I checked my balance on Smashwords this morning, as I do intermittently—Smashwords does not have anything like the real-time reporting of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing so it is not nearly so addictive. I am not sure I completely understand Smashwords arcane system of accounting but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I am owed roughly $150. That’s not a great deal for a 5 month reporting period but it’s all extra money, most of it earned in the past three months. That got me thinking about Amazon’s Kindle Select program and its exclusivity clause, the one that says you cannot sell your books anywhere else, not even your own website. It made it real to me that there is an actual cost to joining the program. In my case, let us just say that is $40 a month right at this moment in lost sales through Smashwords. Intellectually, I’ve always known this but it’s quite a different thing to have it demonstrated to you before your very eyes in terms of lost beer vouchers, to use a phrase from my long gone youth.
Let me just rewind a moment for those of you who do not know what Smashwords is. Smashwords is a website that allows you to upload and create your own ebooks. It distributes them for you, for a cut of your profits to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple’s iBookstore, Sony and Diesel. It also lets you create discount coupons to sell your books cheaper or for free on the Smashwords site itself.
To tell the truth, Smashwords is a bit clunky, its reporting is arcane and it can be slow but, hey, it works. More to the point, it is the only way for a non-US resident like myself to get their e-books onto the Nook, and it provides free ISBNs that allow you to get into the Sony and Apple bookstores. (I do not know why Apple and Sony insist on this but they do and it can be quite expensive to block buy your own ISBNs.) On cheaper books Smashwords works on a different and slightly better royalty structure than Kindle. Buying from Smashwords also spares international readers the dreaded Amazon surcharge. On its own site, the ebooks you upload to Smashwords are available DRM-free and in a variety of formats to anyone who buys them. I believe this is a Good Thing. (I make all my books DRM free anyway on Amazon, but you can pick them up in a native format from Smashwords if you don’t have a Kindle.)
Anyway, let’s get back on topic. The cost of joining Kindle Select is an opportunity cost. By not distributing anywhere else, I am losing out on that $40 a month. I am also losing out on something else; the chance that I might see a sales spike on B&N, on Apple, on Sony, on Kobo. I am not saying it’s likely but it is possible. My sales have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few months on Amazon, and I can’t rule out that the same might happen somewhere else.
After all, a great deal of the upward trend in ebook sales seems to be just compounding over time. It takes time to get embedded in the system and for word to spread through it. All the evidence points to Amazon’s system being better than the others for this, but there does seem to be some element of it in all the e-book stores from my limited reading on the subject. So by opting out of the Smashwords distribution system, I am saying goodbye not just to that $40 a month, but potentially a larger sum if my sales in those other venues achieve critical mass. I am not saying that this will happen but if I pull my books out now I will never know and I will lose the benefit of them having been in the system for all those months. There is also the fact that my $40 a month will most likely grow as I add more titles even if there is no spike.
I know I have just demonstrated in a very laborious fashion something that should be bloody obvious, but like I said before, it’s one thing to understand something intellectually, it’s another to feel it in terms of money actually missing from your wallet!
I am not going to get into the argument about whether Kindle Select is a move intended to grant Amazon a monopoly. (I don’t think it is or will but if it did that would not be a good thing.) I am just saying that looking at it from a purely selfish point of view, there are very definite costs that mean long term I won’t be using it for all my books. I am going to experiment with Amazon’s program in a limited fashion but I am going to keep the books that are already in Smashwords distribution in Smashwords distribution and I am going to approach Select very tentatively and in a (dare I say it, yes I do) selective fashion.