Is the growing eBook file converter and distributor Draft2Digital as easy and fast as its advocates say it is?...
To find out, I took it for a test run to compare it with its closest counterpart, Smashwords, the leading eBook “aggregator”. An eBook aggregator converts word processing files—preferably Microsoft Word files—into a variety of eBook formats, and then distributes them to eBook retailers. Both systems are free to use, aside from the fees each collects on book sales.
Along with Amazon’s Kindle store, Smashwords, which was founded in 2008, has the largest eBook traffic in the world. Draft2Digital, the eager challenger based in Oklahoma City and founded in 2012, has a slicker look and is said to require less work by the author. It is a smaller operation than Smashwords, but has been growing rapidly. As of last fall it reported handling 350,000 book titles from 100,000 authors.
A Few Short Pages
I picked for my eBook guinea pig a 2015 print book (“100 Influential Idahoans 2015”) not yet released in digital form. At Draft2Digital.com, I signed up, which took a little under a minute. If you happen to have signed up previously with Books2Read, a sister site for indie book readers, you can log in directly.
Once logged in, I navigated the main page to the “My Books” button, then to the orange button “Add New Book.”
That took me to a simplified version of the kind of book setup pages you’ll see at CreateSpace or IngramSpark, and comparable to Smashwords. They ask for book title, author or other contributor names and a dozen or so other pieces of information. They don’t require an ISBN but will incorporate it if you have one. (Note: we recommend you always purchase your own ISBN's so you are the publisher of record for your work.)
Sending the Files
A button near the top lets you upload the interior print Word file—if you created your book interior file in another program, convert it to Word—for your book. I sent it as is, without any changes from the way I sent it to CreateSpace' print on demand. The uploading process lasted a few seconds.
Simplicity is one of D2D’s biggest talking points. At Smashwords, file uploading is where the process gets complicated and slow, because the file must be clean of unwanted formatting. That means, for example, reducing your text to a plain text (.txt) file before sending it, and then adding back specific format instructions for headlines, pictures, and other components. The cleansing and rebuilding process can take several hours the first time you try, though with practice it can be done in less than an hour. It involves a few dozen steps, and the Smashwords style manual runs 27,000 words.
The one-click Draft2Digital approach also removes some of your control over the finished product, however. Blogger Jason Matthews noted that, “Some writers (like me) appreciate the knowledge to upload with their own personal touches, while others love skipping that learning curve altogether. Would you prefer not to learn how to create an NCX file or even know what an NCX file is?”
Draft2Digital also offers setup extras. You can leave creation of your title, verso, author bio and some other pages, even the table of contents—the front and back matter—to D2D if you choose; it will create them for you automatically. For table of contents formatting, D2D suggests, “Mark your chapter breaks with something distinctive, and be consistent. Make it centered and bold, or larger font, or use a Heading style. Set apart your chapter titles, and we'll do our best to recognize them.” Smashwords has a TOC creation capability as well, but its requirements are more specific.
D2D also can create a “new release notifications” page at the end of the book: “Readers who click the link on that page will end up at a new landing page on our reader-facing service, Books2Read.com. They’ll have the option of choosing their favorite bookstore, and we’ll record their email address for future use.”
I chose not to use either of these options. I liked my front and back matter as is, and decided to leave the notifications alone.
Deeper into the D2D setup form, on the “Edit Book Layout” form, I uploaded a cover image for the book. Here too, Smashwords' requirements are specific (at least 1,400 pixels wide, for example) and images not meeting them will be rejected. D2D said this: “A 1600x2400 JPEG works best, but any tall rectangle will do. We’ll resize whatever you send to meet the requirements of your chosen sales channels.” That was all.
You can preview the book layout, but you need another app to do that—the Kindle Previewer to preview it in that format, the EPUB preview for other devices, or a PDF reader for paperback versions. There’s not an online visual reviewer the way there is at Amazon’s Kindle.
