India Calcutta Bookstore by Carl Parks

The Ebook Retail Universe

This is the sixth installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers,TheBookDesigner.com

The Ebook Retail Universe

I realized after my last post (looking at ebook conversion tools) that in my excitement in finally getting to the nuts and bolts of ebook creation that I’d skipped over online conversion tools. Most of those tools either are directly attached to ebook retailer websites or are attached indirectly through distributors/aggregators. So I’m going to have to backtrack.

 

This month I’ll talk about the retailers and distributors that you are going to be interested in, and next month I’m going to talk about the conversion tools that they offer.

 

Cut Out the Middle Man: Top Ebook Retailers

 

What retails and distributors do you want to consider selling your ebooks through?

 

Okay. I’m assuming that you’re in the US — which isn’t a given, I know. (Most of this information is true for non-US publishers as well.)

 

That being the case, these are the major retailers you will probably be looking at:

 

These are the five largest ebook retailers in the US; most of them sell throughout the world, either directly from their own websites (Amazon, Apple, Google), or both directly as well as indirectly through affiliates (Rakuten). At this point, Barnes and Noble only sells in the US.

 

 

These are the other sites with which I usually have clients sign up for accounts. Here is a basic rundown of each (listed alphabetically):

 

Amazon

Publishing site: http://kdp.amazon.com

File formats accepted: ePub, HTML, mobi, Word doc/docx

Royalty:

  1. 70% of sales price[*] if between $2.99 and $7.99. $0.15/megabyte “transport fee” deducted from each download. Available on some international sites other than Amazon.com only for KindleSelect/KindleUnlimited titles[†]
  2. 35% for any ebook between $0.99 and $199.99. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None

 

Amazon is the center of the self-publishing universe right now, so the Kindle Direct Publishing program is a must for ebook publishing. Depending on whom you ask, a typical publisher gets between 60% and 85% of its ebook revenue through sales on the Kindle Store.

 

Apple

Publishing site: http://itunesconnect.apple.com

File formats accepted: ePub, iBooks Author

Royalty: 70% of retail price. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None

 

According to most analysts, Apple is the second most important retail source. Sales typically make up 5% to 15% of an ebook publisher’s revenue. The downside: You can only upload to Apple’s iTunes Connect using one of two Mac-only pieces of software: iTunes Producer or iBooks Author. So if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem already, you probably want to use a distributor like Smashwords to get your ebooks up there.

 

Barnes and Noble

Publishing site: http://nookpress.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, HTML, RTF (rich text file), TXT (plain text)

Royalty: 65% of retail price between $0.99 and $9.99; 40% over $9.99. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None

 

Barnes and Noble sales typically make up 5% to 10% of an ebook publisher’s revenue.  They are struggling mightily to stay afloat as 2015 winds down.

Google

Publishing site: https://play.google.com/books/publish

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Royalty: 52% of retail price (though they will always discount the retail price—if calculated from the discounted price, I believe they pay out ~60%). No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None

 

Of the five retailers listed, most publishers would list Google Play as #5, providing between 2% and 10% of total revenue. However, don’t ever count Google out. Also, the bookstore’s reach is truly global, and your books will show up on Google Books, linked to any print edition.[‡]

 

Kobo

Publishing site: http://writinglife.kobobooks.com

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Royalty: 70% of retail price. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None

 

Although Kobo’s presence in the US market is small, it’s a global giant, selling both directly (through its own ebook stores in many countries) and distributed through affiliates like the UK’s Waterstones, France’s FNAC, Japan’s Rakuten, and many others.

 

I’ll Get It for You Wholesale: Ebook Distributors and Aggregators

 

Although there are many other companies (ScribD, Overdrive, Gardners, etc.) that you probably want to make your ebook available through, most of them are either difficult or impossible to create vendor accounts with, and so it is important to use a distributor/aggregator to get your ebooks up on these other sites.

 

Most of aggregator/distributors will provide you with a free ISBN for your ebook. This may or may not be a good thing. That will make the distributor the publisher of record (as in, their name will show up in the publisher slot on most retail sites); also, you’re not supposed to use the ISBN except on sites to which the aggregator distributes, but you’ll want to use the same ID number for the ebook everywhere it’s for sale.

 

These companies will also (usually) distribute to some or all of the Big Five retailers listed above. Here are some of the distributors you want to look at (you’ll probably only work with one or at most two):

  • Aer.io
  • BookBaby
  • Draft2Digital
  • IngramSpark!
  • Lulu
  • Pronoun
  • Smashwords

 

There are others; these are the ones with which I have had direct experience, and which are most widely used. If you’ve had experience with other distributors, please share your experience in the comments!

 

These companies make their money in some combination of three ways:

  1. Cut: Frequently, they take a percentage of gross revenue (that is, they calculate the percentage based on the total sale amount and take a set percentage of that amount)
  2. Conversion/setup fee: Sometimes they charge a fee to convert your file or to “set up” the title for distribution
  3. Membership: occasionally, they charge an annual listing or membership fee

 

Here’s a rundown:

 

Aer.io

Publishing site: http://aer.io

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Google, Kobo, “more”

Conversion/membership fee: No conversion fee. $49/year membership fee for retail distribution; $99/year membership fee with social networking

 

Aer.io is primarily a tool for setting up an online ecommerce solution without the headache of setting up a store on your website. However, they also offer distribution services, and they are one of the few services that offers PDF conversion.

