It's been a week since the announcement of the purchase of Smashwords by Draft2Digital. I was waiting a little time to feel out the temperature of the response before I offered some thoughts.
For the record, Brick Cave utilizes Smashwords for their access to library markets as well as Scribd. We have used them since 2010, and in 2021 the platform represented 1% of Brick Cave's total unit sales. So, in the larger picture of "How much does this impact us?"- this is a pretty low risk proposition. Brick Cave has not used Draft2Digital.
Not Perfect (but certainly deserving respect)
Good E-Reader describes Smashwords as "The company is a cesspool of the worst independent authors who could not get publishing deals. Their entire catalog for the most part, has terrible cover art, books that have not been edited or formatted correctly and comprises of authors you have never heard of before."- ouch. That's OK, we don't take it personally.
Our opinion is that of all the open publishing tools that originated in the aughts as part of the "Web 2.0", Smashwords, for better or for worse, was the most open. So we won't necessarily say GER is wrong per se, but we will say, GER probably would not exist had Smashwords not been a market leader in the e-book revolution.
That point being laid down, Smashwords has not aged well. Our experience has always been good, payment prompt, book distribution pretty much hitchless. But their technology, at least "in front of the camera", has been pretty static this last decade. And while gone are the days of the "wait room" while your e-book converts, the site still looks like it lives in the aughts, reporting is super clunky, the interface is closer to Livejournal of days gone by. While that offers a bit of comfort for the crowd that abhors change, it has taken away one of the great opportunities for the site- which was to be a legitimate alternative to Amazon- both for the e-book reader and the independent author/publisher.
It Was Time (maybe a little past)
Internally, we expected that at some point Mark Coker would look to engage a buyer for the platform and its impressive database of authors and content. Kudos to him for great leadership to continue to engage actively as a thought leader in the publishing space through Smashword's annual survey and other activities. We here in the Brick Cave felt it was time for something to give for Smashwords, and this deal allows for a stronger independent option, so we for one small publisher are pretty OK with it.
Our suspicion is that Coker's development efforts started to thin out and become more challenging to find the right talent to implement, and Draft2Digital offered him access to the programming talent to move the bar in the direction he had hoped to.
We know next to nothing of Kris Austin, the Draft2Digital CEO and CEO of the combined organization, so we will be interested to hear more from him as the services combine.
So, we're happy to wait until March 1, and see what happens.
- Bob Nelson is the founder of Brick Cave Media and it's current Publisher. He is also the co-founder founder of the literary non profit Anthology, Inc. and the CEO of Proxima Emporium.
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