Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Love Smashwords ... don't you ?

Roughly one year ago, I became the proud owner of an ereader. A few months later, I became aware of Smashwords. Now, the first step when considering buying an ebook is to check it's presence on Smashwords. If present, that's one major good point. And with a few exceptions, when buying there, I buy from the Smashwords website.

Why ?

"Ideological reasons" :
  • I don't like "monopolies", hence I prefer my money going in "smaller players" pockets. I know Amazon is no monopoly, but it has a dominant position, and I think everyone benefits if it's kept from becoming one. Each ebook cent I put in Smashwords pocket is one less in Amazon's, and one more in its opposition's.
  • I don't like DRMs (reasons explained in THIS OTHER POST, and Smashwords is clearly opposed to them as seen in the FAQ).
  • It has no geo-restrictions, either hard (as B&N does, which prohibits me from buying ANY books for my Nook from them), or soft (like Amazon's International $2 surcharge).
  • It "benefits" writers due to it's high royalties rate (for direct selling) : 85% regardless of the price/geo-location (I'm pointing at you Amazon), except if the sell is through an affiliate in which case it's  70.5%, 11% going to the affiliate.
  • Multi-format (Kindle/azw, epub, pdf, text,html) downloads enable users to use whichever reading device/software they want.
  • Smashwords as a company has stated AND SHOWN that it follows a few goals that coincide with my "ethics".

"Practical reasons"
  • It has a Cloud-like library (see my related post
  • It's an "easy way" for writers to distribute to high number of  retailers (except Amazon) without having to negotiate/register at each one.
  • Coupons allow writers lots of marketing promotions and to "gift" books without having to pay. Wide range of coupons.Since I can't use any "direct" buying from my reader (a Nook, abroad), I have to sideload anyway. Not a reason per se, but an acknowledgement that if I had an ereader-included 1 click buying app I would be tempted to use it instead.

Mixed :
I'm mixed on the "reviewing" system : Only people having "bought" the book can review it. On one hand, this "ensures" that people having it have at least access to it to review. This of course makes sure that Hordes of non-readers are unable to post bad reviews, but on the other hand with coupons an author can still ensure "hordes" of good reviews. It also limits the number of reviews, since readers having read a non-smashwords version are unable to post on SW. The small number of reviews in turn diminishes the "legitimacy" of the reviews. Amazon, with its two classes of reviews manages it best I think.
A mitigating way to manage that (and maybe a smart way to help readers regarding "portability") can be to add in your Amazon/Kindle book a coupon for acquiring the book at Smashwords too...

What I don't like :
  • The Smashwords formatting and MeatGrinder seem difficult for authors, and doesn't necessarily allow them to format the final files as they want, hence discouraging authors to publish through them.
  • There is no integrated easy way to organize the library. Only a pseudo Wish-List (books you've added) and a purchased list : "Books I've purchased".
  • The "search" is quite dumb and not sophisticated enough. 
  • Likewise some kind of "also bought" like feature, and other "curation" would be appreciated.
  • While addressing remarkably well international authors, the website is only available in English (minor) but misses a "language" filter, which could allow easier access to non-English content. 
  • The Meatgrinder uses Word as input. I understand that an other format (such as ODT) would force writers still an other tool to write, the Word format is NOT standardized, not standard, and belongs to the Microsoft monopoly. 
  • There is no fully integrated "1 click" buying software that I know of, but I may be wrong here. (Stanza anyone ?) 
  • (Stanza seems to be one such application, but is restricted to Apple hardware, Aldiko on Android seems also to allow 'inside app browsing')
  • There is not enough content/customer. One being the consequence of the other.
  • For writer, strategy-wise, putting the book in numerous stores, it dilutes the sells between stores, hence the "top100 effect", unless everyone does the same. 
  • Free books in the library can't be "bought" for free hence are "lost" when becoming paying.

Enhancements :
In addition to finding solutions to the above problems, there are a few enhancements that I think would improve the Smashwords website:

  • Proposing to remove books from the library when they are bought, hence having no dupes between the two "shelves" of the Library
  • Having something like "MicroPay" (Webscription) would go some way to help "impulse buying" (instead of the whole Paypal shebang).
  • Finding (perhaps negociating) a way to get/use reviews/ratings from retailers, which could be used to improve the "reviews" part of the website for example: 3stars at B&N (50 reviews) , 3.5 at AppleStore (20 reviews) --> ponderated at 3.2

And you ? What is your opinion on Smashwords ?

Other Smashwords related related blog posts :
Finally, here a a list of other related blog posts:

Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 1
Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2Distribution : the issues of DRM and geographic restrictions
Think Like A Publisher #11… Electronic Sales to Bookstores
Independent Publishing: That’s Evolution!


  1. I like Smashwords too. I haven't used the library reader that much. I wish it was a bit easier to manuever around in, and I'd really like some way to know if what I'm getting is complete garbage or something really good. There is a lot of both on Smashwords. Overall, though, its really an amazing service to authors and readers alike for very little money on either's part.

  2. The Smashwords formatting and MeatGrinder seem difficult for authors, and doesn't necessarily allow them to format the final files as they want, hence discouraging authors to publish through them.

