Home » Amazon, Pricing, Smashwords » Smashwords and Flipkart to End Distribution Relationship – Amazon Scores Victory

Smashwords and Flipkart to End Distribution Relationship – Amazon Scores Victory

26 August 2015

From Smashwords:

Smashwords and Flipkart are ending their distribution agreement first announced in August, 2013.

The unfortunate news effectively hands the market for indie ebooks in India to Amazon.

A few weeks ago, I notified Flipkart that Smashwords was placing its distribution agreement with Flipkart under review.

I provided Flipkart a deadline by which Flipkart was asked to repair certain problems related to the listing and removal of Smashwords titles, and to provide Smashwords an acceptable plan to prevent such issues from recurring in the future.

I informed Flipkart that if these requirements were not met that Smashwords would request the immediate removal of all Smashwords titles.  The deadline was missed and an acceptable plan was not presented.

This morning Smashwords received word from Flipkart that after careful consideration, Flipkart determined their systems are not yet capable of supporting the dynamic nature of the Smashwords catalog.  As a result they will begin winding down the relationship with Smashwords and remove our titles.

. . . .

Our primary concern was Flipkart’s delays associated with the removal of Smashwords titles that had been unpublished. Most of these titles were removed because the Smashwords author or publisher made the decision to enroll their book in KDP Select, an ebook self publishing option offered by Amazon that requires authors to make their books exclusive to Amazon.

Once authors enroll a title in KDP Select, Amazon requires the author to immediately remove the book from all competing retailers otherwise the book is removed from the KDP Select program and the author is warned that repeated offenses could lead to the termination of their entire KDP account.

As you might imagine, these fire-and-brimstone emails from Amazon are unnerving to authors.

. . . .

Many indies don’t understand the long term implications of KDP Select.  The million or so books enrolled in KDP Select are almost entirely provided by the indie author community. Amazon coerces authors to enroll their books my making KDP Select books more discoverable and more desireable to Kindle customers, while making non-exclusive books less visible and less desirable.   The message is quite simple:  If you want to sell more books at the world’s largest ebook retailer, you must be exclusive.

I don’t blame indies for their difficult decision.  I met with one indie author a few weeks ago at a conference who told me words to the effect of, “I hate the exclusivity of KDP Select, yet I’m in it because I have a mortgage to pay.  Books in KDP Select sell better than non-exclusive books.

. . . .

I believe KDP Select is toxic to the future of indie publishing because it forces authors to abandon competing retailers and become more dependent upon Amazon.  When competing retailers lose access to this important inventory of indie titles, they can’t compete.

Amazon wields its dominant market share like a club to bludgeon authors who don’t fall into compliance with Amazon’s exclusivity or pricing requirements, even when the lack of compliance is not the author’s fault.  No other ebook retailer practices such draconian punishment of authors.

. . . .

To be clear, the termination of our agreement with Flipkart is not Amazon’s fault.  However, Amazon was a catalyst because the harm they’re causing our shared authors made it impossible for us to give Flipkart the runway they needed to improve their systems.

Although Flipkart is a small ebook retailer and the financial impact on Smashwords authors will be negligible, I’m more concerned by what this signals for the future of ebook retailing around the world.

Link to the rest at Smashwords

Amazon, Pricing, Smashwords

64 Comments to “Smashwords and Flipkart to End Distribution Relationship – Amazon Scores Victory”

  1. I really wish this press release hadn’t turned into an excuse to lambaste Amazon. It weakens the rest of the otherwise important and powerful message, which is that Smashwords is looking out for its authors.

    • Any time they do a press release, it turns into an excuse to lambaste Amazon. And comments such as “Many indies don’t understand the long term implications of KDP Select.” don’t help any. We certain DO understand the implications and make a business decision whether or not to take part.

      • Personally, I’d say it’s exactly the opposite. It has much longer consequences signing for Smashwords than KDP. Compare how fast you can un-enroll from each.

        I do pretty much dislike KDP Select as a reader, but the idea that “many indies don’t understand…” is patronizing.

        Take care.

