eBookstores and eBook formats

I'm anticipating receiving hoping to receive an eReader for Christmas this year. Without getting into which eReaders support which eBook formats, I wanted to take a look at what eBookstores are out there and what eBook formats they sell.

Granted, if you own a Kindle you're probably going to get your content from Amazon since they're the most restrictive on format types (for a long time Kindle only supported AZW format, though now it also supports PDF natively, a step in the right direction). But even still it seems as if open standards like EPUB are making their mark while competing eReaders are raising the bar, so I do wonder how long before Kindle jumps on board the EPUB train, too. However, since I said I wasn't going to get into that, I'll move on…

I plan to list just some of the eBookstores out there. It seems every other day I come across a link to one I'd hereto not known about. Also, with new ones popping up more and more as the eBook craze continues to grow, coming up with a comprehensive list of all eBookstores is going to be difficult.

Therefore consider this a partial list of places from which you can purchase eBooks. Alongside each store, I'll list the eBook formats they sell. Stores are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Amazon.com Kindle Store
eBook formats: AZW (aka, Kindle format)

2. Barnes & Noble
eBook formats: PDB, EPUB

3. Books On Board
eBook formats: ADE, PDB, EPUB, MOBI, LIT

4. Diesel eBook Store
eBook formats: PDB, PDF, MOBI

5. eBooks.com
eBook formats: MOBI, LIT, PDF, EPUB

6. fictionwise
eBook formats: PDB, LIT, PDF, MOBI, LRF

7. kobo books
eBook formats: EPUB, PDF

8. Mobipocket eBooks
eBook formats: MOBI

9. Palm eBook Store
eBook formats: PDB

10. Scribd
eBook formats: DOC/DOCX, PDF, ODF, TXT, RTF, others?

11. Smashwords
eBook formats: HTML, MOBI, EPUB, PDF, RTF, LRF, PDB, TXT

12. Sony Reader Store
eBook formats: EPUB

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Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd (this post)
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Scribd is the third online retailer I'd like to take a look at as part of this blog series. Let's get into it.

What is Scribd?

From their About Us page:

Scribd is the largest social publishing company in the world, the Website where tens of millions of people each month publish and discover original writings and documents. On Scribd, you can quickly and easily turn nearly any file—including PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel—into a Web document and share it with the world.

One thing I discovered while trying to figure out what Scribd is all about is that it's not so much a retailer like the Amazon Kindle store or Smashwords as it is a hosting site. They host a lot more than just e-books: brochures, magazines, catalogs, government docs, illustrations, maps, slideshows, recipes, spreadsheets, etc. They do, however, host e-books, otherwise this entry would not be finding it's way into my series.

A couple of good places to visit to learn more about Scribd or to just keep up on the latest happenings there is via their blog and at their Getting Started forum. The Scribd Support Desk would be your first place to seek help.

If you're on Twitter, you can follow @scribd.

How much does Scribd charge?

If you're planning on selling your content on Scribd, then you'll need to hand over some of your sales. Scribd charges a 20% consignment fee for each item sold plus an additional transaction fee of $0.25 ($0.40 for DRM-protected content).

So, to break that down: if I charge $0.99 for my e-book like I do on Amazon and Smashwords, Scribd is going to take $0.45 of that (that's $0.99 * 0.2 + $0.25; you make $0.54). That works out to Scribd getting 45% of the sale. To compare, Amazon charges 65% and Smashwords, 42%.

What file formats does Scribd support?

Scribd supports DOC/DOCX (Microsoft Word), PPT/PPTX/PPS (Microsoft PowerPoint), XLS/XLSX (Microsoft Excel), PDF, the various Open Office formats, TXT, and RTF. They preface their "Support File Types" section with this:

Scribd supports most common document formats. If you're not sure, try uploading it.

So maybe they support more (?). If anyone knows, let me know. I wonder in particular if they support EPUB.

See my post for more info on E-book File Formats.

Scribd doesn't mess around with special formatting requirements or conversions like Amazon or Smashwords; the above formats are what you upload and what readers download.

How Scribd Organizes Content

Here's what the Scribd home page looks like:


By clicking "Explore" in the top navigation bar, you'll see Scribd's categories that they use to organize content:


Presumably if you're giving away your content for free your e-book would fall into the "Books" category at the top. If you plan to charge, then it should fall under the last, "Scribd Store" (I haven't uploaded any content to Scribd yet, so this is a learning experience for me, too).

