More Smashwords Stats Woes

If you read my review of Smashwords, you might want to check it again. I made a couple of edits. One thing I discovered was that, according to Smashwords, I’ve had zero downloads at the Apple iBookstore. This is patently false as I have 39 real ratings/eviews (meaning I didn’t ask friends to post them) plus I’ve downloaded the book at least twice (once to the iPad, once to the iPod). According to Smashwords, their data is accurate through May 28th. I’m not sure where the problem lies. It could be that Apple isn’t reporting correctly, or that there is a disconnect on Smashwords end. What I do know is that I’ll probably never know. I sent an email to Smashwords to inquire about it a week ago, but I doubt I’ll hear anything from them. Certainly, a week is enough time to send a cursory, “We’ll look into it,” response.

I find this whole situation troubling and, if you are planning on using Smashwords, you should too.

Regardless where the problem lies, the fact that there is a problem should worry all self-published authors. Let’s face it, we’re not quitting our day jobs any time soon. It just isn’t happening. So every sale is important. Every download is a validation that what we are doing has merit. In my case, I’m giving away my first book. All I have is the raw number of downloads to go by. But if I were selling my book, I’d be extremely concerned. Every day those numbers remain unreported is another day I’m not getting paid. Every email unanswered is more evidence that Smashwords is turning into a fly-by-night money-making operation.

I have read very few negative things posted about Smashwords. Mostly, it is all glowing reviews and hordes of people apparently sucking up to Mark Coker. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of the service. I don’t even mind that they take around 10% of whatever money I make on a sale. What I do mind is the delay and the lack of transparency.

Therein lies the problem. You can either have delays and tell me why, or you can have no delays and not answer my emails. Both make me think that there is no one over there at Smashwords able to do anything but pump books through their service as fast as they can.

Mark Coker recently did an interview over at elitzr.com. You can listen to the whole thing but toward the end he is asked what the future holds for Smashwords. One thing he mentioned was that they were working on getting books vetted for inclusion into the premium catalog faster. Right now, he says, they have a delay of about 2 weeks. You can bet (and it was my experience) that this is an optimistic number. I’d guess at times it is double that or more. They are working for a 3 day turnaround. As an explanation, he talks about the growth of Smashwords (and you can see a chart on their blog), and about how explosive it has been. Currently they’re getting around 6,300 books a month. That explains (obviously) the slow turnaround. It also explains (in my opinion) why they don’t respond to emails. He says in a separate post,

“We’re on track to surpass 75,000 titles by the end of year, up from 28,800 at the end of 2010, 6,000 in 2009 and 140 in 2008.”

Think about that. That’s 75k books this year that have to be individually reviewed by a human (that’s how they vet their books for the premium catalog). And if their growth is to be similar in 2012, they could easily surpass 100k by the end of that year. I did a bit of math and 75K books a year works out to be over 200 books a day that have to be looked at. If you provide that each book only has to be skimmed, it still is a mountain of work for even a large crew. And that’s just the vetting process much less the day to day operations.

My current theory (and no, I have no evidence to back this up other than my experience) is that Smashwords is getting smashed. They are swamped. They have no staff, no time to hire/train more staff, and are being crushed under the pressure. In my mind, I see an office full of people frantically trying to approve books for premium status. The service has become so popular so fast, that the staff can’t keep up. Coker is out of the office constantly at events and interviews pimping the service and putting down the “Big 6” whenever and wherever he can.

Is this reality? I hope not. I hope my emails have, for whatever reason, erroneously been marked as spam and blocked. I hope that all you that are selling your books through Smashwords are getting paid. Most of all, I hope that Smashwords continues to provide self-publishers a venue for getting their books out there easily and cheaply. I don’t understand why I’m having the problem I am with them. I don’t know why it seems to be only me talking about it. Hopefully I’m an N of 1 (statistic term meaning it is just me) and not part of a representative silent minority.

