Home » Amazon, Smashwords » Amazon The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Amazon Doubles Down on Exclusivity

Amazon The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Amazon Doubles Down on Exclusivity

30 November 2012

From Mark Coker on The Smashwords Blog:

Will Amazon be the grinch who steals Christmas from thousands of indie authors this holiday season?

Last year, a mere three weeks before a record-breaking Christmas for ebook sales at the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony and other retailers, Amazon convinced thousands of indie authors to remove their books from the virtual shelves of all Amazon competitors.

The lure:  KDP Select, an opt-in program that requires authors to make their books exclusive to Amazon for a minimum of three months.

. . . .

I contended, and still contend, that exclusivity is a devil’s bargain.  When authors go exclusive with any retailer, they increase their dependence upon that single retailer, limit long-term platform building at other retailers, disappoint fans who shop at other stores, and hobble the development of a thriving and competitive ebook retailing ecosystem.

KDP Select places authors in a difficult position.  They must decide if the short term benefits of KDP Select outweigh the long term harm caused to their writing career.  The potential benefits are uncertain, and the harm is impossible to measure.  How does one measure a missed opportunity?  One thing is for certain:  When I look at the Smashwords bestsellers, they’re authors who maintain non-stop, uninterrupted distribution of all their books.  They’re the authors who are working to build their audiences at each retailer for the long term.

. . . .

Undoubtedly, some indie authors will reach for the carrot and immediately pull their books from distribution, and as a result will never know what they missed out on this holiday season.  It’s somewhat ironic that after decades of writers bowing subservient to traditional publishers who controlled the only path to retail distribution – and after so many traditionally published authors saw their books forced out of print when retailers dropped their books – that so many indie authors will now pull their books from distribution with their own hands.

What affect has KDP Select had on the growth of Smashwords?  Not as much as our detractors might think.  After Amazon announced KDP Select last year, some authors speculated it would put us out of business.  Quite the contrary.  We and our authors have enjoyed another record year this year, thanks to growth across the Smashwords distribution network.

Link to the rest at The Smashwords Blog and thanks to Jeanne for the tip.

Mark Coker makes a lot of his Silicon Valley background. PG has been involved with many tech companies large and small. The good ones never complained about their competition. Instead they focused on building better products and services than their competition offered.

Amazon, Smashwords

91 Comments to “Amazon The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Amazon Doubles Down on Exclusivity”

  1. In three months, my sales from Smashwords has been exactly $0. I still make regular sales from Amazon. Even the free story doesn’t have that many downloads on Smashwords (under 100). My reach through Smashwords has been none.

    Perhaps certain genres are pulling all that growth into Smashwords, but I’m considering putting my books back in Select.

    • Personally I’ve sold about 4x as many e-books through Smashwords and its distributors as through Amazon in the last three months, and made more money on most of the sales. I’ve no idea how people even find them given the search interface on most of those sites is so bad.

      When I finally get my next novel done I suspect I’ll put it in Select for the three months, then push it out everywhere. I certainly wouldn’t keep it exclusive for long.

      • That’s really interesting. I did have one person tell me that when iTunes sent in their quarterlies, he had sold a ton, but nothing on Smashwords itself, so I guess that could be a possibility.

        I do suspect Smashwords is better for some genres. I went to look up your books, and I find it a little surprising that sci fi does well for you there. Your blurbs are very entertaining, though!

        • I also sell a lot through B&N distributed through Smashwords, more than at Amazon now (being in Canada, I can’t get in to B&N through PubIt). I’ve had zero luck with KDP Select on two different items. I suspect success with it has a lot to do with the genre.

          There are some people who do well with Select, others who have no success with it at all and would be better served casting a wider net.

          That said, I do think Mark Coker would do better focusing on improving Smashwords rather than complaining about Amazon. Making strides in getting such things as allowing ePub uploads would go a long way to making Smashwords an attractive addition.

      • I really like Smashwords but they’ve got to do something about the search interface. As a consumer (before becoming an author) I really didn’t like it, and now as an author I like it even less.

        • Smashwords has a search interface? O_o

          (I just look up authors I know, there, or a book title if I want to see if I can get something from there instead of Amazon…)

    • This.

    • I sell a solid percentage through Smashword direct, and through the distribution sites. Not as much as Amazon, but enough.

      I also like to put myself in the head of my readers, and ask how I’d feel about an author who told me I had to use a particular retailer – especially one who charges extra depending on what country you live in.

      Amazon has done great things for self-publishers, but this exclusivity push is awful.

  2. Yeah… All of this whining is getting quite old.

    • To mistake my criticism of KDP-S as whining is to miss the point. I believe exclusivity is bad for authors, readers, retailers and even Amazon in the long run. If one reads the full post at http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/11/amazon-grinch-who-stole-christmas.html and some of my other posts on this (linked in my original), I articulate my position in great detail.

      With KDP-S, they’re giving preferential discoverability to authors who go exclusive. That means they’re punishing their own KDP authors who choose not to go exclusive. I’m surprised more KDP authors don’t realize that.