  2. If Mark’s car was towed because he was illegally parked, he would somehow link it to Amazon and the toxicity of KDP Select.

    • Bwahaha!

    • Seriously! Anything bad happens, he blames it on Amazon. And the commenters on his posts almost always agree with him! I use Smashwords still for many of my books but totally ignore anything he says.

      It’s nice to see an update like this, though, since I’ve been having problems with Flipkart and have emailed Smashwords repeatedly. Good to know that the problem is on Flipkart’s end and not Smashwords.

      Just wish Mark would get over his grudge! His bitterness is always showing. 🙂

    • I concur. Mark tends to display his advanced case of Amazon Derangement Syndrome whenever posting about The Great Zon. That said, I think his email to JB and his suggested solution to the problem was reasonable and fair.

      Thus I think it would have been far more effective if he hadn’t buried the lede. A short statement of the situation followed by his email (without all the rhetoric) would have likely resulted in universally positive feedback.

      Just my opinion.

  3. No one puts a gun to an author’s head and says “only go with KDP Select”. The authors choose to because it pays better than not going exclusive. So Amazon, as always, is evil because it puts more money in the author’s pocket. How devious of them.

    PolyWogg

    • Mark makes me eyeroll every time he posts because of his inevitable Amazon-bashing, but I agree with him about KDP select. He’s wrong to bring it up in this press release, because it has nothing to do with what he’s talking about and comes off as amazingly petty. But you give up a lot of options when you use KDP Select, and KDP Select is so damned effective that it undercuts interesting options that COULD be effective, if they had time to develop, but how can they when the most effective selling platform around forbids you to use them?

      – if you are a web serial writer converting your serial into an ebook you cannot use KDP Select. Amazon requires exclusivity to the point that if you post your own content on your own website you are considered an Amazon competitor.

      – if you publish using a Creative Commons license you probably cannot use KDP Select. Any CC license that allows for redistribution of content — even non-commercially — allows a reader to legally post your content online, as long as they don’t charge for it. In doing so, they will cause you to break your KDP Select contract.

      – if you have Patreon subscribers who get content based on their patronage tiers you have to make sure that none of your material on KDP Select is made available through Patreon — it violates the “us only” distribution provisions of KDP Select.

      – if you are running a Kickstarter campaign, you can’t use content on KDP Select on any reward tiers you set up.

      That’s just off the top of my head. At one point I had planned to move the ebook version of a serial onto KDP Select and I was warned against it on this very site (thanks to TPV for keeping me out of hot water). I know a few other serial writers who have actually done this and managed to get away with it — so far — but the key point is “get away with it” — if Amazon ever notices they’re going to have to make some deeply unpleasant choices.

      I doubt the average self-published author on KDP has considered Patreon as a distribution mechanism, though I’m pretty sure a few have considered using Kickstarter to fund the publication of a book because I see those all the time.

      • About Patreon and crowdfunding… Are you sure? What would be the problem with sending rewards, say, two days before entering KDP?

        Take care

        • Patreon reward tiers are persistent. So if you say “if you donate at $5.00 you get this nifty ebook” and someone donates at $5.00, you upload the ebook to the $5.00 tier and they get access to it. They’re not required to download it immediately, and it doesn’t naturally expire.

          You can of course remove the content yourself if you wish, but that’s not really going to endear you to your Patreon subscribers. You just took away the thing they donated for!

          • I’m thinking mostly on crowdfunding terms and applying them to patreon, but…

            Once the book’s done and the reward posted… that’s a sale that’s already been done. You don’t have to make it available to future readers.

            If I buy a book on Smashwords and the writer goes KDP, *I* still have access to that book, even if it’s now exclusive to Amazon. Doesn’t patreon offer an equivalent mechanism? From what I’ve read from other people, mostly artists, it should work. Crowdfunding rewards I know of work similarly, too.

            Take care.

            • Patreon is different. It is an ongoing “subscription” model. Kickstarter could work that way if you time your KDP Select entry after you have sent off all the rewards, but Patreon is different.