    Actually, the last time I uploaded something there (about a week ago), the upload went very smoothly. True, it was only an e-book with 2 short stories, but still, it was better than when I uploaded my novella in early July. (And I used the "nuclear option" that Mark suggests. A bit of a pain, but the upload was quick.)

    I totally agree with your point that the library has no organization; "bought" and "wish list" just aren't enough. Even a simple tagging system would be miles ahead of what's available now.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  3. Thanks for the comments.
    I can't comment on the "author" side of things, especially since on the forums I visit some authors -- like you -- don't have any difficulties, while some others don't find the way to get it right.

  4. I agree with supporting the small player.

    I love Smashwords because they forward my SciFi books to all the other sites (except Amazon) and hopefully to Amazon by the end of the year. What I also love is the one sales report which makes doing my Tax much easier. I also like the payments received through Paypal because I live outside USA. Amazon only sends cheques outside USA.

    I also agree with your points on reviews, and know that Mark is still working on making the site as good as possible, and is prepared to listen to any suggestions offered, as in your do not like list.

    Thank you for a thoughtful blog post on Smashwords. Now we need more readers to read your post and eventually find all the good books waiting to be read. :-)

  5. Just beginning the adventure in eBooks but am enjoying it immensely!

    I was one of the lucky ones it seems,who has published with Smashwords and found no problems what so ever! But, as Nancy Beck has said above, I also used the 'nuclear option' as suggested in the 'Smashword Style Guide.'

    Reading through your Blog I agree with the points you have made to improve the site. Searches for particular books are not user friendly and could be improved. Also including reviews from other sites would make for interesting viewing by potential customers.

    Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and giving up your mug!

  6. Thanks Diane and C.M. Yes ! We need more readers, that's for sure, and I hope that you'll sell your books as well.
    Diane, your books are now in my "Library", waiting for my ereader change before I can read again (problems with my Nook).

    I was discussing with french people, about how a French Smashwords was missing for indie publishing to really start here...

  7. Great post. ~ If you wouldn'tmind Id link to link to it from my site. Agree with many of your ideas, especially as someone writing from Europe (Spain) and feeling marginalised by many companies (such as Barnes and Noble) for creating direct sales to them. So Smashwords gets my vote there - as in many other categories, such use of paypal (versus Amazon) etc. If we could just do something about that massive tax deduction without going thought the mindfield of the paperwork (that here is a never-ending uphill struggle).

  8. Of course, please link !
    And yes, international sales is not quite yet totally 'in' for ebooks (even Smashwords has some failings in that, as noted)...

    I'm no writer, so am not as interested in the "tax" thing, but I'm not sure they can do more than what they're doing regarding paperwork...

  9. This is an interesting post about Smashwords. However, you seem very worried about "monopolies" for someone who is blogging on Blogger, tweets on Twitter, links to Facebook and Google+, and whose blog is searchable by Google. Which monopoly are you concerned about?

  10. Jan, You're right, I may be a little bit "light" on my "semction" of monopolies to avoid. However, since I don't give pay directly for any of the "twitter/Blogger/Facebook/Google+" etc. services, I don't feel as "invested" in them, whereas when I buy books, I distribute money.

    I understand that it may just be reacting on the visible sides of icebergs, and hence may lead to bad choices, but still.

    But you're right, I'm here on blogger more Google oriented than I should.
    Please note that I don't support Google Books, but this decision could be based on the fact that as far as I saw it's completely under-par compared to even small scale Smashwords ;-P

  11. Hey, SFR, good post.
    I'm an author and a reader and just received a Kindle for Christmas.
    From the reader perspective I find Smashwords to be a bit clunky. I prefer to spend time on Goodreads or LibraryThing, finding recommendations and reading reviews. Then I go to whichever marketplace the book of interest is offered in. I can appreciate your issues with having a Nook.
    From the author perspective Smashwords is great. One route for access to B&N, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, Apple etc. The Meatgrinder can be laborious but it produces a better quality product than KDP Amazon. I'm currently reading a book on my kindle that is a good read but the formatting is all over the place. The author simply wouldn't have got that through the Meatgrinder and certainly not into Smashwords Premium Catalog which requires a very high standard. My preferred method is to strip out formatting with the nuclear option (past into Notepad then back into Word) and then do minimal style formatting, save as html and load that into KDP. The Word version of that will then load smoothly into Smashwords.
    Reviews are scattered all over the net for ebooks and paper books. Smashwords, Goodreads, LibraryThing, every different Amazon country site, all the marketplaces that Smashwords distributes's difficult for an author to keep tabs on what reviews have been written for his / her books and where. I gather all mine together for each book on my blog pages (expecting to come back in the next life as a squirrel!).
    Your idea of offering the voucher code at the back of an Amazon Kindle ebook is a bit risky. Somehow Amazon might discover it and consider it as a free giveaway. They then reserve the right to zero the ebook price on Amazon. This happened to me over Christmas when I offered vouchers on my blog.
    Pricing is also something to watch out for. It can take a week or more for price changes to make it from Smashwords through to some of the channels.
    On the subject of monopolies, I tend to agree but I can live with using Word and Amazon as long as they don't limit competition (which I guess they do so that blows my logic out of the water!).