Last week, I had never heard of Mark Coker. This week, I think he’s a god.
I’ve been on the Amazon Kindle market for several months now. In that time, I’ve been uprunning all the other operations of my little indie authorship (professional cover art, internet presence, tangential projects, etc.), Finally, I decided to expand my distribution. I’d heard of Smashwords all along, of course: in the world of e-readers, as the saying goes, there’s Amazon and, for everything else, there’s Smashwords.
But after finding the Smashwords website and printing out their how-to booklets, I had a strange epiphany. At the end of every doc, there was the same smiling face, lit from beneath by an oddly encroaching light source which gave the curve of the mouth a strange smirk it could not otherwise possess. It was a startling effect, given that it was such a tiny image at the end of an otherwise overloaded instruction booklet. How often do you plow through a formatting manual just to arrive at some guy’s smiling face?
That’s how I knew that Smashwords was completely different from Amazon. Don’t get me wrong. The Kindle opened my eyes to a brand new world, and Amazon is still my favorite tech company. But discovering Mr. Coker’s creation Smashwords has been like discovering a new friend.
These documents that I printed were clearly a labor of love, showing an artist playing to an audience of one. Mr. Coker’s instructional copy came off the page like he was talking to me directly, like we were all in on the same joke. Since he was in our position not so long ago, he’s got the exact same mindset. But the difference with this guy is that he did something about it. And he knows it.
Something else I found really impressive was the originality of his business model. Another author once said: there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Mr. Coker clearly anticipated the e-reader tide, observed the fragmentation of formatting, and concocted a simple solution: one formatter, multiple outputs. Most importantly, he saw the headaches he could avoid by NOT being a publisher. Smashwords is a distributor, plain and simple, and their throughput is driven by their formatter.
The marketing genius behind this simple idea is so zen, so meta, that it’s hard to imagine a world where it had never existed at all. For me, that world was last week.