Independent ebook retailing runs the gamut from Smashwords to BookBaby Bookshop to Gumroad, and it can be informative to line up 3 different companies to highlight their difference.
To start, let's look at Snapplify.
This is a 3 year old startup which I found for the first time at the Startup Alley at BEA 2014. They have a DIY ebookstore platform which enables authors and publishers to actively sell their own content. In many ways Snapplify is like Smashwords, but Snapplify differs from Smashwords in offering a DRmed platform.
Snapplify also distributes ebooks (at a rather high commission when compared to Smashwords), but I want to focus on their own DRM. This startup rolled their own DRM, and the ebooks sold via Snapplify can only be read in Snapplify's apps for Android and iOS, or in your web browser. That strikes me as a bad idea for most markets, but that can't be said for all ebook markets - just the ones where you have to compete with major ebookstores like Kindle, etc.
A consortium of independent publishers announced that they are collectively launching a new ebook store this week. This ebook retailer is following Baen Books in selling DRM-free ebooks at a reasonable price. The standard price will be $6, 80% of which will be paid to the author or publisher.
0s&1s Novels has 13 publishers signed up to sell ebooks through the site, and they are looking to recruit more, but there's a catch. This site is not open to all; you can submit a manuscript but it will only be sold on the site if they accept it. That sets 0s&1s Novels apart from pretty much all other ebook retailers, and it makes them more of a publisher.
The curated aspect is what caught my eye at first, and I think it makes 0s&1s Novels worth watching.
And last but not least, let me tell you about Redshelf.
Redshelf is one of a number of startups focused on digital textbooks, in some ways making them a competitor to Inkling. In addition to selling and renting textbooks from the major educational publishers, Redshelf is also working to help professors and schools publish and sell their original work (a la Flatworld Knowledge). They offer a whitelabel ebookstore platform which has its own DRM. There aren't any apps, but customers can read the content in a web browser.
Redshelf caught my eye because they are doing for academic publishing what Smashwords does for general publishing. They have 1,200 publishers in their store, and currently work with around 200 schools.
The Redshelf platform is by no means perfect; the lack of downloads means that it is subject to the same access vissitudes as Coursesmart and other cloud-based platforms. Nevertheless, Redshelf is the first startup I have come across which specifically focuses on academic self-publishing.
Are any of these companies doing something especially new?
I would say no, but they do remind us that, in a year when a couple major players bowed out of the ebook market (Sony, Samsung) and one (Kobo) announced that they had given up on the US ebook market, new companies are still launching all the time. The future is by no means set.