One thing I do not like at all is that you cannot drill down any further than the following sub-categories under Books:


Clicking on "Fiction", my primary focus as a writer, brings up all fiction titles. This is not terribly helpful as it mixes in all genres. In other words, if I want to look through just fantasy or science fiction titles… well, you can't. Not without also wading through a lot of other content (most of which I found were steamy romance novels).

You can pare down results a little by selecting language, length, file types, and if content is free or for purchase:


Still, it would be nice to have a finer grained view into fiction titles in order to focus on just what I'm most interested in. Also, I see this as being a major hurdle that will probably keep potential buyers from ever seeing my e-book. It's bad enough to be lost amidst a sea of a specific genre, but to try to find something amidst the larger category of fiction… good luck.

Publishing with Scribd

Of course the first step is to sign up for a Scribd account. I'll assume you can handle that part and move on to uploading content.

There's a specially colored button on the navigation bar that says "Upload". That's what we want. Clicking it displays some information that asks, "Want to upload works to sell?":


If you're planning to give your content away, look no further than the "Upload" button. However, if you plan to sell your e-book, you'll need to upload it to the Scribd Store. Following the "You'll find the Scribd Store…" link gets us going.

Before I jump into the upload process, here's some helpful links to assist in preparing and selling your content:

Two takeaways from the "Preparing your content" link for me had to do with format and cover design. For formatting, Scribd recommends:

…uploading your document in PDF format. The PDF format was designed to maintain a documents look and feel across different computers. Word and PowerPoint...weren't. While Scribd accepts uploads as Word docs or PowerPoint presentations, the simple truth is that your document has a better chance of retaining your exact fonts and layout if you upload a PDF.

I'm OK with this as I use PDF as my primary distribution format already. Also, most (all?) e-readers support PDF natively (i.e., no conversion required). Even Amazon jumped on the PDF bandwagon.

For cover images, Scribd was where I learned of the "use big fonts" tip so that when shrunk down the text on my title is still readable.

So here's the "Publish to Sell" screen:


Clicking "Click to Choose Files" brings up a standard "Select files…" dialog. I selected my e-book and, after some quick edits and selections, came up with this:


I tried setting a price of $0.99, but Scribd modified it to $1.00. Also, as you can see, you have some "delivery" options. By default, people who buy your content can view it on Scribd. You then choose to make that the one and only way readers can view your content, or select "Downloadable PDF" to allow readers to download in PDF format, or choose the DRM option, which allows readers to download your content but view it only in Adobe Digital Editions. Think of ADE as e-reader software with a lot of restrictions (no printing, for one, though this may be configurable based on DRM settings embedded in the document; I don't know).

I went with the middle option. I'm not big on DRM and certainly don't want readers restricted to only viewing my content on the Scribd web site.

Uploading only takes a few seconds. Next, you're presented with a "Copyright Verification" page. No problem there. Last, a page where you can categorize your work:


Pretty standard stuff. The "Discoverability Rating" is defined as:


I added just the two tags, chose my category and (very limited) sub-category, and wound up with a rating of 'High'.

That's it. You can now view/purchase my e-book, The Hall of the Wood, on Scribd here.

Some lessons learned

Given that this is the first time I'd gone through this process with Scribd I was bound to find a few things I should have done differently. For one, my e-book displays as:


No cover image. Humph. I'll have to fix that.

Also, this was right after page 5:


Scribd has an option when you're uploading to choose what potential readers can sample. I went with the default, which seems to randomly select which pages not to display. I'd rather allow the reader to sample the first so many pages, so I'll have to go back and fix that, too.


Publishing to Scribd is by far the simplest so far of the online retailers I've taken a look at. They also pay royalties comparable to Smashwords, both of which are higher than Amazon. Since the main objective here is to attract readers. Scribd seems like another good outlet in which to accomplish that.

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Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com  
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords (this post)
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Unlike Amazon, which I talked about in the previous post in this series, I know next to nothing about Smashwords. That, therefore, is the point of this post: to do some research into what Smashwords is and what it can offer as an electronic self-publishing platform.

What is Smashwords?

Smashwords is best described by this excerpt from their About page:

Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform for ebook authors, publishers and readers. We offer multi-format, DRM-free ebooks, ready for immediate sampling and purchase, and readable on any e-reading device.

Key takeaways from that include "DRM-free" and "multi-format". We'll see which formats below.

Founded in February of 2008 by Mark Coker, Smashwords is a place for serious writers to showcase and sell their literary work. Unlike Amazon's Kindle store, free is an option; you do not have to charge anything if you do not want.

