Selling ebooks: Smashwords and Amazon

I joined Smashwords in 2011 after I had published my second book. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it probably was. Smashwords provided free ebook file conversions for the many ereading devices that were just being produced by companies such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony. Each had their own peculiarities and technicalities, necessities and demands. Once converted your files would be available to customers and would also be listed in the catalogues of other associated booksellers (such as Barnes & Noble, which was trying to break in on the digital book marketplace to augment its standing retail outlets). The settings were pretty open as well, allowing you to choose how much of your book prospective buyers could sample for free, how much you’d like to charge, and later whether or not you’d like to offer it for free to libraries. All of that made much sense to me, and all of that remains now as well for current users; little in that regard has changed. My own works are no longer on Smashwords though, and that is because what has changed – the world – has forced that difficult decision on me.

The ebook market is even more dominated today by Amazon and its Kindle device than it was then. This is the reality of the situation, and as writers we need to face that reality whatever our ideals or feelings about the matter may be. I will admit to not being an ereader (all of my books are of the paper kind, which I’ve taken to calling “real books” to differentiate), and so I’m not sure what the advantages are of the Kindle versus other devices or platforms, but I am – I suppose – an ewriter and so I’ve had to learn a bit more about how it all works in preparing to launch Freedom’s Mask (not long now, only cover and proof copy issues remain to be dealt with). Of course, it is possible to offer your book through Amazon and Smashwords, and for the past six years I’ve done just that. What made me stop was the emergence of Amazon’s KDP Select service.

To enroll your books on KDP Select they must not be available anywhere else; naturally that appears to limit a book’s potential reach – but only in some ways, or maybe not at all. This is where a hard look at the overall situation is necessary, and it will no doubt vary for each struggling – or not – writer out there. In my own case I had many hundreds of sample downloads from Smashwords but few sales. Now this could perhaps simply be because my books stink and after reading the samples no one chose to buy them; that could be, but based on the reviews I’ve gotten on the books and the comments I’ve had from readers I suspect that the books are in fact not quite that bad. (Self-delusion probably clouds my judgment here; feel free to tell me in the comments to this post if you disagree!) One problem is the sheer volume of books on Smashwords, over 465,000 and constantly counting, and how their site is organized: a search for my own full name turned up over two thousand hits (all “Andrew”s). Genres are tagged of course, but finding anything on there without a direct link is painstaking and off-putting, you almost have to rely on happy accidents to occur. Moreover, as stated, these other ereader machines are quite simply dying or dead – Kindle is king. The final negative factor with Smashwords that made me choose to quit the service so that I could sign up with KDP Select was that Smashwords forces you to use PayPal for all royalties. For many this is perhaps not an issue, but for me it is. I don’t use PayPal and don’t want to. Simple, end of story.

What are the advantages to KDP Select? That tale has yet to unfold, we’ll see how things go with my books on the program and whether or not I do actually find sales increasing (remember that my books might well stink!). When you do join it is for three month blocks at a time, and in that three months you can make your work(s) available for free for any five day period of your liking – a nice promotional tool. You also qualify to receive royalties at a 70% rate instead of the standard 35%, but there’s a catch to that: your book must be priced at a minimum of US$2.99 in order to get the 70%, otherwise you’re stuck at 35% even if you are on KDP Select. My own books are now both at US$0.99 and for reasons discussed last week I don’t want to charge any more than that. Another promotional tool that KDP Select offers is a countdown sale wherein your book’s price is reduced for a set amount of time and advertised as such – but there again you must be at the US$2.99 or higher mark to take part. Still, just by being on KDP Select your title is automatically added to the Kindle Unlimited (a service for Amazon Prime members) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library catalogues, and there is a global fund set up such that for every page of your work that a member reads for the first time you receive royalties (via a portion of the overall fund). For me though the main advantage to it all is not so much the money but all of the internal advertising that Amazon does for its KDP Select titles. With most digital readers being Kindle readers this could mean that by “limiting” yourself to only Amazon you are actually greatly increasing your work’s exposure. Let’s hope so, anyway.

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