Frankly, I’m still wrapping my head about all the options in self-publishing. When someone asked me which self-publishing platform I’d recommend, I realised I really needed to do some digging.
Amazon, I’d heard of before, of course, but what about the rest? What about Gumroad, or crowdfunding or Smashwords?
I hadn’t a scoobie so I decided to do some research on the different options out for self-publishing. I spent a good few hours on this, maybe I can save you some time. found:Here’s what I found.
Let’s clarify the most important thing: Your choices fall under 3 categories.
- Your choices fall under 3 categories.
- Direct to ebook retailers: These are platforms that sell directors to the reader. Guess what? 95% of ebooks sales are through Amazon (80%), iTunes take 10%, the Nook 3% & Kobo 2%*
- Aggregators: These are platforms that allow you to upload and distribute to the large retailers (see above) PLUS the small ebook retailers PLUS libraries. And all at once. It appears to be easier to do but there is a higher cost involved.
- Offbeat: These are what I would classify as alternative platforms. They include Gumroad, Leanpub, Kickstarter and Unbound. They are a platform where you can raise money, publish and sell your book. They don’t suit everyone but for some authors, they work particularly well. See this Kickstarter success story & this author's happy Leanpub journey).
Many authors I researched seemed to combine going to Amazon directly + using an aggregator for all the other platforms. This is a good place to start, but opinions seem to vary from author to author. If you’re selling technical work (coding etc) I would consider suggest a platform like Gumroad where you can add a bundle of digital products easily.
To sum this up, here is a list of the 7 most popular places to sell your ebook.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer
The Amazon store accounts for *80% of ebook sales across English-language countries.
It’s no wonder that KDP remains the most popular platform for authors to sell ebooks on. On it, you can convert and sell your book here for free to millions of potential readers.
Pricing: Amazon pays out a royalty of 70% on all Kindle titles priced between $2.99 to $9.99. For eBooks priced below $2.99 and above $9.99, Amazon pays out only 35% (royalty table here). Note: the 70% plan is based on the publisher’s net income and the 35% plan is based on the gross sales price of the book so 35% can be a better rate.
Other features: KDP Select allows you to take a ninety-day exclusive digital distribution deal — in return, you’ll get your books available in the Kindle Lending Library, where Amazon Prime members can check out their books for free with no due dates. (you get paid royalties for every book borrowed). You can also choose between Kindle Countdown Deals or a free book promotion.
There is the option of using Createspace for creating and distributing print books.
Verdict: Most authors will use Amazon to sell their books, the question is whether to go directly to them, and whether to opt into their exclusive programme. More experienced writers seem to say ‘no’ to both these, but if you’re starting out, and not worried about smaller platforms, it might be the easiest option. You could also mix and match this with a platform like Gumroad (see below).
If you’re based outside the US, but would like to publish on Amazon US — read this.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer
Apple is growing and gaining more market share. They account for *10% of all ebook sales, small…yes, but the popularity of Apple products makes it an enticing platform.
Pricing: iBooks royalty rates are flat 70% for all prices and all territories. Publishing on iBooks requires the iTunes Producer program, which is only available for a Mac. Unless you have the software to make your PC run Mac programs, you’ll need to take one of two steps to get your books on the platform. You’ll either have to borrow a Mac to publish, or you’ll have to go to a third-party publisher like Draft2Digital or Smashwords.
Verdict: Worth taking seriously, as, within the Apple ecosystem, the iBooks app is downloaded more than the Kindle app. If you have a mac, and the time, go directly otherwise use an aggregator (See below) to get your books listed.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer, Global
Kobo has only 2% of the ebook market at the moment, but there is a good reason to still consider this platform — international sales. Upload your files onto Kobo Writing life and have your book available in 190 countries.
Authors like Joanna Penn report good sales through Kobo.
Pricing: Their Royalty rates 70% if selling between 1.99–7.99 (GBP) or 1.99–12.99 (USD), and 45% if outside of this.
Verdict: They have a small reach in the UK & US but with their ambitions in reach in Asia, Americas and beyond, they seem particularly good for long-term writers. However, unless you’re a career writer, I would suggest publishing to Kobo via an aggregator rather than uploading directly.
Tag: Publisher, Retailer, Aggregator
The original and oldest aggregator site with a larger reach than Draft2Digital.
About: Smashwords was set up by author Mark Coker in 2008 and allows you to distribute your titles to the many smaller ebook retailers like B&N, Baker and Taylor as well as library networks like OverDrive and Gardeners.
Pricing: You’ll be charged 15% of the sales you receive (after the retailers' cost has also been taken)
Verdict: Smashwords comes up against Draft2Digital as one of the top 2 popular aggregator sites. Opinions are divided: some authors are loyal to Smashwords, while others prefer the more modern website. Smashwords distributes to more sites but to be honest, Draft2Digital covers the most important ones (iBooks, Nook, Kobo).
Tag: Publisher, Retailer, Aggregator
Recommended by Kindlepreneur Dave Chesson, this is one of the top 2 ebook aggregators.
About: They’re the new kid on the block, been around since They’ll convert your book and distribute it across iBooks, Nook, Kobo and other smaller stores, taking 15% of sales you make. Good if you’re short on time but want your book available everywhere.
Verdict: See verdict for Smashwords. If I had to choose, I’d prefer Draft2Digital for the easy to use interface.
Tag: E-commerce Platform
A simple platform by teen genius Sahil Lavingia to connect creators and buyers. You can integrate your ebook sales into your website or social media account. Popular with artists and coders alike for selling books and digital products. Particularly useful if you want to sell bundles of products to go alongside your book like audio, videos, additional documents. Used by Nathan Barry (founder of Convert kit) to sell over $500k of products and books.
Pricing: Costs are either $0 + 8.5% + 30 cents per transaction for the free version or if you have the Premium version at $10(USD)/month, the fee is 3.5% + 30 cents per sale.
Verdict: A perfect addition if you’re offering a digital bundle around your book.
Tag: Crowdfunding, Traditional Publisher, Distributor
Eric Ries ran a famously good kickstarter campaign for his second book The Good Leader. If you have a tribe, a following, then you might consider these publishing only crowdfunding sites:
UK’s Unbound is the maverick publisher known for commissioning award-winning titles in the UK. Across the pond, we have the US-based Inkshares, with a similar proposition. They both act as traditional publishers with a full team of publicity, sales, designers, editors) but you need to be actively involved in raising money beforehand — you have to prove that there is demand for your book.
Pricing: The catch is you have to raise a large amount to pay for the book. Your royalties are at 35% (Inkshares) or 50% (no frills option Quill, also part of Inkshare) and 50% (Unbound).
Verdict: Something to consider if you have an existing tribe who want your book.
What about you? What platforms appeal the most?
*Feb 2017 Author Earnings Report, for the English-language market
The Editor's Take
Sign up here for tips and insights into writing and publishing from a professional editor's perspective.