      Unlike Amazon, I strongly encourage all writers to distribute everywhere, especially to Amazon.

      • Mark, quit lollygagging around here and get that epub submission tool operational. 🙂

        • Believe me, if I could program, I’d be coding right now. 🙂

          • Hey, can you get any distribution agreements with Xinxii, perchance? Or AllRomance/OmniLit? 😀

            Also, you’re missing some sales — GoodReads searches by ISBN, but B&N doesn’t bring over the Smashwords ISBN! So even if someone is intrigued by one of my books via a GoodReads review, they have to still type in my name and/or title to find it. The GoodReads link gives an error. Poke your programmers! Please! 🙁

  3. Mark Coker spreads FUD about Amazon? Ho hum.

    ‘Dog bites man . . . YouTube at 11.’

    • ‘Man bites dog back . . . YouTube at 11:15’
      . . .
      ‘PETA has man put down . . . YouTube at 11:30’

      Maybe I read it too quickly, did he have an actual point this time? More readers, more writers, more cash to go around if you’re playing in the Select pool.

      It sounds like only smashwords sees Amazon as the Grinch.

  4. See my comment on a previous post about how Smashwords is becoming a free for all fiction download site/erotica party.
    I currently use it for access to Apple and Sony and opt out of everywhere else I can upload on my own. If/when the day comes that people can upload to these sites without Smashwords… *cue dirge*

    I’m already considering buying a cheap, used mac just to get the software to upload to the apple store. And that would be one more notch down.

    • I have my own account with Apple (since I already had a Mac). Sony I don’t care about. The main reason I got a Smashwords account is that B&N have a terminal case of Only America Is Real syndrome — if you don’t live in the U.S., you can’t even set up a PubIt account. This is still true, even though they are now (supposedly) selling ebooks in the U.K.

      I’ll have to say, if a retailer is going to restrict who can use its services, I prefer Apple’s way to B&N’s.

      • I agree with you there. There sooner all the sites drop there country exclusivity the better off they’ll be. I’m in the US so Pubit works for me. I’m sure they’ll expand fast once they realize there’s a market for it. I’ve had lots of downloads when I do a free promo, but no buys on Smashwords unless they already know the author. My short stories have already sold on Pubit, Kobo and Amazon within days of listing. And don’t forget Goodreads as a hub for visibility. My paperback giveaway ends tonight and I’m nearly at 400 sign up for a first novel release.

        Smashwords had better figure out it’s game soon or it’ll die.

    • HG and Tom, you can upload direct to Apple or other retailers, though often there are advantages to reaching them through a distributor like Smashwords. See this news, just out today, talks about a big promo Apple’s doing in Australia and New Zealand. It’s only available to authors who are distributing to Apple through Smashwords – http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/12/apple-launches-breakout-books-promotion.html

      • That’s nice. I considered using Smashwords to distribute to Apple, but decided against it for very nasty technical reasons. To wit:

        The Smashwords epub for my first book contains a nasty formatting bug. One chapter overrides the reader’s choice of font and size and defaults to Times New Roman at a fixed size, which makes a ghastly contrast with the rest of the book. I have not been able to replicate this error in any other EPUB reader or app. Nor have I been able to find anything different in the source code for that chapter that would account for the error.

        I had already put my manuscript through the Nuclear Option when this error appeared. I ran it through again, went through the whole business of tediously restoring the necessary formatting by hand, and when I was done, the error was still there — but in a different chapter.

        I left an email through the Smashwords site to your tech-support people, asking for help identifying and debugging the problem. This was in August. I still haven’t heard back from them.

        Whereas if I dump my manuscript into Pages and export an EPUB from that, it uploads via iTunes Connect without a hitch and displays flawlessly.

        tl;dr: The product generated by the Meatgrinder is unfit for use on an iOS device. No ‘big promo’ in Australia and New Zealand (or anywhere else) can possibly make up for that.

  5. I pulled my books from Smashwords last December,and right now, I have to decide if I want to stay in Select for three more months. It’s a tough decision. I want to distribute elsewhere but my own experience with Smashwords was less than successful and in the year since, I have heard that SW’s review process takes days if not weeks. Not only that, but the lag time between making changes and seeing them propagate through the channels is long and the results hit or miss.

    I was going to pull my books from Select to try Kobo, but I haven’t heard much in the way of success there either. At least not yet. I may have to risk Select until March, and then try out Kobo then.

    I agree that distributing widely is a great idea in theory, and I’d do it if I could do it without taking a huge hit in sales.I just wish all of the other options were even half as good as Amazon so that the jump can be made without losing readers. Looking at my borrows, I know that I have gained hundreds of readers via KOLL. For some reason, naysayers discount the readers gained from the added exposure of the KOLL as people who don’t count or that somehow Apple, B&N and Smashwords readers are more important.