Smashwords has made recent headlines with deals to begin distributing their catalog to the likes of Amazon, Sony, and even Barnes & Noble. That gives them access to three of the biggest sellers of e-books, and means if you publish with Smashwords your e-book just might end up on one or more of those storefronts (of course, you can already sell your e-book through Amazon, though the direct-through-Amazon model pays less).

On Twitter, you can follow Smashwords via it's founder, @markcoker. The Twitter RSS feed is another good option for keeping up with everything-Smashwords. Also, there is a Smashwords blog.

How much does Smashwords pay authors per sale?

Assuming you are charging a fee to download your e-book, Smashwords generally pays "up to 85% of the net sale". They offer the following formula:

Net proceeds to author = (sales price minus PayPal payment processing fees) * .85

I question how up-to-date this formula is because, as you'll see below, you actually make far less than 85% based on the sales breakdown provided when you set a price for a your e-book. Still, on a $0.99 e-book, you can expect to make $0.56, or 57% of the asking price. The rest goes to "billing fees" and Smashwords. See "Pricing and Sampling" below for more info.

Contrast that with Amazon's 35% payout and Smashwords still looks like a pretty good deal.

Who owns the rights after publishing to Smashwords?

From the Smashwords' About page:

The author retains all ownership rights to their works, and is still free to publish their work elsewhere if they choose. Authors can remove their works from Smashwords at any time (although they cannot take back works that have already been purchased or sampled by readers).

The Smashwords Storefront

Upon visiting the Smashwords home page you can immediately begin browsing e-books:


At left are a number of choices for narrowing your browsing:


Or you have other options at top:


Each book is listed as:


With much of the information you might expect, as well as ratings (if readers took the time to do so) and reviews:


I'm a huge believer in the ratings system for online retailers and especially publishers. It's the single best way (though not fool-proof) of judging quality.

Author Page

Each author who publishes on Smashwords gets an author page which includes bio information, web site, blog, twitter account, etc. It's much more comprehensive and progressive than what Amazon offers in their own version of this. The author page is, of course, the place where potential readers can find out more about you.

Since I'd already signed up for a Smashwords account, I went ahead and filled in the information for my own author page:


You'll notice at the bottom it says "You have not published any books". So I haven't. I think I will remedy that.

Publishing with Smashwords

While uploading an e-book to Smashwords appears to be pretty straightforward, there are a lot of steps:

1. Title and Synopsis

2. Pricing and Sampling

3. Categories

4. Tags

5. eBook Formats

6. Cover Image

7. Select File of Book to Publish

8. Publishing Agreement

I'll go through each one as I get my first fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, on Smashwords.

Step 1: Title and Synopsis

Easy enough since I already have a synopsis from having published in the Kindle store, and I also keep such information on my fiction page. Smashwords limits this to 400 characters, though, so I'll have to trim.

Here's my completed step 1:


Step 2: Pricing and Sampling

A. Pricing

Pricing is simple enough: this is where you set a price for your e-book. Smashwords provides a nice breakdown of where the money goes. For example, on a $0.99 sale price:


This bears some explaining.

"Non-affiliate sales" are sales made by a reader visiting Smashwords directly or through, perhaps, a link from your site and making a purchase.

Affiliate sales, like Amazon's Affiliates Program, is where someone has posted a link to your e-book and made a sale that way. As you can see, the affiliate claims a piece of the pie.

Premium Catalog Retailers is best described by the information I found on Smashwords web site. Suffice to say it is another, possibly greater outlet for sales. Here is the description:

This new catalog is distributed to major online retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Sony, Fictionwise and other distribution outlets that have higher mechanical standards such as requiring quality book cover images, books with copyright pages, and other simple requirements outlined below. If you're a serious author or publisher, you want your books included in Smashwords Premium Catalog.

B. Sampling

The second part of this step is sampling, where you specify how much of your e-book can be downloaded for free (i.e., previewed). I went with the default:


Step 3: Categories

Easy enough:


Step 4: Tags

I went with the tags shown:


Step 5: eBook Formats

I researched some of the different e-book formats previously, and I find it encouraging that Smashwords offers so many formats: epub, lrf, mobi, pdb, pdf, rtf, and txt. What this means for readers is that they have maximum selection, and can download their favorite (or their e-reader's) format and not get "locked in" to one particular format (like Amazon is doing with the Kindle, which only reads azw files Amazon supports PDF natively, as well as more basic formats like TXT, but in terms of eBooks AZW is still king when it comes to eBook formats and how well your eBook will look on the device).

