Although Amazon is still on top, Smashwords has broken out in the last few years as a highly popular platform for ebook publication and distribution. Despite this, many indie authors continue to be a part of KDP Select and remain strictly on Amazon. But how much good does that do? Is it more worth it to go on to Smashwords too or remain only on Amazon? In my experience, the former is best, although there are pros and cons involved. Smashwords is a great distribution and publication tool, but it does come with its own problems. Below I've organized a list of my Smashwords pros and cons. If you're on the fence about going to Smashwords, maybe this will help your decision, and if you're already on it maybe you can discover some new things.
- Publishing Speed: Even though expanding to their full distribution takes a lot longer, publishing right to Smashwords can be done much faster than with Amazon or KDP. An ebook uploaded to Smashwords will go live on the website after just a matter of minutes. The difference in publishing terms of waiting a few minutes or a few hours like with Amazon might not sound like that big of a deal after spending weeks/months writing and editing a book for publication, but when you come down to a deadline it can mean a lot. With one of my books, I was coming close on a deadline for a marketing promotion on it, but it had to be on more than just Amazon. Smashwords' quick publication speed saved me time and stress, and made it possible for me to get that promotion running fast.
- Ease of Use: I don't know about you guys, but I like to think I'm pretty technologically savvy. I've been around computers my whole life, as well as the Internet, I'm well versed in all the nonsense. That being said, I still appreciate some easy to follow websites and publication/production steps. Even though KDP is fairly easy to use throughout, I have to say that Smashwords steals the ease of use crown. They lay out guidelines right at the top of their publication page and give you a handy free ebook to help you along with their guidelines of publication. More often than not, KDP leaves you guessing or leaves stricter guidelines in the fine print.
- Perma-free: Perma-free, the aspect of indie publishing Amazon has been grappling against for years. Their Select free days are great, but trust me, perma-free is better. For someone like me, an indie author without much of a promo budget to work with, perma-free does wonders. You won't push units like you would with a well paid for KDP Select free period, but over time units continue to be downloaded across all channels. Some of my books are perma-free on Amazon thanks to Smashwords distribution, but in terms of downloads Amazon takes a backseat to Smashwords. Perma-free is also very simple on Smashwords. If you want perma-free on Amazon you need to put it on a website they see as valid then email them and email them and email them until it happens. It's unpredictable and overly convoluted. With Smashwords, it's as easy as a click. Then bam, you've got yourself a perma-free book.
- Wide Distribution: Smashwords sends your ebook out to so many different providers it would be a massive space waste to list them all, but here are a few: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, PDF readers, iBooks, Overdrive. But what do all these extra platforms mean? Well, extra sales of course. Currently, Barnes & Noble is my best distributor in terms of downloads and sales. They blow Amazon and everyone else away, doing nearly more than every other distribution channel combined. I wouldn't be a part of Barnes & Noble's distribution if not for Smashwords. Along with that, I'm no longer getting fan emails asking when my books will be available for them. With KDP Select, you're cutting out a whole market share of readers. People with Nooks were always asking me when they could get my books for their devices. Now I'm reaching them with my work, along with Apple readers, Kobo readers, and everyone who doesn't have any ereader device with Smashwords' PDF ability. Anyone who has a computer who wants to read my books can do it without having the pay extra for a paperback.
- Waiting for Full Distribution: Not a big problem by any means, but Smashwords' waiting period for full distribution can be unfortunate sometimes. Although they publish to their site quickly, it can take several days or longer in some cases for review of a book to be complete for their full distribution. It's understandable, they have guidelines people don't like to follow and the reach a lot of distributors who have their own guidelines and requirements. Still, the excitement of publishing a book can turn to annoyance when all you see is "Under Review" for nearly a week. And don't get me started on restarting the process over again if you accidentally forgot to do something up to requirement. That's an extra two days of review at least.
- Odd Payment Schedule: I'm sure there's a written rule about this on Smashwords somewhere, but I can't seem to find it nor am I able to decipher what exactly it is based on the payments I have received from them. I do know that they still go on the outdated Amazon-like system of meeting a certain point before payment. You have to have at least $10 USD in your Smashwords account before any payments get sent to you. That's not a problem for me, but for many new or low-list authors, it could mean extra weeks or months before they see their royalties. Even when your balance is over $10, Smashwords seems to want to pay you when it's ready to. I've looked at some balances for over 2 months before they were finally sent out of the Smashwords balance to me, while others got to me in only a few weeks. Like I said, I'm sure Smashwords has a rule about this somewhere, but it's hard to find and not very apparent from sent payments alone.
- Available Promotions: Unlike KDP Select authors, Smashwords publishers aren't able to access promotions like countdown deals, free book days (although see Perma-free above), or paid website promotion. The main things that Smashwords has for sales/promotion on the author's end is a coupon producer. This produces a code you can send via Facebook feeds or a mailing list to give your readers a discounted price on your books. Of course, that means if you want success with it you need a wide Facebook or social media reach or a big mailing list to send out to (and many on your mailing list might have already bought the book in question). In terms of on-site promotional opportunities, Smashwords is unfortunately lacking.
There you have it! My pros and cons of using Smashwords. Some of you may be on it already and love it, or hate it. To those who haven't used it yet, hopefully this list can give you some guidance in the right direction of publication for you.