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Smashwords ... what is it, and how does it work?
Bukeroo Bonsai reporting
SMASHWORDS … what is it, how does it work?
Early in 2008, entrepreneur Mark Coker floated an innovative ebook hosting service which opened a great many doors for a great many people. Publishing has never been easier … and better yet, Smashwords is a GLBT-friendly resource where gay books of every description are made welcome.
The Smashwords catalog is growing rapidly; and the gay list is growing right along with it. Some of the top “names” are there already -- most notably Mel Keegan and JM Snyder.
So what’s attracting “name” writers to Smashwords? And -- what’s in it for readers and writers alike?
For readers, it’s all about the ease of downloading anything at all … and having it in a format which is assimilable by virtually any gadget on the market. Want Mel Keegan on your iPhone? Want JM Snyder on your Blackberry? Or your Palm Pilot, or whatever reader you have, up to and including the netbooks, notebooks and desktops? Smashwords delivers the goods.
How? The “guts” of the system is an online conversion engine which they call the “Meatgrinder.” It ingests DOC files … plain old Microsoft Word files. It puts out a variety of file formats, from the garden variety PDF to the Stanza format used by iPhone, the Mobi which is readable by Kindle, and a raft of other formats which make any ebook readable by any hardware.
From the reader’s perspective it’s simple. Create an account, surf around, choose from a vast and growing variety of goodies … pay with a credit card, download, and … read!
From the writer’s (or publisher’s) perspective, it’s only a little more complex. You need to have a DOC file ready to go -- and there are some fiddly bits to take care of, before you upload. Indent settings are the only part of the job that could take you unawares, but don’t despair: it’s simple when you know how, and there’s plenty of documentation at Smashwords to get you going.
The best thing about Smashwords? It’s free to set up and upload, and the Company’s “cut” is only 15% of the transaction (plus a small fee for processing, which will go directly to appeasing the ecommerce solution provider). The second-best thing is that it’ll lengthen your reach, make it possible for you to offer titles to people who’re reading on their phones and Blackberries.
The only real downside is the paucity of DRM. The files, as supplied for download, carry no encryption or security … and if you were to talk to 10 writers and 10 readers about this, you’d get 20 different opinions, spread right across the spectrum from those writers whose works have been pirated, to the readers who have been well-nigh ripped off…
On one side of the debate are authors like Kirby Crow who have lost a lot of money in sales that didn’t happen when all their titles turned up free for the downloading on websites as disturbingly ubiquitous as Live Journal! On the other side of the debate are the readers who paid the full fee for the ebook, had a machine break down, got a new one, and lost the ability to read anything previously downloaded. And in the middle are the customers who’re on the Amazon forums, openly discussing (and being allowed to!) how to share Kindle ebooks between readers -- the bottom line being a statement to the effect that, “I just copy everything to an SD card and upload the files.”
So … Digital Rights Management remains an extremely gray zone, with writers on one side saying, “I’ll never publish an ebook without DRM again,” and readers on the other side saying, “I’ll never buy a DRM-secured ebook again.”
The reality of the situation is that the vast majority of ebooks in e-print today are circulating without DRM protection; most authors are in no position to be picky and choosy about how they reach customers -- the more picky one gets, the fewer sales one will make. It’s probably unavoidable that some ebooks will be “shared” by some people some of the time! It’s also possible that a reader could discover a deep affection for a writer, by reading a bootlegged ebook, and then go directly to the writer’s website and buy several more books. These were ‘serendipitous sales’ which would never have happened if the original ebook had not been shared, so…
The whole question remains wide open to interpretation and discussion. It won’t be decided for a long time to come, and in the meantime, most writers are braving the DRM storm. As an author, if you can live without DRM, then Smashwords is an excellent venue to expand the reach of your backlist. Your titles can be available for gadgets galore, in about an hour apiece!
And .. then, what? Does Smashwords market the books? Yes and no. The books are certainly displayed, and people will certainly be browsing … they’ll stumble over an individual title. Will they buy? What is it that makes readers buy a specific book, or pass on to the next one? If we knew the answer to that, we’d all be making a hundred bucks an hour as marketing gurus!
In fact, Smashwords excels as a conversion engine and hosting service -- all of it free. The marketing is largely up to you … which is almost always the case, even if you’re fortunate enough to have placed a book with a major publishing house! Whatever you’d do to foster sales if you were with a big NY company, do it now, to foster the same sales. The difference is, Smashwords hosts and “serves” the book; you get to keep 85% of the retail price. You also set the price, and you’ll be paid by check monthly…
The Company is growing rapidly. To date, the counter on the homepage shows 65,760,881 words published, with thousands of individual titles, and hundreds of GLBT titles. Look back in another six months, and you could be astonished, as presses like DreamCraft, eXcessica, Shadowfire and others take up the Smashwords option to reach readers whose gadgets would have been imagination just a few years ago.