The default is all formats; I left mine as available on each.

Step 6: Cover Image

I blogged about the importance of cover images already. I already have one for The Hall of the Wood, so I just needed to upload.

Step 7: Select File of Book to Publish

Smashwords lets you upload e-books in .doc or .rtf format (they do the conversion into the many e-book formats for you). If you want inclusion in the Premium Catalog, you'll want to follow the basic guidelines found here.

Step 8: Publish

This is the final and easiest step: just press "Publish" and you're done. You'll see a "Your book is now converting" page as Smashwords grinds through the e-book conversion process:


It takes a while…

Note that I did encounter some formatting errors once the process was complete: (1) I'd forgotten I have a table on my title page which makes the formatting a little nicer looking (Smashwords does not allow tables), (2) I had forgotten to put "Smashwords Edition" on my copyright page, and (3) it was suggested I "normalize" all font sizes to just one, with '12' being considered optimal. I corrected each of these items, updated (the update process is slightly more streamlined than the initial submission process), and everything was fine thereafter.

Now, I see my e-book listed under "Newest":


As a final step, I submitted my e-book for inclusion in the Premium Catalog. This is what might just get your e-book into the storefronts of Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble.


While that may have seemed like a long process… it was. Some of it was lessons learned, though, while some of it I was able to breeze through since I'd already done most of the leg-work. Your experience may vary. Unfortunately, I do have to now maintain two different online "source" versions of my e-book: one for Kindle and another for Smashwords, since they each have different requirements. Hopefully as a next step I'll be able to merge some of those differences and lessen the maintenance. Of course, once it's uploaded, it's uploaded, and hopefully doesn't require too many modifications.

Next post, I'll take a look at Scribd.

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Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com (this post) 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

While I've written a post or two about Amazon, their Kindle e-reader, and how much you'll make selling your e-book in the Kindle store, I never have delved into the details of how to publish with Amazon. In this post I'll therefore jump into the tools and resources available to make this happen, including information on Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program, their Digital Text Platform, Digital Text Platform Community Support forum, and Amazon Author Central.

First thing's first, though: publishing an e-book in the Kindle store is not exactly the same thing as having a traditional print book listed on their site. For one, anyone can publish to the Kindle store regardless of your current or previous publishing status (or lack thereof). The only requirement is that you have an e-book to sell (and that you own the rights to it).

With that, let's jump into it.

Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program

From the Kindle storefront you'll see a link at the left called "Publish on Kindle"


This is as good a starting place as any. From here, you can select the method by which you wish to upload content to the store (there are several methods depending on your relationship with Amazon) as well as a link to the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines, a pdf I found only marginally helpful. It really digs into the nuances of formatting a document, though, including information like this:


Reminds of something out of one of my computer science texts. I didn't find this level of detail terribly helpful, and, in fact, it really isn't even necessary if you use Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Digital Text Platform

Amazon's Digital Text Platform, or DTP, is the small or self-publisher's software platform of choice for listing content in the Kindle store. Don't expect anything fancy here: DTP is pretty barebones, but it does the job. With DTP, you can upload content (i.e., your e-book) to the Kindle store as well as download basic earnings reports once you've made some sales.

The publishing/upload process consists of (1) signing up for an Amazon account (if you do not already have one), (2) providing some details about your book (title, plot summary, etc.), (3) uploading a cover image, (4) uploading and previewing your entries, and (5) publishing.

I'll spend a little time going over each step, but also refer you to Amazon's Digital Text Platform Quick Start Guide, which provides a nice step-by-step approach to the five steps I listed (they go into a bit more detail than I intend to).

Step 1: Sign-up for an Amazon account

I'll assume you can handle this one and move right into step 2.

Step 2: Provide details about your e-book

Here's a screenshot with the information filled-in for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:


This information flows into the product listing page in the store once you've hit "publish" and looks like the usual Amazon product listing:


Step 3: Upload a cover image

It's a good idea to have a cover image to attract potential buyers and to hopefully help your work stand out from the rest. If you don't specify a cover image, Amazon will give you one that says "no image available". Not the best way to start a relationship with a potential reader. Personally, I'm much more likely to skip over a book that does not have one. Whether the cover itself is compelling or professional is another matter entirely, and goes beyond the scope of this post.

Here is the cover I went with for The Hall of the Wood:


And here it is when displayed in the store with the Kindle image attached:


Step 4: Upload and preview your content

This is where you upload and preview your e-book. It's a pretty simple interface: specify the location of your e-book, click "Upload", and you're done.


