Thoughts on Using a Distributor


Last year, I mentioned I was a bit disappointed in how long it took Smashwords to implement things like price changes, as it would take 5 days to push out a change. Also, my cover for the Barnes & Noble version of my book didn’t show up for more than a month.

With Life First, I  published direct to Amazon. When I published my second novel, I decided I’d try publishing direct to Barnes & Noble, too and using Smashwords for the remaining retailers. From what I could tell, I wasn’t selling much on Barnes & Noble anyway, so why not try not selling much directly?

What I discovered is that, despite the flaws, there are some advantages to going with a distributor. The big advantage is not having to change multiple files and upload them to the different sites. I made a change or two to Second Life after it was published, and the time it took to do just one extra file change felt significant.

However, I love the ability to go in and make changes to the price at Barnes & Noble and have it appear within 24 hours. With Smashwords, I changed the price of my novels on Dec. 26 and the price change hadn’t appeared until Jan. 13, nineteen days later. It meant I had to keep running a 99 cent sale longer than I intended, because Amazon won’t let you raise your price if others are selling it cheaper. This is a real problem. I’m told that Draft 2 Digital (another distributor) does not have this problem, that whatever interface they use gets changes sent through to vendors within hours.

So, given the pros and cons, overall, I think using a distributor is a good idea.  I’m not particularly proficient in formatting, so the extra drama of updating files is a pain. At this point in time, I only have two books. By the end of this year, I intend to have four books, so that means each book’s back matter (particularly the “Other books by this author”) has to be updated. Using a distributor will be a lot easier than updating it on a dozen individual sites.

However, I have made a decision about how I plan to use my distributor, which is Smashwords.  Because most of my sales come from Amazon and a portion from Barnes & Noble, I plan to upload directly to those places. That way, I can easily make price changes, and reach most of my readers with these two sites. Smashwords distributes to Apple, Kobo, Diesel, Sony, Oyster, Flipkart (for India) and some libraries. I like the idea of my book being widely available, but the truth is, I’ve had one sale through any of these additional channels. So, in the future, all the books I list on Smashwords will be listed at the list price and that’s it.  I will offer no sales whatsoever for any of the Smashwords vendors, because it takes an inordinate amount of time to implement price changes.

Why does it matter if the prices aren’t right on all sites if the main seller is Amazon? Because of Amazon’s price matching policy that I mentioned earlier. I’ve been told Amazon takes it’s sweet time in returning a price-matched book to the normal price once you’ve proven the price is the same at other retailers. I don’t want to be caught in price matching drama, so it’s important that I have absolute control over the price, which I can’t do with Smashwords. (Amazon doesn’t care if it’s priced higher somewhere else; they just don’t want it priced lower.)

So, if I’m unhappy with Smashwords’ price change timeline and have heard Draft2Digital is better, why not switch? I’ve thought about it. There is only one reason: Smashwords is a storefront.  D2D does not sell your book. Do I generally make sales through Smashwords? A few. However, Smashwords allows me to generate coupon codes for my books. If a reviewer is concerned about viruses and would prefer to download a copy from a retail site (rather than emailing a file), or if I host a contest and I want to provide the prize from a retail site, then Smashwords is the only place I can do that. I can generate a coupon that allows a free download, or a coupon that offers a discounted price. With D2D, I can’t do that.  The other issue with D2D, is if I move my books that are currently at Smashwords to D2D, I run the risk of losing reviews. Not to say that there are tons of reviews on sites other than Amazon. However, the few that are there would be gone, so switching midstream is not a great option, I don’t think.

David Gaughran wrote a great post on distributors last fall, if you’re interested in another take on the distributor issue. So, what are your thoughts on distributors? Yay, nay or somewhere in the middle?

P.S. I want to thank everyone who voted for Life First for best speculative fiction in the Readers’ Choice Awards. While Life First didn’t win, your votes were appreciated. Let’s all congratulate Teri Hall’s New Zapata for taking home the award. 🙂


C. Gockel made an excellent point in the comments section. If your marketing strategy is to make your first book in the series free, then you need to use Smashwords. They will allow you to set your book price free on Barnes & Noble.  Once it’s free on B&N, Amazon will price match, and your book will be free on Amazon. So, in addition to the coupons, Smashwords is the site that can get you to perma-free on Amazon.

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at
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18 Responses to Thoughts on Using a Distributor

  1. It’s interesting to see how all of this stuff works, because the game keeps on changing. People always say Amazon is pretty much the only place to be, if you want to sell ebooks, but I’ve noticed that my sales from Smashwords have gone up during the past year. It’s not such a big gap anymore, which makes me wonder whether Amazon exclusivity is such a great idea (even though they are naturally painting it as such).

    I do think it’s odd that Smashwords is the only distributor that will let us offer coupons or freebies as we please, though. Like you, I prefer to have that freedom to give away titles to reviewers or as prizes for giveaways, and it’s frustrating that Amazon will only let you have 5 free days – and only if your book is only available for sale on their site. I also typically use Smashwords to download both an EPUB and MOBI copy of my own books, so that I can sell them straight from my website or otherwise distribute them. Isn’t it odd that Amazon doesn’t let you download a free copy of your own books?

