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How To Sell Documents and Make Money (Updated for 2022)

Illustration: filing cabinets

Do you want to sell documents and make money online? Who wouldn’t!? This is a great way to use your skills and talents to start a business or side hustle.

In this article, we’ll show you how to sell documents online with WordPress. We’ll also share tons of tips to make as much money as possible. We even have a free preview image template.

💪 You Can Do This

What are you good at? What topic could you talk about all day? You can turn that passion into money by selling digital documents. You just need to write it out and add some polish.

From supplemental worksheets, guides, and sheet music, to reports and customizable templates, you have something to contribute to the world!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Get Started

Let’s walk through a quick step-by-step guide for selling a digital document.

Step 1: Get WordPress

The best way to sell digital products, like spreadsheets, is with WordPress and Easy Digital Downloads (EDD).

Why? Tons of reasons. With a WordPress website and EDD, you have full control, powerful features, no middleman fees, and low overhead expenses. Learn more below.

If you don’t have one yet, you need a WordPress site How? Pick an option, any option! 🎪 ⬇️

  1. Have the pros do it all for you! Get WordPress + Easy Digital Downloads in one package with SiteGround Managed EDD Hosting. They’ll handle installation, security, and automatic updates. Or,
  2. Check out this article for finding a good web host, there are also discount codes!

We suggest a WordPress.org self-hosted (“self” meaning a web host you choose). WordPress.com websites are hosted by Automattic. It costs more to run Easy Digital Downloads on a .com website than it does on a .org website. Learn more here

Step 2: Install Easy Digital Downloads

WordPress + Easy Digital Downloads Logos

Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is the best way to sell digital products, like documents, with WordPress.

First, go to our pricing page and get an EDD Pass.

If you have never installed a plugin on your WordPress site, here is a great tutorial.

Step 3: Set up Document For Sale

Next, after you install Easy Digital Downloads, you’ll see a new menu item called Downloads on your WordPress admin menu (left side).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is edd-downloads-new-menu-item-1200x484.png

EDD calls the products for sale on your website ‘downloads’.

Here’s how you make one.

Step 3a

First, on your WordPress dashboard, hover over Downloads and click Add New. Note: we recommend selling your documents as ZIP files.

You need to give the Download a name/title. Then add a description in the main text area.

Screenshot: EDD settings | product name and description
Step 3b

Next, set a price for your template under Download Prices.

Screenshot: EDD settings | download prices
Step 3c

Next, we need to configure the Download File. This is the document/s the customer gets after purchase. They’ll get an auto-expiring link on their purchase confirmation page and confirmation email. This helps prevent piracy. Don’t worry you can generate a new link, just for them upon request.

  • Under File Name type in a phrase that describes the product. We suggest, for this example, typing something like “My Document”. This is the clickable link text that will be used on the confirmation page and email.
  • Under File URL click Upload a File and upload your ZIP file. It will automatically be protected from search bots and unauthorized downloads (by non-customers).
Screenshot: EDD settings | download files
Step 3d

Last, you need to add an attractive Download Image. This is important. It’s the product image. It’s what the customers sees in the virtual ‘window’ as they are shopping. Make sure it looks nice.

Once you have an image ready, go under Download Image and upload your image.

Screenshot: EDD settings | download image

Great work! That’s it. Click Publish.

Your document is a product that is ready to sell. Have a look at it as the customer will see it.

Step 4: Choose Payment Method

Next, you need to set up a way for customers to pay you with a credit card (or Apple Pay or Google Pay).

We recommend using Stripe for its great features and ease of use. With Stripe you also can set up Apple Pay or Google Pay. If Stripe is not available in your country, PayPal is a good option.

Click the links below to get started:

💪 Pro tip: Make more money by selling document subscriptions, bundles or all access passes.

Easy Digital Downloads has 3 powerful extensions to help you grow revenue with your documents:

Recurring Payments – allows you to sell subscriptions to customers. Set up a regular automatic payment that is monthly, quarterly, annually or other less common intervals.
All Access – Give customers self-serve access to all or a certain selection of your products. You can give customers a single purchase to download anything they want, or limit by categories or product variations.
Multi Currency – grow sales by growing a global audience. People are more likely to purchase from your website if they can see prices and pay in their currency. Multi Currency gives you a currency switcher for easy multi-currency display and automatically keeps exchange rates up to date behind-the-scenes.


Step 5: View Final Results

Let’s see what the potential customers will see! Click on View Download on the top notification banner that appeared after you published your document in step 2.