Next comes the process of setting the digital book price, which you can choose yourself (as you can at Smashwords). For my book, I set $2.99. D2D said, “For best results, we recommend a price between $2.99 and $9.99, but we will accept anything from $0.99 to $39.99.” Like Smashwords, it allows a price of “free.”
Choosing Among Sales Channels
Next came choosing which sales outlets I wanted to use for this book. I went for all of the outlets: Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple, Kobo, Scribd, PageFoundry (Intera store), Tolino and 24 Symbols. Tolino is a big German eBook store; 24 Symbols distributes eBooks and audiobooks in the cloud. The roster of outlets has changed over time, and is expected to change in the future.
D2D’s website also says, “We guarantee that anything we produce will pass Epubcheck, meaning it meets the technical standards for all of our digital stores.” Epubcheck is free software that checks to make sure conversions into EPUB formats work properly.
Within 36 hours, my book was available for sale in all the retailers I had checked.
D2D does not export to Kindle. On the other hand, the Kindle store, or through CreateSpace, is probably the best place to do that anyway.
Smashwords currently publishes to EPUB format (Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, Aldiko), Nook, Kindle, and in HTML (web document). Smashwords' reach may be a little larger but not much, and D2D has continued to add formats and devices. Draft2Digital said on its FAQ page that it is negotiating distribution with Overdrive, IngramSpark, Google Play, Amazon and Playster.
D2D extends a little beyond eBooks, allowing as well for formatting a paperback to be printed and distributed through Createspace. But when it asked , “Are you interested?”, I replied that I wasn’t, because I can control the process much more precisely at Createspace. Some people may like the simplicity, but they risk losing design quality.
The setup then asks you to confirm that you own whatever rights are needed for the book, and then another button sends your book out to the world.
All of this title setup taken together lasted a bit under 10 minutes. About as much time is needed to then fill out the financial information, which includes tax status and where D2D should send royalties.
Draft2Digital Marketing Options
Like a growing number of significant players in the business, there are “partners”—including editing, design, and marketing companies. D2D has affiliate connections in the business in ways the more independent Smashwords doesn't.
Those connections can help with marketing, but remember that Smashwords has a formidable sales and marketing engine of its own. It has a massive list of retail stores, visited by crowds of eBook buyers. It also creates web pages dedicated to authors and books and does a good job with search engine visibility. It has some special features as well, such as links to YouTube videos, coupons for book buyers and author interview pages which can include self-interviews.
A Goodreads board commenter said that in his experience with D2D, “They're easy to deal with in all respects but one: my books haven't been selling. D2D doesn't market books themselves; no catalog, in other words, something that SW does. They are an aggregator, distributing to other sellers such as Apple.” But as at Smashwords, much of the marketing responsibility is still up to the author.
Need for Speed
Writer David Gaughran said back in 2013, “Some of the slowness in publishing speed is caused by the manual review system at Apple and can’t be avoided. But there should be no such issues with Barnes & Noble, and there can still be considerable lag in getting titles to appear there even when they have already passed the Premium Catalog review at Smashwords. This latter issue caused me to switch to Draft2Digital for my last release. This was a new book, and it was live on Barnes & Noble and Apple within a few hours—quicker even than KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing].”
Of D2D, the ALLi Watchdog website opined, “This is the kind of place you want to do business with. They don’t have a lot of extra services where they are looking to you for purchases. They are only concerned about helping authors sell books. If you sell books—they make money.”
The reviews are mixed. Smashwords' broad reach and its own extensive services and research into the market are formidable. Author K.J. Farnham concluded, “Between Smashwords and D2D, I’m leaning toward SW because of the wider distribution and the coupon generator, which allows authors to offer books at discounted rates, or even for free, without changing prices on sales channels.”
It’s a close call between the two, and closer now than it was a year or two ago.
Here are some more opinions, experiences, and background on Draft2Digital:
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