Like the first rule of publishing, that books are containers of ideas (and not one set format) book distributors have to be studied with the idea they are really just paid lead generators with their own buying audiences.
While you feed the distributors with what they want (or their trolls demand, in the case of Amazon’s Kindle) you also harvest that crop yourself in order to keep feeding them. It’s like any other sort of farming: a percentage of the crop is put into next year’s crop as seed, or you sell the calves to pay for the upkeep of your cows and bull.
Our book distributors lay on the outer ring of trust. You offer people books which they buy, but you don’t get their emails, unless you persuade them to come to your site and opt-in. Then they show up on one of your inner circles.
Podcasts and videos are similar, but a bit more personal than books. They just don’t pay as well. Still, they are lead generators.
The mistake with book distributors is to consider that they are the Alpha and Omega of your book sales, when they are just the beginning. Even though you can get six-figures of income from them. Getting stuck on just working with one distributor is what Amazon would love. But that just becomes having another job. (And a job is also described as “Just Over Broke.”)
I spent some time recently reviewing my four years of writing and podcasting on this subject. Out of this, I was able to assemble a pretty-much complete list of every way to publish and the marketplaces that exist for them.
The criteria for these were simple:
- You didn’t pay to get started, but the distributor took a percentage of the sales.
- They had an active marketplace where they would sell your book for you. (Otherwise, you’re just paying for something you have to drive your own traffic to in order to get sales. Some exceptions exist, such as Ganxy, which enable you to sell more easily from your own site.)
- That means simply: it doesn’t cost any thing and they do the selling so you can concentrate on writing and editing.
While books don’t sell themselves, all this data review reminded me of some truly stupid data that was being passed around early on – that you needed to do a 50/50, 60/40, and even 80/20 split between marketing and writing. And that marketing was done by tweeting, liking, and plussing other’s stuff at a ratio of 10 of theirs to 1 of yours.
Which means you are working for the social media networks.
The result: those people who did only that didn’t sell books enough to make a living.
All that is a reminder that you have to test everything that comes across your plate to see how workable it is.
Again, these all have the same points in common:
You don’t have to pay them to host your books, the sign-up is free.
They have marketplaces where people are actively looking to buy books.
Your job is to upload your book (which means anything with a message that started out as words) along with the description, cover, and any other metadata they want.
If they don’t meet this, then they want you to support them. They aren’t distributors, they are parasites. Simple.
I. The Main Contenders
The good – they have somewhere between 50 and 60% of the market, depending on who’s rumors you buy.
The bad –
1) Reviews. Completely arbitrary and only needed on this one platform.
2) KDP Select and KDP Unlimited. Dumb and dumber. You’re missing between 40 and 50% of the rest of the book sales you could be having.
3) Nearly 2 million other books to compete with – makes discovery a real bitch – and earned them the title of “Indie Author Graveyard” years ago.
4) Kindle trolls. Really disheartening emails that threaten your account every single time. No reason for this, except that they are bullies.
5) Their reader hasn’t been updated in years and is peculiar to them. Easy to remove their DRM.
6) Their size makes them a legal target, which fits into #4 above.
The good – simple to upload. They also sell books according to your series and author name. They use standard epubs.
The bad – mostly an Apple service, not very easily able to be downloaded to other platforms.
The good – simple uploads, uses epubs. Sells internationally in countries before other companies got there.
The bad – their sales are smaller than the above two.
The good – simple upload, uses epubs.
The bad – will they be around next year? They have very basic customer service problems and sales are minimal.
The good – nice way to author your book online. Simple. Also supports “pay what you want” that puts them well ahead of other platforms.
The bad – you have to learn the Markup language, basically. And your book has to be original. Mostly technical books, but anything could be published there.
The good – an aggregator that has been around for a long time. They have been making changes to make the site more usable. Privately owned, Mark Coker does the best analysis of the books his company sold that year.
The bad – Amazon doesn’t accept very many books from them, so they can’t tell you how your books actually sell there. You also have to make a special version just for them. Your Smashword book will duplicate other places if you don’t watch it carefully. Also, only – and strictly only – original books here.
The good – For original works, they’ll distribute your books everywhere. They’ll distribute your non-original epub and pdf through their marketplace. You also get a custom storefront (“spotlight”) to link to. Custom searches can find all versions of a particular title. Free ISBN to use anywhere (except Smashwords.)
The bad – For the world’s biggest marketplace for indie authors, they sure don’t sell much. Sometimes their converter is problematic, or finds errors no one else has a problem with. You’ll want to edit the epub they create for you, which is extra work.
These take FTP uploads with an Excel spreadsheet.
The good – Rakuten bought them and they seem to be updating things.
The bad – still stodgy. You have to be a publisher to get an account there. So don’t try unless you have a whole series. They will take audiobooks, but have strict standards.
The good – largest publisher in the Philippines and East Asia.
The bad – website was built in the ’90’s style. You have to convert USD into two other currencies to submit your book. Sales? Unknown at this point.
Hummingbird Digital Media –
The good – new company that is adding indie authors, non-profits, and bookstores by giving them pre-populated sites. Your book will show up on all these sites as they expand. Nice way to get your own bookstore to host your books that you can customize.
The bad – just started this year and came out of beta. Less than 50 sites at this writing, and that’s being generous. Early adopter scene which will build. (They expect to have 2000 sites by the end of this year.)
Lulu – covered above. Does sell PDFs for you, just not very many.
Scribd – originals only, even though there is a lot of Public Domain stuff there.
Slideshare – not paid, promotion only.
Lulu – granddaddy of Print on Demand (POD) publishing. Set the standards and they still are. Goes where other distributors won’t. But – when they go to Amazon, your book is 50% more expensive than anywhere else. The trick is to offer your book with 50% discounts on Lulu, so that it is then cheaper than anywhere else (but you still make the same royalty.)
