Adios, Smashwords

I believe in competition. I really do. The marketplace is the grand arbiter of performance. People, especially in great numbers, will collectively determine the best way to do things. They will find the best way to buy things, and they will reward excellence with patronage. As an author and purveyor of e-books, I recognize Amazon’s predominance. They lead the sales figures of most titles, because they have the best consumer model and supply an excellent series of e-reading devices.

I am not, however, a big fan of predatory or unfair business practices. Amazon employs these as well. They are serious about competing. They are serious about winning market share. They want to sell more e-books and physical copies than their competitors, be they other websites or brick-and-mortar bookstores, and they proceed in (Ayn) Randian fashion. They play for keeps, and they live with the criticism.

It is the appreciation of the benefits of competition to the consumer and the independent author that kept me from participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program. My debut novel The Anvil of the Craftsman appeared in mid-December of last year. I wanted the widest variety of venues to distribute the title. I chose Amazon, the sales leader, Barnes and Noble, the runner-up, and Smashwords, the innovators.

Amazon and their print-on-demand entity CreateSpace have by far done the most to reward my efforts. Visibility and sales far outstrip the Nook book, and the technical experience has been far better at Amazon. I have not had a customer service experience with the Big A yet. They in time may prove to be as bad as Barnes and Noble, but no one could be worse.

Barnes and Noble customer support for PubIt! is frankly horrid. I hope, again in the name of Randian efficiency, that someone has seen fit to move the bored rep who answered most of my six calls on to a more appropriate role in the work force. Better yet, I hope they have instituted process improvements, such as a more competent staff and improved user interface, which make six calls from an author attempting to set up a PubIt! account a thing of the past. That would be a great start.

Even after all that, Barnes and Noble afterward allowed me to present a quality .epub to the public. I was able to format and upload the Nook Edition of AOTC myself, and should you use that e-reader you will not be disappointed in the quality. Results are the equal of the product at Amazon, where I did not detect any flaws in the Kindle Edition, which appears to be spot-on to my .mobi and .prc versions. CreateSpace is likewise a pleasure to use. Technical requirements aside, the uploading and presentation of the product, my novel, goes smoothly.

Smashwords uses a different business mode. They require you to submit a Microsoft Word document, complete with the background code baggage from the word processor that one cleans out of the equation on the road to a well-formatted .mobi, .prc or .epub file. “Meatgrinder,” their proprietary engine. It churns out several different formats from the same source document on the theory that it will have the widest distribution to various peripheral e-reader sites such as Sony, Kobo, and Diesel, all of whom in my experience have no time to deal with a small publishing company like my own Single Candle Press. They all referred me to Smashwords to act as my distributor.

There is only one problem with this. “Meatgrinder” makes sausage out of my work. The same file that I use to produce well-formed Kindle and Nook books looks like crap when Meatgrinder finishes with it. I have never offered the Smashwords .mobi to the public for that reason, and have told them so. The .epub conversion looked better, as good as the version generated for the Nook Edition. Until, that is, this week, when I corrected two dropped words and an editing artifact that diligent proofreading, all of my beta readers and a number of patron readers afterward missed.

The same file, plus a few letters worth of correction that “Meatgrinder” used to produce an acceptable (and by acceptable I mean perfect) .epub now includes an erroneous entry in the automatically generated electronic chapter listing. That does not work for me. Sorry, Smashwords, you lose. I may be back when you implement your plans to allow authors to upload their own professionally finished electronic titles, but no sooner.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Edition remains. I have not signed up for KDP Select because competition is good. In the near future, it may prove an impractical decision. KDP Select demands exclusivity, but increases visibility through the mechanism of free promotions and the Kindle Lending Library, an alternate revenue stream for participants. The exclusivity of the program is what grates: KDP Select would do everything for authors and consumers without the requirement that electronic titles therein be available nowhere else. It is marketplace hardball, and it exists only to hurt Amazon’s rivals.

Likewise, the thought that I may have no choice than to offer at no cost a work of excellence, which consumed so much of my spirit and effort and time to produce, repulses me. If I do not, it may be that AOTC will languish in obscurity, and that most readers will never know that it exists. I love the novel, and so do the vast majority of those who read it. These are hard choices, but they are the choices given to an author in today’s self-publishing arena.

Time will tell. The Nook is a good product. I hope the B&N is capable of stepping up to make the business decisions that will preserve it. Amazon may emerge as the single source for a quality e-read. I have no doubt that if such circumstances materialize they will treat customers and authors with the same consideration that they show their competition. That will be an unfortunate day.

Choose to Love, -DA

**UPDATE: As of New Year’s Eve, 2012, Direct Upload of .epub-format files became available. My titles were restored to Smashwords on the same day and will continue to appear there in the future.



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