Everyone knows you can make more money (or save money) by “cutting out” the middleman. This idea is even more tempting when you consider eBooks cost nothing to manufacture beyond the cost to create the first copy. So why don't more authors and publishers sell direct to the public rather than to stores like Amazon Kindle, Apple iTunes, B&N Nook, et al.? I can think of 2 primary reasons:
- Those stores have an audience. Readers visit daily to look for books to read.
- Readers of eBooks like the ease of paying for a book, and having it show up on their device or app without doing anything further.
What is interesting is that while both of these are real issues, lots of people overcome them and go on to make tens of thousands of dollars. Nathan Barry refuses to sell on Amazon and has made a small fortune with his book called Authority.
Barry's considerable success aside, you need to think things through carefully. Here is some helpful guidance to guide your planning.
Pros and benefits of selling eBooks direct
- You keep a higher percentage of the sale.
- You can charge any price you like.
- You can offer bundles, i.e. print + eBook, for a discounted price.
- You control how your book is marketed (no competing offers or products).
- Readers can buy immediately without having to visit or register on another site.
- You can track where your customers are coming from.
Cons and why it might not make sense
- Readers may not know how to transfer the book to their reading app. You need a plan for customer service.
- There is no DRM (copy protection) for Kindle mobi files sold from your website. You can implement DRM for your EPUB files but it is an extra cost and you need special store software.
- You may need to collect sales tax depending on your local laws. This is something you need to research.
- It can be more work to setup than uploading your file(s) to the online stores.
- You cannibalize sales through your other stores. Fewer sales can mean lower rankings, which is a problem when selling in a store like Amazon's.
- You need an audience of buyers. Sales depend on how many people visit your website, or the number of people on your mailing list.
What to look for when considering tools
Let's say you have decided to sell direct. There are several eCommerce solutions to choose from, each with features and costs that depend on a number of factors:
- Do you have one book, or many?
- Do you have items other than eBooks such as a print edition, merchandise or audio/music files?
- What is your expected sales volume?
- How important are merchandising tools such as vouchers, gifting or the ability to use payment methods other than PayPal?
- How do your needs match up with the pros and cons above? For example, if you insist on using DRM you cannot sell Kindle-compatible eBooks and you'll be limited in your choice of EPUB selling tools.
- How technical are you? Some options may require programming skills.
- Do you want your customers to have access to their purchases after the initial download?
- What kind of analytics are you looking for?
- Does the vendor have their own store where they will feature your eBook?
- Is there any integration with social media networks such as Facebook?
- Where is the company based? Since you are dealing with financial transactions you want to make sure you are protected.
Options for selling eBooks from your website
The list below is divided into what we consider relevant for indie or self-publishers vs. publishers looking for a robust solution to support dozens or hundreds of books. New companies and services are being launched all the time but these have been with us for a few years now.
3 solutions for indie/self-publishers
- Gumroad. A simple, straightforward tool that is free and relatively easy to use.
- Payhip. Lots of great features specific to eBook publishing.
- E-Junkie. A well-established vendor of e-commerce tools and capabilities.
These services are more expensive, or require more technical skills to set up
- WordPress plugins such as WooCommerce. Not just for digital products, but physical products as well.
- Aerio. Aerio enables you to sell your books, as well as books from other publishers. (Now owned by Ingram.)
- EditionGuard. One of the few “simple” solutions for selling DRM-protected EPUB files. They also have a plugin for WordPress websites.
- MyCommerce. Offers three different levels of online store functionality. More relevant for large libraries or publishers with more sophisticated needs.
- Cyberwolf. Cyberwolf has expertise with Adobe Digital Editions and works with publishers interested in building their own stores.
Note: this article updated in early 2021.
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