Who’s Your Distributor: Smashwords or Draft2Digital?

by Joel Friedlander on June 25, 2014 · 32 comments

Post image for Who’s Your Distributor: Smashwords or Draft2Digital?

By Jason Matthews

You’re selling ebooks on Amazon. Where else? The options keep expanding as a rising global market embraces digital books.

There are dozens of potential retailers, but only a few of the big sellers have enabled indie authors to directly upload in do-it-yourself fashion. KDP Amazon was the first to offer that. In recent years, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play have followed suit. Apple iTunes allows DIY uploading too, if you’re a Mac user.

Beyond those options, other retailers exist that are only available through a distributor. Since 2008, Smashwords (SW) has been the established solution, where authors can upload for sales and also distribution to many retailers that don’t enable direct uploading. Smashwords admits it is primarily a distributor, where most authors will make about 90% of their earnings via the SW distribution partners and not direct sales from the SW bookstore.

Lately more distributors have emerged, some charging upfront for their services and others free of cost with their earnings made on a cut of any sales, usually around 10% of the retail price like with SW. I prefer the no-cost-up-front companies. One choice is Draft2Digital (D2D), and it’s often compared to SW.

Each distributor has pros and cons, but is this just a case of apples and oranges or is there a frontrunner? I’ve written on this in the past as have many others, but since e-publishing is an ever-changing industry, it’s nice to reevaluate some of the deciding factors.

Fear the Meatgrinder?

The most obvious difference is the formatting to be done before uploading. SW CEO, Mark Coker, is an expert on formatting that will be compatible for all reading devices.

The Smashwords Style Guide, is a 27,000 word manual explaining the majority of requirements for the average ebook. Its length and scope have been reported to cause hair-loss, migraines and contemplated suicides for tech-challenged authors.

In contrast, Draft2Digital doesn’t have a style guide. Their goal is “to support your style guide.” Just send them your Word doc, RTF or EPUB file and they’ll convert it.

An intriguing contrast: do we trust D2D’s program as an intuitive ebook formatter or do we buckle down and learn to do it ourselves? Not surprisingly, this factor alone really divides the masses.

Some writers (like me) appreciate the knowledge to upload with their own personal touches, while others love skipping that learning curve altogether.

  • Would you prefer not to learn how to create an NCX file or even know what an NCX file is?
  • Would you prefer not to be subject to the rigid requirements of the Meatgrinder, the endearing name given to the SW file converter and spell-check software on steroids?

You don’t have to worry about that with D2D. Hey, if Google can build a car that drives on autopilot, D2D can probably design a program to format ebooks.

I wonder if quality is compromised. Are aesthetically unpleasing ebooks getting published more by D2D than SW? I believe that’s probably true, but I also think the quality is getting better all the time.

Sales Potential

This is what matters to me: who are the distribution partners?

Presently D2D will get your ebook into:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • Apple iTunes
  • Kobo
  • Scribd

(Recognize that all of those can be done on a DIY basis, though it’s harder for PC owners to get into Apple. Still, there’s value in doing things once and having it relayed to all channels, or after the inevitable updates happen when a reader points out a typo or you decide to add your latest link to the About the Author page.)

Outside of Amazon, those first three retailers are the main players. Apple is now my second biggest seller. But those retailers aren’t exclusive to D2D.

SW distributes to:

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd

In fact, SW has been doing it longer and also distributes to:

  • Page Foundry
  • Baker & Taylor Blio
  • Flipkart (India)
  • Oyster
  • txtr (Germany)
  • plus three channels to libraries:
    • Library Direct
    • Baker & Taylor Axis 360
    • Overdrive

Note that India represents a ton of potential readers, and as the digital age matures Flipkart could be a great source of sales.

For current ebook distribution partners and sales potential, the advantage clearly goes to SW.

Paperbacks

Want your book in print with the same ease of skipping the format learning curve?

D2D also enables a paperback version to be uploaded to CreateSpace (CS), Amazon’s print-on-demand company.

Again, I prefer to upload directly, but formatting books for CS can be a Herculean task for newbies, known to drive even pacifist writers to seek gun applications and home addresses for Microsoft Word designers. Interior templates exist and formatters too, but D2D is offering an attractive option for CS paperbacks. I haven’t tested their system to comment on performance, though I admit being a fan of the concept.

Can you envision being chauffeured to a book signing in a Google car while D2D formats your next release in paperback? It’s a nice thought.

