say, hey, I’m in this cool thing. You should go check it out.
Kevin Tumlinson 24:16
Yeah. Since you’ve brought up genres, Mark, you actually have … I don’t know if you’re prepared to share it on screen, or …
Mark Lefebvre 24:25
I have it as an overlay. I already loaded it.
Kevin Tumlinson 24:27
Let’s pop that up, because you actually have, what is it? It’s the top genres?
Mark Lefebvre 24:33
Yeah. So I was preparing, I just wanted to take a look at the year so far. Right now, I only have the data from January through November this year. I do know probably this time next month, the end of January, I’ll have the sales for all of 2020 and we can probably do, as we do on the blog, a little bit more detailed analysis of what …
Dan Wood 24:54
For 2022. You lost two years.
Mark Lefebvre 24:57
Oh yeah, sorry. 2022. If I can’t do 2020 sales we’re doing it all wrong.
Dan Wood 25:04
It does feel like we lost 2021 and 2020, so.
Mark Lefebvre 25:08
Thanks, Dan. But of the 3000 BISAC categories roughly that exist in the system, I’m gonna share the top 10. So you can’t see us anymore. Is that the top 10? Is paranormal the last one?
Dan Wood 25:30
Yeah, I see paranormal.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:33
I’m gonna get that off the screen so I can figure it out.
Mark Lefebvre 25:35
Yeah, so this is based on unit sales. It’s no surprise to anyone that romance occupies, what is that? Seven of the top 10 kind of, so these are the subcategories. So obviously contemporary romance is number one, romantic suspense, and then New Adult and then Historical Regency specifically. And then you get paranormal shifter romance, then action and adventure romance. Now, interestingly enough, the very first genre outside of romance that’s in that top 10 is action and adventure. I’m sure Kevin’s excited to hear about that. Then you get into women’s fiction, then back to romance again with billionaire romance, and then paranormal fantasy. So obviously, the genres are heavy, and we do know that romance obviously by far still leading the charge, as it often has since the beginning. Probably since the inception of Smashwords and Draft2Digital, right?
Dan Wood 26:33
Yeah, or probably since the inception of publishing. I don’t think publishers like to admit it, but it’s always kind of kept the lights on, I think for most people. I think it’s interesting, I would say that’s kind of a return to pre-pandemic, like those were the categories that tended to be the most popular. I think during the lockdown, we saw like romance comedy went from being generally one of the lower ones to being like number two after contemporary romance, it had like a good year or two where it was towards the top, and now we’re getting back towards that suspense, some of the a little bit darker stuff is getting thrown in.
Mark Lefebvre 27:23
The next one down …
Dan Wood 27:24
Oh, sorry Mark. I just gonna say, contemporary is always the biggest one for us. It’s also just, it’s got the most books in it and there are books that probably should be one of the smaller divisions that are just classified as contemporary.
Mark Lefebvre 27:40
So the next ones are amateur sleuth, clean and wholesome romance, cozy mystery, cozies. Military romance again. I mean, it’s interesting to see all the different genres. I remember times when it was a romance, romance, romance, romance, and you get to like category 15. And then you would get mysteries and thrillers. So interesting to see that mixture there now, like you said.
Kevin Tumlinson 28:04
Speaking of cozies, we had a question regarding the audiobooks. Will D2D Audio include cozy mysteries in 2023?
Dan Wood 28:16
With D2D Audio, I can’t really say or give you any timelines on genres. Just know that there’s a lot of work going on to add more genres than there are now.
Mark Lefebvre 28:28
That remains a mystery.
Dan Wood 28:31
A cozy mystery, maybe.