      • I don’t think you agree with Coker at all. The concerns you have are about real trade-offs that authors have to make if they want to use KDP Select. Coker is just shifting the blame from Smashwords when it fails the authors it serves.

        I read the whole article. Every example he uses involves a failure of his downstream network to live up to Smashwords’ SLAs. Smashwords is a distributor. A distributor lives and dies by the competence of the retailers they do business with. Smashwords will die if Amazon’s competitors continue to display a higher level of incompetence than Amazon.

        Does anyone remember the original version of Avis’s slogan:

        When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else.

        That worked because it’s true. Nobody in the ebook business is trying harder than Amazon. The problem isn’t that Amazon is a big meanie. The problem is they are obviously better than everyone else. But they aren’t perfect. But they will never be challenged when all of their competition seems to believe in this slogan:

        When you’re not No. 1, you whine harder. And hope someone else will do your work for you.

    • Yeah, the use of “coerced” and “forced” would send up huge credibility red flags if I still found Mr. Coker credible on the subject of Amazon.

  4. “To be clear, the termination of our agreement with Flipkart is not Amazon’s fault. However, Amazon was a catalyst because the harm they’re causing our shared authors made it impossible for us to give Flipkart the runway they needed to improve their systems.”

    We fear still more authors may decide not to bother with Smashwords at all and go straight to KDP.

    • I had my novellas on Flipkart two years ago. For MONTHS. MONTHS! they had my e-book as OUT OF STOCK. AN E-BOOK.

      Sorry for shouting but I wanted to make sure you understood how ridiculous it was. And they take forever to remove a book that is listed as “out of stock” on their end.

      Flipkart is unprofessional and I’m glad he finally removed Smashwords’ books from them.

      If OTHER companies would do something, anything to help promote Indie authors, you wouldn’t see Indies abandon them to go into Select.

      Authors are business minded individuals. Does it make sense to stay wide and not sell anything or go all in and make some money?

      BN, KOBO, Apple, they don’t give Indies any help the way Amazon does. It’s sad how pathetic they are. Really, really sad.

      • “BN, KOBO, Apple, they don’t give Indies any help the way Amazon does. It’s sad how pathetic they are. Really, really sad.”

        I wish I knew how to boost my Kobo sales; they’re dismal. And I’ve heard so many issues about their publishing interface and difficulties paying foreign authors, that I’m loathe to go direct… which may well be my problem. B&N promo is a mystery to me, but I have some decent sales there–also via Smashwords distribution. Fingers crossed that continues.

        However….

        I have to respectfully disagree about Apple’s support of Indies.

        Granted, I distribute to Apple via Smashwords, and it was Mark Coker who originally liaised with Apple and gave my details one of their reps back in 2013. (Thank you, Mark!) But now Apple iBooks NZL/AUS contact me direct with upcoming promo opportunities, even though I’m still distributing to them via Smashwords. In my experience they’re not worried *how* books are published to iBooks, so long as they end up on iBooks it’s all good. Anyway, since then, Apple iBooks have given my books some huge boosts and I’ve had loads of promo opportunities. I have no doubt those opportunities have lead to my iBooks sales via Smashwords continually outstripping Amazon’s by a considerable margin.

        Case in point: iBooks NZL/AUS are currently running a “Rising Stars of Romance” promo, featuring first-in-series free books, and included a fantasy of mine that’s been perma-free since March 2013. A large number of the books in the promo are indie. We have the ability to control pricing and we’re very flexible. Not surprising that iBooks reps are keen to get Indies on board:)

        BTW, it’s not only promos limited to NZL/AUS I’m being offered. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a couple of large promos that ran across US/CA/IR/UK/AU/NZ stores, also. Fantastic exposure for a little-known Kiwi author like me 🙂

        My advice, for what it’s worth? iBooks really seem to get behind free books. They’re big on pre-orders, too. So if you’re wanting to make a splash and get noticed on iBooks, then that could be the way to go. Hope this helps!

  5. Mark has entered Shatzkin territory for me at this point. If he writes it, I’ll pass.

    Shame, because I used to be a really big Smashwords booster.

