Since this post was published in April 2020, Smashwords—the biggest aggregator next to Draft2Digital—was recently acquired by D2D, and now, the merger means big changes for the Indie author self-publishing community. But what do those changes mean, and how will this play out in the future to come?
Since D2D was founded in 2012, both Smashwords and D2D have been seen as competing rivalries in the self-publishing industry. But actually, both sites serve as leaders in the INDIE space with a similar goal: to help authors become successful and publish and market their craft.
Although there will not be any significant changes right away with the acquisition, we can expect to see gradual shifts in the publishing industry as the merger creates a better user experience for self-published authors across most genres.
But the burning question most authors are asking is: “What does this merger mean?”
Here is a brief breakdown of what we know so far, according to D2D:
- D2D authors will gain access to exclusive book marketing tools from Smashwords, including Smashwords Coupons, the patent-pending Smashwords Presales tool, Author Interviews, and self-serve merchandising in the Smashwords Store.
- Smashwords authors can gain access to Books2Read Universal Book Links (UBLs), Author Pages, Book Tabs, and Reading Lists
- New payment options for Smashwords users, including direct bank deposits
- The merger will provide retailers, libraries, and subscriptions services with more titles and options, which should increase visibility for indie authors
- Draft2Digital will now provide publishing services to over 250,000 authors.
- Authors may continue to distribute erotica under the Smashwords erotica policies, as long as the book complies with the Smashwords terms of service.
As we are uncertain of all the changes that will take place in the year to come, you can trust that we will stay on top of the changes as things move forward. One thing's for certain: The acquisition can only mean bigger and better things for Indie authors. Stay tuned!
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The battle for supreme rule never ends in the self-publishing industry.
Last month it was KDP vs. Ingramspark. After that it was BookBaby vs. Lulu Publishing.
While Amazon's KDP does have close to 80% of the direct traffic as the world’s biggest online bookstore, it's not the only player in town.
If you want to go wider with your book reach and connect with an audience outside of Amazon, there are other sites that give you the capability to do this, like Smashwords and Draft2Digital.
In this article, I’ll draw comparisons between the two publishing and distribution aggregators and, cover in detail when to use these services.
We want you to make informed decisions when it comes to how and where to invest your money. That’s why our mission is to help educate authors on the various self-publishing companies and services that are on the market today.
Our reviews are meant to be unbiased, 3rd party reviews, but we will speak up if there is a scam or a clearly better option.
In this article we are going to cover:
- Smashwords vs. Draft2Digital: The Big Aggregators
- What is Smashwords?
- How does Smashwords work?
- Who does Smashwords distribute to?
- Smashwords Royalties & Compensation
- Smashwords Review: The Pros & Cons
- What is Draft2Digital?
- How does Draft2Digital work?
- Who does Draft2Digital distribute to?
- Draft2Digital Royalties & Compensation
- Draft2Digital Review: The Pros & Cons
- Smashwords VS. Draft2Digital: The Final Decision
#1 – Smashwords vs. Draft2Digital: The Big Aggregators
If an author is looking to publish wide (that is, publish outside of Amazon and not stay exclusive) they are looking at the best sites to set up their books with.
This is where Smashwords and Draft2Digital come in. But the question is: Do I go with one or the other, or both? Which site is the best, and how do I determine that?
There are many reasons why you might choose one company over the other. But let’s review what we know and you can decide from there.
What is an aggregator?
There are pros and cons to using either of these self-publishing companies, known as aggregators that distribute your book to various retailers, libraries, and stores around the world. Working with an aggregator means you bypass all the formatting complexities you’d have to otherwise deal with, if you attempted to upload to each individual retailer.
Formatting can be relatively straightforward and these sites take care of the administration side of things, distribution, and overall, makes royalty calculations much easier if all sales are consolidated into one central location.
If managing your books on six different publishing platforms feels overwhelming (as it does for me) it makes sense to use Smashwords or Draft2Digital to bypass the complexity and go for the “all-in-one” approach.
Time vs Money
Honestly, you can make more profit by not using these two aggregators, and publishing directly to the major retailers such as Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd.
But the question you should ask yourself is, how much time can you commit to customizing your books content, formatting, and other aspects of publishing to meet the requirements for each site? Is it worth the extra cash to commit to this for the long-term?
