Lawrence David Weiss: Should I Publish on Kindle or Smashwords?

If you want to self-publish an ebook, the question, “Should I publish on Kindle or Smashwords?” is an important question. I’ll get to that in a moment, but there is a preceding question of perhaps equal if not more importance, and that is, “Would it be more fun to sit in a bar and toss back a few beers with Jeff Bezos — founder and CEO of, whose personal wealth is about $35 billion — or Smashwords Founder Mark Coker, whose entire company is worth a piddly $20 million?” is the largest internet retailer in the United States. It is a massive conglomerate of companies including shoe and clothing distributors, book imprints and ebooks, newspapers, branded electronics, groceries, warehouses, R&D centers, and much more. The Kindle ebook marketplace is reported to sell two-thirds of all the ebooks sold in the United States (with Apple and Barnes and Noble selling most of the rest.) At the same time Amazon corporate visionaries derogatorily refer to original writing by their authors as “verbiage,” and Amazon seems to be pursuing various strategies to reduce control by authors over their own writing, and to reduce the revenue of authors who publish with Kindle.  In my opinion a couple of beers with Bezos would be a head-exploding experience, but hardly fun, especially for an independent and serious writer.
Now, consider emptying a couple of pints with Mark Coker, founder and owner of Smashwords who bills his company as “the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks.” He got into the electronic publishing business because in the early 2000s he could not find a traditional publisher for a book he co-authored with his journalist wife, “Boob Tube, a roman a clef set within the daytime television soap opera industry.” He sounds like fun. 
In a Q&A piece on his website the question was posed, “Will I sell a lot of books on Smashwords?” His answer, “Probably not. How’s that for an honest answer? Some Smashwords authors don’t sell a single book.” Of course he followed up with “Some authors sell thousands of dollars worth of books each week,” but still, Coker writes like he respects authors and is a regular working guy who pops in every now and then at the neighborhood pub. I am sure it would be a lot of fun to drink beer; eat salty, fatty snacks; and swap stories with him. 

Ok, now that we have settled the urgent dilemma about which ebook publisher would be more convivial, let’s move on to the question about which should an independent writer publish with. 

In terms of overall market share, Kindle seems to have the advantage in the United States. Additionally, Kindle has separate national or regional ebook marketplaces that target international readers all over the world. Smashwords also has has its own marketplace where it lists hundreds of thousands of ebooks. However, and this is an extremely important distinction, Smashwords also acts as an ebook broker. if an author qualifies for the Smashwords Premium Catalogue (largely a question of how carefully the book is formatted), then Smashwords will distribute the work to a number of other ebook marketplaces to be sold directly by Apple (the second biggest retailer of ebooks in the US), Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, and others. The beauty of this arrangement is that (for a small percentage of sales revenue) formatting, distribution, and tracking of sales are all managed centrally via Smashwords, leaving the author to spend more time writing. 

The determination of royalties paid to authors is somewhat convoluted for both companies, but the range tends to be narrower under Smashwords terms, falling roughly in the 60% to 80% range. The royalty structure for Kindle used to range from 30% to 70%, but now may be less than that for authors who agree to participate in Kindle Unlimited, a subscription book access plan analogous to Netflix for movies. Another critical issue for authors who want to publish with Kindle is that there is significant pressure on authors to agree to the terms of KDP Select, which prohibit the author from selling their ebooks in any other venue in exchange for certain additional benefits — a highly restrictive arrangement which is not even an option under a Smashwords publishing agreement. 

In this blog post we can consider only a couple of the many issues facing authors about how they want to publish their ebooks. However, I would advise a relatively new author to consider publishing with both Kindle (while avoiding KDP Select) and the Smashwords Premium Catalogue so that your work will be available in the widest possible array of markets. Implement your marketing plan and track sales. After a time you may find that your work sells in certain markets over others, and you can focus your efforts there. 

Meanwhile, you may also want to develop a strategy to regularly inform yourself about this rapidly evolving and changing industry so your work will be produced, placed, and marketed in the most effective way. While there are numerous online resources, one way to accomplish this is to periodically invite Bezos and Coker to lunch or for an after-work drink. If they are unavailable, perhaps I could fill in. Might be fun.

I invite you to take my class: HOW TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK ON KINDLE 

This class is a practical review of how to format and submit a book for publication on Kindle, and how to monitor the book once published. We’ll start with a brief overview of the world of electronic publishing. We will also discuss how to format for Smashwords and how to submit. Smashwords is kind of a “middleman” broker that then gets your book onto iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and several other sites worldwide. Finally, we will spend a little time discussing how to market your ebook. 

New Date: Saturday, April 18, 9am-12pm (3 hours)
Location: 161 E. 1st Ave., Door 15 (Alaska Humanities Forum)
$50 member; $60 non-member

Register Here:

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