Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weighing Ebook Distribution Options

Math is funny thing. When you look at numbers from one angle, they tell one story, and from another direction they tell a different story.

I bop around the MobileRead, Kindleboards and Amazon message boards whenever I get a chance, and it's always fun to read what people are saying or speculating about Smashwords.

We have a lot of loyal fans out there, and for that I am grateful beyond words. Though sometimes, it can be tough to read the comments.

A few times during the last couple months I've run across authors complaining they don't sell many books on Smashwords compared to Amazon. I've seen authors pull their titles for this reason. Or there will be authors considering publishing on Amazon instead of Smashwords.

There's some fallacious thinking going on here, so I'll address a few points.

1. If you're publishing a print book, would you refuse to sell your book at Borders or your local indie bookstore because B&N is so much larger? Of course not. Then why would anyone think Amazon/Smashwords is an either/or situation? It's not. As an author, you should maximize your distribution points, not minimize them.

2. AMZN vs. SW sales: It shouldn't really be a surprise that most authors who publish in both places sell more on Amazon. After all, according to Alexa, the traffic ranking service (owned by Amazon), Amazon's traffic is 720 times greater than Smashwords, and of course Kindle customers can purchase books wirelessly there so it's more convenient. Therefore, if you're selling 720 books at Amazon for every book you sell at Smashwords, I'd conclude we're keeping pace. Or maybe a better number is 300 to 1, since Amazon sells toaster ovens, refrigerator water filters and underwear too (I get mine at Amazon, don't you?) If these or similar ratios always held true, it would mean many Smashwords authors who publish in both places should be selling millions of dollars worth of books on Amazon. But they're not. Why? Because some authors on Smashwords are getting a better yield (sales per X number of visitors) on Smashwords than on Amazon. My point isn't to knock Amazon. They're awesome, and every author should be there, either directly or through us (our books aren't there yet). My point is math. The next time someone pontificates their great epiphany that they're selling more at Amazon than anywhere else, offer them a math lesson.

3. As one smart poster pointed out, when you put your book on Smashwords, you're also distributing it to many other retailers. We're currently distributing to B&N, the Apple iBookstore, Aldiko, Stanza and Kobo, and our Sony feed is (hopefully) mere days from going live (yes, we're behind schedule!). In the next 12 months, you'll see many more retailers added to our roster of distribution points.
So bottom line, if you're not working with Smashwords, I hope you at least find another route to get your books to additional points. If not, you're selling yourself short.

Oh, and for loyal readers who read this far, a teaser treat: I analyzed our Apple sales yesterday and was pleased how the sales are trending for each of the first seven weeks. Chart at left. Not included are the free book downloads. A handful of Smashwords authors are getting thousands of downloads a week. We'll start adding this data into the sales dashboards in the next couple months.

Speaking of trending, Smashwords titles are starting to climb the charts elsewhere in the ebookosphere. Congratulations to Smashwords author Ruth Ann Nordin, whose novel, An Inconvenient Marriage, is the #4 best-selling book at Kobo today. She's beating out titles from Harlequin, St. Martin's Press, Penguin, Little, Brown and HarperCollins. Sure, her list price is only $.99, but at that price her 47 cent royalty is probably equal or higher than what the #5 Harlequin author is getting for their $7.99 list price book. Also congratulations to Smashwords author Bill Clem, whose $1.99 book, Microbe, is at #12 on the list (was #10 minutes ago).

Folks, a quiet revolution is taking place here.

Image source for scale: Wikipedia Commons


Oswald Bastable said...

Can't figure some folk out.

How can it NOT be good to be getting sales in as many ways and places as possible?

That aside, I have gone for listing my books free- for now. Being a newbie, I figure I need the exposure more than anything.

It's working- thanks to Smashwords!

Wayne Watson
'Meddlers In Time'

Anonymous said...

There's another point to consider as well. SW takes a 15% cut. Amazon takes something like 50-60%, last time I looked. You'd have to sell 3 to 4 times the number of copies at Amazon to get the same royalty you'd get from 1 copy at SW. Yeah, Amazon gets more traffic, but they need more to make it worthwhile.

And since both are nonexclusive, it's absolutely stupid to not use both. Some people just aren't thinking!

Alex Greenwood said...

I am ASTOUNDED at how narrow-minded (or is it small-minded?) people can be about distribution. As writing a book is deeply personal, I wonder that they are letting their emotions cloud their business (or common) sense...

Shayne Parkinson said...

Very nice trend on the Apple sales chart! Thanks for sharing that, Mark.

Shayne Parkinson said...

And congratulations to Ruth Ann and Bill!

Unknown said...

Seems clear to me that more outlets are better. Having said that I stll can't find The Last King's Amulet on Amazon or Sony etc. (only B&N where there are nice reviews for the funny fantasy novel) but can't complain - for years I was throwing novels away, now they get read!

W. A. Patterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
W. A. Patterson said...

Thanks for the suggestion. Good idea and I went and did sign up with Amazon to sell the book after reading it.
I'm still waiting for Smashwords to start selling it on Amazon though. Would rather give something to you guys for all you put up with for us!

W. A.
Author of "Future Useless"

Unknown said...

Mark, I asked the question on the Smashwords site, but probably should have posted it here instead. If I already publish with the Amazon Kindle outlet AND Smashwords, is it necessary to Opt In on SW distribution channels to duplicate that effort? I have currently Opted Out, as regards the Amazon channel. Thanks. Novelist

Anonymous said...