Kevin Tumlinson 28:33
A cozy mystery. Very good. So we had one final look back at the past thing, or look back at 2022 at least, and we can certainly discuss anything else that pops up. But one of the big things that happened for D2D is related to the merger. Of course, that merger that took over D2D for a year. I mean, that was basically everything we were working on behind the scenes. And we’re really happy with how things are progressing. But one of the things that we introduced was getting D2D authors distributed into, or D2D books at least, distributed into the Smashwords store. That was a big coup right here at the end of the year. We worked right under the wire. So for the first time, and I never thought I’d say this, D2D authors can distribute their books to the Smashwords store. Pretty impressive. Pretty impressive. I’m sorry, Mark, you dropped out. What was that?
Mark Lefebvre 29:40
I was just saying, one of the reasons why that’s … I’ll stop.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:45
No, go ahead. You’re on now.
Mark Lefebvre 29:50
One of the reasons I find that really exciting as an author myself is what I can earn from the Smashwords store. Like when I look at the Draft2Digital dashboard and I see what I’m earning, I go, ooh. Smashwords, there’s a few more coins in my pocket when I sell on the Smashwords store.
Kevin Tumlinson 30:07
Yeah, yeah, you get you get a better royalty. And we’re going to be improving these things as we go. Right now, it’s a fairly basic distribution, not a ton of control. And there’s some features on Smashwords you don’t yet have access to. But we’re going to be getting there, probably the biggest chunk of that is going to be first quarter, by mid-year 2023 we’re thinking. No promises, because we can’t make promises on things. You never know what’s gonna happen. But yeah.
Dan Wood 30:38
Something that a lot of our watchers and listeners might not know is that Smashwords store has had six consecutive years of growth, which is outpacing a lot of the different retailers that we work with. And so that’s very exciting. Just really great response this year to the Smashwords end of the year sale. So we were super excited to be able to get Draft2Digital titles in there. I think we’ve already had more than like 125,000 people or titles opted in to distribute to the Smashwords store. And a good chunk of them participated in the sale this time. The upcoming sales, they run three or four big sales a year, we’ll also be working on tools to give more granular control over the sale. This time, it was kind of like opt in all your titles or nothing. But later on, we’ll be able to support a lot more options for that. So that’s very exciting. Just I do want to say Smashwords store has been incredible.
Kevin Tumlinson 31:38
Yeah, and it’s been a boon just for me as an author. So an interesting accident that happened to me was, there was a … I didn’t read, I didn’t read the instructions. And so I didn’t realize …
Dan Wood 31:52
Kevin didn’t pay attention to something? This is unheard of.
Kevin Tumlinson 31:55
I know, it’s shocking, but when you have your book set under a certain price point, I think it’s 4.99, when you discount it, if the discount ends up being less than .99, that discount actually gets set for free, and I wasn’t really paying attention to that. So a big chunk of my shorter books fell into the free category. At first I panicked about it. But what I’ve noticed is, people start by buying those, so I wasn’t making any money off that sale. But shortly after that, like within a week or so, I started seeing a whole lot of sales on the higher price books, which were also discounted. So it’s a good opportunity to buy those, because I think I marked them at like 75% off. So you know, everybody’s buying them cheap. But I’m making that like 80% royalty on that. So it’s been very nice to see those numbers go up. There was like a one-week gap. So if you’re looking for a strategy to succeed on the Smashwords store, consider that option.
Mark Lefebvre 33:03
I love that you had that accident and it worked out for you. Because here’s the thing, right? You never had titles in the Smashwords store before. So suddenly you as an author are being introduced to a whole swath of, and I don’t know the stats on how many customers we have in the Smashwords store. Dan, do you have that handy? But we have a lot of customers around the world.
Dan Wood 33:23
I don’t, but it’s a lot.
Kevin Tumlinson 33:24
Yeah, I’m told, they say millions. So I’m sticking with millions. Yeah.
