Smashwords vs. Pubit, What’s An Indie To Do?

So earlier this week Smashwords sent out a big update to its authors, sharing the fantastic news that, effective immediately, authors would be receiving a 60% royalty rate on all titles sold via Sony, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.  This is great news, as it is a significant increase from prior royalty rates for Sony and BN, which were previously in the 40-something% range (it’s in the article, but it’s early, I’m undercaffeinated, and I’m sleepy, so just go look it up if you want the specifics).

I felt immediately compelled to ask if this was 60% across the board at Barnes and Noble, no matter what the price, as via Pubit we already get 60% on titles between $2.99 and $9.99 but are relegated to 40% on titles below $2.99.  Mark kindly came back in comments and verified that it absolutely is a separate deal and does not have the restrictions that they have at Pubit.  So all titles you sell at BN through Smashwords that are under $2.99 will earn you 60% over 40%, free and clear, without worry that retailers will discount (as Smashwords now operates with the Agency pricing model, except that we are the “agents” and set our own price).

The obvious reaction is to jump for joy.  We can now earn more money on our cheap titles if we sell through Smashwords.

But it’s not quite that easy.

When Pubit launched back in October, I immediately scrambled to get Forsaken By Shadow listed over there.  It was a slightly lower royalty rate of 40% vs. the 42% or whatever it was at Smashwords, but it meant a few very important changes for me:

  1. It meant that my book was FINALLY properly categorized rather than hanging out in the ether of general “Ebook”, which is where the Smashwords copy hung out for 4 months, despite multiple requests on my part that it be fixed.  That meant that people could actually FIND ME.  In the 4 or 5 months my book was available on BN through Smashwords, I sold 16 copies.  In the 2 months that I’ve been listed through Pubit, I’ve sold over 100 (which, incidentally, is more than I have sold via Smashwords AND all their other distributors since March).  The lower royalty rate was irrelevant because I’ve sold so many more books because I can be FOUND.

    Now, in the fairly recent past, Smashwords has updated their own categories so that there finally IS a paranormal romance category, so it’s possible that this would be less of a problem in the future.

  2. Listing through Pubit meant that I did not have the ludicrous 400 character description limit. Next to the categorization issue, this is my Number One Pet Peeve with Smashwords.  It’s not like I want to write a tome for my book description, but I would at least like the average space for the back of a paperback book.  400 characters isn’t it, and while I agree that writers should be able to write good summaries of their book, this length does NOT allow you to say ANYTHING AT ALL of interest other than 2, MAYBE 3, barebones, adjective and descriptor free sentences about what the book is about.  In my mind, this really hurts sales because you don’t have room to really write a decent blurb.  So again. though I have a lower royalty rate at Pubit, I have acres of space for description, which means that readers get a more accurate picture of what the story is about and are (I believe) more likely to buy.

  3. And it’s less of a monetary issue, but I much prefer being able to track sales numbers daily. I can do that via Pubit and DTP (for Amazon).  At Smashwords, those numbers trickle in maybe once a quarter.  I’d much prefer to know how my sales are doing and be able to tweak my description and such accordingly to try to reach maximum sales potential (knowing that it would go live in a couple of days rather than months).

This was all really a no-brainer when the difference in royalty rate was only a couple of percentage points.  But what about now that it’s almost a full 20%?

Well here’s the thing.  I am not moving Forsaken By Shadow.  I went through a great deal of trouble and had a giveaway to garner reviews, etc.  I lost all the reviews I’d earned on the Smashwords version when it was taken down.  I don’t want to risk the new ones going away and having to start all over re-earning my rankings, etc. by switching from Pubit back to Smashwords.  That’s not worth the loss in momentum when I’m not positive that I’ll be findable again.

And when Devil’s Eye is finished (I am ALMOST THERE!  It may go to betas as early as Monday!), I won’t be releasing it to BN through Smashwords either.  Why?  Because who the hell knows when the thing would ship, get processed, and actually show up?  It’s very important to me to get this title released by Christmas (if I can), in order to take advantage of the OMG I GOT AN EREADER FOR CHRISTMAS surge, and I would much rather earn less money per title as a trade off for being able to get it live within 2-3 days as opposed to some undefined period of time.  The chart on Smashwords that lists when the next shipment date is for ANY distributor defaults to “To Be Determined”, and they seem to just ship at random times and tell you after the fact these days.  I really prefer to have more control over that in order to plan an actual book launch. This is less of an issue if you’re not releasing a book in a specific time frame (like Christmas) and if you just want to do a soft launch of uploading it and waiting to see when it materializes to notify “Hey folks, come buy!”

And So I really don’t know when I’m going to have another title that I intend to list for less than $2.99 to test out the new Smashwords system to find out if I get listed correctly, etc., to see if it is worth doing the one stop publishing through Smashwords for the higher royalty rate rather than going direct through BN itself.

I am glad to see that they’re working hard to take care of their authors.  I’m glad that through them, I have the opportunity to get into other venues like Kobo, Diesel, Sony and Apple that I wouldn’t be able to get into on my own (even though my sales there have been pitiful because I haven’t been categorized right and many of these locations seem to treat Smashwords books as second class citizens–that isn’t Smashwords’ fault).  I will be interested to see how things unfold moving forward.  Right now, Amazon and Pubit still constitute the lions’ share of sales for most indies.  It would be nice to see Smashwords become more of a mover and shaker.