How much time would you need to commit each week/month to continue making a profit on these sites? The overhead management is intense, requiring you to hire an assistant if you had multiple books for sale on the hundreds of retailers out there.
That is why these two companies are by far the best approach.
Point to Note: There is one more very important service that has emerged in the last few years called PublishDrive. We are not avoiding service for any reason and will address it in another article.
For now, let’s dive in and take a look at Smashwords vs. Draft2Digital and let you decide who the winner is based on this article's comparison.
What is Smashwords?
Smashwords is a leading self-publishing aggregator company that allows authors to upload their book once to the platform, which then gets distributed to various retailers, libraries, and stores. Authors are paid royalties directly, once a book is purchased through Smashwords directly, or through a retailer.
Without Mark Coker and his genius behind launching Smashwords, Amazon would have been the only player in town as far as digital publishing is concerned.
How does Smashwords work?
Smashwords gave authors an alternative to publishing books and enabled authors to get their books into those other online stores and retailers that Amazon avoids (spoiler alert: Amazon keeps all things Amazon).
Officially launched in 2008, the publishing giant Smashwords has launched close to 700,000 books as of 2019. This puts Smashwords in the lead and it has grown to become the world's leading eBook publishing platform for indie authors and small independent presses.
Smashwords aligns its business practices to serve both authors and publishers. When the author or publisher sells books, Smashwords takes a percentage of the royalties.
In addition, Smashwords also offers a plethora of effective publishing and marketing tools for publishers managing many authors. It’s easy to publish on Smashwords and, with a large following of customers, it has the marketing reach to get books in front of thousands of hungry readers.
Who does Smashwords distribute to?
Perhaps the biggest attraction to publishing your book on Smashwords is easy access to global distribution to most major retailers and public libraries.
Smashwords publishes to hundreds of retail sites that includes three of the largest retailers: Kobo, Apple Books, or Barnes and Noble. In addition, there are hundreds of other smaller retailers Smashwords is affiliated with.
Can you imagine approaching all of these companies individually (there are literally hundreds), weaving through their formatting requirements, contracts, and then finally, launching your book to their site?
If your time is critical, you can imagine why Smashwords is the solution to working around all of this.
Publishing on Smashwords: Formatting
You might be thinking, “Okay, Smashwords sounds like a good company to publish my book on, but, how easy is it to publish to Smashwords?
This is where things get tricky.
Smashwords—if it’s your first time to publish—has an extensive formatting process that can be intimidating, which turns many authors and publishers off.
The free Smashwords formatting style guide is a whopping 117 pages in PDF form and weighing in at almost 30,000 words.
Admittedly, not being a tech savvy person, this was not a selling point for publishing on Smashwords, when compared to the easier formatting provided through Draft2Digital (as we will see).
Smashwords Royalties & Compensation
Authors and publishers earn royalties on book sales, just as with Amazon and any other retailer. But how does Smashwords’ royalty plan work, and how does it compare to other sites?
Authors earn 60% royalty when your eBook is sold through a retailer, and 80% or higher if sold directly through Smashwords.
There is a small percentage paid for the transaction fee but the payout is .85 per sale.
Keep in mind, Amazon’s royalty rate is at 70% for any ebook sold with a price ranging from 2.99—9.99.
To put these royalty rates in perspective, it means if an author’s eBook is priced at $10.00, they'll earn about $8.00 if it's sold in the Smashwords store, and $6.00 if it's sold at one of the many retailers.
Yes, libraries can buy books through Smashwords.
Smashwords pays out royalties within 30 days (although terms and conditions state 40 days). To qualify for payment, accrued earnings must be over USD $75.00 for U.S. authors who want paper checks, and $0.01 for all authors who want electronic payment via PayPal.
All international authors (that is, living outside of the US) are paid via PayPal, unless PayPal is not an acceptable means of payment in your country.
The Pros and Cons of Smashwords
There are pros and cons to publishing on Smashwords. Let’s highlight the points here to make it clear what you are buying into with Smashwords.
The Pros of Smashwords
- Daily sales reporting from Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive and the Smashwords Store.
- Author success: 600,000+ titles published by 150,000+ authors and publishers around the globe
- Storefront sales: Sell directly in the Smashwords Store where authors earn up to 80% of the list price. This is a great royalty rate!
- Monthly pay outs with a one penny payment threshold paid via PayPal. So yes, payments are easy to recieve.