 

BookBaby

Publishing site: http://bookbaby.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, PDF, “other popular digital document” formats

Cut: 0%

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which Bookbaby receives payment.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Tayor (Blio), Oyster, Flipkart, Copia, Gardners, eSentral, Scribd, Ciando, EBSCO, Vearsa

Conversion/membership fee: $299 conversion fee. No membership.

 

BookBaby is an almost-full-service publishing services provider — they’ll take your manuscript and, for a fee, produce it as a print book (with a professionally designed cover) and/or as an ebook. (They don’t provide editorial services in-house, however.)

 

What’s the difference between this kind of setup and the so-called vanity presses that prey on the unknowing? A legitimate publishing services provider offers a service for a price; they don’t purport to act as a publisher, which would imply they’ll make money by selling your books. Vanity presses will charge for services (usually top dollar) and then take a major cut of all sales revenue as well. A publisher is a publisher; a service provider is a service provider. If a company offers to do both, watch out.

 

BookBaby will charge $299 (if you’re going the ebook-only route),[§] but won’t take a percentage of the royalty.

 

Draft2Digital (D2D)

Publishing site: http://draft2digital.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, RTF — “anything Word can read”

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Inktera (Page Foundry), Scribd, Tolino, CreateSpace (Amazon print on demand)

Conversion/membership fee: $0

 

I haven’t worked with Draft2Digital (I mostly use Smashwords as a distributor — see below — and have used and recommend all of the other providers on this list), but I have had friends and clients who have loved them and the service they provide. They won’t distribute directly to Amazon or Google Play.

 

IngramSpark!

Publishing site: http://ingramspark.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 20-30% (depending on the retailer)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Tayor (Blio), Oyster, Scribd, and over sixty other retailers (but NOT Google Play)

Conversion/membership fee: $25 setup fee; $0.60/page (for PDF to ePub)

 

Bet you didn’t see this one coming.

 

IngramSpark! is one of the largest print-on-demand providers in the world — the main competitor to Amazon’s CreateSpace. But in addition to printing and distributing hardcover and paperback books, they provide ePub distribution as well.

 

Upside: They have (almost certainly) the largest distribution list of any aggregator. (Ingram is a pre-eminent print distributor/wholesaler, and so has direct relationships with just about every book retailer on the planet.)

 

Downside: They take by far the largest cut of any aggregator; they also charge to set each title up, and to convert from PDF (but not if you’ve got an ePub file ready).

 

Lulu

Publishing site: http://lulu.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 10% of NET REVENUE (the money received by Lulu, not the sales amount; this works out to under 10% of gross revenue)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo

Conversion/membership fee: $25 setup fee; $0.60/page (for PDF to ePub)

 

I haven’t used Lulu for a long time, when I helped a client set up an account; like IngramSpark! they are mostly known as a print-on-demand provider. They only distribute ebooks to the major retailers — and not Google Play.

 

Pronoun

Publishing site: http://pronoun.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 10% of NET REVENUE (the money received by Lulu, not the sales amount; this works out to under 10% of gross revenue)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google Play

Conversion/membership fee: $0

 

NOTE: Still in Beta as of December, 2015. When last I used this service, it was called Vook, and I liked it, but didn’t really need it (it was a soup-to-nuts online conversion-and-distribution service provider, similar to BookBaby). Since then, the company has reinvented itself as Pronoun, a no-charge distributor/aggregator (similar to Smashwords or Draft2Digital).

NOTE2: Pronoun announced that it had been sold to Macmillan in late May, 2016. It remains unclear whether or not the site will continue in any form, and, if it does, what form that might be. 

Smashwords

Publishing site: http://smashwords.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc (not docx)

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable quarterly, fifteen to thirty days after the end of the quarter in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon,[**] Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Taylor (Blio), txtr, Axis360 (libraries), Overdrive (libraries), Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Gardners retail, Gardners Library, Yuzu, Tolino, Odilo

Conversion/membership fee: $0

 

This is the distributor I’ve used the most — for a number of reasons. First of all, for a no-charge aggregator, their distribution list is more than acceptable. Overdrive and Gardners Library (the largest library ebook distributors in North America and the UK) are particularly nice additions. Second, the service is great — when I’ve had a problem, they’ve been incredibly helpful. Third, they are also a retailer themselves — a small retailer, but hey, any outlet that buys you lunch once or twice a month is nice!

 

Downside? The user interface isn’t as slick as some others, and the ebook conversion engine (their famous Meatgrinder) isn’t my favorite. (A spoiler for next month — none of the online conversion tools win this category as far as I’m concerned. But I’m picky!)

 


[*] In other words, if you put the book on sale — unless through a KindleSelect promotion — and Amazon lowers the price (i.e., to match another retailer’s sales price), they pay you not based on the full price, but on the actual transaction price. That? That’s NOT AGENCY PRICING. That’s what the big publishers have been screaming about for years. Amazon lowers your book’s price; you get paid on the discounted price, not on the price you set.

[†] KindleSelect is the 90-day program that makes your title available through KindleUnlimited and the Kindle Owners Lender Library. To participate, the title must be available only through Amazon during the 90-day period.

[‡] Whether or not you think that’s a good thing is up to you. It does improve discoverability, however.

[§] And will charge this fee every time you wish to revise your book.

[**] Okay, not really — Amazon has only taken a couple of hundred of Smashwords’s offerings; it makes sense to distribute to Amazon directly anyway.

Image: India Calcutta Bookstore by Carl Parkes. Used through a Creative Commons License

 

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