Fortunately CS has an excellent digital previewer for analyzing results and determining what changes need to be made. Advantage for paperbacks goes to D2D.

Small Victories

Another bonus with D2D is monthly payments compared to quarterly payments from SW.

D2D also doesn’t stamp their edition with their name as SW does (Smashwords Edition), making it a more attractive copyright page for those who feel the self-publishing stigma is a factor.

I’ve also checked my titles at B&N online and noticed the D2D book description displays entirely while the SW description is limited to the short version. Small advantages to D2D.

Leveled Playing Field

In recent times D2D had much faster sales reporting and speed of uploading to retailers, especially after updates were made (price change, newer version, metadata, etc.), but SW has evolved and caught up in both regards. I believe the speed for updates taking effect at retailers still leans to D2D, but the new sales data from SW is more detailed and appealing.

Price Points and Preorders

At SW you can create coupons to make your book available at any discount, even for 100% off. This is handy in case you’d like to advertise specials for things like gifting copies or generating reviews. At both vendors you can set your price to always be free, but the coupon option is a bonus for authors who would prefer to charge most of the time.

Another SW special is setting up a book for preorders before publishing. The benefit: on the day of release the retailers will count all of the preorder sales as if they happened in one day, which can result in your book showing up at the top of popular charts, thus resulting in even more sales. Advantages here to SW.

The Future

Expansion is an important element. SW has been expanding its distribution channels since they began. In the past year SW has added OverDrive, txtr, Scribd, Flipkart and Oyster.

Just recently D2D added Scribd and mentions they have plans in the works to expand, but who knows when or if that will happen. D2D has also seen its titles briefly removed from B&N and Kobo shelves, though they were replaced and that was largely due to retailers taking a stand on adult material. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

I like betting on proven winners, and since Mark Coker has such established history and ongoing presence in the publishing community, my choice is to stick with SW and plan for more expansion.

Decisions

There are a few options that make sense. I recommend always directly uploading to KDP Amazon of course (plus B&N, Kobo and Google Play if you want to).

Option A: Use SW exclusively. It has the most retailers under its belt, and learning basic formatting is good for you and not that bad, just like eating spinach.

Option B: Use D2D exclusively. It gets you into the most important biggies like SW does, plus it can make CS paperbacks. And it’s as simple as sending them whatever you have.

Option C: Use a combination. Decide which one for Apple, B&N, Kobo and Scribd based on the personal preferences. Consider D2D for CS paperbacks and rest assured that Smashwords will get you into FlipKart, Oyster, txrt, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor, the library channels and the new set of retailers destined to join the field.

Ultimately it boils down to your skill sets, your time and your needs.

Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 32 comments… read them below or add one }

    Roland Denzel October 31, 2014 at 6:04 am

    My biggest beef is the amount of time it takes to make a pricing change with SW. That was almost enough to get me to consider going direct, and then recently I made a price change (that’s all) and their process suddenly told me that I needed to fix my TOC before they would update their channels. …on a book that had been published via THEM and on Kobo, B&N, etc. for over a year?

    It’s very frustrating. Change the freakin’ price and tell me to fix it going forward, but there’s nothing wrong with the book or the TOC. Sheesh. Meanwhile, my price won’t change.

    Reply

    Lynn October 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Has anyone on here used Draft2Digital, and received payments for their paperback book sales at Barnes and Noble, in a timely manner.

    Reply

    Jaime Buckley September 3, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Jason, Joel and the gang above =)

    Good article. I also prefer to do much of this myself–from personally uploading to CS (so it’s done MY way)…and I format my own books for Amazon, BN and for a while KOBO.

    When i started using SW in the beginning, I have to second Michael N. Marcus above–the process was SO painful. I successfully got 3 books into the premium catalog, but my bigger books were too tough for me to tackle on my own. Eventually I ignored SW altogether.

    Cut to a month ago.

    I was checking on my sales from various channels and had not looked at SW in ages. Just out of curiosity, I logged in and saw over 250 extra sales sitting there–all from sellers I didn’t have direct access to, such as iBooks. Needless to say, my priorities shifted back to tackling that formatting guide.

    Couldn’t pull it off with my mental equipment.