Mark Lefebvre 33:29
So that’s a great opportunity for you to get in front of a whole new audience, which is fantastic. The other thing that went out just this morning was one of our partnerships with Fresh Fiction. That email went out this morning, where we actually have a link to the Smashwords sale. And we’ve actually featured, we picked four titles that were included. We had a freebie, we had a box set, and we had a couple other genres in their standalones. And we put those in to test out what it would be like if we tried to advertise and drive more people to them. And just before we got in this call, I was in a meeting with Jim on the Smashwords side of things, because he has access to more analytics. And we were looking and went whoa, you can tell that this book was in the ad, because suddenly we saw the click through rate on that book suddenly jumped out of the blue, which was fantastic. And started to see some hiccups when the sale started, which was like, woah, listen, people are looking at the book, people are looking at the book, and all of a sudden a big spike. So we’ll be doing a little bit more of that and measuring just to see what we can do to help bring more of our authors into more readers’ eyes.
Kevin Tumlinson 34:43
And we were told, Mark Coker informed us and we sent out an email to everyone participating in the sale as of yesterday that this period, up to the New Year, is like when they see the most sales and when they get the most feedback. So this is a good time for you, if you are participating in this sale. If you’re listening, you missed it, sorry. But if you are watching live, rush right out and start doing some additional promotions, send an email to your list, let them know the sale’s winding down, because nobody wants to miss out on the bargains. So good time to go promote it.
Dan Wood 35:21
And one thing behind the scenes that I want to mention, because I’ve seen it’s incredible, is we added a lot of new people this year. Not just the people that came to the company from Smashwords. But there are people like Megan, and Jim Azevedo, and some of the different people. Like we ended up hiring several new customer service people we hired several developers, because we just knew we had all these things we wanted to do. So the way the Draft2Digital team has come together has just blew my mind this last year. Like it just really, as we’ve added these new people, how quickly they’ve been picking things up. You know, I’ve just been so proud, especially with everything like Mark and Megan have been doing with promotions and just pushing the envelope of what we’re capable of doing and getting more and more opportunities for authors. It’s just incredible.
Kevin Tumlinson 36:17
Yeah, what’s been very impressive to me is how, just instantly, the Draft2Digital folks and the Smashwords folks just came under the same umbrella with no static, no problems. It was like we’d always been working together. We shared such a close perspective, such a close philosophy with each other about the authors and the industry. We’re all founded by authors, we’re all there for the same reason. And it just instantly translated into a team. And that includes, Jim Azevedo was Smashwords initially, him coming on board and helping me out. And he’s remarkable. You know, everyone from that team, everyone who came over from that side has been just fantastic. So you should be seeing that out in the world, you’re gonna see that reflected in what we do. Let’s talk a bit about like what we’re thinking, because we just completed phase one for the Smashwords merger. Going forward in 2023, what’s our landscape look like? Like, what are we looking to accomplish in terms of the integration?
Dan Wood 37:33
We still have several months of merging things together. The end goal, I think we’ve tried to communicate this, but for anyone that might not know is for Draft2Digital to be the platform on which you distribute, you manage your books and your catalog, and Smashwords to be a storefront primarily. Once we get to that point, we’ll be able to free up a lot of their developer resources to add all kinds of cool new features, they’ve got so many different ideas for ways to empower authors to control their own promotions and to have opportunities. They’ll be working on, you know, making the storefront better for readers, just so many opportunities there. And so many opportunities for us to learn to market to readers, because that’s something that will be slightly new to people that have been at Draft2Digital for a long time.
Kevin Tumlinson 38:26
New to some. Some of us have been marketing to readers for a long time. Right, Mark?
Mark Lefebvre 38:34
Well as authors, yeah, but I mean, as distributors, I really love that opportunity. Like, you know, let’s let’s be honest, Books2Read is a phenomenal free tool for authors. But what we haven’t done with it yet is properly push it to readers. We do have, what was it, 90,000 different people are following authors on Books2Read or some sort of thing like that, where they’re automatically getting an automatic email every time that author releases new book, the Books2Read link goes to them, and there you are. So it’s free marketing that we’re doing for that. Imagine taking Books2Read to an even more powerful level, where we can help get great titles into in front of more readers by pushing that to readers, and showing them the bestselling titles. Because we, as the distributor and having access to a storefront of our own, now have the ability to curate a list of bestsellers from across most of the major retailers, pretty much all the major library wholesalers, as well as subscription platform. And I think that’s kind of it right? So we can kind of have a really good look at the industry and say, hey, Books2Read. Here’s some great titles that are selling everywhere, not just on one retailer that shall not be named.