- Smashwords has been named “One of America's Most Promising Companies” by Forbes Magazine for the past two years.
- Pricing: Smashwords lets you change your ebook price at any time. You’re allowed to set your price to “free.” This is an option not available on Amazon, but it’s a big step when trying to set up a perma-free book.
- Mass Distribution: World's largest ebook distributor for indie authors and small independent presses.
- No upsells: Don’t you hate it when a publisher gets your number/email and starts sending out marketing emails to buy more? Not with Smashwords. They do not employ salespeople. The core focus—and primary revenue—is through eBook sales.
- Free sampling of material: Smashwords is a virtual bookstore set up to deliver thousands of titles to readers who can “sample” material for free before deciding to buy. Free sampling allows the reader to test drive the writing before they make a decision to purchase.
The Cons of Smashwords
- Formatting: As we know, the formatting process is extensive. This is the part of the process Smashwords calls the “meatgrinder.” If you try uploading in Word, this is where it gets dicey. Word often contains hidden HTML code sprinkled throughout, and this coding can play havoc with your formatting when converting to an eBook. The 30k ebook provided by Smashwords still makes this a struggle. You have to read through a book in order to publish a book. The good news is, you do it the first time and, after knowing what to expect, the second time around goes faster.
- Website design: The Smashwords website has somewhat of an archaic look as if it were created 20 years ago…and never progressed beyond that. Draft2Digital has a better, more modern look to it.
- No preview option: When you publish to Amazon or D2D, you can preview your book before it goes live. Smashwords currently doesn’t have this option. You won’t know if there are errors until it has gone live. Then, you have to modify your master copy and go through the uploading process again.
What is Draft2Digital?
…And then there was Draft2Digital. It was just a matter of time before the success of Smashwords spawned other sites that wanted a piece of the pie, too.
Like Smashwords, Draft2Digital is a digital publishing aggregator offering conversion and distribution services for authors.
Smashwords has been up against tough competition since Draft2Digital hit the waves of publishing in 2014. D2D distributes ebooks to more reliable retailers than Smashwords and StreetLib. They can also get your books into the public library via Overdrive and have a built-in print on demand system.
How does Draft2Digital work?
Draft2Digital is also a self-publishing aggregator company, which means it distributes your book to a global network of retailers, libraries, and stores.
Overall, the site is easier to navigate, it’s easier to upload your book for publishing, and with free eBook conversion, free automated layout for print, direct distribution to a global marketplace, and has an expanding catalog of resources that includes the Universal Book Links (UBLs). As an author and small publisher, this makes doing business with D2D a very sweet approach to global distribution.
Who does Draft2Digital distribute to?
Smashwords distributes to most major retailers as we have seen, including hundreds of smaller outlets and libraries. How does D2D fair in comparison?
By submitting your book through Draft2Digital, your book will be listed on other different distribution channels with just one simple upload.
Here are the major retailers Draft2Digital has partnerships with:
- Apple Books
- Barnes & Noble
- Kobo (including Kobo Plus)
- Baker & Taylor
You’re not required to publish to all of these stores. In fact, you can choose which stores you want them to distribute to.
Draft2Digital does not distribute to as many stores as Smashwords. But that doesn’t mean you make less money. In fact, many authors have claimed that they were able to earn more with less distribution channels.
This aggregator is an ongoing expanding platform and they are adding more storefronts and libraries to their funnel all the time.
Draft2Digital Royalties & Compensation
You get paid monthly through Draft2Digital for all book sales made through retailers, libraries and online storefronts. This is a much easier process than getting paid individually from every place for every sale. Just from an accounting perspective, this is a huge selling point.
Draft2Digital keeps approximately 10% of the retail price for each sale an author makes.
This is still better in comparison to Amazon who takes 30%. But you do have to work harder to make book sales on both D2D and Smashwords.
After you've created an account, you'll be able to choose a payment method: check, PayPal, direct deposit, or Payoneer.
Payments are made once a month. Since these payment methods all come with fees, Draft2Digital will hold your royalties until they add up to a minimum threshold which is $100 for checks, $20 for Payoneer, and $10 for international direct deposit, and $0 for all other digital payments.
The digital stores do have different policies on their payments, so be sure to check the terms to understand more.
Publishing on Draft2Digital: Formatting
Do you remember the eBook formatting style guide Smashwords uses to format for their site?
