Smashwords has developed a new tool that company founder Mark Coker hopes will redress what he sees as the imbalance that has developed between indie authors and publishers with some online retailers. The new tool, Smashwords Presales, uses patent-pending technology to enable the creation, management, and merchandising of e-book presales.

Created by Coker and Smashwords CTO Bill Kendrick, Smashwords Presales will allow authors and publishers to design programs that will let readers buy an e-book before its public on-sale date. The tool is also intended to help authors and publishers get in touch with their customers—a relationship Coker believes has been corroded by online retailers—via email.

Among the features of Smashwords Presales is a privacy agreement that must be signed by authors and publishers declaring that they will use a customer’s email address only for their own use and will not share or sell it with a third party. With the agreement in place, authors and publishers are free to offer customers an early copy of their books either at full price or at a discount as an incentive for readers to sharing their email addresses.

Coker sees the privacy agreement as a way for authors and publishers to build “conditional access” to their customers, as well as a way to offer exclusive content for a certain period. While there is no time limit on how long a presale can last, Coker hypothesized that many authors and publishers would make it available for one to three days.

Coker also sees Smashwords Presales as a way for authors and publishers to generate some sales before moving to Amazon’s KDP Select program, which demands exclusivity. Authors can arrange a presale event before the title will be available via KDP and, when the time comes to join the service, authors and publishers can cancel the presale option on Smashwords Presales.

Coker called the launch of Smashwords Presales “the most audacious and ambitious thing I have ever done, including the original launch of Smashwords.” He believes all content creators who use e-commerce as their primary sales channel can benefit from the presale model by giving them different channels and models through which to sell their material.

Coker filed for a patent for the entire presales system, but he is eager for other e-commerce retailers to license the system, and he would like to see it eventually adopted throughout the entire supply chain. If that happens, Coker said, authors and publishers would regain some of the independence they have lost to online retailers.