Screenshot: EDD settings | view download

You’ll see your document on the front-end of your website. In the screenshot below we are using the free WP Astra theme. Your page’s look-and-feel will vary depending on which WordPress theme you have.

Screenshot: Sell Documents with EDD, product on frontend of site
What the Customer Sees

Once a customer makes a purchase they’ll get a purchase confirmation email that looks like this:

Screenshot: Sell Documents with EDD, confirmation email

You can customize this email all you want under Downloads > Settings > Emails > Purchase Receipts.

The ‘My Document’ link that you set up above is what the customer uses to grab their download. The link provided expires after 24 hours.

  • You can change that link expiration time to be whatever you want
  • You can easily reissue a link at any time

Here’s what EDD looks like out in the wild. ⬇️

Sample EDD Site

Screenshot: Mrs. Mactivity Sample EDD Site
Mrs. Mactivity • A educational resources website selling documents with Easy Digital Downloads. The memberships are powered by Recurring Payments and All Access.

Tips and Resources

Here are some proven tips for evaluating the market and making money.

How To Make Money Selling Documents

Text: How to make money selling documents

First, take a look at what’s out there. How are other similar people pricing their documents? What’s normal for other industries?

Next, the big question is: what value are you offering? To figure it out, consider some of the following questions:

What type of document(s) are you selling?

  • Templates for resumés and stationery can be anywhere from $10 to $30
  • Detailed reports and informational pieces containing legal, medical, or specialized expertise can range anywhere from $20 on into the hundreds or even thousands
  • Fitness and nutrition guides commonly sell for between $15 and $50.

Sample EDD Site

Screenshot: Thunder Said Energy
Thunder Said Energy • A consultancy selling reports with Easy Digital Downloads

Are you selling a single document or bundle?

  • Consider selling collections of documents (such as industry reports, data sets, contact lists, or stationery sets).
  • This allows you to charge a higher price and deliver maximum value.
  • Just like with any other digital product, single digital documents sell for less than bundles containing multiple documents.
  • ➡️ Use All Access and Recurring Payments to sell memberships to bundles of documents.

Are there any bonus materials?

  • Audio version
  • Extra worksheet
  • Access to bonus content

What are your competitors charging?

  • Check out marketplaces like Etsy, Creative Market or Envato Elements
  • Find individual digital product stores of your competitors
  • Keep in mind that marketplaces tend to have lower pricing in general (sometimes enforced by the platform)

Do you have clout within your industry?

  • People will often pay a premium for the expertise of a trusted source
  • If you have a large following or established industry authority, you can factor that into your pricing

Ongoing Revenue

Consider other ways to generate revenue with your documents:

Subscriptions

The subscription / membership model gives customers ongoing access to a group of specialized documents.

Some examples would include:

  • A collection of legal templates for starting a new digital business
  • A group of documents for job seekers or career advancement (resumé, cover letter, and other professional templates)
  • Unlimited access to sheet music
  • Industry-specific reports and data sets

Cross-promotion or Affiliate Marketing

Cross-promotion and affiliate marketing are other ways to get long-term recurring revenue. Expand your reach and get more sales by partnering up with content creators, influencers, and other high profile people within your industry. 

Imagine you write luxury yacht maintenance manuals and you decide to partner with a blogger who talks about luxury yachts and international travel. The result is your products are exposed to a larger audience. You may even get access to an email list full of people who are more likely to be interested in your products.

“Live” Documents

You could also try selling access to “live” documents that are periodically updated, such as contact lists, website lists, or data sheets. Customers would be charged a subscription fee for access. New subscribers will join, revenue will come in regularly, all without increasing the amount of work involved.

Alternate Formats

Consider creating alternate formats, such as audio, video, or infographics. This can increase their earning potential.

This could include:

  • Audio guides
  • Podcasts
  • Video tutorials
  • Other languages
  • Variations on colors, layouts, etc.

Repurpose your document content into smaller segmented products, or use certain documents as lead magnets for gated content!

💶 For more ideas, check out our article on pricing digital products


How To Maximize Profits

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The best way to make the most money selling your documents is on your own website. 

You need your own e-commerce store to build your own business. You can’t really build a successful online business on someone else’s website or marketplace.

It’s fast, and tempting, to look to marketplaces like Etsy or Envato Elements. But be sure to weigh the pros and cons.

🟢 Pros🔴 Cons
Platforms and Marketplaces already get lots of visitors to their site. This may make it easier for you to find an audience (but there’s no guarantee).They take a cut of your revenue. The more you make the more they take.

