APSS - Association of Publishers for Special Sales

Helping Publishers Sell More Books in More Ways

Smashwords, with its easy-to-epublish format straight from a Word document and low-low commission on sales, seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongue these days.


While its a business model that seems to be right for just about everyone, I managed to find a pretty obvious downside - relatively speaking - to publishing with Smashwords.


What is it?  Temporary Brand Pollution. 


Specifically, when you publish to Smashwords, your content is displayed on Smashwords.org next to the other most recently published ebooks. While this normally would not be an issue, Smashwords has taken to lumping all the ebooks published together, and this includes all the erotic fiction published.


So when you publish your book with Smashwords, there is a chance that your self-help book about surviving divorce will end up next to to a title that can't be mentioned right now due to SPAN's content guidelines (If I've peaked your curiosity, you can take a look at the blurred out image below and find the authors name, which is searchable on Smashwords.com. Just consider your self warned, the content is extremely provocative, not safe for work, (in some cases) in extremely bad taste, and certainly 18+).


Now are book sales being impacted by the juxtiposition of these two titles? Well, from marketing perspective, we should assume yes..because in marketing it's not just how you market your book, but also the context that surrounds your book that can impact your book sales.


For example, and hypothetically speaking, a potential customer of the self-help book, seeing it for the first time, as it was just published in the new releases feed on Smashwords.com, may be suddenly offended by the titles of the two ebooks listed below. Maybe they have their child with them, or maybe its a pure gut-reaction (or maybe that are distracted and decided to check out the erotic titles..). Either way, in all three of those cases, the potential customer of the self-help book is more likely then not to make decisions that lead to the self-help book not being purchased.


..And while this juxtposition of titles is temporary, it happens at the start of an ebooks run through the free-public marketing of Smashwords, and in these cases each brand impression is critical.


To their credit, Smashwords does have a "prude filter" but it starts turned off, which does absolutely no good for anyone looking to avoid that type of content from the get go...



This isn't a matter of us at SPAN trying to enforce puritanical beliefs. We believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But what Smashwords is doing here is mixing and matching genres in such a combustible way, that the publisher is sure to lose out


Do you agree?

Do you have anything else that you think is wrong with Smashwords?


Or, equally important, things they are doing right?


Chime in below, share your thoughts, and help Independent Publishers figure out what's best for all of us!



Smashwords homepage, 1/21/11


Smashwords homepage, 1/24/11





The Smashwords Prude Filter, turned off as a default.



Views: 1784

Replies to This Discussion

What Smashwords is doing right:

   1.  They get your title and your author name and page  into Google search results, at the top, immediately.

   2.  They get you into distribution channels at Nook, Apple istore, Sony, and Kobo.   This would be very difficult, from every attempt I made through other means.   Borders wanted $89 for the privilege of being in their database.  Barnes and Noble wanted your credit card number in case anybody "returned" your ebook.  But Smashwords overcomes that.

   3.  They get your own website, if that's where your Buy link is, into Google search results at the top, when it wouldn't come up there before.


But I agree, it's not good to have the porn and erotica mixed in with other books.  they should be separated. 


River Landing Press,


Yes! Those some very good things. Thanks for mentioning the SEO, aspect. By signing with a larger orginization, a independent publisher is effectively leveraging their (Smashwords) SEO ranking into their own title.


Its just kinda weird the blatant disregard for the potential impact of such a "prude" policy. Smashwords, like many corporations, is looking to survive, and needs those erotic titles to help keep their bottom line where they want it to be.


My guess is that Smashwords may move into a new system that allows for multiple tiers of "safe search". Like google, starting with safe moderate on, and then having an option to make it even more severe, or much less restrictive.


And as quick note, that mixing and matching of erotica and regular titles is only appearing on the Smashwords homepage, it does Not transfer over to any other distribution channel or retailer.

Hi Bradley, as the founder of Smashwords, this is actually something that concerns me quite a bit.   My concern is that we're forcing first time visitors to view images of adult content they didn't ask to see.  As I mentioned in my Smashwords Year In Review over at the Smashwords Blog, we're working on a plan that will make the system more permissions-based, so visitors will have greater control over what they view.

I founded Smashwords to give ever author, anywhere in the world, the opportunity to publish directly to their readers.  When we first launched three years ago, we made the decision to give every author their 15 minutes of fame by listing the new release on the home page, as they're published.  The upside of this decision is that we've helped introduce thousands of authors (we're now helping over 13,000 authors publish over 31,000 original ebooks) to their first readers, and some of these authors have gone on to great success. The downside of this decision is that the current Smashwords home page displays everything - not just erotica but also books that aren't yet properly formatted, or that are missing covers.

