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in Publishers, Technology


Smashwords, a platform created in 2007, publishes and distributes ebooks for self-publishing authors. Mark Coker founded the company after numerous publishing companies turned down the novel Boob Tube, which he and his wife Lesleyann wrote together. Coker knew their book was ready for the public, but novels in that genre did not do as well as the companies wanted, so publishers continued to turn them away.

Coker knew the novel would attract a specific audience, but the large publishing companies would not give them a chance. “They’re unable to take a risk on every author. They acquire books based on perceived commercial potential, but ultimately they don’t know which books will sell well.” Coker explains that he wanted to bypass the obstacles of traditional publishing to “give every author the freedom, tools and distribution they needed.” The company aims to give authors a chance to publish when other companies might not.

They accomplish this as a free publishing and distribution platform; Smashwords allows authors full control over how their book is priced, published, sampled, and sold for free. Yes, free. This fact might cause some eyebrow-raising.  This dedication to attainable self-publishing forms the foundation of Smashwords. Coker’s answer to whether Smashwords will help authors sell large quantities of books: “probably not.” Instead, publishing through Smashwords’ should get an author’s work out efficiently and accessibly, rather than helping the author get rich quick.

What Authors Need to Know

According to Coker, “Smashwords authors and publishers earn 85% or more of the net proceeds from the sale of their works.” The client receives three-quarters of the net profit, and in exchange, the company distributes the books to major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and indie retailers as well. The math breaks down to mean authors make $8 for every $10 book on Smashwords. These royalty rates are some of the highest in the world of publishing.

Net Proceeds (to author) = Sales Price – Processing Fees * .85

On top of high royalties, Smashwords also handles much of the leg work that comes with publishing. Afterward, the company will also send your work to other publishers and ebook retailers. Smashwords provides authors with free marketing, metadata analysis, and distribution and sales report tools. The company also pays authors monthly rather than quarterly.

Compared to its major competitors, Draft2Digital and PublishDrive, Smashwords has the longest list of affiliated publishing companies. While this large platform can be a great selling point for writers, it doesn’t promise more sales. Smashwords also has a detailed protocol for authors who want their work sent to specific companies. Additionally, the company doesn’t handle formatting of the ebook, which can create a significant setback for its clients.

Authors submitting to Smashwords also must format their work to meet the company’s standards. To ease the pressure on writers, Smashwords published an ebook with instructions for submitting in their format. While this formatting may seem tedious, Smashwords says that it is well worth the hassle:

Our Meatgrinder technology will automatically convert your .doc file into nine different ebook formats, plus a tenth, custom version of EPUB required by Sony. In the years since we launched Smashwords, we have continuously enhanced our Meatgrinder conversion technology. Meatgrinder-produced books often rival or surpass the quality of expensive, custom-designed ebook files. Smashwords ebooks support reflowable narrative, images, linked Tables of Contents, hyperlinks and advanced styling.

What Readers Need to Know

The authors publishing through Smashwords would be nowhere if it weren’t for those reading their books. Registration is free and once registered, members have access to over 80,000 free ebooks and 500,000 low-cost ebooks. The platform also allows members to read samples of books before purchasing; the sample sizes may vary depending on the author’s selection.

Smashwords produces DRM-free ebooks, a real perk for readers. DRM stands for Digital Restrictions Management which puts constraints on how the reader may use the text. Without DRM, readers can essentially share the book however they choose after purchase which can be a drawback for authors as it leaves the work open to piracy and could cut back on sales.

Readers also benefit from the company’s multi-format ebooks. Smashwords provides a platform that works with many different e-reader devices. Other content-selling companies often restrict the device or file that can be used. Smashwords boasts a user-friendly interface that allows their readers to create a virtual library of ebooks, establish “favorite” authors, and sign up for notifications when a particular author publishes new work.

Coker says the company has no intention of getting involved in print publishing.

I don’t see us ever getting into the business of selling or fulfilling POD versions or otherwise. This was a decision I made early on when I started working on the Smashwords business plan in 2005 and 2006. There were already a bunch of companies doing great work on the print side, and I knew we wouldn’t have the resources to do it better.

With the growing popularity of ebooks and the never-ending struggle to get published motivating Coker, Smashwords entered the market and became one of the largest “distributors of independent and self-published ebooks.” Created with both author and reader in mind, Smashwords continues to dominate the world of ebooks.