First a reminder. OverDrive saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013. Most of these happened at OverDrive-partnered digital libraries worldwide, but also at partner retail stores, which include Waterstone’s here in the UK, and stores like Kalahari and Exclus1ves in South Africa, among many others.
OverDrive have recently upped their game yet again with the addition of embedded samples, a feature aimed at the library catalogues but which can easily be used by indie authors on their blog or website, or even in social media.
Embedded samples? Essentially when the reader clicks on the sample link, instead of just being taken to the product page in the OverDrive store the first pages of the book will open up right there in your browser to start reading. Then if interested you can be redirected to your local digital library to download the full book.
OverDrive also has another great feature with the embedded samples. Bing users who search for your title will see in the right-hand sidebar (where Google puts its ads) an embedded sample link to the OverDrive ebook version. See an example here at the OverDrive library blog -
All great stuff by OverDrive – the most forward-thinking and innovative of the wholesale distributors – but back to our headline.
Two months back Smashwords made big news with the partnership with OverDrive whereby 200,000 non-erotica titles were going to be available in the OverDrive store.
Wonderful! Except to Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader, who ran with the headline OverDrive inundates libraries with 200,000 horrendous indie ebooks.
Don’t be shy, Michael. Tell us what you really think.
Eight weeks on, the big question is, has OverDrive been inundated with 200,000 Smashwords indie ebooks, horrendous or otherwise?
If you are a Smashwords author and did not opt out of this distribution then, two months on, you ought to be there by now, right? After all, two months is plenty of time, and the default Smashwords position is that you get distributed to new partners unless you specifically opt-out.
So why is it all the indie authors we have contacted, who are with Smashwords and did not opt out of OverDrive, are seeing a big blank when they search for their title or author name in the OverDrive store?
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Back in mid June Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader broke the news that OverDrive, apparently, was shunting self-published titles into an indie ghetto.
We say “apparently” as we’ve not been able to locate this ghetto, but the quote Nate has from OverDrive concurs with his headline. OverDrive do indeed have a separate section – somewhere – for “self-published” titles.
Well, it’s their company and they can do what they like. If OverDrive has some objection to self-published titles then it has every right to close the door to them.
But that’s the point. It didn’t.
The team at OverDrive are not stupid. They did not blindly sign a deal with Mark Coker, oblivious to the fact that Smashwords are the biggest distributor of self-published titles on the planet, bar none.
The deal OverDrive signed with Coker specifically excluded erotica titles. That’s a telling point. Because if you go to the OverDrive catalogue you will find any number of erotica titles. OverDrive has no problem with erotica per se.
Try this for size: https://www.overdrive.com/media/465867/letters-to-penthouse-xxxx
In fact the OverDrive catalogue is showing some 13,000 erotica titles. So when OverDrive specifically excluded Smashwords erotica titles they did so for a reason. Because Smashwords’ reputation precedes itself as a free-for-all where anything technically legal in the US is acceptable.
Let’s be clear. OverDrive accept erotica titles. They just don’t accept Smashwords erotica titles, because they know the only quality control at Smashwords is the formatting guidelines.
And our guess is they take much the same position on Smashwords self-published authors. Because it seems Smashwords self-published authors are being shunted into a ghetto, not all indies.
Indie authors who have enough titles to warrant setting up a direct account at OverDrive have no problem. Indie authors using an aggregator like Ebook Partnership have no problem. Their titles are readily available in the OverDrive catalogue, both for libraries and for retailers, and we can confirm from personal experience (one of our team has been with OverDrive and Ebook Partnership for many years) that they are seeing great sales from stores like Waterstone’s, and library borrows across the globe.
But let’s get back to Smashwords.
The day after Nate ran his piece the story was picked up by The Passive Voice and Mark Coker responded. The comments section is worth wading through, but here’s some key premarks by Coker.
On June 19 Coker said, “I’m investigating”, before assuring us “everything will work out in the end.”
Well that’s nice to know, Mark, but that was a while ago ago and your silence on this since has been deafening.
Back to what Mark Coker said over at The Passive Voice on June 19.
“The deal with OverDrive happened because so many librarians demanded it, because so many patrons wanted these books, and because OverDrive is committed to serving libraries and their patrons.”
So why have they put Smashwords titles in a separate category that can only be found from a drop-down menu that almost no-one knows exists, including librarians who use the OverDrive portal every day?