    I’m still waiting for those other places to step up their game and make their stores as easy to shop at as Amazon. They need better search engines, and wireless delivery, for starters. They also need to attract a wide range of readers so that all genres had an opportunity. I don’t know how they would do that, and if I did, I’d start my own store. 🙂

    • MP, we’ve made a lot of improvements at Smashwords over the years. This year, we’ve staffed up dramatically. The time for Premium Catalog approval has dropped from a high of almost 12 days earlier this year to about three days now, and we’re working to bring that down further. Our responses to support inquiries are faster, with many authors now getting same-day responses. The other retailers have stepped up their games this year, but authors who aren’t there aren’t going to know it. Apple has had a huge year. B&N just expanded into the UK with a compelling strategy leveraging 2,500 brick and mortar outlets. Kobo has had a great year. The authors who are distributing everywhere, and maintaining non-stop presence everywhere, are building audiences that will reap dividends for years to come. I think authors who’ve locked all their titles in KDP-S for the last year are missing out. I see the sales our authors are generating. The risk you face of leaving KDP-S is that you’ll lose your -S advantages. You might do better leaving -S, or you might not. Every author’s experience will vary. In the aggregate, however, I strongly believe authors who are everywhere will do better in the long term. The only way I’ll be wrong is if Amazon manages to put everyone out of business, which is unlikely. Apple, B&N and Kobo are all well-funded.

      • Mark, I appreciate that you took the time to reply. I will probably sign up for Select for the holidays, it will probably be my last time–unless sales tank after I pull out. At that time, I’ll definitely consider uploading to other sites. I’ll give it some time, obviously, but I’ll be watching sales closely.

  6. I wish he would sort out the two main problems with smashword : meatgrinder and the length of time to pay writers.

    It would be better to do this than worry about something he can do nothing about.

    • Oh, but he can do something about it. He can try to frighten people away from Amazon by spreading rumours that they are actually the boogeyman.

      It’s not a very useful thing to do, but it’s what he can do, and he’s doing it.

    • Problem #3: The amount of time it takes to make changes to a book.

    • Yes, please. I would love to be able to upload my custom epub files to Smashwords that I pay a professional to create, and they are SO much prettier.

      • To hell with epubs, I say. Use pdf.

        The only reason I can see to leave pdf behind is so you don’t have to use any Adobe software, but that would mean not embracing a format that requires even Mac users to use Adobe software. Geez!

        • To hell with PDF. I read ebooks on my phone. Try viewing a PDF on a 3.5-inch screen.

          I’ll add that PDF is a fundamentally wrong format for ebooks. It’s designed to convey information on exact page layout and content for a print layout — which is only natural, since it’s based on PostScript, which was designed as a language for controlling laser printers. It explicitly defeats any attempt to reflow text, change fonts, change font sizes, change page size, or use any of the other features that ebook readers can do and printers can’t.

          For very specific kinds of content, where layout is king — books with lots of charts and tables, for instance — PDF is the best format we’ve got (for the present). For ordinary reading, it stinks.

          • Does HTML work for you, then? As long as it doesn’t require special software to open.

            PDF is fine if you’re not reading something like House of Leaves, and if you’re reading House of Leaves, why are you reading it as an ebook?

            • No, PDF is NOT fine unless I’m reading something like House of Leaves. I just told you, PDF does not allow you to reflow text, change fonts, change font sizes, or any of the other things that allow an ebook to be legible on a phone.

              HTML doesn’t work either, because neither the Kindle app nor the iBooks app (nor any other ebook-reading app that I am aware of) is designed to open naked HTML files. Now, the internal markup of both MOBI and EPUB is done in HTML, but the HTML file is only one part of the package. There are also things like artwork and the machine-readable table of contents, which would be stripped out if you reduced a book to a raw HTML file of the text.

              • That’s the fault of the Kindle app, not the format.
                Oh, and Preview does allow me to change the font size. If I have to, I can convert it to text and change the font manually.

        • I actually use SumatraPDF to read PDF files now. I’ve had too many problems with Adobe.

          For what it’s worth, low-end Kobos, at least, are horrible to read PDFs on. I’m lucky when the text all fits on the screen. Most of the cases, when it does all fit, the text is exceptionally tiny.

          That said, on AllRomance, PDF is my third most popular selling filetype, and it’s not third after EPUB and MOBI by much.

  7. Old? It has surpassed old and turned obnoxious.

    Come on! Mark, you’re a great guy with a great idea, but… come on! The Amazon as boogeyman argument only works with children.

    KDP Select is a business strategy. It works because Amazon is trying its best to make it work. Nothing more, nothing less. I doubt Amazon has spent one nano-second rubbing its hands together while cackling, “Who shall we drive out of business today?” They are doing what you should be doing. Competing.

    How about some facts and figures? How about a list of advantages for the various retail outlets? How about efforts toward making yours the better product? How about working with your distribution partners to be more indie friendly?

    Every person I’ve talked to who’s gone with KDP Select has said essentially the same thing, “Well, it’s not like I’m selling anywhere else, so I might as well.” Why is that?

    Do your distribution partners actually care about indie books? Do they want them? I don’t see much evidence anywhere that anyone except Amazon considers indie books a valuable commodity. That’s not part of Amazon’s evil plot. That’s you and Barnes & Noble and Kobo and Apple and Sony and all the rest dropping the ball.

