July 28, 2014

Smashwords and Overdrive

Building a Library Presence With Smashwords and Overdrive

There has been a lot of talk about Smashwords’ deal with Overdrive. Some people claim that indie authors have been relegated to an “indie ghetto” and that librarians won’t even be able to find an indie author’s books if they wanted to.

Let’s examine that for a minute.

What do you think is Overdrive’s intent? Do you think they spent a ton of money and went to the trouble of making a deal with Smashwords just to hide the indie authors so nobody could find them?

Why would Overdrive do that?

Or do you think it’s possible that Overdrive is simply taking a cautious approach to this expansion?

My Take on the Matter

My take on it is that Overdrive is being perhaps too cautious, but that’s their call to make. The library business is not known for its willingness to accept new things with open arms. Just last month I spoke with Kirkus about their marketing campaigns. One of the first things they mentioned was that librarians weren’t much interested in self-published titles. Some were, but not the majority.

If that’s the case, why would Overdrive, whose main business is libraries, risk putting indie titles in their system? They wouldn’t, unless they believed in the indie movement and were committed to it for the long term.

And furthermore, why would Mark Coker, who has been a fierce supporter of the indie movement risk his reputation on something that didn’t look as if it would pay off? Remember, Smashwords makes no money unless authors make money.

A Closer Look

Coker has always had indies best interest at heart. I cannot see him doing anything to jeopardize that. My mother always taught me to look at intent and find out what a person’s motivation was for doing what they did. Let’s look at this.

Why Would Smashwords Agree To A Deal Where Indies Are Treated As Second-Class Citizens?

I’m not one to be silent about mistreatment. And I don’t like to be relegated to the second tier of anything. So if a cause is there to speak up about, you’ll normally find me at the front of the line. But I like to make sure that the line I’m in is the right one.

People have been blaming Smashwords, when I can’t see why? If a group of authors want to scream bloody murder, first find out who is responsible.

My guess is this was Overdrive’s decision to segregate the titles. And I’m also guessing that it will work out as soon as Overdrive has had a chance to integrate all the titles and deal with issues on the library front. I say it’s a guess, because Overdrive has not returned my calls.

I’m sure Mark Coker has an idea, but he’s not going to say anything bad about Overdrive; they’re a business partner. Imagine being a partner with Apple and saying bad things about them? It’s not good business, no matter who is at fault.

Would You Like Some Whine With That Cheese?

The thing that really bothers me is the way too many indies rally around a few whiners. Think about this, people. If you aren’t happy regarding the Overdrive situation, it’s easy to fix. Go to your Smashwords’ dashboard. Go to Channel Manager, and then scroll down and opt out of any or all books for Overdrive. It’s as simple as that.

Or, you could wait patiently for Overdrive and Smashwords to fix this mess and then—ideally—reap the rewards of having your books in tens of thousands of libraries.

Most of the complaints from indies have centered around being treated as second-class citizens. Guess what? Indie authors have been treated as second-class citizens all along.

  • Independent bookstores won’t accept indies (with few exceptions), but I see no one screaming at them. That bothers me more than Overdrive putting me in a ghetto.
  • Amazon has never treated indies the same as traditionally published authors. Even with the newest deal—Kindle Unlimited—indies are treated like crap and others not. I have to say that bothers me a hell of a lot more than the Overdrive situation.
  • Most of the traditional awards programs won’t recognize indie authors.
  • Many reviewers won’t accept indie books.

The list goes on and on. And do you know what? All of that bothers me a lot more than what Overdrive is doing. Unless an author was with Overdrive before this, and showing up in normal search mode, this situation is not harming anything but their pride. I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But it’s not costing me a dime. It does represent a potential loss in income from books that might get into libraries. But the things that Amazon does to indies costs me a lot more money.

  • Being undiscoverable because I’m not in Select.
  • Or being lower in rankings of “average customer reviews” because other books are pushed more. (More on that later.)
  • Or only earning half the royalties because I’m not in Select.
  • Or being forced to price match.

These things cost all indies a lot more than what Overdrive is doing.

What Else Can You Do?

My first suggestion is the same thing I’ve been doing for print books.

  • Talk to librarians as if they were real people and discuss the situation. Don’t complain.
  • Ask your readers and fans to request that their library carry your books. I have found this to be the best way to encourage librarians to stock your books.

I’m convinced that as this program moves forward, both Overdrive and the libraries will see that stocking indies was a good idea. The few items I mentioned will help that along, but the best thing we all can do is continue to write great books.

Bottom Line

If six months, or a year from now, the situation at Overdrive is the same, I’ll join you on the front line screaming. In the meantime, I think I’ll practice patience.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

2 Responses to “Smashwords and Overdrive”

  1. Giacomo,

    I just saw this article, and I feel silly sending you my question re: Smashwords and Overdrive. Regardless, your post was very helpful. So far I’ve been following all your advice on the way in which I’m going to use Createspace & IngramSpark, so I imagine I will also go about the distribution the same way you have outlined previously in your other post.

    In truth, I’m still learning, and I wasn’t fully aware of the Smashwords and the Overdrive issue before I read this, however, I can see the potential of working with smashwords down the road (Overdrive, and most recently news about ‘Txtr), and you do make excellent points about amazon. I personally do not love the idea of amazon exclusivity, so from the beginning I’ve been looking very closely at international distribution, which is why your article resonates with my way of thinking.

    Thanks again!

  2. Hey, Mel. yes, the deal with ‘Txtr is a good one. I think ‘txtr is doing things right and I’m excited about their support for indies. I’m even more excited that they featured one of my books as their indie picks.

    Feel free to email me with questions in the future.

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