The new system, one we implement it, will give visitors more control over what they view while at the same time making any category of book - erotica included - more discoverable and accessible to people who are searching for that content.


It is great to hear that we are all on the same page when it comes to support of independent publishers and self published authors.

As Keryl Raist correctly mentions below in this thread, there is currently only a limited amount of time that any given author will be seen on the homepage next to any other given author.

In that regard, it seems that the one who is currently hurt the most by brand pollution, and who will benefit most from an adjustment to your current paradigm, will be smashwords itself.

I can see why this is a delicate issue, and what with some of the choices made by those in power around th world in regard to censorship
(http://m.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/rock-stars-sextape-c...), I can appreciate your desire to work within the guidelines of the 1st Amendment.

Having said all that, when do you expect this new system to be implemented?



We'll roll out the new UI in multiple stages.  The first stage will be in next few weeks, and it will simply shield people from erotic content on the home page unless they request to see it.  We'll roll out other UI enhancements throughout the year aimed a improving category-specific discoverability options.

The main argument, that by having your book pop up next to an erotic book, potential readers may decide not to buy your book seems a little flimsy.


Not to say that the point about how what is next to your book can effect the decisions of the buyer is wrong, but any sort of book can distract or annoy your potential reader.   If you're a newly returned veteran looking for PTSD help and the book next to that one is some sort of military fiction with a hot firefight on the cover...


You can see where I'm going with this, right? 


Unless Smashwords decides that it's going to stop letting each new book have it's time on the front page there's no way to avoid Brand Pollution.  Since each book is up there for such a short time, I'm thinking this is worrying about nothing.

The only thing preventing me from publishing with Smashwords is the Meatgrinder. If I could upload my own professionally formatted ebook files in the formats I choose, I would be happy as.

Wow...  You seem extremely chuffed at Smashwords.


I've been there for a bit over a month. 


I can tell you my book on Smashwords is priced at 3.99.  I've sold four copies in 6 weeks.  While that isn't fantastic, that's 400x more than Barnes and Noble, and 35% as much as Amazon.  Apparently, even with the vast scads of free books there, some people decided to actually buy my book there.  (Friends and family you say?  Nope, they had free coupons, which Smashwords make exceptionally easy to do.  If you paid for my book, you don't know me.)


I've uploaded my book with different fixes four times by now.  The longest run on the meatgrinder, when I was number 368 in the queue, was six hours.  When it was number 11 in the queue it took 3 minutes.  How much faster do you want?


You do see sales, at Smashwords, immediately.  They send you a nice little email the second you get one.  And their reporting software allows you to see which coupon (if any) was used for which sale.   This is rather lovely because you can see which of your promotions is driving sales.  I haven't seen a way to do that with B&N. 


I'm curious as to how you expect them to make Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Diesel, and Apple report sales instantaneously to them.  Pubit, B&N's self publishing tool wasn't reporting to B&N publishers for close to three weeks, let alone to anyone else.  And, if you've read Smashword's FAQ it does say that sales through external channels will be reported in a lagging manner, and that you don't get paid until the end of the quarter in which those sales finally got reported.


So far my book has looked good on every device I've checked it on using Smashwords.  Including an iPad.  Meanwhile, I've heard absolute horror stories from people who tried to get on the apple store by themselves when they didn't already own an apple (like me.)


I don't know Mark, so I can't comment as to what he's like in person.  But I also really don't care.  His service has done well by me so far, and that's all that matters.    If you go to most places where large numbers of indie writers hang out, almost all of them have their books on Smashwords.  Wonder why that is if it's so terrible?




Theresa, there you go again. 

In the last nine months, you have repeatedly spread misinformation on Gather.com, CreateSpace (your post  my response), Amazon (your post my response) and now here.  I'm compelled to set the facts straight yet again.

While you're entitled to your personal opinions, however dated they may be at this point, I think it's time you stop trying to mislead people about Smashwords.

In the interest of full disclosure, I asked you to remove your books from Smashwords nine months ago. Also in the interest of full disclosure, I'll mention why:  After we informed you that your book's Microsoft Word source file was improperly formatted with 1,084 tabs, and after I provided you clear and polite instructions on how to remove them from your file, along with a screen shot to show you the tabs (I've attached another screen shot here for your reference), you accused us of doctoring the file.   Silly.

The tabby title in question above was book #2319 at Smashwords.  We've done over 30,000 books since then.  A lot has changed in nine months at Smashwords, though the bee in your bonnet is as feisty as ever. 


Let's take your comments one by one:


1.  Lumped on home page.  Most of our authors appreciate the free exposure they receive by being featured on our home page as a recent release.   The problem isn't that we're featuring people, the problem is that we're exposing visitors to erotica who didn't ask to see it.  We're publishing over 100 titles a day so books roll off the home page very quickly, and once they roll off the page they're tucked away on their virtual shelf.  Just like any other bookstore.