    So come on, Mark. I’m a grown-up. Give me a grown-up argument.

    • I like Mark and I think when the History of eBooks ebook gets written there will be a chapter with his name at the top of it, but I’m also in complete agreement with your comment, Jaye.

      • And I agree with you, Rob. Smashwords is a great idea and Mark has done as much, if not more, for indie publishing than any other resource–including Amazon.

        But! I think part of the problem is that Mark hasn’t clarified exactly who his customers are. Is it the retail outlets? If so, then he needs to turn his efforts toward providing them with the best product possible. Or is it indie publishers? If that is the case, then it’s not good enough to open up new markets if the only result is, “We now distribute to the middle of the Mississippi river and sub-arctic Siberia. Oh, and we’re in negotiations with the dark side of the moon.”

    • Jaye, some facts:

      1. A couple years ago, it was unheard of that authors would earn more through the Smashwords distribution network than at Amazon. Now, we’re hearing it all the time, and we’re hearing it more today that six months ago. Amazon’s market share has dropped over the last few years. There’s a trend at play here. There’s where the market is today, and where it’ll be tomorrow. If authors aren’t looking to the future, they’ll get left behind.

      2. Advantages of other outlets. They’re selling books. See market share. See that Apple is the black horse underdog that *everyone* in the industry is underestimating. They’re in 50 countries now. Kobo has grown its business significantly. B&N has a smart go-to-market strategy for UK and the rest of the globe. People are underestimating B&N, IMHO. The sad thing about this entire debate is that it shouldn’t be a debate at all. Authors should have to be forced to make this decision of exclusive or not.

      3. Efforts to improve Smashwords. We’ve made huge progress this year, as we did the year before, and the year before that. We’ve got 19 people focused on continuous improvement every day. Most people who have stuck with us for the long term have reaped the benefits.

      4. Working with retailers to make them more indie friendly. I reject any notion that they’re *not* indie friendly. We work with them every day, and we know that every one of them is committed to supporting indies. No other retailer does draconian price matching, or threatens to kick you out of their store for price disparities. The other retailers allow FREE without onerous limitations. They’re growing and working for indies every day.

      • Oops, typo fix: “Authors *shouldn’t* have to be forced to make this decision of exclusive or not.

        • They’re not “forced” to do anything, Mark. They’re offered a temporary program, and a lot of people are taking them up on it to great success. There’s nothing precluding any of the others from offering their own version. If, for example, B&N offered a 90% royalty, would you say that they were forcing authors to do anything?

          There’s a big difference between options and being held at metaphorical gunpoint.

          Lastly, I’ll pretend that you didn’t just refer to Apple as an “underdog.” 😀

          • Dan, yes, it’s a temporary opt-in program, but the author must sacrifice a measure of flesh to participate. The benefits of KDP-S are valuable, so why not offer them to all KDP authors?

            Yes, I think from a perception POV, they’re an underdog. They’re not real good about bragging about their accomplishments or growth. They don’t issue press releases about the iBookstore’s progress. But I do see how our sales have grown there compared to other retailers. I think in the future more authors will take them more seriously. They have the best shot at surpassing Amazon.

            • Maybe Amazon will eventually do that, maybe they won’t. I don’t expect to get everything that Amazon has to offer without giving something up in return. And, in this case, all I have to give up is 90 days, after which I can choose to release wider (which, I’m betting, is what the majority of KDPS authors do, anyway).

      • Thank you, Mark.

        With my last two books I was wavering between an exclusive strategy and wide distribution, including through Smashwords. What decided me was Kris Rusch’s article about leaving no readers behind. http://kriswrites.com/2012/10/31/the-business-rusch-no-reader-left-behind/ Her arguments hit home and made sense.

        I will quibble with you about the “indie friendly” aspect of other retailers. I’m not seeing it. They may be friendly and helpful and eager to take advantage of all indie pubs have to offer, but you might clue them in that they’re being a bit too subtle.

        The Amazon bashing really ought to stop. It reminds me of a horse I used to own. He was always so worried about what the other horses were doing he couldn’t take his eyes off them long enough stop tripping over his own feet.

    • Good points.

  8. I have quite a few author clients who, without fail, would have us make Kindle, ePub and Smash for each book that are now asking to swap out Smash for print instead.

  9. If Mark wants to try to persuade authors to stay with him rather than go to a competitor who will take away valuable holiday sales, I have no issue with that as long as he’s honest and not manipulative (using half-truths or lies to control perceptions).

    I do take issue with this:

    “It’s somewhat ironic that after decades of writers bowing subservient to traditional publishers who controlled the only path to retail distribution…..that so many indie authors will now pull their books from distribution with their own hands”

    There’s a huge difference between forced exclusivity, where the Publisher takes advantage and bleeds the author dry, vs. a distributor offering authors a lucrative deal for exclusivity.

    The first is evil. The second can be smart business.

