Publishing: Past, Present and its Future! Part 1


Once upon a time a girl had a dream to create a magazine that would help all the gifted authors who didn’t have a voice and all the readers who wanted more control over who and what they read. But, what big name would ever agree to take a chance, be interviewed and put their reputation behind this small dream? Smashwords CEO, Mark Coker, that’s who!  
I first met him right after he had been named one of Forbes’ brightest new entrepreneurs, and as he exited a television interview with CNN. Man, was this lady shaking!! Over the years, however, I have learned to admire him for his kindness, his incredible passion for publishing and for his gracious willingness to help no matter how incredibly busy his life may be... and it IS incredibly busy, always! Recently, we sat down to catch up on the last seven years and discuss what the next seven will hold. In this first of a two-part series, you will see the genius that is Mr. Coker, as well as the gentleman that is Mark.

InD: Seven years, m’friend! It’s been a little over seven years since we first met and I interviewed you that first time.
MC: Wow, has it really been that long? That is hard to believe. Was that in St. Louis or Chicago that we met the first time?
InD: It was in Chicago. You had just come out of an interview with CNN and you were so sweet and kind to take the time for an absolute unknown who had a dream to create a magazine for self and small published...and look at how much has changed over the years!
MC: Well, right back at you, you have done, and are still doing, an incredible job. So much has changed.
InD: At that time, you had established Smashwords and it had really started to take off and things in the publishing world were going crazy. Help our readers understand Smashwords and what your original hopes were when you created and developed the company.
MC: I started Smashwords for authors. I wanted to make it possible for any author, anywhere in the world, to self-publish ebooks and do it at no cost, and let the readers decide which books were worth reading.
InD: And this was at a time when traditional publishing was the juggernaut of the industry,  wasn’t it?
MC: Yeah, 10 or 11 years ago it was an entirely print-centric market. Ebooks accounted for less than 1% of the market. People were not really thinking about ebooks. Publishers were the sole gatekeepers who determined which writers would become published authors, which published authors would be marketed, and which authors would get distribution in the bookstores so they could be discovered by readers. Publishers decided what readers could read. As a result, untold hundreds of thousands of books were never seen by readers and would just go to the grave with the unpublished writer. It represented a cultural travesty of epic proportions.
I wanted to create a platform that would allow those unseen works to get out into the public, so the readers could determine which books were worth reading.
It was a crazy idea back then. We had this idea to publish authors that no publisher wanted to publish, in a format that no readers had any interest in reading, and we were going to offer this service for free! We weren't going to be paid up front. We would only make money if the author made money. I had faith that some small percentage of authors would find massive audiences and make it a viable business. That is pretty much what happened.
InD: Since that first interview, you have been kind enough over the years to write articles periodically for InD’tale. Often, at the first of the year, with predictions for the future of publishing. I'm amazed at how often those predictions come true. In that very first interview, I asked about where you saw Smashwords and publishing in five years. You said you thought traditional publishers would go through a crisis and would have to completely change how they did business. You said self-publishing would rise and you thought the most successful authors would be hybrid authors, publishing some books Indie and some traditional. The prophet Coker! [both laughing]
MC: I’ve had a lot of fun making predictions over the years. My track record is pretty good but I’ve had some big misses. I’m not afraid to be wrong, that’s part of the fun. My aim with the predictions is to challenge authors to visualize potential futures, and ask themselves if each prediction is the future they want or don't want. Such imaginings prepare authors to take steps today to either prevent that future from happening, or to encourage it.
As much as I’ve always been a proponent of self-publishing, I’ve always loved traditional publishing, as well. I think both are viable, useful, and important publishing options for authors. I think that the more publishing options authors have, the better it is for everyone.

Read the entire article in the July/August 2019 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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