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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Wibbles: Exclusivity, and Why it Shouldn’t be So Attractive

Last week, Indie ReCon kicked off with a talk with Mark Coker of Smashwords, called What Authors Need to Know in 2015. Of course, toward the end of the session, Coker delivered a soliloquy about the perils of exclusivity (specifically, KDP Select).

Steakburgers or dog food?
Okay, there are some really good points to make about being widely available. The problem is threefold:
  • I don’t doubt there are a lot of people like me out there, with books distributed pretty widely (thanks in part to Smashwords), who end up with over 95% of sales coming from Amazon. When I’ve sold over 17,000 Accidental Sorcerers books on Amazon, and a few hundred through Smashwords, I can’t see much downside to exclusivity.
  • There’s a big ecosystem of review and promotional sites built around Amazon exclusivity. Many promo sites are designed around KDP Select’s free days and countdown days. Some sites ask directly for an ASIN (the unique ID that Amazon assigns to each product they sell) instead of a general link.
  • There are other real benefits to being in KDP Select, for those who use those benefits. My co-op partner thinks I’m nuts for not using them, and sometimes I have to wonder if she’s right.
If Mark Coker wants a dent in KDP Select, he and Smashwords likely need to help make that dent—people aren’t going to give up what KDP Select offers without a good reason (where good reason may be defined as solid sales). That probably means sponsoring—or even starting—Smashwords-friendly review sites, and even helping to promote books that are doing reasonably well on Amazon but not on other sites.

As for promotion, Amazon has a huge mailing list that they use to target books to potential readers. My books have appeared on mail blasts a number of times. What is Smashwords doing to get books noticed? I don’t just mean the top sellers (which usually don’t need help), I’m talking about titles with decent sales that might become a top seller with a little help.

Until Mark Coker can answer those questions, KDP Select will continue to be a popular choice for many indies.


  1. I don't think I've had a single sale on Smashwords for a long time. Most of my sales come from Amazon. It's just easier and more popular. People like convenience. I like it too. I find it hard to link to SW too when on Amazon people can click and have it upload to their device automatically. If Smashwords could do something like that, then I'd be more willing to try to promote my titles on there.

  2. First, congratulations on the 17,000 sales!

    I liked this analysis. Cut through the hype a lot. And, of course, if Amazon ever does sour things for indies, there will be other distribution channels. New ones will be made if necessary.

    Now that I'm in the editing stage, I've been thinking of course about distribution. I can't see myself going exclusive with Amazon for reasons that don't have anything to do with Amazon (short version: where I am geographically, Kobo is important enough not to neglect), but your post made me take a look at Smashword's submissions page again.

    Yeah. Still using .doc format for conversion, still assuming writers can't format their way out of a wet paper bag. It's hard to take them seriously when they're using a ten-year-old file format.

  3. Patricia, tablets can download directly from Smashwords—I just verified that on an iPad, Nook HD (Android), and a Kindle Fire. The iPad, as usual, was the most straightforward of the bunch; after it downloaded the EPUB, it gave the option to open in iBooks. The Nook & Fire only required one extra step each. eInk readers are going to be a little more problematic, of course. I should probably write up a "how-to" post and then start pointing people to my SW page…

    Tony, indeed it is… although one data point is just a point. It doesn't even suggest a trend, but I'd guess I'm not the only writer with similarly lopsided sales figures.

    Thanks, Katherine! Smashwords does allow you to upload an EPUB directly. It has to pass validation (Epubcheck) and they don't convert to any other formats—but I think that's the way to go because the only serious eReaders not using EPUB are Kindles. People who make a virtue of avoiding Amazon aren't going to buy a Kindle then only buy from Smashwords. ;-) Besides, once you have the EPUB, you can load it into Calibre and convert it to any format you need locally.


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