CreateSpace – owned and integrated with Amazon. Essentially, they work to contract printers near the Amazon warehouses to keep your books in stock. During two weeks before Christmas, regular books will go “out of stock” while your CS version will stay there. Intermittent quality issues reflect badly on the author, as there are no returns.
Espresso Book Machine Network – print your book based on the submitted PDF. Only 25% royalties, but you can set the price yourself. International in scope, but few machines available. Still, you won’t get the sales you don’t try for.
Only Lulu here. Both casewrap and dustjacket versions. Ship via Ingram. Nice premium gifts for your clients. Again, 50% discount works wonders if they don’t mind the delay while it’s printed for them.
ACX/Audible – they had exclusive contracts with Amazon (who owns them) and iTunes – but apparently this has changed. While they have picky standards, they are actually sub-par in this podcast age. They set the price, and you get only 40% if you are exclusive with them, and 25% if not. Can’t sell on your own site if you’re exclusive with them. Ready to be disrupted.
Author’s Republic – new kid on this block, just came out in 2016. Goes to Audible, Amazon, iTunes, and about a dozen other places. You get 70% of what the royalties they receive. An aggregator start-up, the only one for audio books. An “exclusive” contract with them can be modified if you already have books on Audible. They also allow you to sell your books on your own site or through any shopping cart. Per their website, this also includes CDBaby as a shopping cart.
CDBaby – sells through all the music stores. Your CD shows up as a “spoken word” album, so you can get it onto Amazon while your audiobook sells in a different category. Nice sales strategy.
BitTorrent Bundles – mentioned here as they have “pay what you want” features for downloads, and a completely different audience. Some music groups have made out well with that pricing strategy. You might want to try this before you go exclusive with Author’s Republic – or query them to see if BitTorrent qualifies as a posting/payment processor or shopping cart.
iAmplify – old timer to the audiobook scene. Simple to use.
HummingbirdDM – newcomer. Can’t upload here if you’re going with Author’s Republic.
BitTorrent Bundles – audiobooks as above and anything else that’s digital.
Small Business Trends Marketplace – a bit out of the way, but you can also simply link to other sites and use them as the go-between.
Tradebit.com – another old timer. Promoted for ebooks, but will take other digital files as well.
These take bundles above, but have marketplaces for affiliate salespeople to find your digital packages. The ones below are free to join and simple to use.
Udemy – only for courses $50 and less. Fairly aggressive marketing. Put your intro courses there and make sure you have Lead Magnets in every download, as they won’t let you contact your customers.
OpenSesame – simple to set up and they have their own marketplace.
eLearning Marketplace – only a marketplace. List your courses here for free.
(Note: Teachable, Thinkific, and others are either just course hosting, or require costs per course you have to pay. Gumroad is in this last category.)
And you can host and sell from our own site for just your own sweat equity.
Notable places to get the word out about your books
CafePress (also has it’s own marketplace.)
Lulu will dropship your book to most any address.
Disk.com – complete fulfillment (for a price.)
That’s the list. Around 35 different distributors for your book-as-a-container project. I’ve left off videos, as there aren’t really any good distributors for these that I’ve found so far. You can use YouTube and a host of others to promote them for you, but sales are iffy at best.
And yes, it’s possible to use social media to get sales, but they aren’t a marketplace or distributors.
The point is that you can sign up for free and they make their money from of a percentage off the top. If you have to pay to get in, they’re making their money directly from you, whether you ever sell a copy or not. You’re buying services, keep your eyes open.
My own is to publish to Lulu first, and then do Amazon and iTunes on my own. (Lulu has tiny descriptions that are text only.) Only original works go to Nook and Kobo via Lulu. (Kobo insists on 20% royalties for PD books. Fat chance. I do publish PLR to Kobo, and PLR will sell on Nook, if anything does. Work in batches of several titles at once.
Next is publishing paperbacks through CS and Lulu, with hardbacks through Lulu. (While you’re on Lulu, don’t forget to put your PDF on sale there as well, then upload to EspressoBM Network.)
After that would be where you upload the data to Shelfari, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and OpenLibrary for promotion. You’ll have about four or more ISBN’s per title.
Then post to your own site, and also BitTorrent Bundles.
Once you have your series worked, then do bulk uploads to HummingbirdDM, e-Sensical, and OverDrive.
I haven’t ramped up audio yet, but it would go to Author’s Republic and CDBaby. Also sell direct via Gumroad, or Ganxy. And I’ll checkout where BitTorrent fits – that would actually be a good first place to set up for audio, as you could offer your book there as well. (Practically, if you are selling your book, and video’s, as well as your audiobook, this is not competition with Author’s Republic. (Offering only your audiobooks there may.) Have Kunaki dropship your CDs and DVD’s directly for any sales you generate on your own site. They’ll also sell them for you.
Crank out courses for the books individually. Sell intro versions on Udemy, and host the others on OpenSesame. Promote thorugh eLearning Marketplace and Small Business Trends Marketplace.
Create bundles of your course content, which can be whole courses, and sell through Tradebit.com and all the Affiliate marketplaces.
That would set you up well. Ideally, you’d be making enough to have some assistant start getting through all this backend stuff. Because books can slip through the cracks with all these distributors.
We haven’t talked about podcasting here, which is just as well. I’ve covered these separately, as well as the idea of publishing original or excerpted short reads. You can also collect bundles of these to publish as a single paperback on CreateSpace and Lulu, once the in-print page count gets above 32.
Hope this helps you with your own distribution. It’s been a long ride scouting these out. Now it’s time for me to get back and get my herd up that trail.
Luck to us all.