    • I used to be a solid customer. They reached Spain with a width that many didn’t. Kobo, OmniLit… reached this side of the pond. Smashwords… abided

      Take care

  6. Why Amazon? Besides the fact I can sell more books and even give away hundreds more free books than I can on Smashwords. They pay me whatever I’m owed. I make .35 on one sale in Europe. I get a deposit of .35 to my bank account. Smashwords has been holding $7.38 for, I think, like a few years now. Not a big deal I know. But it’s the little things. For my publishing business KDP Select makes sense and dollars. And oh man, that being paid for pages read and being able to watch people read through my stuff is golden. I get frustrated on a WIP and I go and see folks are actually reading my stuff at the moment. I smile and get back to work. 🙂

    • I’m in the same boat Stephen! Under $10 being held forever. Something has changed because my sales at Smashwords are nonexistent. Not that they were huge, but they were consistent for awhile.

      Hugh Howey’s blog post about going exclusive sold it for me. I pulled my post-apocalyptic series out of Smashwords to go exclusive with KDP, but I’m not sure how long I should wait to make sure all the retailers have complied.

      • If your books were on Flipkart, then they are probably still up there. The other retailers all seem to take down the book within several days, and some, like Apple, can remove a book within hours.

  7. Or in other words, yet another retailer admits it has no interest in competing with Amazon for a slice of the ebook market.

  8. I think this just highlights the big difference between Smashwords and Amazon, which is in whom they focus on as their customers. Smashwords’ customer is authors. Amazon’s is readers.

    That makes all the difference to authors.

    Smashwords is a great, easy way for authors to distribute their books widely, but it doesn’t matter how widely you distribute if you’re not distributing to anyone ultimately. It’s the same with corporate publishers and bookstores. Neither entity really serves readers, and that’s why both are struggling.

    Smashwords seems to trust other retailers to compete with Amazon, which really isn’t working. Nobody who’s actually creating a good experience seems to be at all interested in doing so. The iBookstore is probably the closest, but Apple is treating it the same way they treat Apple TV — as a hobby. It’s nice and it works well enough, but it’s not killer.

    I’d love to see Smashwords change that. For readers, actual readers, Smashwords just isn’t a very good experience. All the things it’s good at are things that readers don’t really see, because they’re buying elsewhere.

    I don’t want Smashwords to convince me to be on every retailer in the world. I want Smashwords to convince me to be on theirs because somehow it will be a good thing for readers.

    So far, Amazon does the digital reading experience best, but that’s mainly because it’s the only entity that does the digital reading experience well and seems to care even remotely about it.

    When that changes, we’ll see some progress. And more authors using more options.

    • There’s an element of truth in that. At the same time, most indie authors don’t have a real marketing plan, and instead depend on Amazon to do most of the heavy lifting. I know I certainly did when I first started out, and that was a mistake. Most of the complaints about the other retailers “not doing anything” come from indie writers who, ironically, are almost wholly dependent on Amazon.

  9. KDP Select is a bit like being a bird in a gilded cage, but at least you get fed.

    • That’s a pretty good way to put it. Though it’s worth pointing out that every 90 days, they open the door and give you a chance to fly away.

      • Correct me if I’m wrong, but you can break the door yourself in a heartbeat if you pay for damages.

        Take care.

        • I cannot confirm this, but I’ve heard that Amazon has the option (and sometimes exercises it) to pull ALL of your books if you willfully break your contractual obligations for KDP Select.

    • And they keep the cages clean, and since writers like to be seen/read, Amazon even leaves the windows open …

  10. I left Smashwords at the beginning of this year and haven’t regretted it for one second. Mark Coker does a bad job there, with quarterly payments, shoddy reporting (read slow), and a user-interface that Netscape would be proud of. He dropped the ball, and has no one to blame but himself.

    • So are you using someone else for wide distribution? I found Draft2Digital to be easy to use. I don’t think they have quite the same number of retailers as Smashwords, but I wonder how many sales some of those lesser-known retailers generate for authors.

