As per their blog, authors published through Smashwords will now be able to set up preorders on B&N, Kobo, and Apple.

My immediate response to this is it’s not as useful as it might sound, but it’s still one of the most interesting things Smashwords has ever done–and they should do lots more things like this.

Now, to the bitching and complaining! For one thing, if you upload direct to Kobo and Apple, you’re already able to set up preorders for your books. For many of us, then, the only upgrade this would provide would be the option to set up preorders at BN. And, of course, one name is conspicuously missing from all this talk: Amazon.

This isn’t a “Who cares, Amazon is all that matters” problem, either. It’s a logistical one. The advantage of preorders–piling up sales in advance, all of which get credited to your rank on day one–can only be exploited if you let your readers know ahead of time. Meanwhile, many of us alert our readers to our new books via mailing list. So what do you do, send to your list a month in advance saying, “Hey, preorder on BN here,” then send it again at release time to hit up your Amazon readers, too? Maybe I’m too paranoid about the sanctity of my list, but I don’t like the idea of doubling the amount of “Buy my crap” emails I send to my readers. Additionally, I think many of them wouldn’t bother grabbing the preorder; it’s not a strong call to action, as the marketing buzzwords go. I think a fair amount of the email recipients would wait until the second, release day email, diluting the efficiency of the preorder.

But none of that is Smashwords’ fault, and that’s not to say BN preorders would be useless. You could certainly alert your Facebook page or your blog in advance without alienating readers, or bite the spam-bullet and resign yourself to two email sends per book. It could be a pretty dang useful tool at what remains the second-biggest ebookstore in the US.

Still, it’s not exactly murderously cool. And that’s leaving aside the insurmountable problem that SW doesn’t make changes fast enough to run reliable sales through it. $0.99 sales are a big part of the indie game right now. Until SW can quickly and reliably adjust prices to Apple, Kobo, and BN, they’re not on my radar.

For people who use SW to reach those places, though, that’s a sweet new feature. And it’s exactly the sort of thing I love seeing Smashwords pursue. Because in order for SW to be useful, SW has to be useful. They have to provide indies with options and tools we don’t have access to for ourselves. Prior to this, SW was useful for about five things:

1) Publishing permafree books to BN

2) Allowing non-US residents to publish to BN

3) Allowing people who don’t have a Mac and infinite patience to publish to Apple

4) Publishing to the host of smaller stores that don’t have a self-publishing platform (Sony, Diesel)

I swear I had a fifth point, but now I can’t think of anything else, which kind of sums up the whole SW experience. Wait, I just walked my dog and thought of two more:

5) You publish so much stuff (like a story per day) that it’s more efficient to let SW handle all the non-Amazon distribution

6) You publish a lot of work at $0.99, where SW’s 60% royalty is more attractive than the 35-45% at other stores

But most of these advantages are of limited value (publishing to Sony) or don’t apply to broad swathes of indie authors (being unable to publish to BN). So I’m extremely happy to see Smashwords add features that are useful to every self-published author out there. I want to see more stuff like this! I want SW to force me to think about long and hard whether I’m really better off distributing for myself.

I’m skeptical that will ever be the case, and while I don’t think BN preorders are a game-changer, this has caused me to reevaluate Smashwords to some degree. Yeah, there’s a lot to complain about with them. But with just two or three changes, I bet they could have us lining up in droves.

It’s good to be reminded to keep an open mind. That’s probably the most useful tool we indie authors have.

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