    Hey, I appreciate you Joel and truly admire you–and you too Jason, but formatting isn’t for all of us. Fortunately the publishing gods threw me a bone while I was collecting parts for a book trailer. A man from Croatia who LOVES formatting specifically for Smashwords–and books pass the AutoVetter every time, guaranteed. He only charges $5, which includes the ToC, pictures, the works.

    I now have all my books up, including a choose-your-own-ending book that started selling within 12 hours of it’s posting.

    Here’s the link to this gentleman’s service on Fiverr: http://goo.gl/q5jzrO

    I thought sharing this might save some of you from a fortune in Advil.

    Reply

    Lynn September 29, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Hello Jaime,

    Thank you for this information on SW and D2D. I found it very informative and interesting article.

    I personally think that SW has a difficult formating process and found it complicated, for one minute they approve and the next day I received a letter stating I needed to make changes after jumping through many hoops.

    Therefore, I went to D2D, my concern with them is the reporting of book sales, although I have had more book sales than they reported on the page after 30 days, I am concerned with how they operate, I sent a inquire and have not heard from them, this concerns me because none reporting means not getting paid for your book sale, do you have any advice.

    In addition can you tell me if Create Space offers the opportunity to publish paper back books and have them sold at Barnes and Noble. Thank you
    Lynn

    Reply

    Jaime Buckley September 30, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Hi Lynn!

    Completely agree about Smashwords having a challenging formatting process–but like I mentioned, all my formatting problems are over, now that I use “Nate” from Fiverr.com. For only $5, he will perfectly format your Microsoft Word file to pass SW’s autovetter process the very first try. Guaranteed. My friends and I use him with every book and every short story—and my books turn out perfect.

    So for ANY concerns with Smashwords, my solution is to purchase the $5 service from Nate here: http://goo.gl/OmRCGc

    With 1873 five star reviews as of this reply, you know the guy is doing the job right. I’ve talked to Nate many times and he is kind, attentive to details and is always on time.

    As for Createspace, I use them for every book as well. Came over form Lulu. Love their system, but they aren’t perfect either. Yes, they create paperback books and yes, they will sell them through Barnes & Noble Bookstores, as well as tens of thousands of others brick and mortar locations. I could be off here–and I’m sure there are those in this conversation (including Joel) who can correct me if I’m wrong…but CS has an expanded marketing option, which includes the UK and other countries–where book stores can order your book if a customer requests it.

    I have been able to have my book ordered through B&N and also have found my Chronicles of a Hero series popping up in Libraries…which has been VERY cool!

    Hope that helps Lynn!
    Cheers.

    Jaime Buckley
    wantedhero.com

    Reply

    Lynn October 2, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Hello Jaime,

    I appreciate you getting back with me, thanks for the immediate response and information.

    Do you have any information for Draft2Digital as far as them paying their clients and honesty?

    In addition, when you said yes they get your book into Barnes and Noble were you speaking of CS, and this the paperback book, thanks.
    Lynn

    Reply

    Michael X. Ferraro September 1, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Hi Jason: Thanks for the great in-depth article. As an author with one traditional publishing house experience (Triumph Books), and one self-published on CreateSpace only, I am about to leap into the ebook self-publishing world. If I’m reading your options correctly at the end, it is possible to publish with Amazon KDP AND D2D, thus getting the hard-copy option with CreateSpace? I supposed a semi-follow-up to that is, does Amazon KDP not have any direct affiliation/crossover with CreatesSpace? Again, thanks for your time, insight and expertise.

    Reply

    Will Gibson June 26, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    When publishing in print with CS in 2011, my intent was to publish directly to Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, and Nook (and even Sony but we’ll let that one go) for ebooks and I then set up accounts with them. At that time, they were responsible for more than 95% of all ebook sales. I subsequently pulled the first print edition from sale while doing a major revision and rewriting of the book and never moved ahead with the digital publication of the book.

    At this point in the ebook revolution, I would probably also want to add Google Play (the new meatgrinder) to that list. But I am now also thinking about using an aggregator for the digital distribution of the second edition of my book this time. The main reasons are for a more simplified bookkeeping system and a wider and perhaps more international distribution system because of a domestic distributor’s connections with international retailers.