1A.  Free books.  The highest-earning authors on Smashwords offer at least one free book.  Free ebooks are the single most powerful marketing tool an indie author can deploy, especially if they can do it as a series starter.  Authors need not fear free books.


2. Meatgrinder.  Since you haven't used us for nearly a year, you can't appreciate how much we've improved Meatgrinder, both in terms of conversion reliability and output quality.  We document its improvements and bugs (we're very honest and open about our bugs too)  at Smashwords Site Updates.  We published over 20,000 new books in 2010, and if you include all our multi-format outputs and all the book updates, we completed hundreds of thousands of conversions in Meatgrinder with a very few failed conversions on a percentage basis, probably under 1-2% overall.  The most common cause for failed conversions has always been poorly formatted ebooks that don't follow the Style Guide.  If a conversion fails, you simply follow the Style Guide and upload a corrected version. In the past, around the time you were growing frustrated with us, if a bad file failed in Meatgrinder, it stalled the conversion system for all the other authors.  At worst, this led to delays of up to 10 hours, though to put that in perspective, most platforms take days to publish, and we usually take anywhere from five minutes to an hour.  In the last six months, we made Meatgrinder more resilient so it skips over bad files.  We've released over 4,000 new titles in the last 30 days, so it's working quite well.


3.  Sales reporting.   Your claims are incorrect.  The only way an author would have to wait a year to get paid is if they failed to accrue at least $10.00 in sales.  That's not a problem for most authors.  We pay quarterly.  We clearly communicate to our authors that sales reporting is real-time for sales at Smashwords.com, and delayed for sales at our retail partners.  More here:  https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Royalties


4.  The "ego of their administrator."  I assume you're referring to me.  Funny.   While you're welcome to project upon me whatever personality you please, we never treat anyone with disrespect, and if we ever do I'll be the first to apologize to the author or customer.  In all of our email threads with you (which I'm happy to reproduce), I was professional and courteous despite your caustic comments and threats.    We're representing over 13,000 authors, all of whom are free to leave us any time they like.  Very few leave, and think it's because we do treat everyone with patience and respect (and we're good at ebook distribution).

4a.  Gladhanding with major publishers?  That's an odd comment.  Who?  We don't work with a single Big 6 publisher, not that I'm opposed to doing so.  I'd love to work with them too, though our specialty is representing indie authors and small publishers.

4b.  Using a distributor or not.  Yes, you can reach some of these retailers on your own, but you're discounting the value a distributor such as Smashwords provides.  We allow an author to upload a single file and distribute that book to multiple major retailers, including B&N, Sony, Apple, Kobo and Diesel, and mobile app platforms like Stanza and Aldiko.  Each time you scare someone away from Smashwords (and this appears to be your objective), you're hurting the author.  We help authors quickly reach outlets they might not otherwise reach on their own, and we don't charge them money for distribution, as you claimed on this prior post at SPANnet.  We take a small 10% commission on the list price of our retailers' sales, and 15% of the net for sales at Smashwords.com, our retail operation.  If your book doesn't sell, there's no commission.


Can we bury the hatchet, Theresa?  What do you want?  Do you want distribution to our retailers you haven't reached on your own like Apple and Sony, or placement in our mobile app catalogs?  I'm willing to give you second chance if you'll do the same.  We're not perfect, and we've never claimed to be, but we help you reach a lot of readers you're not reaching now.  I'm willing to start over if you are.  You know my email.



I just want to say that  the Smashwords meatgrinder did take me four or five tries to make it through, which was kind of frustrating and time consuming, but . . . so what?  If I had a staff, like a big publishing company, that would be "business as usual," figuring out formatting and procedures.  Some day, I'll make enough money to hire somebody to format books for the meatgrinder.  No sweat.


But Smashwords links make my book and my website come up at the top of the list on Google searches, and I can't imagine how anyone could discount that as a major, almost incalculable, benefit.  You don't even have to sell any books through that vehicle to find that of extreme value.


Meanwhile, does anybody know where you go to find out if your name is being mentioned on any forums anywhere, all over the Internet?  This example makes me want to know if anybody's talking bad about me so I can go defend myself.





In regard to looking for mentions of your own name on the Internet. You can use Google Alerts to receive automated emails from Google when a specific keyword, or keywords, of your choosing shows up in their Web Crawl, or in their Search Index.


You can learn more about it, and make use of this free service, here:




I'd be happy to elaborate further if you have any additional questions.




bradley flora



Thank you.   SPANnet has turned out to be worth the money, too.   I have a good feeling that this industry is very close to the "tipping point" for small publishers.  The winds of change.




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