Smashwords Hits Kindleverse, Tiering Ensues

So Smashwords, they of the 42.5% royalty, has just entered the Kindle Store.  This isn’t quite the game-changer you’d think.  Now, don’t get me wrong, clearly, the Smashwords deal was designed to steal yet more of the Nook/Sony thunder.  And, actually, thinking about the implications of Amazon giving some upstart a better rate on Mobipocket orphans has, with general holiday cheer, led to me formatting today’s books in tune with Beyonce and various other talented women singers from the ’80s, ’90s and this decade.

After all, rather than face a huge black eye and angry protest  from dissed Mobipocketers that would clearly benefit Sony/B&N, Amazon will pretty much be giving its earliest Kindle partners similar terms to Smashwords. Only question is if it’s a sly email, or, you know, something involving an NDA.

Just one thing stands in the way of Coker dominance: Tiering.  Actually, not all ebooks in the Kindle store are equal. There’s about five different rows.

 1. DTP publishers.  They are never discounted in the store.

2. Mobipocket orphans. They are discounted, but are missing some other things.

3. Mobipocket orphans with matching print editions. They’re better featured, but are still missing a few things. Difference is subtle, but as an example, of the dozen or so top-selling Olympia titles in smut at any given moment, only one or two books won’t have a print edition (yet.).  That’s true of Olympia’s non-print competitors from earlier in the decade as well.  They only have one or two top-selling books in smut. Heh.*

4. Publisher Program members.  These are the guys who’ve signed an NDA.  They get better rates, more help with promotion, and in many cases Amazon actually prepared their Kindle editions for them from printed books at no cost.  Think Grove-Atlantic, Cleis, etc.

5. Uber-partners.  These guys get the best rates, help with formatting (if need be), and additional abilities, like the ability to “disappear” competiting titles from smaller presses in search results with an email.  Think HarperCollins, Penguin, and remember it’s really not a good idea to disappear titles from a guy who might know more about the true copyright status of Lolita than you do.**

Looking at the Smashwords books, well, they get a better rate than DTP editions.  But, that’s about it.  No discounting.  No indication of print editions. No… promotion, it seems, the top book was around 35k in sales rank.  They’re either between the first and second tiers or, if some harsh Kindle reviewers trash the formatting in Smashwords editions, at the very bottom of the totem pole.

Certainly, it’s early, and certainly I owe Mark Coker a beer for the favor he did me, but it’s not clear, particularly given the low-quality formatting of Smashwords’ meatgrinder, whether a self-publisher might not be better off giving up that extra 7.5% in exchange for controlling the look of their content, and maybe giving themselves an imprint for the book, with an eye to the future.

*It’s theoretically possible to give a DTP ebook the same ISBN as the print edition if you don’t have access to Mobi’s “Available Print Edition ISBN.”  As far as I know, only one idiot did, but that guy is a known serial plagiarist and wholly discredited industry “expert” who’s not even invited to any of the various ebook conferences this season, so we can’t read anything into his complete lack of sales.

**Be glad it’s a holiday, RH, and we’re talking about three books I didn’t expect to sell, but I’m a little perturbed, particularly as you guys clearly aren’t publishing those titles either, and one has a very nice Goodloe cover.

About dmoynihan

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  • Mark Coker

    Maybe I’m dense or oblivious, but I don’t get all the grumpiness or royalty envy. The main difference between us and any other distributor is that we’re completely transparent. BTW, we haven’t pushed the button to ship our titles to AMZN yet, so I don’t think the titles you see were supplied by us.

  • dmoynihan


    1., You’d said you were shipping books to them by the 25th. There are 20 titles there listing you guys as publisher. Hmm?

    2., While I understand you were, prior to this Amazon deal of course, a big portion of the “we’re open!” nonsense used to promote agendas from Adobe, Overdrive and others, you fail to recognize that there are publishers who’ve been on the scene for a decade or longer, who sell a lot more books, of significantly better quality (content and formatting) than your firm, and are very much shafted by your latest arrangement. If you don’t get that, fine, Amazon will. Quickly.

    It’s great that Smashwords allows companies like Sony to reneg on repeated promises to open up the platform to small publishers, but not something I’d sign up for.

  • Mark Coker

    1. Our first test shipment was delivered in the last couple hours. Per the press release, I expect our titles to start appearing sometime in December.

    2. I don’t understand your comment about Adobe or Overdrive. I completely disagree anyone is “shafted” by this agreement. Quite the opposite. If we can help an author/publisher, use us. If not, go solo or use another distributor. Re: the formatting comment, we’re completely upfront about the strengths and limitations of our Meatgrinder (see the Style Guide). Authors/publishers who follow the Guide get good books, especially for straight form narrative. Authors/publishers who flaunt it because they think they know better get hamburger. Soon, we’ll create a Meatgrinder bypass system so if you have a better file than our file, you can ship your file.

    Feel free to email me – I suspect there’s some misunderstanding here and I’d be happy to help you understand where we’re at and where we’re going.