    • It can be — but it does put the eggs all in one basket, much as with the Publishers. I make a lot more from Amazon than from Smashwords right now, but I’m not going to go exclusive. Partly, I apparently don’t need to; I’m not playing the “make it free” game, and if I can just write Lots More, I can probably keep up what I’m making right now.

      {Mental note; make hopeful eyes at cover artist for short story.}

      Wish I could play the “make it lendable” game, but it’s paired to exclusivity. Oh well.

      I also think that offering the 70% rates for India purchases only to Select authors is an indication that Amazon is operating in… I’m not going to say bad faith, but that particular trick gets my back up. Either they’re doing some kind of loss-leader to lure authors into exclusivity (…and why would they do that? what benefit to Amazon, and what cost to authors?) or else they do fine when it’s 70% to the author — and the 35% is pure, greedy profit for Amazon.

      But in the end… If you’re exclusive, and you decide to go non-exclusive, how much time will it take to spin up the wheels in the other venues? It’s worth considering whether exclusivity anywhere will get you started, or if it’ll just handicap you when you branch out. Or if it might handicap you entirely, so that you have Too Much To Lose if you go non-exclusive. And then… you’re at the mercy of a company that can change the contract out from under you.

  10. This again.

    Instead of repeating myself, I’ll ask a question: Does anyone know if you lose your reviews on B&N if you unpublish for a while? Because I’ve been dying to put ORPHEUS on Select, and I have to decide quickly if I want to get it on Select for Christmas.

    • I changed the title of Bad Apple to Bad Apple: A Mature YA Novel and lost all my stars to the reviews. I had 20.

      I wrote BN and told them to put them back because it’s a marketing tool that took me 2 years to acquire. Their tech staff is currently studying the issue. In other words, ain’t never gonna get fixed.

    • Short answer: Yes, you should count on it happening.

      I’m not sure it’s inevitable but it seems to happen to everyone I’ve ever heard comment on the thing one way or another.

  11. I tested out KDP and frankly, it wasn’t worth it IMHO. I sell far more on Smashwords (via the Premium Distribution channel), than I ever have on Amazon. Apple alone outsells Amazon for my by almost 3-1, nevermind all the others.

    The one place where Smashwords kicks Amazon’s butt is for non-American authors. Smashwords pays me every quarter without fail, while Amazon sits on my earnings until I hit the $100 threshold. It doesn’t sound like much, but when your novella is priced at 99 cents (royalty of 35 cents), it takes hundreds of sales until Amazon ever mails you a check. Until then, they sit on your money and collect the interest.

    Perhaps if Amazon ever lifts its stupid non-American bank account rule and lets other get paid at $10 threshold, I’ll change my mind, but until then, Amazon is a distant second in the payment department – at least for non-American authors like myself who are just starting out and don’t have a huge back catalog of books/short stories.

    • Here, here! I too wish Amazon would stop with the stupid non-American bank account rule. And I wish B&N would open PubIt to non-American authors too.

      • Didn’t we just have a post last month about an author complaining about getting a $15 check from Amazon when her bank charged her a $25 fee to deposit it. Did they suddenly change their policy?

    • I’m asuming it’s the bank transfer fees and check processing charges that are behind this rule. (which could easily be more than the amount they were sending you.)

      • I suppose that’s possible, but Paypal is able to transfer funds to my non-American bank account in 3-5 business days with no fees (until I withdraw money anyways), so why can’t Amazon?

        Amazon could do it too, but they seem to consider the States as the only market in the world. It may make sense right now, but in the long run, that’ll come back to bite them.

  12. God bless America, free enterprise, and free will 🙂 We can choose to go with Amazon or Mark.

    What do you guys think of this idea? I’m planning a short story to plant on KDP Select with embedded links to my novel everywhere else. Good idea? Dumb?

    Peace, Seeley

    • Make sure you read the ToC, Seeley, to make sure your links are in compliance.

    • Hey, we can go with Amazon and Mark, too!

      I’d be very careful with the embedded links, and the ToC, yes; Amazon can always close your account and eat the prior two months of income, after all.

  13. I think that I and many other authors would consider using Smashwords if there weren’t so many horror stories out there about the formatting issues. Maybe Mr. Coker needs to spend more time developing an book conversion/formatting infrastructure that is easier to use than Amazon’s KDP, and less time arguing against exclusivity. Smashwords and the other retailers need to give us a compelling alternative to Amazon’s exclusivity.

    • What Chris said. In fact, this article has me thinking that perhaps I will choose KDP Select for the next three months. My book is brand-new, the sales minimal, and I’ve nowhere to go but up. Time to think seriously about whether I want to go exclusive for 90 days. What good is my novel being available to B&N and Kobo and everywhere else if nobody knows it’s out there?

    • I have to admit that I had no problems with the formatting. Everything uploaded and looks fine. I went through a couple tutorials, including the ebook Smashwords provides.

      The problem has been selling them…

    • Meryl – your response makes perfect sense. I’m in the same boat and am reaching the same conclusion. It’s not like you’re giving Amazon exclusivity for forever – it’s for 90 days. You can opt out after that. And if it helps get your name/book out there – why not??

