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.