There is a note about file formats:

Note: For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.

I uploaded in HTML format; it simply gave me the best results.

Previewing looks something like:


Here's another page, chosen at random:


Step 5: Set Your Price

This is a topic I covered when I asked the question, how much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store? I'll therefore leave that post to explain how Amazon's pricing works and how you should set yours.

The screenshot in DTP looks like:


Step 6: Publish

Once you've got all your information set, you can publish to the Kindle store by clicking "Publish":


Amazon has recently implemented a review process which states that new e-books or changes to existing ones can take up to five business days to gain approval, so you'll have to wait up to five business days before your e-book will be viewable in the store.

Digital Text Platform Community Support

One of the best resources for all things Kindle publishing is DTP's Community Support Forum. It's broken into 3 main sections: a general FAQ, Publisher Support, and Ask the Community. There's pretty standard forum sort of stuff in there, with a good mix of newbies and more experienced people contributing.

Amazon Author Central

Amazon Author Central is where authors are showcased. This is something new for e-book writers. While traditionally published authors have always been able to fill out their profiles here, it was only with the coming of the Kindle and then Amazon allowing anyone to sell books via the Kindle store that this area was opened to e-book authors.

Some of the things you can do on an author page include adding a personal photo and biography, you get an automatic bibliography based on the books Amazon has listed for you, and you can add an existing blog via your RSS feed or use the space to start a new one.

I added my own RSS feed to my Amazon Author Page and got this back:


I was kind of hoping it would have grabbed the older posts, but oh well. Sometimes a space like this is a good for raising older posts from the dead, after all. Imagine this post will be the first to show up there.

That's it for Author Central. I tried to keep my bio short and to the point. Seemed like brevity was the best course of action. I included a link to my Twitter account as well as this web site, though Amazon does not allow HTML.


Whew! That's a lot of information. Hopefully you've stuck with me and seen the possibilities opening up if you've considered publishing your e-book in the Kindle store. There's no doubt this forum brings with it a major plus: the fact that millions of people every day (every hour?) might find your e-book and buy it. These are numbers that most of us just can't get on our own sites.

Next time I'll take a look at another online e-book publisher: Smashwords.com.


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Kindle for PC

One of the features lacking in Amazon's Kindle plans for e-book domination has been the fact that in order to read e-books purchased from their store you need to have a Kindle.

No longer.

Amazon has just released the new Kindle for PC software, currently in beta with Mac version coming soon, which is a free download and allows you to view Kindle e-books on your home computer or laptop.


If you're leery of beta software best wait for the release version, though I installed and did the basics without any issue.

Kindle for PC is a quick install. In moments, I was presented with the application's opening screen:


The "Register now to get started" dialog wants your Amazon account information, but it is not necessary to fill this in as there is a "continue without registering" option. I went ahead and filled in my Amazon account information and clicked "Register".

Here's the application resized for better viewing:


The interface is simple almost to the point of being plain. But then it has a fairly narrow, specific purpose: to view Kindle-formatted e-books. Since I registered the software with my Amazon account, Kindle for PC went through a quick sync cycle to see what Kindle e-books I had already purchased. Of course, I don't own a Kindle and therefore have not purchased any e-books from the Kindle store, so nothing showed up.

Fortunately, Amazon makes it easy to add Kindle e-books to my collection by placing a button at the top of the app that says, "Shop in Kindle Store":


That, of course, brings you to the Kindle storefront where, with a quick search, I can find my e-book, The Hall of the Wood.

If you're curious about how the buying process works, click on the "How buying works" link beneath the "Buy" button at the right. This will bring up the following dialog with the new Kindle for PC option listed alongside the more traditional ones:


You'll also see the Kindle for PC device already selected if you registered when the app came up:


For demonstration purposes, and because I've never actually seen my e-book other than in DTP preview mode, I went ahead and purchased my own e-book. Chalk up another sale for me. Once I went through the payment method, etc., I get this:


After clicking "Go to Kindle for PC", I'm brought back to the Kindle for PC app:


A quick double-click on my e-book and it brings it up in all its glory:



Now that's cool.

I can't say I'm real keen on reading e-books on my PC (or Mac if I had one). In other words, I still want an e-reader. But Amazon is addressing a void in the Kindle's feature set. One less thing for someone on the fence about purchasing one e-reader over another to concern themselves with. Plus, who knows, for people who want to buy e-books from Amazon but don't have an iPhone or Kindle, now they can.

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