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Laura, I’m with you on thinking it’s odd that Smashwords is the only place that lets you offer coupons or freebies at your own discretion. It would be nice if Amazon let you do the same thing. I tend to send the Smashwords edition to places that want an electronic copy of my book, as they have such a nice epub and mobi version. However, you can download your mobi book from your KDP dashboard. In the edit book details page, in the area where you preview the book before it goes on sale, it offers you the choice to download the file for preview. If you do that, you have a copy of your mobi version.

      The thing is, none of the sites are perfect, so we have to figure out which imperfections we can live with and which we can’t.

  2. Jeri says:

    I’m still just on Amazon because of of this seems like so much to learn about. Thanks for the insights. They’ll come in handy when I need them, and I’m sure I will.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Well, Amazon alone is a fine place to be and you’ve still got time to learn. The nice thing about indie publishing is you’re not locked into some contract that forever ties up your rights. You can always change your mind and do it a different way.

  3. M.M. Justus says:

    Price-matching? One of my books has been free on Smashwords (and elsewhere, including B&N) for months, and Amazon has yet to match it, even after I brought it to their attention. If Amazon still does price-matching to free, I have yet to see it work.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      M.M., what is the name of your book? I’d be happy to report it to Amazon, see if multiple reports helps you get a price match. I’ve heard price matching works, but Amazon does have to make that decision.

      It might also help if you advertise your free availability on some of the online sites that promote freebies for free. That way, you might get more random strangers to report the price disparity,and get Amazon to move you to perma-free.

      Good luck.

  4. Dale says:

    I’ve been tossing up whether to go with Ingram Spark or Smashwords. I like your idea of direct with some and distribution with the rest. There’s lots of places opening up for indie authors to upload direct in places like India, China etc. I like the Smashwords coupon thingies though.

    Lightning Source used to do iBooks, etc and I did sell a few through iBooks, but they don’t anymore. I didn’t know that until someone told me they couldn’t get a book for their iPad. Honestly, I have to make up my mind, lol.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Dale, you’ve probably still got time to decide, and the truth of the matter is, you can always move your books to another platform if it’s not working out. It’s probably just better to figure out it’s not working out sooner, rather than later.

      • Dale says:

        Thanks, RJ. I hope it’s sooner, lol.

        I’m leaning toward SW. As C. Gockel says, SW might be faster at price changes now and I don’t think I’d worry too much about having to extend a discount period.

  5. C. Gockel says:

    I think Smashwords has tried to clean up it’s act in the price raising aspect. Last time I did a price increase (last month) it took a few days.

    I agree, that if you are pressed for time you HAVE to have a distributor, and Smashwords, despite its faults, offers the highest royalties. Also, B&N doesn’t allow you to set a price to Free, so if your marketing strategy includes a permafree book you need to go through Smashwords or some other place.

    Thanks for this RJ.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      You make a great point. Smashwords is the only way to set your book free on Barnes & Noble, and therefore get the price matching from Amazon so your book is free on Amazon. If you want to give away book one in your series for free, you have to use Smashwords. Thanks for mentioning that. I’m going to update the original post because that’s an important distinction. KDP Select, while good for temporary free pulses, does not allow you to go perma-free.

  6. I’ve been back and forth on this, too. It was nice to get my royalties quicker from Nook Press (when it was PubIt) than I would get them for Nook sales via Smashwords. And if you decide at some point later to do KDP Select with a particular title, it’s easier to get B&N to take down a book you’ve published via Nook Press than to wait for them to take down a listing of a Smashwords book. Most of the Select horror stories I’ve heard about have involved authors who had Amazon yell at them for non-exclusivity because a Smashwords version was still available at B&N.

    But as you say, it’s a hassle. I’ve defaulted to uploading three versions of my books, just to make things easier on myself: KDP, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. I figure I can always offer a SW coupon to match a Kindle Store price. 🙂

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Now, I haven’t tried to take my books down from Smashwords, so I didn’t know it was difficult. I’m not ready to try a novel in Select, but I do have a short story collection I’m going to try releasing as a Select title, just to see how Select works.

      Like you, I do KDP, Smashwords and Createspace. I just do Nook Press, too. But, that’s not horrible, in terms of making changes. I just wish I’d published my first book via Nook Press, as I would have liked to have lowered the Barnes & Noble price when I had a weeklong sale recently. It just wasn’t feasible, given how long it takes for Smashwords to push out that price change.

  7. Nice pros & cons RJ, thank you 🙂

    I’ve vacillated between uploading to each distributor vs only using Smashwords and Amazon, and finally came to close to the same decision: updating too many versions, and to each place, is too time consuming at this point.

    Haven’t tried anyone other than SW for non-direct, plus, though I rarely use the coupon feature, have found it very handy several times.

    SW does also have a series manager which I really like, plus it distributes to Scribd and Oyster. Though the latter are relatively new to the scene, their potential is huge.

    Anyway, best wishes, thanks again 🙂

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Felipe.

      I like the series manager, too. I think that’s one thing Amazon should do. I clicked on a book through one of those daily book email sites, and saw book one of a series that had at least 4 books in it, and I could not easily figure out which book was number 2 or 3. So, the series manager is nice for readers and authors.

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