14 thoughts on “Smashwords vs. Pubit, What’s An Indie To Do?

  1. This is a terrific post – it’s quite difficult to find any information regarding any of the potential drawbacks of Smashwords. I’m pleased to see that they are working to resolve the categorization issue, but the two points that you make regarding the blurb and the reporting seem to be quite important. I did some poking around on to find smashwords listings and saw some blurbs that were definitely longer than 400 characters, so I’m not sure if perhaps that has changed or if maybe there’s a workaround (?) This is the first I’m hearing of the reporting issue, that seems to be a big drawback if you can only get periodic tracking information for your titles. Thanks for sharing this info, Kait – good luck with your upcoming launch 🙂

    1. I think perhaps you either stumbled across a listing that was in flux because the author has uploaded to Pubit and they’ve combined listings (the whole process at Pubit seems to involve merging listings before the Smashwords one disappears), or perhaps you’ve gotten ahold of of some listings where there are other versions like a print or audio edition that did not have the description limitation. Because it is DEFINITELY still a 400 character limit at Smashwords. I’d be curious to look at the listings you saw.

      1. Kait – thanks for the quick reply – I just did a search on for “smashwords” and came up with this list … You’re right – at least one of the items is actually a hardback book that came up in the search. Here’s a nookbook, though, that lists Smashwords as publisher with a longer synopsis:

        I’m not sure if it’s possible to tell if a book actually went through smashwords or pubit, even though smashwords is listed as the publisher.

        1. Yep, that’s one that’s stuck in the middle of the process. You’ll see it says “Pubit” beside the format.

  2. I agree with all the points you made that make PubIt! more attractive, and wanted to add my perspective on findability.

    Before actually having a book out to watching, I had NO IDEA how important good browsability is. I kind of thought that no one would ever find my book and go buy it unless I, or a reader, personally reached out to them and said here, you have to read this. Moving up the Kindle charts taught me the importance of visibility in the retail site.

    I should preface discussing PubIt! by saying that I STILL don’t have numbers for BN sales through Smashwords. BN has not reported since September 5th, at which time I’m not even sure I was at BN yet, though I think I was in by mid-September. So I’m basing my supposition on the idea that I’ve probably sold about as many there as other the other distributors I have numbers from: 2 each at Sony and Kobo. Yes, I said 2.

    BN tells me that I listed Hush Money with PubIt! on October 14th. I believe Kindle’s official date for Hush Money is August 3rd. I’m not sure what the rules are about giving specific numbers, so I’ll just tell you that when I updated my spreadsheet this morning I had 3865 total sales. I’ve had some sales from the paperback, Amazon UK, Smashwords and their affiliates, but they’re fairly negligible compared to the big two: Kindle and Nook. The point of this was to say that the difference between Kindle and Nook total lifetime sales on this book is about 300 copies.

    Even though I’ve been out with Amazon for four months now, and with Nook less than 2, Nook sales are that close to catching up with Amazon sales.

    Lesson: Do not underestimate the Nook market. It may not be as big as Kindle, but it’s there and it’s growing.

    I know that Konrath recently said he’d stick with Smashwords rather than mess with PubIt, but he’s Joe! He’s made a name for himself and people are going to find him. I’m pretty sure they didn’t find me through Smashwords, and, at this stage in my career, I wouldn’t take the chance for an extra 20%. It’s like my argument for the 99cent price-point for new authors: a higher percentage of nothing is still nothing. I’m in it for number of copies out over dollars earned until further notice.

    I’d apologize for the length of this comment, but we all know I wouldn’t mean it. I’m just a blabbermouth.

  3. I agree that it would be nice to have one central site like Smashwords to manage all of our business through, but I also agree that dealing with the retailers directly simply gives us much better control and insight over our publications. So I’m sticking with PubIt too. For now.

  4. My biggest problem is that both my Smashwords and PubIt version are still on there. I’ve actually sold a few PubIt versions, but judging by the rankings, it still looks like I’m selling more through Smashwords. I contacted B & N and they said it was up to Smashwords to take their version off. I opted out at Smashwords, but who knows when they’ll ship again, and I’m assuming that’s when their version would be taken off. Pretty frustrating since on my novels, the PubIt price is a little higher. Now my dilemma is whether or not to lower the PubIt version until the Smashwords version is gone. The reader is going to think something fishy is going on with two prices, I think.

    1. I bet they caught some flack for taking down Smashwords versions in the beginning because they took mine down without my asking. Just merged the two and went from there. Which was fine. If you’re selling more through Smashwords as it is, maybe you should take down the Pubit version to take advantage of the 60% rate.

    1. Oh thanks! And hey, report back about your Nook color! I have the regular one, and I’d love to hear from someone who’s tried the new one!

  5. Just wanted to say thank you Kait, for the article on smashwords vs Pubit. I am at that stage with several novels where this information is becoming important. I also write in the fairy-tale/myth genre but not ‘romances’. I am impressed by the graphics you use.
    Thanks again and I will facebook your article!

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