6.21.2012

Dear Smashwords, It's Time We Had a Talk



Dear Smashwords,

I am concerned about you. Yes, that's right. Concerned. I've been publishing my stories through you guys for  nearly a couple years now, and in that time, you've grown a by leaps and bounds. In many ways, it's been exciting to see and be a part of. You've helped a lot of writers like me get their wares out into the world and find new fans, and I'm very thankful for that. For awhile, I was grateful that I could conduct business with several different retailers at the convenience of a single website. It saved me a lot of time and hassle upfront, even if it meant a longer wait for my books to be distributed, or for me to get paid. I also love that you offer titles so easily in multiple formats, that you make it easy to generate coupons, and that I can offer my work free as often as I want to and have it available immediately. Great stuff.

But something started to tarnish along the way. Like a kid who grows faster than his bladder can keep up and as a result wets the bed a lot, you too also grew too fast for your own good and started smelling up the joint. And though I can be patient with a kid who doesn't know better, I can't say I have the same amount of patience for you.

It all started when Apple and Sony stopped honoring my price changes. Doing free promotions across all retailers is one thing that contributed greatly to my growing readership, and ordinarily it would be an easy enough process to reverse when I was done with the giveaway. Submit price change to Smashwords, wait a week or so for the prices to change through all the retailers, contact Amazon directly and tell them to switch. Done. But then things started to get really difficult around the beginning of this year. On average, I would expect it to take a couple weeks for the price changes to happen (although, WHY we should have to wait that long is one excruciatingly annoying mystery about this whole thing), but when a month and a half had passed with no change at Apple or Sony (and with Amazon refusing to match my Barnes & Noble pricing while the other retailers were still offering it for free), I knew there was a problem.

My first resort was to contact you. But the problem with that was it took, on average, a week to hear back from you (for the record, I have only waited up to 48 hours to hear back from Amazon in all but one or two flukey instances). And when you said you did or were going to do something to fix the problem, it didn't actually work. I had no choice but to remove all my books from the Premium Catalog in order to stop the bleeding. Who knows how much money in sales that cost me in the long run. In fact, even after I pulled my titles from the catalog, I still to wait two weeks or more to see them all come down. And then one of them got stuck in limbo. I had to speak with people in your customer service department THREE TIMES regarding why one of my books was still on the Apple store two months after it should have been pulled, even when all of my other books were gone. Clearly this was an anomaly. Some technical snag. But your lack of communication with me was disconcerting and ultimately infuriating. Even when you said you were going to contact them and have them take it down ASAP, it was still WEEKS before it finally happened. Again, more money down the drain for me. But I guess in your world, As Soon As Possible is translated to mean: "about a month or so, maybe more."

Then comes the sales reporting. I'm not a genius on how this stuff works, but it's frustrating not having more accurate and up-to-date sales information from the other retailers. As of today, the last sales reporting date you have for Barnes & Noble is May 31st. Sony and Apple, June 2nd. We're entering the final week of June here. You have claimed in the past that you're working to speed up reporting times, but I haven't seen much improvement in this. To have no idea what you're selling for weeks at a time puts someone who is trying to run their own self-publishing business at a huge disadvantage. And it's enough to make someone not want to use you for your distribution services. And if that's the case, then what good are you? You even say yourself that the real benefit of Smashwords is your Premium Catalog. Well, I'm still waiting for that benefit.

Next, we have to talk about the porn. I was behind you all the way on your PayPal debacle, and I remain steadfast in my support of anyone who wants to buy, sell, or write erotica. Even the really freak-nasty stuff. It ain't my cup of tea, but then again, I don't usually have to look at it so my world is peachy keen. That is until I come to your site. Which brings me to the issue of your adult filter. It's nice that you installed an option to make it so we don't have to see such awesome titles as "Daddy Spank Me Harder" or "Three Cocks In My Mouth: Part Goo" on the front page if we don't want to. But then I've realized that turning on the adult filter has also screened out a great deal of MY titles. I write horror. Most of it is considered for adults. It doesn't contain sex, but there is some violence and gore and language. Stuff that I consider "adult" content that makes me check the box accordingly when I publish. It is astounding to me that non-incest non-smut works get blocked  in your one-size-fits-all adult filter just because people don't want to see outright porn every time they visit your site. Is it THAT hard to have an X-Rated filter separate from perhaps an R-Rated one? It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. Get a porn filter NOW. Or better yet, have your own smut spin-off site, because I'm really tired of having my discomfort meter spike into the red zone by seeing the incest titles mixed in with the children's books.

Finally, and this is just a minor gripe compared to the others but worth noting. And maybe it's just bad luck on my part, I dunno. But the last three or four times I've gone to upload new work onto Smashwords (and I don't upload very often), the site has been down. Or I've gotten various database errors. Not vetter errors that indicate a mistake on my part. But technical errors on your site that prevent it from working at all. It's become such a pattern that it is now a surprise when it all works the first time. Not a good sentiment to instill among users.

I've been biding my time for awhile now, eating my rage, trying to figure out the best time to write something like this, knowing that I was risking receiving a lot of ire for it, because I know you have your ardent supporters out there and the last thing I want to do is invite that into my life. But when my good will has been chipped and eroded away little by little over the course of six months, I am left with little choice but to vent my spleen, and publicly.

You're screwing the pooch, Smashwords. And at a time when you can least afford to. I have no interest in going exclusive with Amazon. Like you, I see problems around the bend in regards to giving them so much power over author's work and the publishing industry at large. But with their far superior online experience and customer service, fast and timely reporting, larger overall sales, and enjoyable shopping experience, I find it very hard to hate them. They may be the biggest fish in the pond, but they got there by not sucking. But Amazon isn't your only competition. Kobo is setting up to make a presence for themselves very soon, and Barnes & Noble's PubIt has been a viable option for awhile. Of course, I hate to pull my Barnes & Noble titles from Smashwords at this point, because I'd be sacrificing my sales rankings and frankly, I've already lost enough money due to your screw-ups, but I'm getting to the point where I'm just tired.

I'm tired of the hassle. I'm tired of the lack of communication. I'm tired of slow reporting. I'm tired of inefficient web design that forces me to view offensive content just so I can find the stuff I want to find. I'm tired of being stalled by constant errors. But most of all, I'm tired of waiting for Smashwords to finish growing up.