    • I’ve used Meatgrinder several times for my books and the hardest part was learning not to use the tab key and using the ruler tool instead. My first book took me 6-7 hours to re-format for Meatgrinder, my second took 5 minutes.

      I agree there is a learning curve, but it’s relatively minor unless your book is graphic heavy.

  14. I like Smashwords, but one of the best improvements Mark could make is a new site design. The current one is amateurish.

    Failing to spiff up its public face, I think Smashwords is destined to remain a portal to other distributors, rather than become a major sales platform.

    Next would be improvements to Meatgrinder, which they continually work on it anyway.

    As for Amazon, it’s outselling Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Sony, Borders, & Diesel combined for me. Smashwords is closest, selling 1 copy for every 7.5 sold at Amazon.

    I did experiment with Select, but decided it wasn’t worth it for me. 🙂

  15. I agree, PG. Whether it’s Smashwords or one of the big trade houses (or all of them :p), nothing productive comes from complaining about their competition. Just a lot of hand wringing and self-pity. To survive, they’re going to have to stop feeling sorry for themselves and start thinking outside the box. They’re going to have to prove to their customers that they’re worth doing business with.

    • Danyelle, we don’t view our authors as customers. We’re not selling anything to them other than our free services, and we don’t earn our commission unless we help them sell books. We view our authors as our partners, and we realize our fate is tied to the future of indie authors as an entire community, regardless of which distribution partners they choose. That’s where I’m coming from here.

      Please read my full post on the Smashwords blog. There’s no pity party going on here. As I explain on the blog, we’re doing just fine, KDP-S or not.

      Ever since I launched Smashwords almost five years ago, I’ve always shared my honest opinions about where the market is headed, and how indies can best take advantage of this exciting future. I’ll let history judge if I was on the side of authors or not, and if KDP-S was bad precedent or not.

      • We HAVE read your post, Mark–and assuming we haven’t is pretty ignorant. It definitely has pity-party aspects to it. It’s whining. I’m still waiting for actual, real examples of the harm KDP does. So far, all your argument seems to be is that we’re missing out on using your GREAT, FANTASTIC site. Blech.

      • I apologize if my post came off as accusing you personally of having a pity party. That was not my intent, but I can see how that might have been the message that came across.

        What I meant was that *all* businesses would do better to think outside the box and look at new ways of doing business rather than complaining about what their competitors are doing. Putting their energy into positive directions instead. Complaining isn’t going to get things done or make changes–at least not without something pushing the business forward, but then the business moves from being stationary (complaining) to acting. As a customer (reader) or partner (author), I would rather a company focus on what they have to offer and why it’s wonderful (and you’ve done a lot of good in the indie community) rather than on their competitors. Do I think it’s important to discuss things like this? Certainly. But, unless a competitor is engaging in activity that is illegal or immoral, I do wish businesses (in general) would focus more on what they bring to the table than what their competitor is taking away.

        I have appreciated many of your insights, and again apologize if my comments came across as putting you down personally. That was not my intent. I agree that going fully exclusive with the KDP-S program isn’t necessarily a wise business decision and one I certainly wouldn’t choose.

  16. All this stuff about growing your market by maintaining availability across all platforms really does sound right, doesn’t it? But here’s my problem…

    Over the last year I have sold nearly a hundred times as many books on Amazon as I have on all other platforms put together. I’ve done nothing to create that disparity, at least not that I’m aware of; that’s just the way my sales have developed. When you sell thousands of copies on Amazon and single digits on Smashwords/Nook/iBooks, it seems to me that the market is delivering a message, and I’ve heard that message loud and clear.

  17. One thing Smashwords’ direct site does is provide the absolute *highest* payout to authors of any other retailer out there.

    Over the last 18 months, I’ve found a growing flurry of sales direct at Smashwords every time I release a new title. One of the excellent things in the Smashwords customer interface is that readers can flag an author to follow. Whenever that author has a new release out, the customer is notified. Amazon should SO do something like that…

  18. So, it always jars me alittle when the person we’re discussing comes here to talk to us. I always have this illusion that no one is really reading this, even though I know PG’s blog is well-traveled.

    Then, I always feel bad because snarkiness is the status-quo here, and I’d never talk directly to someone the way I might snark on these threads. So, that makes me think I should snark less, which is possibly a good goal, even thought I love to snark.

    But as for the person themselves, even though it freaks me out alittle, I think it’s pretty awesome when someone is willing to wade in and hash it out with folks here. It’s brave and it’s good communication. I appreciate it.

  19. I learned my lesson in doing the KDP Select program with Amazon. Now I’m counting the days until it’s over. I had okay sales before I went Select but now I really miss being able to count on other platforms when Amazon isn’t selling.

  20. Here’s something to think about for all those who dismiss Smashwords as having little value:

    Yeah, I don’t sell much on Smashwords, and I could go direct to some of the most lucrative partners. However, there are two things that keep me using Smashwords:

    1.) For my lower priced books, I get a better return from the partners than I would otherwise. I would say that probably means 20 percent or more of my income is directly attributable to the better deal I get from Smashwords — even though I don’t sell any titles thorugh them.