    Jason, thanks for introducing me to D2D. Two advantages that I see to them are the monthly payments and the absence of stamping. As an aside, what do you think about the current situation with using BookBaby as your ebook distributor? I like their fee based publishing model and they do have a pretty impressive list of retailers: Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Copia, Gardners, Baker and Taylor, Scribd, Flipkart, Oyster, and a couple of others.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 26, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Thank you, Will. For some authors, Bookbaby is a great choice. I don’t use them because I like saving money whenever possible and invariably think of additions to add to all of my books, which I’ve done multiple times per year since 2009 and love the immediacy and no-cost of that when going DIY. But if you have a book that is pretty much set and won’t need many updates, and if you don’t mind paying a little up front to save time, then Bookbaby is a fine choice.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 26, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Thank you, Martin. Yes, the expansion is very exciting!
    You mentioned your book already being sold via KDP. I assume we’re talking about your Kindle version–then yes, you can access CreateSpace for paperbacks via Draft2Digital if you want. I haven’t done it that way so no comment on pros and cons, sorry.
    (I also saw your name for joining our Facebook Group. Cool. Will add you with the next wave of people either tomorrow or Saturday.)

    Reply

    Martin Lake June 26, 2014 at 8:08 am

    This was a fascinating article, Jason. I’ve been self-publishing since 2011 and hadn’t realised how big a player 2D2 has become. I’ve been very happy with Smashwords and only lost half a head of hair getting used to it. I would tell newcomers not to be too put off by the Style Guide – it’s more simple than it seems.

    I was intrigued to see that 2D2 can offer a route to CreateSpace. Is this OK if the book is already published on KDP?

    I think EBook Bargains is absolutely right to say that many of us don’t realise how big the market is getting and how fast it’s changing. Mark Coker did an interesting post about how Apple’s new app is going to create potentially a billion or two new customers. Nice.

    Reply

    Ebook Bargains UK June 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    One of the downsides of both Smashwords and D2D is where they don’t get you.

    Google Play’s 57 global stores, for example, or the myriad domestic and international retailers supplied by OverDrive (Smashwords only covers OverDrive libraries), Ingram, Copia and Gardners, or the international subscription services, or….

    For many of these you need to go with a pay-up-front aggregator. This may work out better for you if you sell in serious numbers – those percentages soon mount up.

    But for the savvy indie willing to put the work in and use more than just one or two pay-as-you-sell aggregators it’s entirely possible to have your ebooks available in around 250 ebook stores globally (Apple and Google Play alone have more than 100 ebook stores between them).

    That in turn is just a fraction of the total ebook outlets available globally to publishers.

    The global ebook market is much bigger than most indies realise, and English-language books are a large part of it. As we’ve just posted on our own blog, five of the top 100 in the Kindle Brazil store right now are English-language titles.

    Reply

    Louis Shalako June 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Since I’m using SW already, and upload directly to CS, Draft2Digital only makes sense for me if they have an online store. We want to be in every store, right? Without actually signing up, I took a quick look and didn’t see anything like that. But I think of Lulu (for example) as ‘one store’ and simply don’t use unnecessary distribution channels.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    That’s true, SW does have an online store and does sell some books there, 10% of the average author’s sales through them.

    Reply

    Frances Caballo June 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

    This was an informative post! Thanks, Jason. I still haven’t used SmashWords. I’m not afraid of the “Meatgrinder” … it’s just so easy to use Lightning Source/Ingram Spark and CS and KDP. In addition, my books have screenshots in them, and bullets, and charts and I don’t know what would happen to them with SW’s Meatgrinder. I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue. Perhaps SW is a great option for fiction writers but not nonfiction writers.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thank you, Frances. You could always upload a book to Smashwords (or D2D) and see how it looks in Preview Mode before distributing it anywhere. If you’re happy with the result, why not go for the additional sales channels?
    Bullets for me don’t work at all at SW but do better at D2D. For my SW versions, I change bullets to something like a new paragraph that begins with a dash mark. Not ideal but not bad either.

    Reply

    Frances Caballo June 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks, Jason. That’s good information to know.

    Reply

    Anne R. Allen June 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

    What a timely article, Jason! I wish we’d had more time to talk at the NW meeting this month.

    You know how you asked me about my agent-assisted self-publishing experience? A week later my agent announced she was leaving her agency and our book was unpublished within minutes. (No warning whatsoever. I only found out from a customer.) They did at least return the files to me, but I’m getting a crash course in self-publishing. I had no idea D2D will put you through CreateSpace. Huge plus. Thanks a bunch for all this info! I’d heard D2D was iffy. Now I see it was only their relationship with the Zon that was iffy. (So is everybody else’s. )

    And BTW, I have changed my opinion of agent-assisted self-publishing
    :-) And WG gave us no advantages that I could see.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Wow, that’s incredible what your agent did!? Unreal. Yes, I wish we had more time to talk at SLO-NW. Your presentation was terrific.

