OverDrive Gets Better & Better – But Is Smashwords Delivering On Its Promises?

Go Global In 2014First 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?

 ~ ~ ~

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.

~ ~ ~

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 bloghttp://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.

~ ~ ~

 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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26 responses to “OverDrive Gets Better & Better – But Is Smashwords Delivering On Its Promises?

  1. I don’t write erotica, and not one of my books are there. Some of the delay has to be contributed to OverDrive. If they were sincere, even if they didn’t want erotica, other books would appear without problems.

    • We have yet to find a Smashwords author who is there, Darke, though plenty of indies there via other routes.

      We’re struggling to make sense of this. On the one hand we can quite understand OverDrive being wary of self-pubbed titles. We all saw what happened here in the UK with W H Smith.There are several retailers in the UK now that exclude indies.

      But OverDrive is in the US where things are more enlightened. OverDrive is an enlightened company. They will be as aware as any how many indies are topping the charts.

      OverDrive have been very clear that they have indeed put self-pubbed titles into a special category. The question is whether this decision was taken before or after the deal with Smashwords was signed, and why Coker was not aware of it either way. From his response on The Passive Voice its clear the “ghetto” was news to him.

      • I’m a librarian at a US library with access to OverDrive’s library Marketplace. I just searched for your name in the self-published section, Darke, and found two of your Smashwords titles, Under the Cover of Wicca and Of Covens and Packs. I don’t know how many titles you actually have that were supposed to be there. The self-published section hasn’t been marketed as well as it should have and the search engine isn’t the best, but it is there. I did not do any comparisons to OverDrive’s main site since we don’t use that for collection development. One of our collection managers told me just today that we are getting patron requests for Smashwords titles and we are filling those requests as we can. I don’t know how many or who the requested authors are. Also, I suspect that the curated lists that are mentioned are shopping carts that are created by OverDrive’s collection development staff based on various criteria (bestsellers by age, by publisher, etc). They’ve always done this, and we are not limited to buying only what is in those created carts. Anything that shows up in Marketplace can be purchased. I’m not making excuses for OverDrive OR Smashwords, but wanted to give a slightly different perspective. Sorry I can’t give you any help on how things appear in the UK.

      • Carol, thank you so much! Some of have been waiting over 2 mths. I’ve been sending folk to the local library, with no luck at all finding even one title ( up through almost 2 weeks ago ) and without any word of what was going on, didn’t want to bug them further.

        Maybe this will really finally happen!

        Thanks again 🙂

    • Thank you Carol! I can’t even FIND the self-published area on there. Maybe it’s just for those who signed up? I have four titles out, but for now I’m happy with the two. 🙂

  2. I can’t believe Mark Coker doesn’t know what has gone wrong. That isn’t credible. He should front up by letting us know what is blocking plans. The only egg will be on the face of OverDrive, after all it is them that is failing to honour the said agreement. I suspect the knives are into OverDrive from the Traditional Publishing Mafia. What else is credible?

    • We suspect Mark Coker knows more than he’s letting on, Richard, but not so sure it’s all OverDrive’s fault. That would depend on the deal the two parties signed. This whole business about curation and selling packages of best-sellers seems somewhat at odds with the idea of 200,000 titles going into the OverDrive library store as Coker originally claimed. Likewise we find it strange Coer did not negotiate a deal for the OverDrive retail stores at the same time.

  3. Reblogged this on Lazlo Ferran and commented:
    If you are an indie writer, Mark’s thoughts are worth hearing

  4. Just posted this on The Digital Reader who featured this as one of his Morning Coffee links –
    “What a doozy!
    “I’m preparing an open letter to OverDrive, and this is perfect!
    “I’d begun to wonder if I was just being impatient/paranoid/unreasonable/suspicious 🙂 ”

    All your examples above, silence on the issue, it’s in progress, etc – that’s me too!

    I’ve embarrassingly sent folk to libraries in my area (Austin Texas) who have found not one single one of my 60+ small titles available via any search.

    I think in this case, suspicions are justified by the sheer silence and lack of updates.

    Thank you for posting this very comprehensive post on what’s happened, or not happened 🙂 so far…

    • Thanks, Felipe. We’re big fans of both Smashwords and OverDrive, and really hope this matter resolves itself soon, but so far things look bleak.

      With D2D upping its distribution channels, Bookbaby offering pay as you sell options, and Amazon trying its best to lure authors into exclusivity competition has never been stronger for Smashwords.

      With digital libraries becoming more important by the day this deal should have been a big feather in Coker’s cap. Here’s hoping he can redeem himself.

  5. Posted this on Google+ for this article –
    What has happened to the OverDrive deal with Smashwords to get 200,000 indie titles into libraries – at a vastly reduced royalty as appropriate for libraries – a sentiment apparently not matched by big publishers.

  6. Liz, Editorial Ass.

    Queried Smashwords and got this reply on same day, which kind of completely ignores the ‘ghetto’ report, or the ‘slicing and dicing’ comment, etc.

    Once OverDrive fully ingests of initial shipment of 200,000+ titles, they will activate all of them in their system. The last I heard, there were about another 12,000 books OverDrive still needs to receive. They can only handle about 10,000 a week or something like that. So, it should be soon now.

    Thank you in advance for your patience on these matters.

    Service Team

    • Liz, this is the biggest best most complete news I’ve heard the whole two months! Thank you so much! Tell Kevin SW’ll need to do a huge blog / pr post!

      I’m holding my breath – in yogic counts of ten – this time will be magic 🙂

    • Liz, that is beyond belief. This is not what other Smashwords reps, including Coker himself, are saying.

