Going Direct

This started out as a post about one little wrinkle with distributing to Apple, and has developed into an epic saga about digital distribution. I hope some of you find this facet of our brave new world of publishing as interesting as I do.

When authors publish and distribute their own digital editions, they need to choose where to make their books available. Then they need to choose how to distribute their content to those portals. For some portals, it’s simpler than others. For Amazon, for example, it’s very easy to set up a KDP account (that’s Kindle Digital Publishing), upload your content and make it available for sale on all Amazon portals. An ISBN# is optional at Amazon, as they track content by their own ASIN numbers. (I’ve talked about ISBN#’s before on Wild West Thursday – here’s one post.) The others are a bit more complicated, partly because they can require an ISBN# and partly due to their own special little quirks.

Things get a bit more quirky, as many authors – like myself – started out by delivering content to these other portals through Smashwords. On the upside, it’s comparatively easy to get your books to a number of outlets through Smashwords. You upload the content once, it has to be approved for Premium Distribution, then it can be distributed to Apple, Sony, B&N, KOBO, Diesel, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor Blio, Baker & Taylor Axis 360, and Smashwords’ own Library Direct. They even distribute some content to Amazon, although I’m not sure why an author would go that route. So, the upside is simplicity. The downside is that it can be very very (very) slow to get content into that distribution channel and on sale at the various portals. It’s also incredibly slow to update information (like changing prices) and to provide new editions. Finally, the reporting is just as slow on the other end. It’s months before you know how you sold at these portals in a given period, which is less than ideal. The obvious solution is to take content to direct distribution, to get both speed and control, which brings us back to quirkiness.

Barnes & Noble – This is something that B&N gets right. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as B&N is the one online bookseller with the closest ties to traditional publishing. They knew when they created their software for the PubIt portal that any individual book could have more than one ISBN#, and that they’d want to track all editions of the book together. The reviews should ride with the book, regardless of whether the customer is interested in its trade, hardcover or mass market format. They also knew that a book could change publishers – a big press picking up a small press title, for example – and that the data on the book should follow it to new editions. The transition from Smashwords-supplied content to PubIt-supplied content was seamless at B&N. I think they must track by title and author. Also, their system is clearly designed to over-ride any edition fed from a third party with one uploaded directly. There was never a time when two digital editions for the same title were displayed. Yay for B&N! Here’s my earlier post about going direct to B&N.

KOBO – At KOBO, the two editions of each digital book existed side by side for about a week, until the removal notices were processed from Smashwords. The obvious quirk at KOBO was the reviews. KOBO’s reviews come from two sources: the ones uploaded directly to the site were lost when the new edition replaced the old one, because they were bound to that ISBN#. The second source is Goodreads. Those reviews also disappeared initially, until the KOBO guy and I figured out that they were tracked by ISBN#, too, and I logged into Goodreads to add the new ISBN# as a new edition of each book. The less-obvious issue with this kind of tracking of books is that not only the reviews are lost – the ranking and sales history and also-bought data for the book is lost, too. As you might imagine, this is far from ideal, but it’s the way the software has been designed. Here’s my earlier post about going direct to KOBO.

(An aside here. It appears that the people who developed the software for these various portals were unaware that the same book can be assigned a new ISBN#. It’s true that the ISBN# is a unique identifier, but it carries the data of edition, format, and publisher. When any of those variables change, a new ISBN# can (and often is) issued, but the book content remains the same. I use the same ISBN# for my digital editions, but technically, there should be a different ISBN# for each digital format. When Dragonfire was first publishing in digital editions, my royalty reports got very thick: there was a separate reporting page for each assigned ISBN#, and there was a different ISBN# for the mass market edition, the EPUB edition, the MOBI edition, the PDF edition, the PDB edition, the RTF edition, the LRF edition, etc. etc. etc. Now, most digital distribution is EPUB or is derived from EPUB – I figure if Penguin can use one ISBN# for digital, then so can I. Smashwords only distributes EPUB – although authors can make other formats available directly from the SW site – but they, too, have no ability or desire to change out ISBN#’s. Once one is assigned, it can’t be changed. This is the difference between software designed by computer guys and publishing people.

FWIW, Amazon initially didn’t nest editions together either. The author had to notify them that the book was a new edition of a previously published title and they had to manually link the editions. Sometimes the tech in question refused to do this, although I have no idea why. They seem to have improved their sorting software, as it was more consistently being done automatically in 2012.)

And now, I’m going direct at Apple. We have the usual twist of the two editions existing simultaneously, which they will do until the Smashwords removal notices are processed. The reviews posted on those SW-fed editions will disappear along with the editions, and so will the ranking and sales data. This is a pain and it irritates me, but there you go.

I discovered another wrinkle at Apple, which was an interesting quirk and one peculiar to them. Claire Delacroix had been assigned two different artist numbers in the iTunes store. When you selected “See More By This Author”, one artist number would display the new editions I’m uploading directly, as well as my TOR books and the re-releases from Harlequin Historicals. The other artist number displayed the editions uploaded from Smashwords, along with my books from Random House. It’s now fixed at their end and all titles are consolidated under one artist number. There are duplications, because the requests from Smashwords haven’t been processed yet, and (boo hoo) those nice reviews will disappear with the older editions.

Next week on Wild West Thursday, we’ll talk about following the breadcrumbs.