A failed experiment

Back in June, I uploaded In the Shadow of Angels to Smashwords. When I did so, I wrote a bit about why I made that decision, but it basically came down to two things: 1)Smashwords is much more indie author friendly than Amazon and 2)Smashwords’ interface is significantly easier than Amazon’s when it comes to finding a specific genre of book that is the length and price you are looking for. I still absolutely stand by those two assessments.

Having said that, I have since made the decision to remove my books from Smashwords. The reasons behind that decision are a bit more complex. Smashwords may be considerably easier to search than Amazon, but getting a reasonable copy of the work to your device is a pain. If, for instance, you use a Kindle, you can’t get the native version directly to your device. In order to do so, you have to download it in a different format (say .mobi) and email it to your Kindle from an email address you have registered as an allowed email address for that specific device. Then, you have to make sure that you set your subject line to read, “CONVERT” to get it into the correct format. That is a HUGE pain in the ass. I’m sure some will point out that you can read the .mobi file directly, which is true, however, you won’t be able to make any notes, and it will not save your reading progress when you close the book -again, making it a huge pain.

Additionally, the “meat grinder” (their name, not mine) that Smashwords uses to turn an author’s work into usable files for all the different formats doesn’t lend itself to making any of them look good. It is readable, sure, but there are rampant formatting issues across all platforms. Again, I’m sure some would say that if you spend enough time on it, you can get a reasonable product in all formats. That might be true, but I don’t have time to proofread my book in six different formats to see what did and didn’t transfer across correctly. So between offering an inferior product, and making it much more difficult to access on Kindle, it just isn’t worth it. Kindle is currently hands down the leader in the eReader market with 74% of all ebooks purchased on that platform (or the Kindle reader app on non Kindle devices). Number two is iBooks, with just about 10% of the market. The other 16% covers Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and everything else (including Smashwords).

When I initially submitted it to Smashwords, I thought I would be increasing my potential readership by a very large amount. It turns out that the actual increase could only possibly be 26%, and that 26% would be getting an inferior product. Smashwords does submit the book to those other retailers for you (iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.), but even if they submit it to literally every other retailer, it’s still barely a quarter of the overall market. If there were no other considerations, I would probably leave it there just in case, but there are other considerations.

Aside from simply wanting to offer a consistent, top-quality product, there is also one huge advantage to not offering the book from other vendors: KDP Select. KDP Select is a service Amazon offers to its readers and the authors, but only for books exclusive to Amazon. Have you ever seen a “Kindle Countdown Deal”? How about a “Kindle Free Promotion”? Both are great tools for getting your book in the hands of willing readers, and both are only offered if your book is in KDP Select (and thus exclusive to Amazon). This also gives you the opportunity to make your book available in the Kindle Online Lending Library, which further increases your potential to get it in the hands of potential readers.

Even if I put all that aside, In the Shadow of Angels now has five months of history to look at on Smashwords. In five months, the book has been downloaded in full or in sample a total of 112 times. That is actually 49 complete downloads. Of the 49 downloads, 47 were on Barnes & Noble and 2 were on Smashwords. Of the 49, 48 of them were during the two weeks when I was advertising it as free. So, if you’re doing the math on that, I have sold exactly one copy of the book in the five months it has been on Smashwords and its affiliates. But the 48 free downloads, to me, is the more interesting stat. In two weeks, it was downloaded 48 times for free. Compare that to the KDP select free promotions I did for the same book, which would net over 100 a day, and it becomes clear. To get people to read the book, I need to concentrate on getting it noticed on Amazon.

I still think Smashwords is a wonderful service, and I am still going to release short stories there (if I release them there for free, Amazon will eventually notice them for free on iBooks and match the free pricing. There is no other way to offer a title for free on Amazon). But, at least for the moment, I am going to turn my efforts to promoting it through Amazon to try to increase my readership.