An American Editor

May 23, 2011

Smashwords: Will It Ever Get Better Filtering?

Smashwords has been one of my favorite places to shop for ebooks, but its filtering system is too limited (see, e.g., Smashwords: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Finding an eBook to Buy, and Finding the Needle in a Haystack of Needles (II): eBooksellers), which means it is losing a lot of sales to me. I keep hoping Smashwords will devote a few hours to improving the consumer’s experience, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.

The consequence is that I have been spending decreasing amounts of time searching for new reads at Smashwords. I used to check Smashwords every day; now I check once every week or two for a few minutes. Usually I wait for someone else to mention a specific book and provide a link; my days of simply going to Smashwords, applying the few filters it allows, and checking out the books are passé. But they shouldn’t be! Smashwords should be devoting some time and effort to improving the interface between it and the consumer. Doing so would be good for readers and authors alike. Right now Smashwords treats the consumer-reader as if he or she is the enemy rather than a friend!

I don’t think my requests are all that outrageous. How about a filter that filters out foreign language books? I don’t read Russian or any other non-English language – never have, never will — so why can’t I eliminate from search results books that are written in Russian or Croatian or any other language but English? And for those who do read in those languages, why not a filter that includes their language of choice and excludes languages that they do not read in, including English?

Smashwords also needs a third length filter. The choices should be less than 25,000, less than 50,000, less than 75,000. And why not series filters. Those would be particularly helpful to readers who want more than a singleton experience. The filters could be singletons only, multibook series only, first book in a series, any. Granted it might mean that Smashwords would have to come up with some dedicated tags and require authors to use them, but in today’s coding world, that shouldn’t be difficult.

I used to think that genre filters would be a good way to filter books, but my experience is to the contrary. First, authors too often do not tag their books correctly; they either mistag the genre, undertag the genre, or overtag the genre in hopes of snaring a broader audience. I wouldn’t eliminate the genre tags, but I would suggest better educating authors on how to choose a genre tag.

I would also like to be able to choose maybe a half-dozen key words/tags to exclude from the results. For example, I will never knowingly buy a zombie story or a horror story. I also do not purchase vampire books. I would love to eliminate them from the search results as well, along with erotica.

How about a filter based on intended audience. I appreciate quality writing for children younger than 12 years, but unless I’m looking for something to read to a grandchild or a neighbor’s child, I am not interested in having to wade through a sea of children’s books. On the other hand, when I am looking for such a book, I would like to eliminate books intended for teenagers and adults.

Another filtering system I would like to see is price. Now I can filter by free or all books, but I really need to be able to filter by price ranges, such as free only, 99 cents or less (including free in the less notion), $1.99 or less, $2.99 or less, and so forth. I already know that I am not going to spend more than $3.99 on an ebook unless I know the author and the quality of the work beforehand. If I know the author and like author’s writing, I will search by author name and buy the author’s books; I won’t be going through pages of available books. Consequently, being able to filter by price is important.

I would also like to be able to filter by star rating. Now I can filter by highest rated, which simply means that the list begins with 5-star-rated ebooks and works it way down to 1-star rated ebooks. But why not let me filter for only 5-star-rated ebooks or ebooks rated 4 stars or higher?

With proper filtering, I should be able to filter for ebooks that cost less than $2.99, are the first books of a series, are intended for adults, have no zombies or vampires as characters, are not erotica, are longer than 75,000 words, are rated 4 stars or higher, and are written in English.

If Smashwords only had 500 ebooks to choose among, filtering would be significantly less important. But Smashwords is a rapidly growing ebook seller with many thousands fo ebooks. I suspect that Smashwords’ sales are being hampered because of filtering frustrations — no one I know has either the time or the patience to sift through the many thousands of ebooks that remain even after applying the minimal filtering currently available.

I know that I start with good intentions and end up perhaps adding a couple of ebooks to my wishlist, and then quitting Smashwords after 10 minutes of searching without buying any ebook. I quit my searching because I am tired of trying to wade through all the ebooks listed when I am currently in the mood for particular types of books.

Smashwords is doing a lot of things right and for which it deserves mountains of credit. But the failure to address the inadequacies of the filtering system is a massive black mark against Smashwords and is, in my view, significantly hampering sales. Helping the customer find what the customer wants can only be beneficial to both Smashwords and the authors who use the Smashwords platform. It is time for Smashwords to seriously address filtering, its Achilles heel.

7 Comments »

  1. I couldnt agree more!!!!!! Smashwords is a marvelous site, and needs to be supported, but as you say, given their success, it has effectively become almost unusable, which is a great pity for all concerned.

    What you suggest shouldnt be tricky for them to arrange (provided everyone co-operates) and would make it once more into a reasonably pleasurable place to find interesting ebooks.

    But somehow I rather doubt they will do it…. It has all gone a bit too far. To go through all the ebooks they have and give them each the various tags needed to achieve what you describe would now be a massive job if you think about it. Pity

    Comment by Tony Cole — May 23, 2011 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

    • Tony, even if they implement the tags for future books it would be worth doing. And there is no reason authors couldn’t retag their own books.

      Comment by americaneditor — May 24, 2011 @ 4:08 am | Reply

  2. Mark Coker is very approachable. Why not forward him your suggestions. I’m sure he’d welcome the feedback.

    Comment by Vicki — May 24, 2011 @ 1:58 am | Reply

    • I have sent suggestions to Mark several times regarding filtering. The response has always been “Thanks. Great ideas. I appreciate them.” but no changing of the original filtering system. I think part of the problem is that Smashwords has had phenomenal growth in a short time and it is a primary distribution force for indie writers. Consequently, I suspect that much of his focus has been on setting up and monitoring the distribution channels.

      Comment by americaneditor — May 24, 2011 @ 4:12 am | Reply

  3. I totally agree. Nevertheless, I like to look around on Smashwords and Xinxii frequently.

    Comment by Alexandra — May 24, 2011 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  4. All the tagging and categorizing is done by the authors, not by Smashwords. Considering how many either don’t tag at all, add tags that are useless, or put their books in the wrong categories, I’m not sure how much more effective additional categories would be. In any case, I did see a response from Mark the other day (sorry, I don’t remember where). One thing he pointed out was that it can get to the point where there are simply too many categories. If authors used the existing categories properly and added relevant tags, searching really wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Frankly, I’ve had no problem searching for books on Smashwords. Finding *readable* books is the real stickler.

    Comment by Catana — May 25, 2011 @ 10:13 am | Reply

  5. Authors do need to be better educated about categories and tags. I uploaded two books this past week, for the first time, and was confronted with this process. It was touch-and-go, I had to look online to learn what to do. After a while, I decided to write some words that would be probably highly searched but that still related to plot points in my story.

    Perhaps the problem is that there aren’t enough categories and author can use? For instance, my latest novel The Gilded Treachery is a mystery thriller but also an action/adventure. It’s set in 19th century America but it’s not quite a western. Historical? So there is always a temptation to cram some tags in order to offset the lack of choice in the categories.

    If anyone wants to check them out http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/stevericher

    Comment by Steve Richer — May 26, 2011 @ 5:32 pm | Reply


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