  • dmoynihan

    1. Wouldn’t the deal have applied to your book as well? Sales Rank: #192,672 in Kindle Store?

    2. Sir, I think the problem you’re having here is the same one the NYCIP had when they tried to schedule an event around you before canceling it due to lack of interest: You don’t provide a useful service to an established publisher, or one capable of finding an intern. Per our sales ranks, my top-selling author in the Kindle store is going to move at least 30,000 copies of his books this year, jes’ slightly better than #192,672. And that’s without print being entirely sorted out on half his titles. I have dominated my niche every year since ’04, and especially since ’06, owning the U.S. market since ’07 (when a top competitor went away in a corporate restructuring).

    While another writer jokes about me someday buying a yacht christened S.S. Love Me, Love My Dog, the Olympia Press has more books on the Modern Library Top 100 than any other publisher, and my current list also includes Miller, Genet, Durrell, De Sade, Wainhouse, Trocchi, Owens, Keogh, Chateaubriand, Schuyler, etc., etc., with some new material finally shooting up the charts. Another imprint has Guan Hanqing, Luo Guanzhong, Illyon, etc.

    I’ve formatted approximately 35,000 ebooks in my life, and played around with illustrated titles enough to make a serious hit with those in the Kindle store. I don’t need your Meatgrinder, improved or otherwise; I just need not to be paid less than you, not to have fewer cross-promotional opportunities than you, and not to somehow be told I have to sign up for your services to get anywhere (and list YOU as publisher!) If you sold direct in any quantity, 20%’s a good figure. If you’re selling into other networks, you’re unnecessary overhead for an inferior product.

  • Racicot

    Hey Cool! I dunno how I got here, but read the above posts (reads like Chinese to me) and you run OLYMPIA?

    I’m a big fan of Henry Miller and (somewhere) read the history of Olympia in relation to his publishing history…

    Will look around some more. Best success Olympia.

  • Racicot

    Came here via the FREE ‘Sound of the Horn’ by Sarban.

    Come check out my blog where I’ve posted the opening pages to a feature live-action script — which I now plan on novelizing… and creating a cross-media franchise with: Motor-Psycho !!!

  • Mark Coker

    You are in a league of your own.

  • dmoynihan

    Nah, you just gotta get outside the cocoon. I’m only better at formatting because there hasn’t been a profit-motive to it since ’03.

    For ebook publishing, I am probably the only member of the NYCIP not to make it to Tier 4, above. But there are a LOT of people who’ve been around a while, endured non-payment from Ebookad, coughed up as much as $200 to get a title into Sony’s system, dealt with poor communication and outages from Mobizon, etc.

    If you’re ever looking for excitement, my advice to you would be to wrangle a bunch of them into a room together, and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Mark Coker of Smashwords. I’ve negotiated better rates than any of you get from leading device makers on the strength of poorly-selling books, an immature conversion process, and tons of hype.”

    ‘Cuz though most ebook publishers are a tinge more polite and soft-spoken than me, nobody enjoys it when one party benefits on arbitrary criteria. It’s like when some private citizen makes a fortune from a minor shift in regulatory policy and calls it entrepreneurship.

    /Thankfully, Amazon WILL correct this rate imbalance for the Mobi Orphans. They’re too smart not too. But Sony’s been screwing us over for years without remorse…

  • Mark Coker

    Are you suggesting every ebook retailer has a moral obligation to form a direct relationship with every single publisher, from the self-pubbed single-title author to the largest publisher? I don’t buy that. It’s economically unfeasible for them to do so, especially with long tail books. I’m building our business on the bet that the long tail will get longer and longer, and even a bit thicker in places. All retailers work with aggregators/distributors/wholesalers for a reason, and to the extent we can add value for our retail partners, authors/publishers and readers, everything is good. If we, you or any other intermediary don’t add value to our little plot of soil, we’re dust in the wind.

  • dmoynihan

    Dude, there are exactly five ebook retailers in this country: Amazon, B&N, Ingram/LSI, Sony and Overdrive. Apart from Amazon, none of the other four retailers sell even a single copy of every book in their inventory in a given month (Amazon “turns over” its digital inventory 10 times a month, at least.)

    Everyone else is just a storefront, showing minimal growth at best at a time when Amazon’s up 500% YOY for little peons like me, and 700% for RH and S&S. None of the other “retailers” are worth my time, let alone worth losing your place in search results to. And if anyone can’t figure out how to automate the process of adding publishers, with all the protections the DMCA entails, they are pretty much worthless, and guaranteed to do the same fade we saw in ’01-02.

    PS: Do not talk to a guy whose non-smut imprints include Silk Pagoda, Black Mask, Munsey’s and the New Traveller’s Companion about a Long Tail… it’s just not something ToC speakers really get.

  • Mark Coker

    Oh, Ingram/LSI and Overdrive are retailers. Okay.

  • dmoynihan

    Yeah, for ebooks. They hold the content, they make the deals with publishers, they provide the data, they handle most of the transaction.

    All the “retailers”–BoB, Diesel, what have you–do is hire somebody from South Asia, integrate with various feeds to launch in real time and automate the process. It’s no different from an affiliate program, really.

  • bowerbird

    david moynihan certainly is in a league of his own! : )

    at least he has explained exactly why he is grumpy…