Smashwords Changes Interface Options, Erotica Controls, Surpasses 500,000 Published Titles

Smashwords unveils new interface, a major change from the previous "firehose" system. Enhanced erotica filtering has also been added to the Smashwords storefront.
smashwords expands interface and erotica controls

A New Smashwords Interface

Smashwords, a platform devoted to publishing, selling, and promoting indie ebooks, announced an overhaul to their storefront.

Mark Coker, the publisher of Smashwords, explained the rationale behind the old store interface:

True to our mission of democratization, for the last ten years our little Smashwords Store has displayed books in a style that what we affectionately refer to as the “firehose.” Books were displayed as they came in, with new books appearing at the top of the home page mere seconds after upload by the author or publisher.

That deliberate design decision was controversial. No major ebook seller displays every new self-published ebook on their home page – warts and all – as they arrive to the store. I can understand why. It’s not the best way to sell books!

Yet I wanted to give every book and every author their 15 minutes (or more) of fame so they could find their first readers. I’m sure many of our current USA Today and NY Times bestselling authors found some of their very first readers thanks to the firehose.

Although some Smashwords Store customers enjoy inspecting every book as they come in, the firehose method is suboptimal for most readers.

The advantage of the firehose approach was that it created a level playing field for all authors, and that’s why we stuck by it. The downside of the firehose is that with zero home page curation, our home page could look quite ugly at times, and that’s putting it kindly. Often, our home page is downright scary, especially when a string of books with poorly designed covers come in all at once.

In short, my stubborn commitment to democratization meant we haven’t been putting our best foot forward, especially for first time visitors to the Smashwords website. We weren’t adequately showcasing the best of our best from among our over 100,000 authors and publishers…

We think the new design strikes a good balance between democratization and usability. We make it easier than ever for readers to discover the best books at Smashwords, as judged by their fellow readers.

Smashwords now uses a new “multi-dimensional” interface of nine themed bookshelves. The shelves are populated based on what other readers are reading and titles that Smashwords promotes. Changing a major category selection will adjust the titles displayed on the nine shelves. The nine new shelves, in order of display:

  1. Featured New Releases
  2. Trending Now
  3. Bestselling Books
  4. Top Series Starters
  5. Bestselling Box Sets
  6. Featured Special Deals
  7. Free Special Deals
  8. Recent Purchases at Smashwords
  9. Newest Arrivals

The revamped interface should prove helpful for readers looking for new authors or works. The ranking might be problematic for newly published works and authors due to placing featured titles and established sellers at the top of the list, but it’s an improvement over the previous firehose method.

I’m not sure all the wrinkles are ironed out of the new interface, however. I tested the shelves myself. I selected Classics, as I was curious to see how Smashwords featured public domain works. I was expecting to see titles from the likes of Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley, Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville.

I did not find any public domain works. I was confused by this, but a little digging into Smashword’s guidelines cleared up the mystery.

Can I publish public domain books?
No. If you don’t control the copyright, you can’t publish at Smashwords.

Smashwords FAQ

Fair enough. Translations of classics into other languages, annotated editions, and works rewritten in the modern vernacular are logical fits for the Classics category. But the Trending Now shelf returned Regency romances by modern authors with no connection to the category. It’s a minor nitpick. The rest of the shelves produced expected results when I tested more categories.

The multi-dimensional interface is an improvement. It gives readers more options at a glance and it looks better. If you dislike the new interface, there is a button on the top of the screen that allows you to toggle back to the classic interface.

To See Erotica or Not to See Erotica

The new interface is not the only change to the Smashwords storefront. Readers are now given more control over erotica and how it displays on the storefront. Smashwords has a LOT of erotica. I think Coker undersells it when he states that “[e]rotica has always been a popular category for Smashwords authors and customers.  Our catalog of legal erotica is probably one of the broadest collections anywhere.” I would like to see the verified number of erotica titles on Smashwords. I suspect it to be well over half of their published titles.

The new erotica filtering option gives more control to users who want to see erotica titles. By default, users are not shown erotica titles on the storefront. By selecting the new filtering option, users can opt to see:

  • No erotica
  • Mainstream erotica
  • All erotica

The erotica filtering pogrom started in the fall of 2017 when Smashwords enacted new category guidelines for erotica titles.  Authors were forced to properly label the category that best describes their stories, including back listings. Mainstream erotica falls under established categories accepted by the largest retailers, such as General Erotic Fiction, BDSM, Erotica Collections & Anthologies, Gay, Lesbian, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror, and Traditional Victorian.

The non-mainstream erotica includes what Smashwords defines as Taboo Themes. Taboo themes include (from Smashwords):

Age play – One or more consenting adult characters role playing, pretending to be babies or children. Most retailers will take this, but iBooks will not.
Bestiality – Sexual relations between humans and real-world animals (sex with Big Foot, dinosaurs, shape shifters and other imaginary creatures is not bestiality). Few retailers will take this.

Dubious Consent (dubcon) – A common and popular theme in mainstream fiction. Dubcon explores the gray area between consent and non-consent. Not clear if the receiver of the sexual act was fully on board or not at the time of the act. Most retailers will take this.
Incest or pseudo-incest – Sexual relations between family members, whether biologically or non-biologically related. Includes stepbrother, stepsister and step-anyone. Few retailers will take this.
Nonconsensual sexual slavery – Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking. Not to be confused with BDSM, which is predicated upon informed consent and negotiation between both parties before the act, and which provides safe words so either partner can end the act if it goes too far. If the book adheres to BDSM best practices, do not classify it as Nonconsensual sexual slavery. Few retailers will take nonconsensual sexual slavery.

Rape for titillation – The dominant theme of this book is rape — whether the rape is by one person or a character is raped by a group of people, i.e. a gang rape or nonconsensual “gang bang” — and it targets readers who are titillated by the fantasy of nonconsensual sexual relations. Few retailers will take this.

Others not mentioned – The above list is not all inclusive. There are many other taboo themes that have never been allowed at Smashwords or our retailers (underage erotica, snuff, scat and necrophilia, for example). For a full summary of Smashwords erotica policies, please review Section 9f of the Smashwords Terms of Service.

If you want to see mainstream erotica, select that option and your shelves will populate with traditional erotica categories. If you want to see all of the erotica that Smashwords offers, select that option. Keep an open mind, because the All Erotica option caters to a wide variety of interests.

The above screenshot shows the results returned for me with the erotica filtering set to All Erotica and then Erotica selected as the category. I’m surprised that incest and bestiality erotica rank so highly, but those types of stories have been popular since the time of Homer, so there it is.

Users can use the erotica filtering options when logged in and when logged out. I tested the result on Chrome while logged out and the settings were saved on a return visit.

A Final Word on Smashwords November Announcements

Smashwords also surpassed 500,000 thousand published works as of November 9th. At the time of the publication of this article, the published work count is listed as 504,380. Readers, enjoy the curated and upgraded storefront. Writers, now is the time to figure out how to use the new system to your benefit. If you are a diehard Smashwords reader or writer, please send me a message and let me know what you think of these new changes.