You're doing a great job getting things into wider distribution and letting us see stats. I don't know why anyone wouldn't take advantage of it.

I do use Amazon DTP directly, but I opt-out on Smashwords for Amazon. You've made it so user friendly that I can't imagine not have smashwords also.

Yes, sales are better at Amazon, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate smashwords getting my books into other channels and consolidating all the work of distribution into one neat package.

Zoe Winters said...


I know I'm not Mark, and he may have a diff opinion, but I opt out of Amazon with Smashwords because I deal directly with Amazon. Having my book up twice would split my sales ranking and that's not good for overall sales IMO.

Zoe Winters

Wilson James said...

Maximize your books' exposure. Having seen how Mark and his team have worked to do just that, why would any author not want to stick with Smashwords? I'd considered dealing directly with Amazon, but I'm going to wait to get my book on Amazon through Smashwords. My patience has been rewarded so far, as I see the deals with B&N, Kobo, Apple, and others.

Mark keeps reminding us to read the Smashwords Style Guide. If I could make a recommendation to others, I would suggest making maximum use of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide. Getting your book(s) out there is more than just getting them listed with an online retailer; read the Marketing Guide for details.

For most of us, success will not happen overnight, but with time and effort, we can get our work in front of our readers. I am heartened that it is happening for me. It's been just under five months since I made A Family Legacy: The Watson Works, the first of my five Smashwords books available, and I can now claim thousands of downloads/sales of my five titles.


Unknown said...

I have had a difficult time finding the Apple Bookstore, specifically the new iPad outlet. If someone has the URL for each of the distribution channels that SW uses, would you please post them on this site? Thank you.

ButlerPublishingGroup said...

I'm seeing Inconvenient Marriage at #1 in the Kobo charts. I'm not sure how many books you need to sell to get up there - but amazing to be above Mr Larsson in any charts I would say. Well done Ruth and thanks Mark for giving us indie publishers the chance to compete. How's the Sony deadline working out for you?

Joe Chiappetta said...

Smashwords is a great service. I love it and distribute all my available titles through there. Keep up the good work. PS. Still hoping for HTML upload to be an option.

Unknown said...

Oddly I had purchased Bill's book on Kobo to read on my iPad, but the chapters were empty, except for the preview chapters at the end for another book.

After working with Kobo they confirmed it came from you guys like that and they kindly refunded me the purchase price. I am guessing the "meat grinder" ground a little hard.

Oddly, I went to Amazon and was able to buy a perfectly formatted copy. I am guessing Bill was more than able to produce a mobi copy. While I applaud what you are doing, quality and consistency account for an awful lot. Maybe premium content could come from something else other than word?

BTW, Amazon's cut is only 30% sgoldin.

Kristan said...

I started at Amazon and then wanted to broaden my distribution (conveniently) with Smashwords. So far I'm *loving* the flexibility on pricing, formats, coupons, and all that. I also love that I can see how many people are downloading samples (which I can't see at Amazon).

Now, I know it's only been a week since my ebook was accepted to the Premium catalog, but I am wondering when it will actually "ship" to the other retailers. This is one piece of communication that I find hugely lacking. "TBD" is the same as no information at all. Even knowing "2-4 weeks" or "2-4 months" would be helpful.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark,

I'm interested in your thoughts about effective distribution in light of all these workflow platform changes. I am so overwhelmed and confused by this market it is not even funny.

Mainly I want to offer readers access to my work. It seems I'm having to negotiate with things writers were always able to take for granted. When I wrote on paper I did not spend eight hours a day figuring out how to use the paper.


Anonymous said...

It's a whole new world out there. I'm old enough to remember when service stations used to pump the gas for you. Yes, it's more of a nuisance to have to learn to promote your own books. On the other hand, nobody *cares* about your book more than you do--and the reward of doing the promotion yourself mean you get a bigger cut of the profits. We evolve or we get passed over.

Kristi said...

Everyone keeps going on and on about SW, but I have two questions or rather two concerns. First off, when I visit SW it specifically says that you must be accepted into theor premium catalog in order to be distributed to other device sites. Is this true or have I confused the way the explained it? Second off does it really PAY in all honesty TO have your book on a variety of sites ie; Sony e Reader, iBooks, iPad, Nook, Amazon, etc. Do you really get more sales from being on more websites and having your books available to more ereaders? Or is that a bunch of BS?

Right now I am going through the process of trying to find a distribution service. So if I could find a TRUE real answer to my questions, especially the second question, I would definitely be able to pick a better distributor yes, but also I would be willing to spend $99 for one ebook.

Dovetail Public Relations said...


The retailer's job is to attract book buyers to their store. The more retailers who have working for you, the more books you'll sell. If you're not at every retailer, then that retailer's customers will discover someone else's book, not yours.

The biggest retailers are Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. The smaller and midsize retailers usually won't sell as many, but every sale adds up and if you're not there, you'll miss out. We've also seen instances where some authors take off at the smaller retailers before they take off at larger ones. There's a lot of randomness.

Smashwords is a free service. You don't need to pay to publish and distribute a book if you use us.

For more information on distribution strategies and best practices, check out my free ebook, THE SECRETS TO EBOOK PUBLISHING SUCCESS. It's free and you'll find it at every ebook retailer.