This is kind of a nuts-and-bolts post. If you don’t care about ebook publishing from a business perspective, you might as well skip it.
Smashwords is an ebook distributor and retailer. Mostly. They’re also sort of a publisher, and their business model has some serious (but rarely mentioned) customer lock-in going on.
They offer indie publishers a pretty good deal. For a small piece of the action, they’ll take an ebook and distribute it to several retailers–Sony, Barnes & Noble, Page Foundry, Kobo, iBooks, and others. They also sell copies directly from their site.
I have no problem with them whatsoever. I like what they’re doing.
There are some interesting issues, though, that I’ve been wondering about:
1) Smashwords will assign a free ISBN to your book, if you want them to.
This is helpful, especially as you don’t get a lot of use out of your ISBN if you pay for one–Smashwords has a policy prohibiting you from using the same ISBN for non-Smashwords editions of your book. And I don’t think it really matters (more about this here) if Smashwords lists itself as the “publisher” for the editions they distribute. But…on all the sites you use Smashwords for, any reader reviews and retail history are going to be associated with the ISBN. Which they won’t let you use elsewhere. So, uh…it might be a good idea to register the ISBN yourself–just in case Smashwords goes away, or a retailer severs its relationship with them, or you sever your relationship with them, or something else goes wrong. It may not help you gain control of your editions that had been distributed by Smashwords, or tie reviews and such to new editions. On the other hand, it might…too bad it costs so much to buy an ISBN in the US, but they’re free in some countries. [UPDATE: Mark Coker from Smashwords addresses this in the comments below. I think his remarks are largely obfuscatory, but YMMV.]
2) Smashwords insists on a Word .doc version, and formats various ebooks from it.
Again this is not a sign of evil intent. I’d rather create each format of a book myself–but I do understand that they want to automate their processes. Plus, it’s neat that Smashwords will help us sell our ebooks in lots of different formats, and the ability to generate coupons (good only for sales directly via Smashwords) is a nice way to get books to…well, readers of one flavor or another.
But some of the formatting is just…dumb, when it comes out. [UPDATE: As of 12/31/2012 you can now upload an EPUB. There are still (as of 1/2/13) a few minor bugs in the process, but I’m very pleased about this.]
I don’t have a solution here. To be clear: I’m not mad at anybody either. I’ve had so much trouble with Barnes & Noble’s web application and customer service that I’m thinking I may cancel my publisher account with them and distribute to them only via Smashwords.
The ideal solution, I guess, is to hire somebody to create publisher accounts on all sites. Except…B&N, for example, won’t let indie publishers list their books for free. Neither will Amazon.
So to get free listings, you can go through Smashwords and list your book for free on B&N (among others). And, sometime later, Amazon will probably price-match. OTOH if you don’t anticipate setting a book to “free” you might as well list it directly. If you’re absolutely sure about that.
- If you go through Smashwords, there’s a chance that your books will suddenly be de-listed and any re-introduction may not bring past reader reviews along.
- If you don’t go through Smashwords, it’s hard to get a book listed as “free”…and you could find yourself suddenly excluded if a retailer decides it will only get books from a distributor rather than directly from indie publishers. Though this is a smaller risk, as it’d only be a particular retailer rather than all of them (at least at first).
Besides: who among us can afford a full-time business person to handle this stuff? A few, I suppose. Most of us will just have to wait until we can afford it–but the best time to set this up would be right now. Because the more successful you become with your current titles, the tighter the grip Smashwords will have on your finances.
There is a lot to manage in this “indie publisher” world. Many authors just upload their books to Amazon and call it a day. They’re not necessarily making a mistake–but then, of course, their income depends entirely on Amazon. Hmm.
I don’t have a perfect solution. In fact, as I’ll explain in my “New Year” post soon, I think I’ll focus my attention elsewhere for a while.
But…sheesh. There’s gotta be a better way. Maybe even this one.
I hope one of you has some good ideas you’re willing to share.
Be good out there. Pretty soon, Santa’s going to get over his PTSD and start watching us again.