It’s easier to list on other sites than build your own websiteYour customers are not really your customers, they are the platform’s customers
You may be able to build an audience more quicklyNo way to do direct communication with ‘your’ customers
May have no way to follow up with ‘your’ customers after purchase, you may want to help them succeed (sometimes called onboarding) and not be able to
Can’t build your own consistent brand
Can’t control the customer shopping and checkout experience
You have to follow their terms of use, which can change at any time
Many platforms have limitations on what prices you can charge



We recommend setting up your own store. Smart entrepreneurs understand the advantages of having their own D2C (direct to consumer) channel.

Don’t worry! In the past setting up your own ecommerce store was hard. You had to know how to code and/or hire web developers. But now it is easy enough that you can do it yourself with no coding.

The Best Website Tool

WordPress Logo

The best way to build your own website is to use WordPress. WordPress offers the best balance of powerful features and affordable prices.

WordPress now powers 43% of the internet! 43%! No other web technology has ever come close to even 5%.

It’s very likely that all those people are right. And it’s very likely that WordPress can do anything you need…and more!

WordPress has the world’s largest ecosystem of plugins, templates/themes, and professional service providers (for custom development). No other platform has more capacity for expansion.

All you need to get started with WordPress is a web host. The good ones will set it up for you or make it as easy as clicking one or two buttons. 

  • 📄 Click here for a guide on choosing a WordPress host. There are also discount coupons!
  • ⬇️ Already have a WordPress site? Good. Get ready to say hello to the easiest way to sell digital products. 

The Best eCommerce Tool (For Selling Documents)

Easy Digital Downloads Logo Banner

The best way to sell your documents on WordPress is Easy Digital Downloads.

Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is a complete eCommerce solution. It’s one of the most trusted WordPress plugins ever created in the WordPress community. It has hundreds of 5-star reviews on the WordPress plugin repository. 

You can have an online store set up in mere minutes.

Get started with EDD for free and use it for free forever. Here’s what the free version of EDD gets you:

  • Protected product files, only paying customers will have access to auto-expiring links
  • Full control over pricing
  • Shopping cart
  • Flexible checkout options
  • Discount codes
  • Customer management (basic CRM)
  • eCommerce reports
  • Stripe and/or PayPal integration
Other eCommerce Solutions

👎🏾 Many other e-commerce solutions like WooCommerce are built for selling physical products.

We love Woo if you are selling physical products. But if you’re not, you’ll have to install and set up a bunch of shipping and inventory management tools that you don’t even need. In some cases, this can slow down your website.

If you are only selling digital products EDD is easier to use.

👎🏿 Other e-commerce solutions like Shopify cost more per month (or year) than a powerful WordPress site.

Worse, your over-priced less-powerful solution can’t expand beyond selling stuff.

But a less-expensive WordPress site can always expand to do anything else you need as your business grows.

👎 Marketplace solutions, as we looked at above, are fraught with downsides.

The more you make, the more they take. The middle-man fees and ever-changing terms of use don’t set you up to build your own successful business, you’re really building theirs.

👍🏽 Easy Digital Downloads is purpose-built for selling digital products like documents.

It’s free to use. Even if you expand functionality with one of our Passes, it costs less per year than many solutions. You get to decide if, and how much, you want to spend.

EDD = your terms. You decide.

EDD is used by more than 50,000 digital creators. People like you and me. Yep! We use EDD every day on this website.

We have been helping businesses small and large succeed for more than 10 years. Our dedicated support team is always ready to help you if you need it.

Free Gift (Graphic Template)

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Not sure how to make a product image? Click here to download our free Canva document product image template. You can edit and customize it all you want. You just need a free Canva account!

Screenshot: free Canva document image template

🎨 Free document product image Canva template


Tech Tips and Product Ideas

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Here are our top tech tips and a list of product ideas to help you succeed with selling documents.

File Formats

Common file formats for documents haven’t changed much in the last few years. At least not as fast as they have for photographs, video, and audio. Here are a few important formats and their uses.

FILEFORMAT INFOUSES
.DOCX / .DOCMicrosoft Word DocumentsOften used for resumés, reports, and legal/ professional templates)
.GDOCGoogle Docs (not really a file, but a link/shortcut to a “live” document on the web)Often used for resumés, reports, and legal/ professional templates)
.PDFAdobe Acrobat Reader (stands for portable document format)Typically used for guides, white papers, reports, manuals, printables)
.EPUBeBook file formatUsed for guides, case studies, other informational pieces for use on eBook devices and reading apps
.XLSX / XLSMicrosoft Excel SpreadsheetUsed for reports, data, charts
.GSHEETGoogle Sheets (“live” spreadsheet link/shortcut)Used for reports, data, charts
.PPTMicrosoft PowerPoint PresentationUsed for slide decks and presentations
.KEYApple Keynote PresentationUsed for slide decks and presentations
.GLSIDESGoogle Slides (“live” link/shortcut)Used for slide decks and presentations



Which Format Should You Sell?