    2.) The one most people overlook: I keep an eye on how many sample downloads I get from Smashwords. When there is a flurry of sample downloads… I sell books elsewhere soon after.

    Smashwords is clearly worth doing. Certainly Smashwords AND all of the other vendors are worth doing — I make most of my income from non-Amazon vendors.

    Sure Mark tends to get a bee in his bonnet sometimes. It’s not necessary to attack Amazon… except that he does get discussion going when he says incendiary things. And that brings out the variety of experiences out there. And THAT shows that (and I’m going to be opinionated and blunt here) those gurus who flog an Amazon-only strategy are at best deluded, and at worst are outright lying.

    Amazon is great. I have stock in Amazon. I sell books at Amazon. But an Amazon-only strategy is a get-rich-quick scheme. It might work for some, and there’s nothing wrong with using it… but anybody who tries to sell you on it is selling you a bill of goods.

    • I’m not sure who is trying to sell us on Amazon only. It seems authors made that decision on their own. And a bill of goods? I don’t know. That is something each author will decide based on his own results. It’s one of those things where you believe some guy’s theory or your own lying eyes.

      • One of the problems with the “own lying eyes” method is that talking to other writers who do well with other platforms they often say that it takes a long time and a lot of product to do well on those platforms.

        If Amazon is 90% of your market today it makes sense today to use them exclusively… except that the decision may hurt in the long term.

        Writing has always been a long term thing. It takes a long time to build a fanbase. In the old days it could take a decade just to get a first book published. Short term sales results are a bad guide to long term decisions.

        • Well, an author can determine he is doing well with Select today by looking at his results with his own lying eyes. The future is speculation. The eyes trump some guy’s theory.

          I have no problem with exploiting the short term. Long term success is often simply a series of short term successes. How long do we wait before applauding short term success? The long term view is often an excuse for poor results today.

  21. Full disclosure: I have used Select for some of my books, for the minimum three months. Experiencing diminishing returns, I do not plan to put any new books in Select. I never *pulled* books just to put them in Select. So at most customers at other sites experienced a three-month delay for a book they didn’t know was out there yet. I happily put my books up on Kobo and B&N when the Select term was up, but the sales are miniscule compared to Amazon. Two orders of magnitude less.

    Mark, I appreciate your willingness to come here and take part in the discussion and present your point of view. You say you don’t view Smashwords’ authors as customers–perhaps you should. As a customer if I have a bad business experience, I don’t go back to that business if I can get what I need elsewhere. They might have improved tremendously since my visit, but they lost *that sale* and me as a customer. Also, their competition may have improved too. I don’t mean to seem critical, but while I was waiting for Smashwords to fix the Meatgrinder Kobo set up their own author portal–and I published my books directly with them. Now there is one less reason for me to go with Smashwords.

    I don’t expect Amazon to be friends with me, they are a business. As long as they are up-front about what they offer and I have a choice, it does not offend me to be told “I offer x if you will give me y.” Select is like that. Sure, Amazon might promote Select authors a bit more, but somehow I manage to do just fine without Select. It’s a tool.

    And, really…if you say things like “Will Amazon be the grinch who steals Christmas” it *does* sound like a pity party. As the splendid and worthwhile PG might point out, “steal” has a precise legal meaning. Amazon has not “stolen” anything from indie authors. A less fraught choice of words would encourage those of us who have had enough of the Amazon-bashing to listen.

    • Agreed 100%. I never used Smashwords because of the meat grinder, but had been debating on whether I should just sit down and learn how to code the html by hand so as to reach the other distributors. (I use Scrivener to format my ebooks, which takes me all of 5 minutes.)

      But since then, Kobo has opened its doors, and Apple doesn’t require ISBNs anymore. This kind of made my mind up for me. I’d rather use those hours I’d spend learning how to format by hand–and the 2 or so hours it would take to do each book once I’d learned–to write or market or do other business stuff.

  22. Anyone know what happened to that Select monopoly that was going to put all the other retailers out of business? That’s what we heard last year at this time from many of the Amazon bashers. Where is it? How has it done in squashing everyone else?

  23. I am fond of Smashwords.

    I love that they quite possibly have the best Author page of any of the companies (a proper URL and the books show up immediately – all of them – not a search string and a long wait for books to show up, if they show up at all). Granted, Amazon’s looks the best, but Smashword’s is the most functional.

    I love the high “royalties”.

    I love getting emails when I’ve sold there. (Granted, if I were selling like hotcakes, maybe I’d be a little bit irritated and look into editing my preferences there.)

