Smashwords: Vanity Publishing or Innovative Content Delivery?

swlogoNot too long ago, I posted about BookGlutton, a service which allowed for online collaborative reading. You could also upload your own work, but that wasn’t the main focus of the site. Smashwords, on the other hand, is a web site devoted to self-publishing. It doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, necessarily, but it does present another possible method of content delivery, and for web workers looking for another revenue stream, it may provide an avenue for monetizing your content.

For me, it also raises the age-old question: is self-publishing really just a form of vanity publishing, along with all the negative connotations that implies?

It’s a thorny question, and one that takes on new significance as we slowly but surely move away from print media towards online publishing. I went to school for writing, and had it drilled into me pretty much every day that unless it was someone else’s name on the masthead of the journal or press I was publishing with, I wasn’t accomplishing anything.

Online, however, many of the most successful professionals are self-published, and self-made. Darren Rowse, Guy Kawasaki and Om Malik Richard MacManus come to mind. They are dealing primarily in the medium of the blog, however. The stigma associated with self-publishing doesn’t seem to have entirely disappeared when it comes to books.

Smashwords is a service for self-publishing your own eBook. Once you’ve signed up for an account you can upload your original work and offer it for sale at a price of your own choosing. Your book will also be available for purchase via Stanza for the iPhone, the most popular and fastest-growing eReader available. Authors make a royalty of 85% of the net proceeds from the sale of their work. Readers using the service get free samples of all the books available on the site, and get access to search and library-building services.

It’s a good system, but will it work? Even if you already have a built-in readership from a successful blogging career, will users be willing to take the extra step and pay for your content in eBook form? The answer probably depends on what kind of content you’re offering. If you’re just repackaging your blog as paid content, it probably won’t pay off. But if you’re offering valuable content that extends, rather than mirrors, your blog-based content, Smashwords may be a useful platform.

To me, the benefit of a service like Smashwords, and self-publishing in general, is the same benefit that consulting firms get from preparing free research reports for distribution to clients. It’s a proof of competency, a means to show you can and will deliver the type of results they’re looking for. And with distribution via Stanza, there’s also the possibility that you could reach potential clients where you otherwise wouldn’t have, even if you do end up just reformatting your blog content for alternative distribution.

What do you think about self-publishing? Is it a good means to increase your revenue or profile as a web worker?


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