      • Yep, D2D has been good to me so far. If they can do monthly payments, Smashwords can too. So why don’t they? People should be asking this.

        • There’s a Spanish confectionery firm that used same mechanism to finance itself. They collected in 15-30 day intervals and they paid in 90 (might be doing it still, for all I know).

          To say nothing of all those 9.99$ accounts out there. By Mr Coker own data, MOST book’s sales are in that range.

          Take care.

      • I love Draft2Digital. Superlative customer service, fantastic interface, and they pay on time.

  11. “To be clear, the termination of our agreement with Flipkart is not Amazon’s fault. However, Amazon was a catalyst because the harm they’re causing our shared authors made it impossible for us to give Flipkart the runway they needed to improve their systems.”

    Does anyone know what that means?

    • I’m guessing Smashwords was having issues with Flipkart and dumped them. As Smashwords doesn’t like the way Amazon does things (things that at least some writers like), they added a bit of anti-Amazon spin to their dumping of Flipkart.

    • As I understand it, writers would ask Smashwords to remove their books so they could put them in KDP Select, then Smashwords would ask retailers, and Flipkart wouldn’t remove them. So writers got annoyed, and Amazon complained if they put their books in Select while they were still on Flipkart.

      So Smashwords apparently decided to pull all the books, rather than try to work something out with Flipkart, because that would take a long time and writers were complaining NOW.

      Since I’ve never sold a book at Flipkart, it doesn’t really concern me.

  12. First instincts were right. I noticed a long time ago that Coker had a highly specific idea of what Smashwords would do, and if writers said, “Actually, if you do X this would help me to use the site better,” he would argue with them about why they were wrong to want X. Bad sign. I wrote off Smashwords then and there, and decided if any writer asked, I would steer them elsewhere.

    He’s fixated on the idea that Amazon is his enemy, when really it’s that he won’t listen to his own user base. The fault is with him. This is number 3 on the list of the Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States: “Blaming Foreign Devils.” It’s bad for countries, cultures, and individuals.

  13. Any hint at when the titles will be removed from Flipkart? Mark’s insistence that select titles are getting better visibility has convinced me to give it another try.
    I have a four book series that I’m going to put into select for a few months, but I’d like to know when the slowest downstream vendor (Flipkart) is going to remove my titles.
    I’ll keep book one with Smashwords, as it’s set to free and matched by Amazon.
    Come to think of it, Smashwords may become the First in a Series vendor…

    • Andrew, Flipkart may not be the slowest. Keep a careful eye on FNAC, a French site which gets its content through Kobo. They may take weeks to act on changes.

      • Thanks for the heads-up, P.D. I’ll hit the un-publish button now and get the ball rolling.
        I wonder how many other sites are getting content through this kind of second hand agreement? We pretty much have to wait a few months to go select, with all the miscellaneous sites out there that might be carrying your titles and taking their time to remove them (if at all).

        • When I left Smashwords, I did a Google search for my title (had only one book there, briefly). That yielded one retailer who hadn’t removed the book. I contacted them, told them I had a contract that prohibited me from selling on their site, and they corrected it immediately.

          • I do that search from time to time. I found a few pirate sites where folks were passing my stories around. I wanted to get upset at them, but they were saying such nice things 🙂

      • There’s also a company called Eason that’s getting stories from Kobo. How many outlets does Kobo supply?

      • Oh yes: Do watch FNAC like a hawk. I’d never heard of them until it turned out they were the retailer Amazon FR was matching on one of my eBook bundles that had temporarily gone on sale a couple of months prior. However as soon as Amazon clued me in via one of their contravening our ToS/price-matching emails, I emailed Mark Coker (I use Smashwords to distribute to Kobo et al) with a request that he contact Kobo on my behalf. And within 24 hours they’d corrected the price of the bundle at FNAC… meaning the next day, Amazon FR also raised the price. Great result!

      • Thanks for this. I just checked my wife’s books on FNAC.com and there were several titles on there that we unpublished a while ago, including one title that we unpublished over two years ago. It makes me think about removing all of our books from Kobo (through Smashwords) as this just gets annoying after a while to have to keep on top of all of these other websites.

