Indie Pub 101: Sales Channels
Sales Channels is part of the Indie Pub 101 resource. This section walks authors through how and where to sell their product. Visit the Indie Pub 101 main page here.
Vendors and Distributors
As a self-published author, it is your responsibility to upload your book to one or more vendors and distributors. Vendors are your direct link to customers, and selecting which ones are best for your book is something that you will want to do before going through the effort of the upload.
Authors who are not exclusive with Amazon (i.e., wide authors) can simplify their lives by using a distributor service. Distributors take your e-book, either in the form of a Word document or an .EPUB file, and convert it, sending it to various vendor markets. In many cases, such as the Overdrive and Scribd markets, this is a highly recommended method of distribution. However, it’s not recommended that you use these services to distribute to Amazon, since most of your sales will likely come from Amazon and distributing directly to KDP is streamlined and fairly simple.
Going through a distributor always nets you less than going directly to the vendor, so it’s important to evaluate the value of your time saved. In many cases, the decision will be obvious. There will always be markets where you don’t make enough to go directly to them. For instance, channels like Tolino, Overdrive, or Bibliotheca may only see a few sales a year, making maintaining a direct relationship to them not worth the cost. In other cases, the decision might be a little trickier. For instance, Kobo and Barnes & Noble offer their own promotion opportunities if you distribute directly to them.
There is some strategy in deciding on the right vendors and distributors for your books, but on a basic level, most self-published authors fall into one of two categories. Decide for each book if it will be Amazon-exclusive or wide. An Amazon-exclusive book means you’ll sign it up for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select, giving it access to specific features of the Amazon platform under an agreement that precludes the book from appearing anywhere else digitally. A wide book will still be on Amazon, but not part of KDP Select, meaning it can be sold on every other vendor site.
Who to Contact for Vendor Issues
We always hope for the best, but sometimes there are problems when dealing with any given vendor. If you run into problems, SFWA might be able to help negotiate a solution. For help, email the SFWA Independent Publishing Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amazon is the biggest market in the business. If you are going to sell your e-books in one place, it should probably be through Amazon. In fact, due to the exclusive nature of KDP Select, many authors do just that. Kindle Unlimited (KU) gives readers the ability to select and read books for a single monthly fee. The only way to get your book into the KU program is to sign up for KDP Select. Doing so also allows you to run Free Kindle Deals and Countdown Deals, two of the more popular ways of reaching readers.
Whether or not you go exclusive with Amazon, they will definitely be a large part of your business. Amazon Advertising lets you target and sell books within the Amazon system. You will also want to look through Amazon’s Marketing Resources, which give you the opportunity to include your book in Amazon Prime Reading and Kindle Deals. The effectiveness of all these options varies by genre and a number of other factors, but are usually worth the experiments.
There are also reasons to avoid the exclusivity of KDP Select. Many authors prefer the reach of “going wide” to other vendors and have discovered ways to make more money via those systems than they would through KU. Other authors find it unsettling to have their entire livelihood running through any single vendor exclusively and are willing to take the pay cut to achieve better redundancy.
KDP Select is a powerful tool, but comes with an exclusivity agreement. For 90-day stretches at a time, the author must agree to not sell e-books anywhere else. Note that paperbacks are not affected by this agreement.
Because KDP is the biggest vendor for indie authors, there are many sources of wrong, outdated, or misleading information about it on the internet. When you seek out advice regarding Amazon, be particularly wary of the age of that advice and the motivation of whomever is giving it.
Apple Books is the branch of the Apple ecosystem that deals in e-books. It’s possible to distribute through Apple directly or through distributors like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. Apple has a growing readership and a robust system for promotions, including exclusive promotions through Draft2Digital.
The important thing to remember when deciding how to produce your e-book, whether using Audible or another platform, is that many royalty-share systems can get the job done inexpensively, but they can lock your book into an exclusive distributor. Read the rules thoroughly and know what you’re signing up for before getting into audiobooks.
Barnes & Noble
Barnes and Noble (B&N), which owns the Nook e-reader platform, is another large vendor for e-books. Dealing directly with B&N can sometimes be difficult, but doing so gives you access to exclusive promotion opportunities on their platform. It’s also possible to distribute to B&N via Draft2Digital or Smashwords for a simpler experience.
BookFunnel Sales Channels
BookFunnel is commonly known as a service for growing newsletter subscriptions. In recent years, it has expanded into more aspects of independent publishing, including direct sales. Readers can buy books directly from BookFunnel, but more commonly the direct sales are integrated with another website. This allows direct sales from your author website, increasing the royalties you make from each sale. BookFunnel also has great support for side-loading, which helps customers download ebooks directly to their e-readers so that they don’t have to buy exclusively from their e-reader’s preferred vendor.
Bookfunnel provides integrations with Payhip, PayPal, Selz, Shopify, and WooCommerce. If you are planning on offering direct sales on your website, you will want to take the time to research how these tools work with the BookFunnel system. They all have their own quirks, but many are powerful tools in their own rights.
Google Play has its own e-book distribution system. It’s fairly straightforward, without many bells and whistles. Third-party distributors like Draft2Digital and Smashwords don’t provide access to Google Play, so if you want your book listed in this marketplace, you need to upload your e-book to it directly.
Kobo is a big e-book market, especially in Canada and overseas. It’s possible to distribute with it via Draft2Digital or Smashwords, but selling directly through Kobo can give you access to their Promo tab, which allows you to sign up for some of their great promotions. The Promo tab isn’t there by default, though. You need to email their help support to have it added to your dashboard.
Smashwords is both an e-book distributor and a vendor. They have their own sales website, but they also allow you to distribute your e-book to most other markets. Recently, Smashwords has merged with Draft2Digital, so at this time it is recommended that you use Draft2Digital for new books.
Draft2Digital is a distributor. It is not only a great way to distribute to many sales channels, but it also has great tooling for creating your e-book in the first place. Many authors go straight from Word to Draft2Digital and their e-books turn out looking great. Other authors will use an outside tool to create their e-books, such as Vellum or Atticus, and then upload directly to Draft2Digital. Either way, the system is streamlined and great for a simplified approach to wide distribution.
Gumroad provides a shopfront builder that supports digital file delivery for distribution to vendors. You can set prices for files or offer them for free and accept tips. It supports pre-orders as well, and allows for price customization via the product form. Gumroad supports product-specific or shop-wide discount codes.
Gumroad does not seem to support robust side-loading (as with BookFunnel), so a user would need to know how to get the files onto their e-reader. A system bug also occasionally prevents a customer from completing checkout. It appears to be an error with the shop, and there’s no way to know how often it occurs unless customers write to complain—it’s far more likely they will simply move on instead.
Bookshop.org Affiliate Shops
In addition to selling your own titles as a Bookshop Affiliate, you can create themed lists of books you recommend. You make a portion of their sales and support indie bookstores with each sale.
IngramSpark is the best print-on-demand service for paperbacks or hardcovers if your intention is to distribute to libraries or bookstores. It also has a service to create and distribute e-books, but the use of it is not recommended.
There are a number of other e-book vendors, and our list here will continue to grow and change. Royal Road, Radish, Lulu, and Wattpad, for example, are all vendors with their own paradigms for making money. Authors can experiment with them and other vendors to find their niche. As new systems become available, there will always be interesting new ways to incorporate them into your distribution strategy. As an independent author, it’s your job to decide which of the many options will work for your projects and which ones are more likely to waste your time and efforts.