In what was perhaps the shortest beta test in recent memory, the ebook distributor/retailer Smashwords has just officially launched their new Epub only distribution channel.
Smashwords Direct had originally been announced late last year in the response to the requests from quite a few authors, publishers, and ebook pros (myself included). A lot of us take pride in the ebooks we make, and it bothered us that we had to make a DOC file which would then be automagically mangled into a dozen different file formats. The automatic process is all well and good, but given that we often make a good quality Epub anyway it is galling to watch a poorer quality file be be distributed to iBooks and other ebookstores.
But with Smashwords Direct, the gall is gone.
Authors and publishers can now upload an Epub file and either use it to replace the Epub which had been produced by the MeatGrinder, or, and this is the good part, they can upload an Epub for a new title and not have to make the DOC file to feed into the MeatGrinder.
That second option is going to open up a lot of possibilities for making use of the finer aspects of Epub, which starts at dropcaps and ends with Epub3. But one thing that the second option blocks is the ability to sell in multiple formats, and if an author only uploads the Epub they'll also lose out on the samples which would be available to any ebook fed through the MeatGrinder. Luckily future plans include allowing for authors to upload PDF, Kindle, and other formats. Support for samples is also planned.
And even in all this good news there is a few serious issues. SW Direct was tested over the weekend and while many of the Epub files looked nice quite a few also failed Epubcheck. Mark reported that nearly a third of the test Epub files failed EpubCheck and thus doesn't comply with the Epub specification. That is a sign that the ebook is not well made, a detail which is both embarrassing and a aserious issue which will hinder that ebook being sold in all the ebookstores. Apple in particular requires the ebooks to pass EpubCheck.
There was also a few Epubs which reportedly didn't look as good as the Epub which come out of the MeatGrinder. A survey of the tools used to make the Epub files returned a surprisingly diverse set of answers, including:
- Adobe InDesign
- Nisus writer pro
The last 3 were the most popular by far, and to be perfectly honest there are at least 2 names on this list that I have never heard of before.
In any case, files uploaded to Smashwords will need to comply with the Style Guide. They will still need to meet certain requirements, some of which are so they can be distributed to the ebookstores (they don't like you mentioning the competition).
Has anyone tried this yet? How well does it work?