I really can’t believe it took me this long to realize what my major problem is with Smashwords.
Originally, I complained about the site loading slowly (it’s faster now). I still complain that the Meatgrinder conversion service is flaky. There’s an 80-odd page guide on how to properly format your Word document.
Yes, Word document. As in .DOC format. As in this snarky sentence: “If you don’t have Microsoft Word, and you’re unwilling to invest the approximate $140 to purchase a copy…” As in if you’re using Open Office (for example), “you’re on your own“.
But that isn’t my problem with Smashwords.
My problem is that Smashwords is set up to make you dependent on Smashwords.
B&N’s PubIt! accepts ePub formatted books. Amazon’s DTP accepts .Mobi formatted books. What I’ve discovered in my years of working with documents is that standards compliant documents convert to other standards compliant formats.
Remember all those “Optimized for [browser] webpages? They don’t exist anymore because they became a pain to maintain as the standards upgraded and changed. Pages that held to the standard worked. Create a standards-compliant ePub, and you will be able to easily convert to any other format using a tool like Calibre.
But you can’t upload an ePub at Smashwords. Instead, you’ve got to upload a specially-formatted document (that looks like hell anywhere else, in my experience), producing ePubs that you cannot sell anywhere else. Of course, if you want to get into the “Premium Catalog” (and see your book anywhere besides Smashword’s own site) first-try, you can hire some of the recommended experts.
Even if you get good and fast at making your .DOC (shudder) file meet Smashword’s specifications, you’re still entirely at their mercy for whether or not your book ends up in the “Premium Catalog”. You don’t own your converted content.
Rely on that?
Right now, Smashwords is a middleman. As I mentioned yesterday, I have no problem with middlemen per se. My eBook conversion service makes me a middleman as well.
Unlike Smashwords, I’m using open standards that anyone can learn. Unlike Smashwords, I’m not trying to get everyone to conform to a standard that only I use.
When Smashwords accepts standard-compliant ePubs – when Smashwords recognizes that they provide a service that will not always be needed – then we can talk about how they’re pro-author.