Smashwords Broadens its Reach to Publishers

Last Updated May 5, 2009 5:31 PM EDT

Over its first year of operations, the eBook publishing platform and online book store Smashwords has catered mainly to authors, publishing some 1,200 titles from about 600 authors. As is fitting on its first-year anniversary, Smashwords announced today that it is broadening its services to add support for book publishers.

The company says around 20 small publishers have tested its new system and the first one out of the gate is eXcessica Publishing, described as an "indie e-publisher of quality erotica." This admiitedly unconventional publisher already lists around 200 eBooks from 61 authors on Smashwords.

The new Smashwords service is free to publishers. Each publisher gets a custom-branded
online bookstore, and can list as many eBook titles from an as many authors as it wishes. In its pitch to publishers, the company notes that it will pay publishers 85 percent of the net proceeds from sales of their titles.

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker told me today that he does not think major publishing companies will embrace his company's offer yet mainly because of Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues: "We haven't reached out to them (the large publishers). I think we're likely to see this embraced by smaller independent presses first. They're more experimental, can move faster, and appear less wedded to DRM (we don't accept DRM'd content)."


It is quite fascinating to me to see how the various eBook formats (there are at least seven of them out there) are faring among the early adopters in the Smashwords universe.

So far, although the company's user base is still relatively small, the open platform EPub is the clear winner, with 28 percent of the audience.

Amazon's Kindle, by comparison, which operates on its proprietary MOBI platform accounts for only 16 percent. In the emerging world of eBook publishers, there is growing pressure to support open-source options; thus, Amazon is getting something of a bad name.

You can see the rest of the breakdown in the chart, and here (courtesy of Smashwords) is the key to understanding the acronyms in the chaotic and bizarre and ever-changing world of obscure and competing eBook platform options, as of circa Q-1, 2009:
  1. EPUB - This is is arguably the most important format today. Epub, managed by the Independent Publishing Industry Forum, is an open industry ebook format and it's gaining increased support. If your book is available in epub, it can be read on some of the most popular ebook readers and ebook reading software applications (Like Stanza on the iPhone).
  2. PDF - Stands for Portable Document Format. PDF is a file format readable by many devices, including handheld e-readers, PDAs, and computers. A good format if your book contains complex formatting, layout, charts, images or indexes with page numbers. PDF is also a good option for readers who may want to print out their book on their home computers. On the negative side, PDF is a horribly inflexible format. Readers can't easily change the font size or style to match their preferences, the text isn't easily reflowable, and the reader is forced to read page by page.
  3. TXT - Plain Text. Plain text is the most widely supported file format, working on nearly all readers and devices. It lacks formatting, but will work anywhere. For obvious reasons, a plain text file cannot include images.
  4. MOBI (Kindle) - Mobipocket is used by the Amazon Kindle. Mobipocket is supported on Windows PCs and on the ereading apps used by many handheld devices. The Smashwords version of MOBI is not burdened by DRM, whereas the version sold by Amazon is. Amazon has received much criticism in the the industry for insisting publishers must supply DRM-protected books for the Kindle.
  5. RTF - Rich Text Format, or RTF, is a cross-platform document format supported by many word processors and devices.
  6. LRF - This is the standard format for the Sony Reader, an ebook reading device.
  7. PDB (Palm Doc) - PalmDoc is a format primarily used on Palm Pilot devices, but software readers are available for PalmOS, Symbian OS, Windows Mobile Pocket PC/Smartphone, desktop Windows, and Macintosh.
  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.

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