Coker noted that some 100,000 titles had already been “ingested” by OverDrive when the official announcement was made, and that it would take 4-8 weeks to complete the process. Tons of indies saw that, according to the Smashwords dashboard, their titles had shipped to OverDrive.
We’ve held off those two months before raising this, but the simple fact now is that even if only those original 100,000 titles from Smashwords were ingested, still none are showing up in the OverDrive store.
Are they in the indie ghetto? We don’t know, because neither we nor anyone else knows how to access this ghetto. If even librarians cannot find it, let alone readers, what point the Smashwords-OverDrive deal in the first place?
In theory the Smashwords partnership with OverDrive (even though only for libraries, not for OverDrive retail outlets) should be up there alongside the Scribd and Oyster deals as tributes to Mark Coker’s commitment to the cause of indie distribution.
But all the evidence so far suggests we’ve been sold a pup. There is very little evidence Smashwords is delivering on its promises on this occasion.
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And it would seem that Smashwords still does not know what’s going on. We heard from two authors on June 22, over a month after Coker said “I’ am investigating”.
One contacted Mark Coker direct and Coker confirmed he is working on this matter. Other than saying it was OverDrive calling the shots there was no further explanation.
That same day we heard from an author who emailed the Smashwords Sevices Team asking why his titles were not in the OverDrive catalogue.
Smashwords Services Team member Raylene B told the author, “We’re currently shipping out titles to OverDrive in batches. It can take multiple weeks for implementation!”, adding “You can periodically check for your titles at OverDrive by using the link: https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=XXXX where “XXXX” would include the book title’s ISBN #.”
No mention to this author that, actually, you won’t be able to find your titles there regardless, because if they are actually getting to OverDrive at all they will be in a secretive ghetto no-one knows how to find, but which most definitely is not via the link provided.
So are Smashwords titles available from OverDrive or not?
In the comments at The Passive Voice Coker was very clear:
“They (OverDrive) just invited 200,000+ Smashwords titles into their catalog. They’re going to merchandise our buylists. We’re going to work together to try to sell a lot of patron-pleasing books and gain our authors and publishers a lot of new readers.”
On the Smashwords blog – http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/05/smashwords-and-overdrive-to-bring.html – a few weeks earlier Coker had been even more specific:
“This agreement marks a watershed moment for indie authors, libraries and library patrons around the world.
It’s also a big deal for thousands of small independent presses around the globe who now have a convenient onramp into the OverDrive network.
Millions of library patrons will now have access to the amazing diversity and quality of the Smashwords catalog.”
Further down on this same blog Coker says:
“The full Smashwords Premium Catalog of non-erotica titles is eligible for the distribution to OverDrive.”
Eligible? “Eligible” does NOT mean “will be distributed to”. In fact, it doesn’t mean much at all when you take into account Raylene B’s reply that Smashwords is sending batches of ebooks to OverDrive. Especially when you look at what Coker has to say about batches on that same Smashwords blog (this, remember, two months ago).
“To help librarians streamline collection development, in the weeks ahead OverDrive and Smashwords will create curated buy-lists lists libraries can use to purchase the most popular indie authors and titles. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the top 100 YA fantasy novels (approximate price: ~$400), or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances (~$4,000) or top 200 complete series across multiple categories (~$2,000), or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs. With most of our bestsellers priced priced at or under $4.00, you can do the math to appreciate how incredibly affordable these collections will be. We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”
Let’s run that last sentence again.
“We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”
This suggests Coker and co. are going to cherry-pick established Smashwords best-sellers on Apple, B&N and Scribd (the main Smashwords outlets) and parcel them out to OverDrive as potentially available to purchase.
So, the lucky few who get “curated” may, possibly, be bought as part of a package, always supposing anyone knows where the indie ghetto is and can be bothered to look there.
The rest of us? Nobody knows. Including, it seems, Mark Coker.
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Note for those indies who want to be in the actual OverDrive store, not just the ghetto:
To get to OverDrive direct you need a minimum of ten titles. By all accounts the process is not a walk in the park.
For those who meet their requirements, you can also access OverDrive through Ebook Partnership, IPG or Perseus. If anyone is aware of other roads in, do let us know.
And if any Smashwords authors have actually seen their titles available in the OverDrive catalogue courtesy of Smashwords, we’d be delighted to be proven wrong on this.
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