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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

About Kyle

WordPress plugin developer, meetup and WordCamp organizer, guitar player and beer enthusiast from Jackson, Michigan.



  1. Kyle
    1. Kyle
  2. Kyle

    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.


    1. Kyle

      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!

      1. Kyle
      2. Kyle

        Hi Kyle thank you for wonderful information. i would like to know if Easy Digital Download is free or you need to purchase the software. Thank you Lucy

  3. Kyle

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

    1. Kyle
  4. Kyle
  5. Kyle

    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!

    1. Kyle
  6. Kyle
    1. Kyle

      Hey Javier. You’re asking what one does if you want to sell an eBook but you don’t have an eBook? In that case, you could always write an eBook! If that’s not your preference though, there are many eBook sellers operating with a different model. Some sellers open up their site to function as a marketplace where third party authors can list and sell their own eBooks. Other sellers work directly with eBook authors to partner and sell eBooks together. Still others obtain pre-written eBooks with permissive licensing agreements and resell them. Those are known as PLR eBooks.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Kyle

    does it have option where we can offer two subscription option where, in one option they can download eBook and in other option the can read it online (they don’t have permission to download it)

  8. Kyle

    Hello kyle,

    Is it possible that a person profit the moment someone downloads his ‘free’ ebook? If it is, how?

    thank you bro. More power. Godbless

    1. Kyle

      When using Easy Digital Downloads, the store owner receives funds when a product is purchased, not when a customer actually downloads the file. Subtle difference but that is by design. Thanks for asking!

  9. Kyle
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  10. Kyle

    Hi Kyle! Can you give me couple of examples of platforms that provide ebook inventory to people who want to create a reading app? Are they publishers? Any type of marketplaces? Trying to understand that process of where to find books to put on an app that users use to search, buy, and read books on.

    1. Kyle

      If you’re looking to have automatic, real time access to a repository of eBooks, you’ll need a source which has a catalog and a public API. Amazon and Barnes and Noble do not. Google Books does though. I’d check that out.

      1. Kyle

        Thanks Kyle! Do you know what the different is between platforms like Google Books and big publishing companies like Penguin Random House and McMillan? Some ebook companies seem to be working with those publishers. Any idea about that?

        1. Kyle

          Hey Sahar. While not an expert on the subject, I’ve done some reading of other sources and recommend you do the same. Google is not a book publishing company in the traditional sense. They offer a platform through which authors can self distribute their digital books. It is beneficial when it comes to improving a book’s appearance in search but it is fairly limited system and entirely automated. Traditional book publishers will offer many services beyond what Google Books does.

  11. Kyle

    Beyond Downloading a pdf, or an epub, a purchaser would expect a reading experience tho in a mobile app at least. What’s your recommendations for Using EDD with other pluging for linking these two experiences (purchasing and reading in the same environment/site/app)

    1. Kyle

      Hey Norah. Due to the variety of technologies customers may use to access your site and buy your products, the simplest strategy is to provide a variety of formats. That way customers can all buy the same way but select the file type post purchase which works best on their device. Typically what I’ve seen is when it becomes a problem, store owners provide clear instructions to their customers in the receipt email and on the receipt page. Try testing the eBooks on a variety of devices and then add recommendations on your receipt so customers know which is likely to work best.

      1. Kyle

        hi Kyle
        I think what Norah needs to know (as I also do) is what if EDD can be used with a specific plugin so that the eBook stays, opens, and read in devices without givingg specifics to formats? like Kobo app for example?

  12. Kyle
  13. Kyle
  14. Kyle

    Hello kyle,

    Is it possible that a person profit the moment someone downloads his ‘free’ ebook? If it is, how?

    thank you bro. More power. Godbless

  15. Kyle

    we want to sale E-books in our online store. How to get vendor for our multi vendor online store?

  16. Kyle

    eBooks will always be an evergreen digital product!
    Your article really helped me understand that.

  17. Kyle

    Great post. Would love to look at writing and selling ebooks. Just putting in a regular amount of time to on a daily/weekly basis to actually write content for your audience. Thanks for the info.

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