December 5, 2019

New technology will allow readers to read eBooks before their publication day


The eBook distribution company, Smashwords, has announced a new bookselling tool that will allow readers to buy and read books before they’re properly on the market.

The key here is that there is a difference between pre-orders (what you’re used to doing online for hotly anticipated books, resulting in you getting a copy when stock gets released on publication day) and pre-sales (buying the thing and getting to use it that day). The new Smashwords tool deals specifically in pre-sales.

The company hopes that publishers and authors will be able to use this service to their advantage, mostly by incentivizing readers to sign up to special mailing lists through which they’ll be able to get early access that content they gotta have now. At that point the writer or publisher will have captured a new email address to which they can direct future marketing efforts.

The Smashwords Store will sell all file types that the content provider allows in an effort to serve audiences with all types of eReaders.

While pre-sales (of a sort) aren’t new, the new technology behind the Smashwords Presales tool—that is, the patent pending—is “a product release system, method and device having a customizable repurchase function.”

Like all good technologies it relies a bit on … the honor system? As Smashwords founder Mark Coker writes in the announcement:

One of the most common forms of ebook piracy is accidental piracy, which is when an enthusiastic reader shares a great ebook with a friend.  Authors and publishers have the option to require presale customers to digitally sign an anti-piracy pledge in which the customer must affirmatively agree that the book is licensed for their personal enjoyment only and they may not illegally share the ebook with anyone.  The pledge acts as a gentle reminder to customers of their legal and ethical obligation to respect the author’s intellectual property.

For the moment it seems that the most obvious users of this technology will be self-published authors, whose books don’t always have a hard “launch” in the way that books from mainstream publishers do, and who are looking to build a more intimate relationship with a bigger audience.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.