Smashwords is a self-publishing service that allows authors to submit eBooks and list them for sale on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other major retailers. Smashwords has managed to convince the largest digital distributor Overdrive, to start offering 200,000 sub-par indie titles to all of their partners. This is a terrible move for the library buying community.
Smashwords has successfully convinced Overdrive that there is value with their catalog of 300,000 eBooks, 200,000 of which are available to libraries. Smashwords compelling argument is that front list ebooks from Big 5 publishers can cost libraries $80, and even backlist ebooks can cost libraries $20-40. Smashwords titles will only cost libraries of $4.00, which sounds good on paper and economically feasible.
In reality 95% of all Smashwords titles have non-existent editing, poor formatting and abysmal cover art. The truth of the matter is that Smashwords does not have a curation system to vett the wheat from the chaff. They will publish anything and often hype the fact that everyone has a right to publish. Smashwords consistently promotes their top 25 list and their top 100. There is a reason why they do not go beyond 100.
Smashwords has managed to convince another large company that their catalog is valid and has meaning to readers. They were able to leverage the Library Direct system they developed in 2012 and distributed in a handful of libraries in the US. In reality, the Smashwords catalog is irrelevant and has no value for companies like Overdrive. Unknowing library buyers are going to think they are getting a deal with 100 romance titles for 1/4 the cost of big six titles, until readers start complaining, and they WILL complain.
Libraries are going to feel ripped off that they have bought titles that no one will read and if they do, will likely be very vocal about the poor writing quality and in the end, libraries will feel like they have wasted money. Trust me, they are wasting money with Smashwords, if you don’t believe me visit the main smashwords website and select 3 books at random, and let me know if they are any good. Even Mark Coker refuses to measure the quality of his service by doing this, which is a solid methodology to gauge the quality of a self-publishing website.
I would caution libraries into purchasing eBook titles that are branded as Smashwords Publishing. Their entire ecosystem is flawed and they will accept anyone into distribution for libraries. This goes against the entire mandate that libraries are funded by the public and in return loan books to inform, entertain and to educate. The average Smashwords title does not offer any of the above and should be avoided at all costs.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.