An interesting point in the Coker interview was that he was working on faster reporting on sales. That seems to be happening to some degree. My Sony sales (as pitiful as they are) are now reporting with about a two-week delay. This is completely acceptable to me. (edit – Sony sales just happened to update while I was writing this, they aren’t reporting real time as I thought.) Why Apple isn’t showing any sales is still a mystery.  (edit – as per a commenter below, it is because the book’s price was set to free – a fact they don’t tell you about anywhere that I have found on the Smashwords site.) Also a mystery is when sales for each service will be updated. You find out afterwards but, you can agree, that’s a little late.

The last thing Coker mentioned that he was working on was information transmission. While he didn’t say he’d start answering emails, he did say that he had tons of data that could help his authors. I’d love to see that. I’m sure they could run a bunch of statistical analyses that would help inform authors of what sells and what doesn’t. At the very least, it could help you price your book correctly. No word if this information would take the form of a free book or if he’d sell it. I could see either happening.

31 thoughts on “More Smashwords Stats Woes

  1. Beebe

    About that Affiliate Program of theirs. I have devoted an entire page on my website to hand picked titles, giving perspective buyers examples of what’s out there. From that list of books alone, I’ve gotten nearly a thousand hits. Still, only one (1) book has sold since June 2011. This is almost November 2011. I used to maintain my webpage religiously, searching out interesting and provocative titles, updating, etc. But, now I hardly ever go there, feeling that all the work I do there is not worth it.

    I provide about 85 links on my site for visitors to connect with Smashwords to check out the books. There’s a link on my FaceBook wall. There are links on each of my arts works on the DeviantArt site. I have emailed Smashwords several times to see if I’ve done something incorrectly, but no reply.

    They must be selling SOME books, if not, how are staying in business? Out of so many titles, how is it that not one person out of a thousand plus shoppers since June has bought one book? It makes me suspicious that books are being sold, but I’m not being compensated. I don’t like the idea of doing the publicity and Smashwords is the only one being paid.

    I have made this same comment on other forums and blogs, but I get no ideas from them. I don’t know how to get heard or to get my suspicions quelled.

    Sorry, I have written an erotic book. I know you’re not impressed with that genre. However, it has sold better than I thought it would. It could be better, but I’m pleased with it. I’ve never published anything before and it makes me absolutely giddy to know that people actually paid for my little offering. Perhaps I’ll do something non-erotic next time.

    1. Tom

      Beebe,

      I feel your pain. I, too, am a member of the “not good enough for Smashwords to respond to” club. It is frustrating to be ignored when you have real questions and concerns.

  2. AG

    Well.. I am glad that I did my research before using this service because as I’ve read over the particulars for downloading and sent emails to change my contact email without any responses. I started to become suspicious. Reading the formatting requirements was not only a headache to me but worried me. I spent a lot of time formatting my book in Publisher and its appearance reflects my personality as well. I can’t imagine losing so much of it.

    Thanks for your feedback because you filled in the blanks for me. I am OK with hard work and the only advantage I figured is Smashwords ability to download the book to various outlets. That is impressive but as you state, if I can do some of this myself. Then so be it. Thanks for saving me the headaches..

    But, do I need an ISBN to sell my ebooks from my own site in PDF format? Don’t understand why not?

    Thanks
    AG

  3. Tom

    AG,

    You’ve come to the same conclusions as I have. As far as the ISBN, I see no reason why you’d need one to sell on your own site. I don’t need one to sell at Amazon (unless I want to put out a print version). You will need one to sell on iBooks I believe. According to this website:

    For example, if you put out an ebook that you only plan to sell through your own Web site, an ISBN may not be necessary.

    I was talking to my wife about Smashwords last night and she asked me why they were so picky when uploading to Amazon was so simple. Well, the answer is that they are trying to convert your document into multiple formats. This means any deviation from what their converter expects can cause fairly catastrophic results. Understandable? Sure. But it does make things a bit of a pain.

    AG – having a book with pictures or very specific formatting pretty much means Smashwords is not for you. They just can’t handle that many specific formatting changes. Like you said, it is nice that they get your books on a number of services but, right now, if you are on Amazon, you are reaching ~80% of the potential customers anyhow.