Dan Wood 39:59
Yeah, we have probably the best data in the world of indie titles that are wide, and just how well they’re doing, what’s working well, and who those readers are, and so very excited to capitalize on all of that data to just help authors. Something I’m excited about, I know you guys will be excited about it, is just, there were two or three different places that Smashwords delivers books that we hadn’t gotten around to yet. And so as part of getting things ready for merging everything together, it’s just adding new places for authors to go. And so it looks like if things go to plan, we’ll be adding several new things in kind of that first and second quarter of the year. So new places to send your books, that’s always exciting.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:54
Speaking of data, we’re going to try over the next year or so, we’re looking to become a good resource for authors to gain some insight into how industry trends are working and what’s happening, because of our inside track information on what’s moving in the industry, how things are working, we’re able to share some of that. But you know, just giving you a storefront that allows you to see those sales and things in a much more granular way, we’re going to be much more open about things than a lot of the other retailers are, so it’s gonna be interesting to see where that goes. And what authors do with that. Authors tend to take data like that and do really interesting, creative things with it. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens on that front.
Dan Wood 41:42
We’ve always felt like the retailers are underestimating authors in that regard. And if you just give them the data, they will figure out better ways to sell more books to their readers and help everyone. And so, we’ll continue to push our current partners to offer more data and, and we’ll offer more data.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:03
Yeah, maybe with us doing things the way we’re doing it, and we figure a few things out, we can share our insight with those retailers as well and show them how this can benefit them. So this is, I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface. I tell people this all the time at conferences, etc., that you have no idea what just happened. It’s so much bigger than you probably assume that it is. And that storefront all on its own is one of the biggest things that’s happened to the indie author industry in a decade. So I’m really excited about where it’s going from here. That said, speaking of where it’s going from here, we got a couple of minutes left. And I wanted us to look in our crystal balls and say what do each of us think is the most likely thing that may come up over not just this next year, but maybe even the next stretch of years. You know, a decade out. What are we thinking are the trends of the industry going forward? Who wants to volunteer?
Mark Lefebvre 43:11
Well, I think we already kind of touched upon that. I know that AI and digital tools like that are gonna play a more significant role in authors’ lives. I think that’ll also mean, one of the things we always say that’s the most important is the connection that they have with the readers. And so if you don’t have an author newsletter, get one. Get started, this is a really important thing to connect with those people. And I really think direct sales are going to continue to grow. But as Dan already expressed, and Kevin already expressed, we have the Smashwords store, we’ll have new partners that we’ll continue to be adding. So the great thing for authors and for readers is our ability to help authors get into more platforms, get in front of more readers than ever before. I really think that we also saw a rebound. We saw a pandemic rebound that started in March of this year. We had a great boost of sales in March 2020. And then it kind of rebounded back to normal numbers, which seemed like a decline. It’s still an increase over 2019. But now that we seem to be stabilizing a little bit more, embracing new technologies, I think that authors are going to start to see some growth that they potentially maybe haven’t seen in the last nine months coming on the horizon, probably in the next half year.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:42
I feel like we’re likely to see some of the market dominance that Amazon in particular has start to dwindle a little. It just seems like there’s more and more happening worldwide, especially in the EU, that is aimed at chipping away some of this some of the hold that Amazon has on these various markets. We’re not yet seeing a lot of that translate down to the author set yet, but I don’t think it’s long in coming. So one of the predictions I have for like, the next five years, is that … I don’t think Amazon will topple, I don’t think most of what they’re doing is going away, but I think their grip on indie publishing will relax a bit. I don’t know what that’s gonna look like yet, but I’m predicting that.
Dan Wood 45:34
I …. Do you still have something?
