The Imaginary Love-Child of Amazon and Smashwords

Posted: April 9, 2014 in Self-publishing
Tags: , , , ,

You’re probably thinking this post is about some highly-anticipated romantic comedy starring Shia LaBeouf as brooding thespian Ezekiel Amazon and Jennifer Lawrence as quirky-but-loveable Adrianna Smashwords, reluctant heiress to her estranged father’s ebook fortune. Sorry, but you’re wrong. That film is called Transformers 4: Out of Ideas. This post is actually about how nice it would be to have an ebook distribution site that combines the best aspects of Amazon and Smashwords. I apologize for any confusion.

Like most self-publishing writers, I found myself obsessively refreshing KDP’s Reports page a few nights ago when the site was undergoing maintenance. To pass the time while I waited to see with my own eyes the two sales indicated by my uptick in the rankings (yeah, I need professional help. I know), I decided to check out some of the foreign incarnations of Amazon. I’ve whined in the past (second paragraph, here) about the fact that the “Look Inside” feature only seems to be available in the US, the UK, and (recently) Germany. That problem still exists, but I noticed that most of the foreign sites are now importing the “most useful” reviews from and including them on the product page. I don’t know how much reviews written in English are going to help sales in places like France and Brazil, but they’ll certainly come in handy in Canada and Australia. Now, if I can only get them to add that nice review of Signal Fire from the UK site to its US Amazon page. But I’m sure that technology’s still years off.

Anyhoo, the whole thing got me thinking about the pros and cons in the case of Amazon v. Smashwords. Granted, Amazon’s universe-swallowing size makes the two a bit difficult to compare, but (for me, anyway) ’tis the little things that make the biggest differences between the two retailers. One thing I dislike about Amazon is that you’re stuck with the rigid set of promotional/price manipulation tools they give you, some of which require exclusivity. You’re free to manually change your books’ prices whenever you want, of course, but that’s, well, boring. Enter Smashwords and their brilliantly simple coupon system—you pick which book(s) you want to put on sale and for how long, receive your coupon code, then you’re off to gallivant through Internetland, leaving savings and happiness in your wake. Smashwords 1, Amazon 0.

Smashwords also tracks pageviews and free sample downloads for each of your books (fancy graphs included!), which makes it a bit easier to gauge how much visibility your work is receiving. A writer more intrepid and less math-challenged than myself could even crunch the numbers and come up with all kinds of highfalutin logarithms and algorithms and such to maximize his or her sales, if they were so inclined. Amazon, meanwhile, provides hard sales numbers, a vague ranking that seems more like an inside joke intended to screw with writers, and not much else. Smashwords 2, Amazon, 0.

As I mentioned earlier, Amazon is big. Freaking huge, even. Almost everyone on the planet has heard of them, and someday soon they will be delivering hardcover novels, v-neck sweaters, and embarrassing personal products directly to your front door within thirty minutes via drone. You can’t walk ten feet without tripping over an empty box with their odd smiley-face logo on it. This, in the business world, is what’s known as having a “competitive advantage.” Smashwords? Not so much. They’ve grown admirably over the past few years, but if I were strictly a reader and not a writer, I don’t know if I’d ever have heard of them. Don’t get me wrong—they’re moving quickly in the right direction and I love all their distribution channels. But in this (and, realistically) most cases, size matters. Amazon 240,000,000 (their net income last quarter), Smashwords 2.

In conclusion, to create the perfect ebook distribution site, Amazon simply has to initiate a user-friendly system that allows writers to provide coupons directly to readers, be more forthright about pageviews/sample views, and make the “Look Inside” feature available in all countries. Or Smashwords can increase their year-over-year sales growth by approximately eleventy-billion percent. Whichever’s easier.



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