Selling eBooks Everything you need to know about distributing eBooks online

Selling eBooks

Ebooks are special. It is no surprise they have always been one of the most popular types of products distributed and sold using our plugins.

A few weeks ago, we wrote an overview of the different types of digital products people are selling online these days. However, there’s a whole lot more to know about each of those different product types than we could cover in one article. So, we decided to start a new article series where we could dive deeper into each one. This is the first post in that series, and to kick it off we’re focusing on eBooks.

Here are a few reasons why eBooks stand out as a popular digital product:

  • They’re easy to create. Usually special software and technical skills are not required to create and distribute an eBook.
  • They’re easy to distribute.¬†Getting an eBook in the hands of those who are interested can be as easy as creating a listing on a popular marketplace or just making a download link on your own website.
  • They’re easy to consume. Ebooks can be downloaded and viewed on most devices, quickly and painlessly.
  • Distributing them can fit into almost any business model. Whether it’s selling them directly, sharing them as a resource, or using them as a lead magnet, practically every site can put an eBook to good use.

Are you considering creating and selling eBooks? Here are a few things to consider:

Pricing

Marketplaces have largely contributed to the standardization of pricing for eBooks which are typically sold for a small amount. In most cases, $10 is on the high end with average prices closer to $2 or $3. The prevalence of free eBooks and the fact that consumers traditionally perceive physical books as higher in value means it is very difficult to justify a high price. Exceptions do exist for certain types of eBooks, but in most cases the customer expectation is to only spend a few dollars. This can be unfortunate for content creators whose profits are further eroded by the commissions paid out to marketplaces if they choose not to self-distribute.

Given the fact that eBooks are not complex to create and distribute, many businesses use them for purposes other than selling directly to customers. In many cases, eBooks are created to complement an existing business and distributed for free in exchange for visitor’s email addresses. This practice of collecting contacts for future promotional efforts by offering something of value for free is very popular and also very effective. While it is technically possible to offer any kind of digital good in exchange for someone’s email, eBooks are far and away the most popular for this purpose.

Ongoing revenue

Since eBooks are typically consumable (meaning not providing ongoing utility), they traditionally only earn revenue on the initial sale. As products they are not conducive to recurring models in most cases. This means if you want more money, you need more customers. Unless you create new, separate products, there is no way to get more money from past customers. This is different to some other digital product types.

Ebooks are unique in their adaptability for almost any business’ needs. At the most basic level, they can be sold up front and earn revenue immediately. But there are countless other ways that eBooks are used to contribute to an organization’s goals. Here are a few examples:

  • Ebooks can generate revenue through their content. I have seen authors include their affiliate links throughout the contents of their eBooks. Other times, the eBooks serve as a long-form sales pitch for another product, course, service, seminar, etc. I’ve even seen authors accept money from companies in exchange for recommending the company’s products within the eBook.
  • Ebooks can bring in leads. As mentioned already, eBooks are used very often as a way to get new subscribers and followers. Showing a form on a site with a message like “Give us your email now and we’ll send you a free eBook containing our ultimate guide to succeeding at everything” has proven to be highly effective at getting people to subscribe to an email list.
  • Books / eBooks can be great for credibility. Having “author of” or “contributor to” some book title can look really good in your bio. Many companies highlight their team’s contributions to published works on their site as a way of proving their expertise. This can make potential clients and customers more likely to trust you and buy whatever you’re selling.

Distribution

Ebooks can be easily distributed in a variety of ways. Marketplaces like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play and more offer a convenient platform and a huge base of potential customers. Selling on a marketplace means you don’t have to set up your own online store and manage transactions and file delivery yourself. All you have to do is comply with the marketplace’s requirements and allow them to take a percentage of each sale.

Self distributing via your own site is an alternative to selling on a marketplace. This strategy puts on you the responsibility of creating a site and managing every aspect of it over time. We have become very familiar with independent eBook sellers here at Easy Digital Downloads because they make up so many of our users (in fact, the first time I used Easy Digital Downloads years ago, I was trying to sell an eBook). Our most recent user survey indicated that nearly 15% of people using Easy Digital Downloads are using it to sell eBooks. This means we’ve been able to learn a lot about the needs and challenges of those selling eBooks, as well as their reasons for choosing to self-distribute. Those reasons commonly include a desire for greater control over their site, a hope of more profits by eliminating the marketplace commissions, the chance to build their own brand and relationship with customers, and also the fact that many are distributing the eBook(s) to complement their existing web-based business.