D2D doesn’t have a formatting guide. To put it simply, they work with your style guide. The requirements by Draft2Digital to format your book can be combined in a couple of easy steps as recommended on their website:
To create a simple style guide for your book, do this:
- Skip the title page and copyright page. Don't even write them. Just give your story to the Draft2Digital tam, and let them handle the technical stuff.
- Mark your chapter breaks with something distinctive, and be consistent. Make it centered and bold, with larger font, or use a heading style. Do something to set apart your chapter titles, and the Draft2Digital team will work with what you have.
One point to keep in mind when setting up your formatting is, be sure to strip out all competitor links. This includes any links that go back to Amazon that may be related to recommended books, products, or invitation to leave a review.
Aside from that, as soon as you upload your manuscript to Draft2Digital, they start to distribute it within a few hours. It will take longer for your book to appear on some sites than others. I noticed a considerable lag in getting into the Apple Books store.
You can also create paperback-ready PDF files.
Yes, D2D gives you the option to create a pixel-perfect paperback if you use their conversion service. As part of the publishing process, you as the author have the option of downloading a print-ready PDF file that you can use to create a paperback at any print-on-demand service.
Even more exciting, the company is in the beta phase of D2D Print, offering wide distribution to Amazon, to more retailers, and to libraries.
The beta test for this service is moving forward and you can join here.
Draft2Digital Review: Pros & Cons
There are pros and cons to publishing on Draft2Digital, just like we covered with our Smashwords Review.
Let’s highlight the points here to make it clear what you are buying into with D2D.
The Pros of Draft2Digital
- Formatting: a no-brainer. Compared to SW, nothing comes close. Send D2D your .doc or .docx and they will make it compliant for publishing on all platforms. D2D accepts the same format as KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), so it’s not necessary to format your manuscript differently.
- Instant notification service: When your book goes live on one of their platforms, they will let you know about it. This way, you’re not guessing if your book is available on a retailers site. This is a great feature built into D2Ds infrastructure.
- Revisions made easy. You can revise your covers or upload a revised manuscript as needed. After uploading the revised version of your cover or content, that same day D2D pushes the revised edition out to affiliated stores
- Easy-to-navigate dashboard: The D2D dashboard is one of the best features of the site, providing a quick and simple process for uploading, formatting, and publishing ebooks in minutes. The robust and easy-to-navigate dashboard equips authors with at-a-glance sales data that's easy to read at a glance. D2D has a policy: Make it simple. They show this through the easy path to moving around the site.
- Universal Book Links from Draft2Digital work like this: You create one link for each book and use that link to send your readers to their favorite retailer to purchase your book. UBLs are critical to the success of your books on sites outside of Amazon because you can direct your readers with the UBL, and never have to worry about your link expiring.
- Price setting made easy: D2D allows you to change your prices at any time, including setting your price to “free” for all stores except Amazon. This feature is used by many authors to create a perma-free book on Amazon as the publishing giant will price match.
- Pre-order feature for next book release. You can set up pre-orders to nearly all Draft2Digital store partners as far out as ninety days to a year in advance of your chosen release date. You aren’t even required to have a final manuscript or cover, as long as you upload those things no less than ten days before release.
The Cons of Draft2Digital
- Less distribution than Smashwords. Some may argue that this is not a bad point. D2D distributes to less retailers and libraries, but the list and expansion opportunities are growing all the time.
- No storefront. You can sell your books directly on the SW website, but that’s not the case with D2D.
Smashwords VS Draft2Digital: Who Wins?
Now that you’ve been introduced to these two publishing aggregators, it’s worth noting that you can in fact use both companies. But if you had to narrow it down to just one, what path would you take?
Draft2Digital does come out on top as the best site to roll with, in our perspective, which considers the feedback and results from authors that have used the service, and our own use of both sites.
The reasons are already discussed in the pros and cons section, and if you want to do your own testing and research, check out Draft2Digital and Smashwords.
Start with formatting your book and from there, see how many retailers, libraries and online bookstores you get into. You could use Draft2Digital to get your book into as many retailers and libraries as possible, then use Smashwords to get into the stores Draft2Digital doesn’t distribute to.
Calculate your monthly royalties and compare. Compare the dashboards of both sites and decide which is easiest to navigate. The site that gives you less stress is the winner!