What does the Draft2Digital / Smashwords merger mean for authors?

Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, February 13, 2022 Under: Self-publishing

What are we to make of the recent announcement that Draft2Digital is acquiring competing self-publishing outfit Smashwords?  Initially, I was a bit concerned because as an author, Smashwords has been the best performing platform for me over the years - and I wouldn't want to see it go the way of others which have closed down (like Feedbooks, BookieJar and Bibliotastic).

But as I understand it, Draft2Digital primarily competes with Smashwords when it comes to helping authors create ebooks and distribute to bigger retailers (like Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon etc).  It doesn't seem to compete when it comes to offering its own online "retail store".  So on the face of it, this lack of overlap should mean that the Smashwords website will stay.  Indeed, that is my reading of the press release and other materials.

I hope I'm right about that - because whilst most authors would love to be doing well on sites run by the likes of Apple, Amazon etc, this is pretty hard to achieve in practice (for example, it seems to me that on Amazon, it is well nigh impossible to get any meaningful level of downloads without using paid-for book promo services).  So from my perspective - and I suspect for a fair number of other self-published authors - the Smashwords website is an important and worthwhile distribution channel in its own right.  

The only concern I have is that it looks like Smashwords will probably - in the fullness of time - switch to using Draft2Digital's software for actually creating ebooks.  That could be a good thing if the software is better - which it may well be.  What would be less positive, in my view, would be if the merged company looked to impose a charge for creating books in the first place and/or decided to prevent authors offering books for free.  

At the moment, my understanding is that both companies only make money if you offer your book as a paid download, where they take a percentage of each sale (but you can choose to offer it for free - which is what I've done).  I'd argue that having a bunch of free books available is a good thing, because it helps to draw visitors to the site who may then be prepared to spend money on paid-for offerings - so it doesn't make sense to discourage that.  However, I note that Feedbooks has abandoned this model, having discontinued its self-publishing platform, whilst continuing to offer paid-for books from conventional publishers (although on Feedbooks, rather oddly, there was never any option to charge for self-published work and it was always segregated from conventionally published material - so that may explain why they decided not to continue with it).  

It's probably not realistic to expect the merged company to give any assurances on this point (and even if it did, there'd be nothing to stop them changing their minds later).  But let's hope they don't abandon their "free to publish" model.  I am moderately hopeful this will be the case because if you look at say, Amazon KDP, that is also a free-to-publish model (so if the merged company wants to start charging for ebook creation, it will have to persuade authors why it is worth paying when you don't have to in order to be on the biggest platform of all, namely Amazon).  The time to worry would be if the likes of Amazon and others start imposing a charge for ebook creation or being on their platform (or both).

In conclusion, I'm cautiously optimistic about the merger on the basis that combining the author customer base of both outfits will make for a stronger company overall, better able to invest in things like the Smashwords site (which could look a bit slicker than it does - I've always thought Feedbooks had a cleaner interface).  And the need to compete with and differentiate itself from Amazon et al may be enough to deter the merged company from making radical changes to its charging structure.  Finally, it's worth reading the comments from Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, at the bottom of this blog post - although you could say "well, he would say that, wouldn't he?", he is at least trying to engage with authors' concerns.

In : Self-publishing 

Tags: draft2digital smashwords merger 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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