    I hate the Meatgrinder. I use Scrivener. I don’t like that I have to jump through hoops to get everything into a DOC that it will accept. It takes hours and I don’t use Office, so I don’t know how to fix what the Meatgrinder is telling me is wrong. Yes! Even with their “helpful” guide (which doesn’t even work properly itself, since I can never jump to the section I need even if I try different browsers.) If they even accepted HTML files, it would be better than DOC. But I’d rather they took EPUB. (I understand they’re working on it. It just bothers me that the files I have up there now are half broken and ugly and I know I would have sold better there if not for their current DOC Meatgrinder.) Man, do I hate the Meatgrinder. I will dance when I can use EPUB instead.

    I don’t like that I’m automatically “opped in” to every distributor. Since I’ve gone direct with B&N, Kobo, and Amazon, it’s annoying to have to uncheck those files.

    I wish the site design were a little more friendly/attractive to customers (meaning readers). It feels like a distributor catalog, not a bookstore. Even though I make more money there, my Smashwords authorpage isn’t the top link, because it doesn’t look as “legitimate” to me. At least in the sense of, “If I were a customer, I would feel like I’m not supposed to be here.”

    Praise and critique aside, the “Grinch” comments bother me. I have no intentions of using Select while they demand exclusivity. I sell too well on other venues to even consider it. Even for new releases. (Three months is far too long for that. If it were a single month, I’d have to consider it for new releases only.) But, as of yet, I don’t see anything KDP Select is doing as “stealing” from the authors.

    The authors may be hamstringing themselves. (They also might not.) They may be shutting out some of their potential customer base. (Well, they most likely are, actually.) But they’re not being “stolen” from.

    There are other publishing related Grinches that could have been called out. They actually are stealing from indie authors. The hyperbole isn’t helping indies. Nor Smashwords.

  24. Self-published authors need to think more like the small business they are and one problem all small businesses face daily is how to best deploy their resources–cash, manpower, time, inventory–to maximize their return on investment.
    That means trade-offs.
    Tradeoffs between time spent producing (writing) and time spent marketting. Unless they can afford to hire marketting, the time spent promoting an existing book will have to come from the time needed to write the *next* book.

    The same applies to distribution: it never comes for free. It takes time and focus. Trying to reach out to everybody is a great way for a small business (or even a *big* business) to end up reaching nobody.

    The really smart thing to do is to develop a strategy that best serves your product by taking it where it has the best chance of finding its natural audience. That is *not* necessarily a matter of carpet-bombing the universe. (That didn’t work out too well for AOL, did it?)

    Sure, all things being equal–and cost not being an issue–you want your product carried by as many distributors as possible. But in the self-pub arena all things are *not* equal: Amazon’s KDPS deal changes the rules. In return for *limited* exclusivity (it’s not eternal, you can stop it at any time after 3 months) they offer a small bit of extra visibility.

    That’s it.
    It’s not that big an issue unless you go out of your way to make an issue of it.

    No, its not going to make anybody an instant “bestseller”.
    It doesn’t even pretend to be for everybody.
    But it’s not demanding anything particularly onerous in return. Not if you’re a writer looking for an honest toehold. (As opposed to buying reviews, etc.) Realistically, how *many* lost sales are 3 months of exclusivity going to cost you over 3 months?
    Sure, in traditional publishing, 3 moths is often all the run a book ever gets but ebooks aren’t bound by the rules of traditional publishing.
    Instead of needing, say, 1000 sales (or whatever) in 3 months to survive, ebooks rely on the long-tail of extended availability to rack up sales over time. Which means time is *cheap*. Especially if you use that time writing instead of promoting.

    The tiny extra visibility multiplied by the number of Kindle owners that extra visibility reaches is going to be worth it for *some* people.

    I can easily see a new writer putting up their first book into KDPS for the first 3-6 months just to rack up a few reads from the library. Afterwards, they can take it out of exclusivity and into broader distribution and drop another book into the pipeline.

    It is that simple: some people have enough of a track record that the extra visibility they would get from KDPS won’t be a good trade-off for *them* but jumping from that to saying it is a bad trade for *everybody* is a big reach.

    Pretending that KDPS is a bad deal for *everybody* is as naive or disingenuous as pretending it is a *great* deal for everybody. It is at best misguided and at worst blatant FUD-mongering.

    It is way too early in the self-publishing evolution to be laying down *any* sweepng pronouncements, no matter what your pedigree or your intentions. The entire publishing business is in flux and until the dust settles–which is still years away–the plain truth is nobody knows anything except what is or isn’t working for them.

    Your “milleage” *will* vary.

    Until Amazon alternatives can offer a better deal, something that offers even a sliver of extra visibility, Amazon Select will continue to appeal to enough writers to endure. And no amount of carping is going to change that appeal.

  25. This has been a fascinating discussion.

    I am a new author with only one book published Nov. 1st, 2012. I have mixed feelings about Amazon’s ‘Select’ program and have been debating with myself whether or not to enroll.

    The one thing I’d like to mention is the “exclusivity = bad” theory I keep hearing. I actually agree with it but what I think some people forget is that Amazon’s demand for exclusivity is not forever. It’s only for 90 days.

    Given my situation – new author with minimal sales – it seems that trying the ‘Select’ program for 90 days and hopefully getting some visibility and reviews, then expanding my distribution is the best way to go.

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