  4. Jen

    I was beginning to think I was the only one that had issues with smashwords. You’re right there’s a lot of glowing praise for them but if I could find a way to get my books on to iBooks any other way I would take it. I requested a tax exemption letter over 2 months ago and haven’t heard a peep from them. I sent a query about a month and a half ago, a week later I got a TEN word response that didn’t answer the question. I’ve sent three emails since and no one has replied to any. The reporting system is distinctly shoddy but I think quite a few people are afraid to say anything about them in case they do something to effect their book sales.

    1. Tom

      Jen,

      I’ve just started my quest to get Bob Moore: Desperate Times on iBooks. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      You may be right about book sales. I don’t know. My first book (and the only one I put solely through Smashwords) was free so I really don’t care much about sales. Plus, if the numbers are to be believed, even with B&N and Apple, I still shipped more through Amazon. My opinion, so far, is that it is so easy to publish directly through Amazon and B&N that I see no reason to go through Smashwords for them. The verdict is still out on iBooks. The other, smaller, outlets…fine. Let Smashwords do it for me. But not for the “Big 3”. At least, until iBooks proves to be too much of a hassle.

  5. Jen

    I have to agree with you. Amazon is the easiest one to get on but I’m based in the UK which sometimes makes things difficult because there are restrictions as to what you can do yourself. For instance I know that you can’t set yourself up on barnes and noble if you’re in the UK but you can if you’re in the US….You’ll have to let me know how it goes trying to get onto ibooks. =)

  6. Beebe

    Since I can’t get any response from Smashwords regarding my issue, I wonder if I can get someone to discuss the affiliate’s program. At last count, Smashwords seems to have about 89,000 books for sale. I’ve only sold one (1) book since June 2011. It’s like I have a bookstore with 89,000 books on the shelves and in six (6) months, I only sell one (1) book.

    Does anyone have a similar experience? I’ve advertised Smashwords all over the www and also have a page on my website devoted entirely to affiliate books. The hits generated from that page total well over 1,000. I’m so worried that I’ve done something wrong in the set up process. Everyone keeps pushing Amazon. I’m thinking about taking my book over there.

    1. Tom

      Beebe,

      I know this is not the best solution, but you could try to buy a book that you got to from one of your links. If it shows up as a sale, you know it is working and people just aren’t clicking through yet. That’s about the only test to see if you set it up properly that I can think of.

  7. S.A. Hunter

    Hi Tom,

    I just wanted to share an email I got from Mark Coker regarding Apple download reports in May 2011. You mention your book is free. Two of my books are free as well and I also wondered about the big fat zero beside Apple in the Sales & Payment history on Smashwords.

    His reply:
    “We’re not yet reporting Apple’s free downloads because they’re not providing them in our monthly reports. They provide them in weekly reports, but we’re not integrating those yet.”

    It’s a shame that they don’t provide those numbers, but as you say, the book’s free. We’re not going to gain anything conceivably by getting those free download numbers.

    The reason I stumbled onto your site was because I was searching for information for how often Apple reports paid book sales to Smashwords. They haven’t reported since Oct. 29th. I would like to know how long until I can see how many copies I’ve sold of the paid book I have for out. I see a number of ratings for it so I’ve definitely sold some. Smashwords says they report roughly monthly for all channels, but obviously Apple is not on that schedule currently.

  8. S.A. Hunter

    P.S. I was surprised that Mark repsonded personally to my question. I submitted it through the feedback form on Smashwords, so I don’t have any special in or anything. From what I hear, he likes to still participate in the day-to-day activities of the site. Sorry, don’t mean to apper as possibly gushing, but had to share what I knew.

    1. Tom

      He actually responded to my first email inquiry. It was all the subsequent ones that didn’t receive a response.

  9. Beebe

    Well, S.A. Hunter, you clearly DO have a “special in”, because I’ve been using that feedback form for ages and the only answer I’ve gotten was to tell me they get in touch soon…which they never did.

  10. Tom

    SA – I have to disagree with the statement “We’re not going to gain anything conceivably by getting those free download numbers.” The first question I’m often asked is “How’s the book selling” or “How many downloads do you have?” You can’t answer that without those numbers.

