When the free ebook distribution platform Smashwords was created, critics claimed that it was nothing more than a portal for lousy ebooks to flood the market while supporters countered that it was the first genuine concept in stripping away the artificial barriers to publication. The founder, Mark Coker, stated quite freely that if a horrible ebook–horrible in terms of the writing, the formatting, or both–was published, the readers would be the ones to decide not to buy it. But for Coker’s vision, book publishing was for everyone who wanted to invest their time and talent in the process.
A few million ebooks later, Smashwords is a widely-respected and highly-profitable company that has launched a number of authors and has had a surprising number of titles distributed through their platform reach the bestseller lists. It has developed partnerships with the major online retailers to distribute vetted books to those retail marketplaces with the click of a button, and its model continues to be popular with authors, both indie and traditionally published.
Now, a new company has arrived a little late on the digital publishing scene and claims to be the solution to the problems created by Smashwords. Draft2Digital, who issued a press release stating that it was the “long-awaited alternative to Smashwords,” offers… exactly the same service.
Without indicating what was so frustrating about Smashwords that its company is the “long-awaited alternative,” Draft2Digital does provide a little healthy competition in the free ebook uploading marketplace, while still distributing the book to the typical retailers. Draft2Digital does claim to be working on allowing authors to choose CreateSpace as one of its distribution options, which is alarming; by its own FAQ admission, “e-books and print books are fundamentally different media,” yet the site also states that a Word document can be formatted as an ePub within minutes, and that same uploaded file can be formatted for CreateSpace exactly the same way. However, Draft2Digital admits that the paperback edition of a one-click upload is “a one-size-fits-all format for CreateSpace” will not contain things like headers or footers, or the options to select the page size.
As for the sticky ePub-vs-MOBI issue of uploading an ebook to both Barnes and Noble and Amazon, Draft2Digital states that it allows authors to upload a Word document without having to use that pesky “style guide” found on Smashwords and that their people will convert it to an ePub within minutes, regardless of the formatting used in the Word document. According to Draft2Digital, “Our conversion process creates a high-quality epub for us to distribute to the sales channels you choose. But that’s only the beginning of D2D’s service. Once you’ve uploaded your document, you’ll be able to download it as a .mobi file for Kindle reading.” That doesn’t entirely explain how the ebook is distributed and sold to Kindle customers, but the site states that Amazon is one of the vendors authors can select.
Without having been able to locate specific titles created and distributed by Draft2Digital for comparison purposes, the major concern with the model is how “easy” they claim this process to be. eBook formatting is by no means an easy process, at least not if the author wants a professional-quality, non-frustrating-to-read edition. Formatting a Word document for professional-quality print-on-demand is equally time consuming and requires some know-how. And openly stating the authors no longer need to stick to the technical conventions of Smashwords’ style guide creates dangerous ground for ebook quality.
Overall, competition is generally a good thing because it causes all of the companies involved to up their games and ensure that they are providing the best possible service to their customers. But that only works in everyone’s favor if the end result is actually a superior product and experience.