        I also found some of her titles in the search results on Easons.com, but when you click through to the book’s own page, it is no longer for sale on there.

        • Yeah, I just checked and my titles are down from iBooks, B&N and Kobo, but still up at the guys that Kobo passes books to.
          Easons and FNAC still have them for sale.

          I had no idea I was distributing to anyone but the names listed at Smashwords. In a way, it’s great that you get that wide distribution, but you lose control…

  14. It took over a month of pleading with Smashwords’ Service Team to get my book removed from Flipkart so I could enroll it in KDP Select. Another month and 0 page reads later, I think I stressed over it a bit too much, but I’m hesitant to ever use Smashwords for distribution again.

  15. “I believe KDP Select is toxic to the future of indie publishing because it forces authors to abandon competing retailers and become more dependent upon Amazon. When competing retailers lose access to this important inventory of indie titles, they can’t compete.”

    When those other vendors give me absolutely no reason to stay with them (poor reporting, poor payment systems, no customer service for authors, and no visibility), I don’t see why I WOUDN’T go with KDPS. Amazon didn’t FORCE me to do anything. I made the decision on my own. Man, it’s like he thinks we don’t have the gumption to make our own choices.

    • “Man, it’s like he thinks we don’t have the gumption to make our own choices.”

      No, he fears (rightly) that you’ll make a choice that doesn’t make him any money.

    • When competing retailers lose access to this important inventory of indie titles, they can’t compete.

      However, when they have access, they don’t do squat to compete. Staying with them is charity.

  16. The letter sent to the author whose book remained on Flipkart – and thus noncompliant with the Select terms – seemed very business-like in tone to me. I would not characterize it as bludgeoning or bullying at all. Sure, as an indie myself, I would not be happy to receive such a communication. And I’d be greatly displeased with Flipkart’s incompetence. But I would not feel bullied. It’s just business. Business partners expect you to abide by the terms to which you have agreed. They inform you when you are in breach. Simple.

  17. No matter how many times I read about this, I still can’t see how Amazon is responsible for a company in India not being able to get their crap together and provide good customer service to their content providers. I hope their service to the people who bought books through them was better.

    Flipkart is a 15 billion dollar business. I think that’s enough money to hire people to get the job done. But maybe all the workers are too busy doing jobs for American companies.

    • I can’t see how continuing to do business with companies who can’t get their crap together is going to encourage them to compete or be positive for the future of self publishing.

  18. Methinks I hear a scream of anguish from Coker regarding his primary competitor.

  19. You know, I don’t think it helps Smashwords’ long term prospects to be trumpeting to its customer base that KDP Select really does boost books’ visibility above the level of cross-platform titles.

    That kind of endorsement is just a little too candid. That is like a cellular network operator admitting their competitor has better coverage.

  20. Michael E. Walston

    What’s up with Kobo? They’re still displaying my old cover, which I changed/updated, like, ages ago.

    Isn’t smashwords supposed to stay on top of this stuff?

  21. Many indies don’t understand the long term implications of KDP Select. The million or so books enrolled in KDP Select are almost entirely provided by the indie author community. Amazon coerces authors to enroll their books my making KDP Select books more discoverable and more desireable to Kindle customers, while making non-exclusive books less visible and less desirable. The message is quite simple: If you want to sell more books at the world’s largest ebook retailer, you must be exclusive.

    I don’t blame indies for their difficult decision. I met with one indie author a few weeks ago at a conference who told me words to the effect of, “I hate the exclusivity of KDP Select, yet I’m in it because I have a mortgage to pay. Books in KDP Select sell better than non-exclusive books.”

    I thank Mark Coker for articulating a succinct and persuasive argument in favor of KDP Select.

    KDP Select books [are] more discoverable and more desireable (sic) to Kindle customers

    Books in KDP Select sell better than non-exclusive books.

    He has persuaded me that KDP Select is a better choice for me than Smashwords.

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