      If OverDrive are going to activate all 200,000+ titles only when they have all been ingested, why the hell didn’t Coker say so a) when he announced the deal, or b) when he responded to the ghetto claims on the Passive Voice on June 19, five weeks ago? And why didn’t Raylene B. from the same Smashwords Services Team use this explanation?

      The maths are also highly suspect. Coker informed us 100,000 titles had already been ingested at the time he announced the deal, two months ago. So at 10,000 a week they must have started 10 weeks before the announcement, and wouldn’t finish until ten weeks afterwards. So why did he explicitly say it would take 4-8 weeks?

      • Liz, Editorial Ass.

        Yes, we found it contradictory. In the same message, we reminded Kevin that he had said he would go to tech to correct our listings on Scribd, i.e. that Smashwords was not ‘the publisher,’ of our nine novels listed with them so far, but Eyes and Ears Editions was (at the cost of pricey European ISBN’s, no less) and Kevin said, “I didn’t promise, but I’ll go back to tech.’ We don’t think we went to tech in the first place.
        We’re trying to keep at them without losing it, because we want Smashwords to succeed, Coker to get it right, and for this to be a viable competitor. But we agree, it all sounds wobbly.

  7. Hi! Another US librarian here. I searched today in the “Self-Published” section of Overdrive Marketplace (the storefront for library customers–I have to log in with my account name and password for my library) and found 115,303 Smashwords titles. I think the Overdrive “catalog” varies quite a bit according to whether you’re looking at the consumer site or the library site, and I don’t totally understand it all. I was just e-mailing with an author I’m a fan of whose books I couldn’t find in Overdrive–she could see them on the non-library site, but they weren’t in Overdrive Marketplace (and those were from a traditional publishing house).

    • Thanks, Jennifer.

      This concurs with feedback we are now getting that Smashwords titles are available in what is disparagingly termed the “indie ghetto”.

      Are we right in assuming, then, that the typical library reader, browsing OverDrive for titles to borrow, will not see any Smashwords titles and will have to first know they exist and then ask a librarian to ferret them out?

    • Jennifer – and I believe there’s supposed to be over 200,000 titles there now, unless the number of folk participating has dropped. I still, since late June when first announced, and special searches (not last one about two weeks ago) have never been able to find a single one of my titles. Could I ask a huge favor, and only if and when convenient, could you see if any titles for me, Felipe Adan Lerma, are available? And if you can’t, I totally understand. (smiles)

  8. Hi Felipe! I do see 46 titles by you that are available for purchase in the self-published section of Overdrive Marketplace. One odd thing is that they’re only available to read in a browser, not in any downloadable formats. This seems to be true of all the Smashwords titles. I wonder if that’s always going to be the case? Most people want to be able to download and read a title offline.

    I’m not sure how many librarians realize the “Self-Published” section is there–I don’t remember Overdrive alerting me to its existence. I found out about it while doing some research about self-publishing for a presentation I’m doing at my library. Once people are more aware of it, you will see librarians shopping there. There is some bias against self-publishing among librarians, but most of us will pursue anything that patrons want. Having some info right there in Marketplace on what the most popular Smashwords titles were would be a time-saver for me!

    As far as readers finding Smashwords titles in Overdrive, patrons can use the “additional titles to recommend” feature in their Overdrive catalog to ask their libraries to buy these titles. They do have to be looking for them or at least have some search terms in mind–there isn’t a convenient way to browse the titles your library doesn’t own, so you have to have already searched for something and not found it (and then searched for it under “additional titles to recommend”).

    • Jennifer, that’s wonderful news, and thank you so very much for checking. It is the very first confirmation I’ve had most of the titles are there. I’ll have to explore why/how folk can only read in the browser. OverDrive has an app, so I don’t know if that’s usable yet. I wish I could write more, you have such a great response with super important experiential info re even finding the titles! Wife and I are up early and heading to Vermont for a family reunion on her dad’s side (gonna be many new folk). Thank you again so much, it’s been extremely helpful and encouraging for me (smiles).

  9. Glad to help. And just to clarify, Overdrive and its app usually offer several choices for ebook formats–EPUB, Kindle, and “Overdrive Read” which lets you read the book in a browser as long as you have an internet connection/phone signal. Smashwords titles seem to only be available as “Overdrive Read”, so users can’t read them offline.

    • Jennifer, thanks so much for the clarification. I saw your reply yesterday but was en-route to Vermont from Texas with my wife and we were too wrapped up (and excited) being back in her beautiful home state for us to do much more than get settled and contact her family. 🙂

      It’s (extremely) unfortunate that thus far any information I’ve been able to get (and I think this is true for many others) is from folk like you willing and able to help out.

      We’ve known, via several articles and efforts from writers, that the self-published titles, like those from Smashwords to Overdrive, were being put into a “special” category and location. And we didn’t find this out til writers searching for their work found out and let others know. More info here :

      Now, it appears an additional layer of unavailability, a serious one, is in place – that of only being able to read our work online, vs via an app. And OverDrive is saying their app is getting better and better, so it’s doubly a shame if indie writers are missing out on that. OverDrive has a huge number of innovations and improvements, and I’d really like to be a part of it.

      Co-mingled with that problem, is the first problem I alluded to above, non-communication of what’s going on. We desperately need an update from Smashwords.

      So I’ve no idea if this separation is temporary; whether the limited reading capacity is also temporary – I don’t know anything.

      So when I say Jennifer, that I owe you much thanks, it’s no exaggeration. It’s our only door of information, folk like you.

      But what else should I expect from a librarian? (smiles)

  10. Pingback: Smashwords OverDrive Saga Updated – It’s Looking More Promising By The Day. | Ebook Bargains UK Blog

  11. Pingback: Merry Christmas; Lord’s Tale pt 2; Farewell Smashwords | Amy Keeley

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