Consider your audience and how they will use the document. For example:

  • Will they need to edit the document?
    • Start with DOCX files. They work in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
  • Will they just  be reading the document?
Different Types of Documents

We have detailed guides for many selling different types of “documents”. This term can mean many things to many people.

Product Ideas

Looking for ideas for types of documents you can sell? Here’s a brief list to spark your creativity:

  • How-to / PDF guides
  • Resumé / CV templates
  • Industry reports
  • Manuals
  • White papers
  • Printable stationery
  • Case studies
  • Informational pieces
  • Data sets
  • Manuscripts
  • Contact lists
  • Sheet music
  • Documents for teachers / class activities
  • Pedagogy resources
  • Budget worksheets
  • Formula worksheets
  • Journaling templates
  • Self-help workbooks
  • Legal document templates
  • Presentation templates
  • Live documents
  • Content / web copy packs

Sample EDD Site

Screenshot: The Arty Teacher Website
The Arty Teacher • An EDD site selling resources for art teachers
File Previews

Customers are more likely to purchase your products when they understand what they are getting.

Also, when you have good file previews or product images, you have a proven way to promote your products on social media.

Lead Magnets

A preview for a document can come in several forms. One proven way to increase sales is to make a lead magnet.

In exchange for their email address, give potential customers a preview or sample of your document/s. This way they can be sure they like the content and make sure it’s what they are looking for. They’ll come back looking for more!

Talking about your lead magnets on social media is a great way to spread the word about your documents to potential buyers.

Watermark Preview Images

You may want to watermark the cover, or images that are in your document. 

Watermarking is when you stamp your logo and words like ‘copyright or ‘preview’ on your photo to prevent unauthorized use.

💧 Click here to learn more about making watermarks on our article about selling photographs.

Use Lorem Ipsum Text

For decades graphic designers have filled their designs with random latin words when they are waiting on real copy from their copywriters. This is sometimes called dummy text or placeholder text.

You might decide to include Lorem Ipsum demo text in your document previews. Here are some websites that generate that kind of text for you (and give you more history on this practice).

Preventing Piracy

The unauthorized use of your products can be mildly annoying. Or, it it happens a lot, result in a staggering loss in sales.

It can be extremely time-consuming to fight piracy. Copyright and intellectual property laws vary from country to country. And some countries, that will rename unnamed, don’t always respect copyright law.

When you use Easy Digital Downloads to sell your products online you are using some of the strongest anti-piracy tools available. You don’t have to worry about your download links.

Here are the 3 key aspects to preventing piracy to keep in mind.

  1. First, make it very easy to purchase and download your products
  2. Second, make it as hard as possible to download or make unauthorized copies of your downloadable products
  3. Last, focus more on getting customers first. Then, spend time sleuthing around for piracy once you are successful, because you’ll likely never fully prevent it with digital files. Some hacker will find a way.

🔐 EDD has you covered. Learn more about producing digital products

Selling Physical Documents

EDD is primarily designed for selling digital products. Perfect for downloadable products (files). However, if you want to sell some physical documents, you can do this with EDD. You don’t need a completely separate ecommerce solution. 

Check out our Simple Shipping extension. This requires a Professional Pass.

Some people may prefer physical copies, or may be willing to pay a premium price for printed versions that save them the hassle of doing the printing themselves!


Conclusion

Well done. You have learned how to sell documents (and make money doing it). This is a great way to generate passive income and build a business. 

We have bunches of articles for entrepreneurs and digital creators like you! What do you want to learn about next?

Grab an EDD Pass to get advanced features for growing document stores like Free Downloads (for lead magnets), Recurring payments (for subscriptions), or Amazon S3 / Dropbox integration.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about WordPress and selling digital products online.

Joe Wells

About Joe Wells

Joe is a Marketing Specialist at Awesome Motive. For years he’s been helping people and organizations succeed with WordPress. He is also the founder of an alternative accounting solution for your side hustle called HustleBooks (powered by Easy Digital Downloads). He and his family live and play just outside Detroit. A busy dad, he enjoys running, watching and creating films.

@thisisjoewells

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