Once you have your eBook file—.mobi for Amazon Kindle and ePUB for all other stores—you'll want to upload it into one or more online stores*. You have essentially two choices to reach the 90%+ of the eBook market controlled by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple:
- Open an account with Amazon KDP, B&N Pubit, etc. This is called direct distribution.
- Use a third-party aggregator service such as Bookbaby or Smashwords
There are pros and cons for each approach so let's look at the key questions you should be asking yourself.
1. Are you willing to pay for convenience?
You do not pay any fees to distribute directly. On the other hand you need to take time to learn how to use each store's selling tools and you'll need to do this for each store. Third-party distributors provide a convenient “front end” for you to enter your information one time and then they distribute to each store. Some, like Bookbaby, charge a fee for each book and an annual fee thereafter. Smashwords charges a small commission on each sale.
2. Do you mind waiting to get paid, or for changes to take effect?
Payment terms vary by store so add several weeks to your payment schedule if you distribute through a third-party. The same can be true with changes to your book. For example, if you want to raise or lower your price (recommended) you'll have to wait much longer for this to take place if you use a third-party. Even worse, Bookbaby charges you $50 per change after one free change per year.
With direct accounts your royalty payments and changes take place far faster. Usually within hours for changes.
3. How much do you value the ability to fine-tune each store's book selling tools?
Metadata—information about your book such as price, description, categories, keywords—is one of the most important selling tools you can directly control. And each store supports metadata slightly differently. There is no standard format yet that is exactly how third-party distributors approach the collection of metadata.
For example, Amazon let's you pick 2 categories and provide 7 keywords. B&N let's you pick 5 categories and provide 100 characters of keywords. Bookbaby asks for 5 keywords and you can pick a 1 category (main subject and sub-genre).
Direct distribution allows you to fine tune the metadata for each store.
4. How many books do you have?
If you have a lot of books you'll have to balance the annual charges and/or commissions with the hassle of managing many books across many stores. At this point you might want to look at other options such as Mintright.
But if you have only one or two books the added effort to manage them via direct distribution across a handful of stores isn't onerous.
5. Do you think you might participate in Amazon's KDP Select?
Understandably authors want to offer their eBook in “every store possible”. It is true that there are many more eBook stores than the four majors but generally speaking they represent a small fraction of all sales for most authors, and especially new authors.
I'd argue that for new authors the goal should be to get their book onto as many eReaders as possible and that's exactly why KDP Select makes so much sense for new, and even established authors. For a 90-day exclusive Amazon will give your book greater visibility to the largest eBook reading audience around.
If you start with a third-party distributor and later decide to sign-up for KDP Select you will need to remove your books from all other stores. In this case you just eliminated the key benefits of a third-party distributor.
In book publishing the real work begins when the book is done. Distribution is the first step in the all-important marketing stage and should be given the same consideration as the writing of your book. That's why we believe that direct distribution is the best option for most authors.
Managing the direct distribution of your eBook is a service we offer clients who want the benefit of control without the hassle of learning and managing eBook distribution setup. Click here to learn more about our direct distribution service.
*Although you can sell or give it away on your website.
- The 2020 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Should You Use Amazon KDP Select or Distribute Your Book Wide?
- How to Research a Name for Your Self-Publishing Imprint