    Reply

    Anne R. Allen June 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Jason, I should clarify it was the agency that blindsided us, not the agent. She thought she’d be able to take us with her.

    And thanks much for the kind words about my presentation. I was furious the question period was cut short with so many people wanting to speak. Turns out somebody on the board owns a vanity press and was understandably upset by my warnings against them. She had a lot of pigeons lined up and I was ruining her business. :-)

    Reply

    Thom Reece June 25, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Great article, Jason. Thanks. Do you have any comments about IngramSpark? It has gotten lots of good press lately.

    Thom Reece

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Thank you, Thom. Joel could probably shed some light on this. IngramSpark and Lightning Source are part of the same company: Ingram Content Group. The company says this about the choice: The same functionality exists with both IngramSpark and Lightning Source. Both systems offer the same trim sizes and binding types, and print charges are the same for both. IngramSpark is designed and priced as a self-service model with slightly reduced pricing for title set up. IngramSpark customers do not have an assigned Ingram representative, and are instead supported by a team. With Lightning Source, a publisher can set a range of trade discounts on their titles, whereas in IngramSpark, a trade discount of 55% is automatically applied, which gives a book the best chance to sell in the marketplace.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 15, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Briefly, Spark is for authors, Lightning Source is for multi-book commercial publishers. Neither allows you to set a range of discounts. On Spark you can choose either 40% or 55%, the range is larger on LightningSource.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 27, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Thom, I just read this Ingram Spark vs CreateSpace comparison. Very interesting. http://www.hollybrady.com/createspace-vs-ingram-spark-how-they-stack-up

    Reply

    Thom Reece June 27, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Thanks, Jason. Nice find.

    Reply

    Scott Mulraney June 25, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Aren’t there also slight royalty rate differences between SW and D2D?

    I’ve used SW and been pretty happy. Getting your manuscript through the Meatgrinder is no simple task, but for access to all of the venues that SWs provides, I’d say it’s worth it.

    In response to Eva’s question above, I’d suggest checking out IngramSpark, Lightning Source, or Lulu.com for alternatives to CreateSpace.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Just realized Draft2Digital also allows for pre-orders, a recent addition. Sorry for that omission in the post. Baffling that they don’t advertise it as an option on their site. I had to dig quite a bit through other blogs and experiment with a test upload to confirm it.

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

    D2D emailed users today to let us know Page Foundry is now a distribution partner, and we’ll have to opt-in with existing books if we want to use them. How quickly these things evolve!

    Reply

    Eva Natiello June 25, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Thanks, Jason this is a great comparison guide. I was wondering what you’d suggest to complement CS paperback distribution on Amazon. Is there an equivalent to CS – a P.O.D. option that will distribute to non-Amazon selling channels, Barnes & Noble etc? What are your thoughts on that?

    Reply

    Jason Matthews June 25, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Hi Eva. My CS paperbacks eventually show up at a lot of other retailers like Barnes & Noble, but that’s often when sold by other parties. Sometimes Expanded Distribution orders at CS come in by the dozen and I assume those are bookstore orders, however that’s rare when it happens and I don’t get a report of who bought it.
    A lot of authors use Lightning Source in addition to (or instead of) CS for that purpose you mentioned. I’ve also seen CS spread its wings quite a bit in the 4.5 years I’ve sold with them and am finally getting monthly checks from CS sales in countries beyond the US. Hopefully that continues to grow.
    Ultimately I’m more concerned with global digital channels, but it would be nice to sell more print versions.

    Reply

    Eva Lesko Natiello June 25, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Well, that’s interesting! Perhaps my decision to buy my own ISBN will pay off in that regard, as booksellers are now able to buy stock of the book. Thanks again, Eva

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus June 25, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I tried Smashwords several times and found it mind-numbing and time-wasting.

    I use Amazon KDP for books where I am content with Amazon-only distribution.

    I use eBookIt.com for ebook conversion and broad distribution. The company does excellent work at a fair price, has people who respond quickly and coherently, and money comes in every month from booksellers all over the world — even booksellers in New Zealand and Australia.

    Reply

    Leave a Comment


    four + = 7