    I suspected that it was a “free” thing with iBooks but Smashwords should tell you up front that you aren’t going to get any stats if you set your book to free. Again, communication is the key. I, and others, wouldn’t be complaining if they’d just told us up front.

    On the other hand, thanks for your comments and information, I’ve already integrated it into the above article. Maybe if enough people have the success you have experienced with Smashwords, we’ll get the full picture.

  11. S.A. Hunter

    Tom,

    I’m hopeful to one day get an idea of how many free downloads I’ve had through Apple, but I’m just happy that Smashwords has finally updated the Sales figures for Apple. Now I know I’ve sold a whopping 14 copies! 🙂

    1. Tom

      Before I self-pubbed my first “for sale” book, I thought, “14 copies? Wow, that must be depressing!” Now that I have I know it is more like, “I sold 2 copies today!!!!!” 🙂 Congrats. Every sale is a success.

    2. Tom

      SA – I was just doing a little housekeeping on the site and I came across this in my review of Smashwords:

      The first email I sent to Smashwords was answered in minutes from Mark Coker directly. I was very impressed. Since then, I’ve been actively ignored.

      I wonder if Coker has some sort of filter set up so that he, personally, receives the first email from each new address. I don’t know if that is even possible but it is funny that you and I both had the same experience with our first email.

  12. DeKay

    For the record. I had breakfast with Mark last weekend after listening to one of his presentations a few day before. So, to answer speculation:
    1) he does exist and it is possible to talk with him.
    &
    2) It appears the issues with communication are due to the phenomenal growth experienced during the last year.

  13. robert

    For the person that made the statement that 80% of the market is Amazon, that is not how it pans out for me. For example, as of December 25, 2011, I have sold approximately 41 books on Amazon and 20 on Barnes & Noble. I just started with Smashwords for the other sites so I don’t have stats yet, but I’m sure that will probably knock Amazon down to about 50% of my sales or so. So though Amazon is the best, it is not 80% of your sales, at least not my sales.

  14. carol marlene smith

    Interesting article. I do believe that the problem with Smashwords lies with the amazing growth spurt. It will probably take them awhile to catch up.
    However, having said that, I also agree that it’s a giant pain when you write them and do not get a response. Surely there are lots of people eagerly looking for jobs that could work in customer services. After all, it is the heart of the company and should be looked after.
    Keeping your customers happy is the most important feature of any organization.
    Like the old saying goes, When Mama is happy everyone is happy.
    One more question: My sales at Smashwords were never that great but always regular. My last sale to date has been Nov 2011. That is unusual. I am selling through the other distributors, but as far as Smashwords goes, dead. Even FREE books are not downloading except at a snail’s crawl. So I guess on Smashwords lately, you can’t even give them away. Any comments?

  15. Barbara

    Thank you for this very informative blog. My husband is looking to launch an eBook soon, and we were looking at using Smashwords to facilitate all the non-Amazon partners. We are going to stay far away from them for several reasons:

    1) We signed up, and never received the confirmation Email with link. It never went to our Spam folder, and after sending them an Email inquiry, never received a response back. To me, that’s a red flag;

    2) Reporting, along with trust, are major factors in using a service like this. If you cannot trust the #’s, and are totally reliant on some mysterious back-end hocus-pocus to display your sales, then that is way too scary for us, to be investing our time with them;

    3) It sounds like (and I may be wrong) that Smashwords would like to become the ubiquitous book selling platform. Given this, wouldn’t they want to discourage reporting sales from the major retailers? Maybe, I’m being paranoid here;

    4) Not having a tele # to call, is scary. To rely on a west-coast Email, is also scary, especially if they don’t reply to you in a very timely fashion, as others have stated. Why should I put my entire venture in their hands, if I cannot talk to them;

    5) Excessive growth, without resources to handle it, is a recipe for disaster;

    Thanks for this Blog post – we were on the fence with Smashwords before reading it, but now we know which path to head down.