Other considerations

File previews

Customers will often appreciate a preview of the book’s contents before buying. If the product is priced high and the contents are lengthy, providing some way for customers to verify that the eBook contains information they need may help increase sales and reduce refund requests. This can be accomplished by displaying images of select pages from the eBook on the product page, by offering a downloadable chapter from the book, or by referencing other content on the site which is included (since putting a series of blog posts together is a common way to produce an eBook).

File types

There are numerous file extensions which eBooks can use. Some are proprietary like AZW which is exclusively for Amazon’s Kindle. Other formats are open and can be opened in a variety of applications. EPUB and PDF are the most popular but others like ODF are also common. When distributing on an eBook marketplace, there will usually be file type requirements. If you are self-distributing your eBook it may be wise to offer a variety of formats.

Piracy

As with all digital products, the possibility of people obtaining your works and redistributing without your consent exists. This can be discouraged by using special file protection software which requires a password or some other authentication in order for the file to be opened. However, in the majority of cases this is unnecessary. Piracy is real but most of the time the effort it takes to fight and discourage it is not worthwhile, especially when the products are free or low cost. College textbooks are a good example of eBooks which often have higher prices and employ some kind of digital file protection.

Translations

If your audience is multi-national, offering versions in other languages may be smart. This can greatly expand the reach of your content. However, it can be a tedious and costly process to create and maintain translated versions. There are professional translation services available which can make this happen for you. You’ll just need to know that the more eBooks you have, the longer they are, the more languages you wish to offer, the frequency in which you’ll be updating the books (if ever), and possibly the reading level of the content, may all affect the time and cost.

Physical version

Another cool thing to consider, if the demand exists and the content lends itself to a physical format, is to offer customers a printed edition. This can broaden the reach of your information by allowing you to sell to those who prefer reading physical books and maybe even get your content on shelves at bookstores and libraries. You could distribute copies at events and offer signed copies.

Obviously, the process of distributing a physical book is far, far more involved than is the case with an eBook. The publishing process is complicated and costly. Plus you’ll have to deal with issues like shipping and inventory. Also, there are a lot of books which are better off remaining digital only, especially content which becomes irrelevant quickly. If you’re writing an eBook about using your favorite social network or web application, expect to be updating everything frequently as the platform changes. Updates to a digital book are much easier than their physical counterparts. But it is still worth noting, if the content is good and customers are willing to pay, with the same exact content you may be able to create a physical book.

Epilogue

eBooks are here to stay. The book market has clearly demonstrated that there is a place for both physical and digital books long term. What’s so cool about eBooks is that they can be distributed with virtually no overhead and can thus be employed for a variety of different purposes. Countless businesses today are either earning revenue directly through the sale of eBooks or utilizing them to further business goals in other, indirect ways.

Are selling or thinking about selling eBooks? Or are you using eBooks in other ways within your business? Chime in below in the comments to let us know about your questions or lessons learned!

Illustration by Jessica Johnston.

Comments

Nice post, hope to see more product types posts soon.

Thanks.

Reply

Thanks Pedro! We’re already working on the next one!

Reply
Zeljka Ceovic

What script do you suggest to build ebook store? I have tried with WordPress but require constant update. Is there any website or anything like that that won’t break my bank and still profit from ebook sale?

Or can you suggest anything to build ebook store.

Thanks

Reply

Hey Zeljka! Thanks for asking. My preferred tool for building a store to sell eBooks would (unsurprisingly) be Easy Digital Downloads! It’s a very popular solution for eBook sellers and is simple to use. Plus it’s free! I work for Easy Digital Downloads so if you have any questions about it, feel free to leave another comment or go to our support page. We’re here to help!

Reply
Abdirazak

How do you protect ebooks from being forwarded after purchase?

Reply
Sole

How do you generate license keys with easy digital download. Im using it but can not generate a license key for each software.

Reply

Hey Sole! It is possible to generate license keys with each purchase when using our Software Licensing addon.

Reply

Thanks, Kyle for relishing us with the useful information. You talk in very simple language and to the point things.

Reply

Hello Kyle,

I am in Jackson and trying to learn about WordPress plugins. I also am a guitar enthusiast. Would like to hear you play sometime and discuss WordPress plugins. Thanks a lot and great information!

Reply

Hey James! That’s really cool! Maybe consider checking out our local WordPress meetup and I’ll see you there? https://www.meetup.com/JXNWP-meetup/

Reply

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