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Smash Words is so much more than just an online eBooks marketplace. It is also an avenue of distribution and publicity that many authors, publishers, and literary agents are thrilled to take advantage of. In fact, Smash Words claims to be the world’s largest distributor of free indie eBooks. Unlike other eBook distributors, Smash Words makes it easier, simpler, and more affordable (read: free) for anyone from anywhere in the world to publish and sell (or otherwise distribute) eBooks to some of the biggest online retailers and thousands of electronic libraries.
Smash Words may not be the best route for distribution for an author or publisher who hopes to strike it rich by selling eBooks … at least not immediately … but Smash Words can be an excellent means of helping an author gain some traction. In other words, making your book available for free on Smash Words can be an investment that increases one’s readership, giving an author a formidable following of fans. Then, later on, the same author can sell their eBook and, assuming their free eBook was a success on Smash Words, he could suddenly be making a living as a writer.
As a reader, Smash Words is just as exciting. If you are looking to read fresh, new, up and coming voices, this site is an excellent place to discover new works of fiction, nonfiction, and just about every other subgenre therein. Most of the free indie books offered on Smash Words come in several formats, all are reasonably priced, and over 70,000 titles (and counting) are available for free on the site. And many of the other books here are available for under 5 bucks.
A new publishing paradigm – Smash Words is a novel and innovative example of what publishing could (and some would say should) look like in the 21st century and beyond. It provides an alternative to the traditional world of publishing, ripe with gatekeepers and “quality control” assurances in the form of editors, literary agents, and big-name publishers that often dictate what is “good” literature … the people who sit in glimmering NYC offices high in the sky and dictate what the people will like to read.
There is, then, no form of ‘quality assurance’ on Smash Words. This could either be alarming or exciting. On the one hand, sure, it may raise concerns of wasting a lot of time scrolling through potentially awful books that nobody would ever want to read. On the other hand, Smash Words has found a way of democratizing the publishing industry. No works are rejected from Smash Words, unless they contain plagiarism, illegal content, or incite racism, homophobia, or violence of any other form.
That being said, users on Smash Words do rate books. So, if you are worried about being able to find high-quality eBooks on Smash Words, have no fears. This community of avid eBook readers are not afraid to hold authors accountable!
Mark Coker began working on Smash Words in 2005, at a time when the publishing industry was at a tumultuous crossroads and people were torn on the future of the literary world (with some worried about whether there would even be a future to begin with). The industry was in limbo. Some believed that eBooks and audiobooks were the future; others viewed the digitization of literature as nothing more than a mere fad, a passing fascination of hip, young readers. Mark Coker, though, was positive that eBooks were the future. And he staked his future on this very belief.
The website did not launch until May of 2008. It only took Smash Words 7 months to publish 140 books – something that would have been impossible in the world of traditional publishing and book distribution. Smash Words was not without problems of its own, however. You could say that the company got off to a bit of a bumpy start, regardless of the number of titles it published in its first 7 months of operation.
Turning a profit – Smash Words suffered a severely low profit margin. Coker’s vision for Smash Words was at first, perhaps, too pure. He wanted to create a platform that gave every author a chance to reach a reader, and every reader a chance to find her new favorite author. Profitability did not seem to be a central concern. But every business, at the end of the day, is a business, and so Coker had to figure out a way to start turning a profit.
He did so by offering retailers a “30% commission in exchange for digital shelf space.” This resulted in big-time eBooks sellers partnering with Smash Words and featuring its more successful titles. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, and KDP all jumped at this generous offer. And today, Smash Words stands as one of the most successful distributor of eBooks in the world, with hundreds of thousands of titles available.
The site looks pretty good, overall. The layout is straightforward and to the point. You’ll be greeted by a blunt white and blue site theme – nothing too flashy, but nothing too pretentious either. It is a fairly neutral looking website. It’s easy to use, though, which is the most important thing when it comes to site design.
Home page – The home page delivers a handy site menu bar, allowing visitors to navigate the site by a few introductory categories: Home, About, FAQ, How to publish on Smash Words, and Sign Up. I think this is a smart way to structure the site for new guests, seeing as Smash Words is not your typical eBooks marketplace. Offering a few introductory remarks right off the bat is very helpful then.
Below that, you are instantly able to browse books. There is a quick and easy way to filter books. Select All Books or Special Deals. Then choose from a price range (any price, free, $0.99 or less, etc.). The final quick filter option allows you to browse books by length (word count). Another option for browsing the site takes shape on the left-hand side of the page. Here, you’ll find a comprehensive list of every genre and subgenre available on the site.
Inner pages – My favorite design quirk of the site is the fact that clicking on a title does not redirect your browser to a whole new page. Instead, an information page pops up over the page you were already on, containing a synopsis and other necessary information. From there, simply click “add to cart” and keep on browsing. This makes for speedy and effective eBook browsing.
Content and Features
Smash Words, as we have already established, is a source of free indie eBooks of all types and genres. In fact, the website’s whole point is to not discriminate. In that spirit, Smash Words is easily one of the most diverse marketplaces of eBooks that I have ever seen. Smash Words offers plenty of free indie eBooks, as well as a wealth of very affordable books. No book on the site is priced above $9.99.
Smash Words by the numbers – Smash Words offers hundreds of thousands of titles. Here are a few site stats, as of 2020:
Words published on Smash Words: 19,154,175,947
Books published: 541,106
Free eBooks: 84,596
Books on sale: 4,479
So, as you can see, you would be hard pressed to ever run out of books to read with Smash Words. Even if you are just reading the site’s free content. With nearly 90,000 free books to browse, there is a great chance that you’ll find your new favorite book here without even paying a dime.
Every single genre imaginable – Smash Words has just about every kind of literature there is. From children’s lit to philosophy books to westerns and science fiction, Smash Words is a hotbed of genre fiction. Whether you are a fan of mystery, horror, romance, adventure, dystopian sci fi, comedy, historical fiction, self-help, or anything in between, Smash Words is likely to have it.
Mobile and Desktop Experience
The mobile version of Smash Words is basically like the desktop version if you just narrowed it and stretched it out. I am not a huge fan of the site design when it comes to mobile devices. I think that a complete redesign for phones and tablets would have been a much better move. I don’t love, for instance, how you have to scroll all the way down past each and every genre available on the site in order to start browsing titles. Smash Words desperately needs an app.