  16. carol marlene smith

    I’m still concerned with what if anything is going on at Smashwords. I think anyone with problems should get on Smashwords Facebook page.
    On a more positive note, although it does take some time to receive an answer from an inquiry, I have always received a reply. And when I do they are most helpful. I think there are only two or maybe three answering the mail. It must be a heavy work load to get through. Those girls are courteous and helpful and doing their best.
    Yes, I believe Mark is swamped, but I think things will iron out eventually. And I’ve never had a problem receiving royalty payments on time.
    I still wonder why I haven’t sold anything directly through Smashwords since November, but the plus side is the distribution to Barnes and Noble and the others. Books are selling there but they are slow too. I have so many that have shown up on Smashwords as sales but the others are slow in payment. That’s not Smashwords fault.
    I, for one, am not giving up on them.

  17. Stan

    Thanks for the very informative info
    Snowed under sounds like the problem for Smashwords
    Coupla days ago sent an email to lists@smashwords.com and was supposed to get the list from their auto responder giving list of Smashwords experts
    Also emailed asking if there’s a clear and concise You Tube video clip on formatting.
    There’s one by Paul ? but thought there might be another one
    No I’m not giving up on using them just getting on the learning curve just lowering my expectations

  18. Sesam

    Well soon we get the answer. I have all my books on smashwords and 5 books are bestseller on Ibooks and 3 are all-time bestseller. They are in break-out books and in what is hot. taking Pictures everyday. It should be more than 1 buy i Think. have been 3 month now on smashwords. No sale yet reported. i wait one month more.

    Sesam

  19. Sesam

    After 4 month of being in smashwords there 0 sales.
    My books are in top 200 bestselling, in what is hot and 3 is all-time Sellers in Itunes (Ibook) and still 0 sales reported. there something wrong with this Picture. Smashwords i propably putting authors cash in their own pocket, This is second time a Publisher is putting my royaltys in their own pocket. Its true Publisher is corrupt and robbers. People that have worked years of the book getting robbed. So i will go out from Smashwords and hope Apple can give me answers.

    Sesam

  20. Tom Andry Post author

    As inaccessible as Smashwords can be, Apple is often more difficult to get responses from. Are your books just on iTunes through them? Some resellers (and I think Apple is one of them) will only pay you after a certain number of sales (either amount earned or number of books, not sure which). Smashwords also pays quarterly (if I remember correctly). It could be a combination of these two that is holding up your payment.

    You’ve got me curious, however, and I’m heading over to Smashwords to check my own sales. Haven’t checked it in a while.

  21. Sesam

    Well it is thru smaswords to Itunes and more like barnes&noble.
    I got a response from apple that confirmed that i have some bestsellers in IBook.so iam really curios what Smashwords response will be 😉

    Apple reports every month to smashwords that are adjusted sales every month.

    I getting more curios why it is 0 on Everything like Kobo, sony, diesel and more. 😉

  22. Tom Andry Post author

    For 2014 I have straight zeros too. Looks like my next payout is due mid April putting the billing period from Jan to March. Might be they don’t put up the numbers until then. Let us know what you find out. I’m very curious.

  23. Sesam

    I will do that.
    in 4 Days it should be a new sale report from Apple to Smashwords. i will see if they have adjusted the sales if not i Contact apple again and Smashwords 🙂

    I will by a mac and publish my books on Itunes but i want my cash Before i quit 😉

  24. Sesam

    LOL. Smashwords still reporting 0 (Januar) after confirmation from Apple that i have many books sold. Authors may be worried that they get scamed by Smashwords.
    It can be that Apple holds paying and reporting to Smashwords because many have contacted Apple about problems for not paying Authors in Smashwords.

    Apple want me to publish my books directly thru them and then i get all sale information and i will do that.

    Sesam

  25. Steven Charbonneau

    One day last quarter I checked my Smashwords account and found sales (not big, $40 or so total) listed from various markets …. checked the next day and all were at “0” ! Emailed Smashwords and got a response that it was a “glitch” that had been fixed. Checked my account and still “0”!
    Also, with over 300 views on the Scribd market, no sales! Either Scribd pays no royalties if the “member” is on a Free Trial Membership, or Smashwords isn’t paying. Either way, someone is getting screwed … the authors!
    Have removed most of my titles from Smashwords and gone exclusive with Amazon Kindle. Anyone else encounter same issues?

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