Kevin Tumlinson 45:36
No, that’s me.
Dan Wood 45:40
I’m gonna go a little bit more controversial. Big box book retail, I think will die. As we know, like the big iteration of Barnes & Noble and the remaining players that are like them are just getting smaller and smaller. You’re already seeing it with Barnes & Noble going over to a smaller style of store. Some of the British stores were already a little bit smaller. Things like Indigo in Canada are, it’s hard to call them a bookstore anymore, if you look at like their ratio books to other things. Just the economics of books, the margins don’t make sense for that style of bookstore anymore now that there is Amazon. And not just Amazon, but nearly every other retailer has caught up with being able to deliver books to someone’s house relatively quickly. You know, if you hate Amazon, you can still find something like bookshop.org. You know, someday, I hope we’ll be a part of the mix of selling people physical books being shipped to anywhere in the world, that will be really cool. So we’re gonna see like small bookstores, but they’re going to be like, for us old people, like B Dalton and Waldenbooks back in the day. Or the equivalent of the airport bookstores, like that size of bookstore I think has a life. But it’s just not like the current Barnes & Noble or Borders was or Books a Million, like that trend is just gonna keep going. I firmly believe that ebooks are going to continue to eat up market share. Not just ebooks, but audiobooks and ebooks are going to continue to eat up some of the print share. But print’s going to be important for a very long time. I think that’s gonna accelerate a little bit with the generation of younger people that grew up reading on things like Wattpad and some of the different services that were out there, that were letting people read for free or relatively close to free, and are used to reading in the digital format. So we’ll see a little bit more of a rise from those readers reading in digital. And I think audiobooks just continue to grow, especially now that there will be some options to make it a little bit cheaper to produce them. I think no matter … with all the fears and all the anger and the concerns, I do think AI is going to be become a part of everyone’s workflow for any creator, but especially for authors, just the sooner you make peace with it and start experimenting with it and learning it, I think the better. I think there are still very ethical ways to use it, even with the concerns you might have now. Just talk to your author community about it. Don’t make it a debate or like an us versus them. Keep your mind open and talk to people about, how can we use this to make our lives better? I didn’t mention earlier, I want to circle back around. One of the reasons I think print is going to start to rapidly diminish is the cost of print right now is just going up tremendously due to like issues with globalization that we kind of realized during the lockdowns and the pandemic, energy costs are going up for transport. There’s just all kinds of different issues where most of the North American printers went out of business because they couldn’t compete with the Chinese printers on the heavily subsidized by their government printing industry there, and now it’s gonna take a long time for the print industry to recover. And it just means, I guarantee you, your hardback books, your print books are just going to go up in cost, and I think readers are going to really question, is it worth it to me to spend $35 or $40 US, just in our market. And then when you look at markets like Australia and New Zealand, where print books were already ridiculously expensive, it’s gonna cross a threshold where it’s just prohibitive for most people to buy print books in the way that they have been.
Kevin Tumlinson 50:28
Yeah, of course, we’re going to look for ways to solve that problem, too. So, stick around for D2D Print. And I think that’s going to have to wrap us up for this episode of Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital, and I hope you got something useful and interesting out of this episode. It was a nice look back, but I’m really looking forward to the future. I think 2023 is going to be a banner year for the indie author community. I’m excited to be a part of it on both sides of that fence. But for the rest of you, make sure that you are bookmarking D2Dlive.com, make sure that you’re going and checking that out, because every week we have another one of these live streams. And we also have our podcast goes live every Thursday morning. So make sure you’re following that, checking that out. And make sure that you are liking, following, subscribing on all the various social medias and especially on YouTube, where we’re going to pop up pretty frequently. And we’re about to start doing a lot more stuff on YouTube. So make sure you’re checking us out there. But beyond that, gentlemen, thank you for a fantastic year at Draft2Digital. On behalf of the author community, thank you. And for all of you out there listening and watching, stick around. It’s about to get really exciting. We’ll see you next time.