Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Smashwords Dashboard Overhaul Update

Sometime yesterday afternoon the Smashwords dashboard, and indeed the whole site, ported over to the new look as promised by CEO Mark Coker.  The good news is that the update seemed to go seamlessly.

So what's new? Well what isn't new is the practical interface for authors - there is a new fresh look to the site, more open space, less colour - there does seem to be a move towards web interfaces that are predominantly white based. I've noticed the same approach on Microsoft Office 365, for example, plus some proprietary web based software packages I use in work that have been updated.  It may be because I'm in the 8% of males who are colour blinds, but I find this approach bland (colour blandness flattens your view of the world anyway) and more difficult to pick menu items out.  But this isn't about me, it's about the new interface.

Anyway, on the dashboard page you have exactly the same information as before, some of it moved from the side to the top but still the same, just new clothes.  There does still seem to be the same latency I've noticed creeping in over the last few months, which is irritating when looking to see if there's been any activity on individual books, and the new screen layout means, for me, that I have to constantly scroll down the screen each time I come out of a graph as only the first two of my books are visible.

Now it may seem churlish to complain about this feature because at least Smashwords provides some information regarding interest in my books - Amazon, Apple, B&N etc provide no indication, just a sales report months after the event.  I take the view that if people are finding my books on Smashwords, viewing pages or downloading 20% to read, then statistically that should translate to the other vendors, however that is unproven.  Anyway, the information provided by Smashwords is a useful guide but is laborious in execution - adding the need to scroll down each time I come out of a book graph page just adds to the irritation.

The other side of Smashwords is the book discovery and sales side - I don't sell many books through them but they claim to have over 1 million unique visitors every month.  That's not to be sniffed at if you are publishing through them.  They've made some changes - the same cosmetic change as for the dashboard plus they've doubled the number of books viewable per page from ten to twenty.  More importantly they have improved the way the site looks on mobile devices.  This shouldn't surprise anyone used to Smashwords - they are always thinking of the various media your customers may use and consequently they make you jump through many more hoops than Amazon does to get published, for all the right reasons. 

They've also added some more metadata to the site to help classify books better - I haven't looked at this in detail but will as discovery is the biggest problem for book buyers - so many books, how do you find the ones that suit your preferences.  Metadata is part of the solution, but I think there needs a better way of searching that doesn't exist right now - not very helpful I know, but I'm working on it.

Mark states that there are a lot of background improvements that are in place to roll out as yet unspecified changes.  Obviously I can't comment on these, but take it at face value - they're doing a lot of work to make it better and that's a positive thing.  I'm at best ambivalent on the new look, but I'll get used to it I guess.  I'd like to see the dashboard functionality improved, not just dressed up differently and I'd like to see better information about sales and visits - perhaps if they could indicate which countries were visiting my books I could do some targeted promotion work.  And if they could persuade their partners in publishing - the Apples and Kobos of this world - to share visit information too, that would be great.

Overall, a guarded thumbs up to Mark and his team.  I look forward to further enhancements.

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