Visiting well-established e-book sites like Smashwords.com makes it clear that the possibilities inherent in the digital revolution are already being fully investigated. Here and on other sites I’m seeing every logical web-enabled expression of the middleman/publisher role in delivering content from creator to consumer. And in Smashwords I have to say that the clarity of this expression seems particularly good.
As someone who is interested in creating content that can be directly consumed by an audience, it’s still an open question whether I want to involve anyone else. If I was thinking about going that route, however, I would take a serious look at Smashwords because I think it gets a lot of things right. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
For the second time in as many weeks I’ve been floored by the quality of an FAQ that anticipates and addresses every question I had about a site I was visiting. While I still think Authonomy’s FAQ is the best I’ve ever seen, I would rank the Smashwords About page only a half-step behind. (Clearly we need some categories for the FAQ Awards. Corporate FAQ; small business FAQ, etc.)
In particular, serious props to Smashwords for putting its fee structure up front, and for making it flat:
Smashwords pays authors up to 85% of the net proceeds from the sale of their works. Net proceeds to author = (sales price minus PayPal payment processing fees)*.85.
I’d be happier if they were taking 10% instead of 15%, but then again I don’t know their costs. I’m also not sure what “up to” means, and any contract that talks about net proceeds is cause for concern, because there are so many ways to hide additional charges, fees, and outright skimming. Still, that Smashwords defines ‘net proceeds’ up front seems a good sign. (Take a look around: you will find almost nobody doing this.)
As to how all this plays out over time, Smashwords site owner Mark Coker just Twitted that Smashwords has cut a deal with Barnes and Noble to connect Smashwords’ digital content with the B&N retail pipeline.
Clearly the retail industry and the established publishing industry are going to want to maintain their market share, so there’s always the possibility that sites like Smashwords could be bought up. Just as obviously, there will be consolidation and competition over time, and things will probably get rougher in the short term as everyone fights to survive.
But there’s also no question that the market is opening to more and more content and voices, and I can only see that as a good thing.
— Mark Barrett