Step One: Where to sell your eBook

SW_Vertical_Color.pngThe first step is to decide where you want to sell your eBook.

It’s both easy and inexpensive for self-publishers to distribute eBooks. There are two user-friendly sites (Kindle and Smashwords) which, between them, will see your book available at virtually every outlet you can think of. Both sites are free to use and make no charge for listing your book. Instead, they take a (generally) modest commission on each eBook sold.

The first of these sites, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), will see your eBook listed on Amazon. The second, Smashwords, distributes to almost every other eBook retailer: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (WHSmith), OneDrive (supplies libraries), Flipkart and Barker & Taylor, along with a whole host of others I’ve never heard of.


Given this, it would seem logical to sign up to both services. However, many authors choose to sell exclusively through Amazon Kindle. At first sight, it seems crazy to cut your distribution network down to a single outlet, as opposed to the dozens offered by Smashwords. There are, however, two very good reasons why you might decide to do this.

Firstly, Amazon may only be one outlet but it’s the king of eBooks, particularly in the UK, where it enjoys around three quarter of the total market. The next biggest provider, Apple’s iBooks, sells a mere fraction of this with Google Play, Kobo, Waterstones, Android and Barnes & Noble’s Nook lagging far behind.

Figures from the US are less clear. It appears that Amazon has a slightly lower hold on the market with Barnes & Noble and Apple doing a little better but even there, more than half of eBooks sold are through Amazon.

On a practical level, this means that most authors sell only a fraction of the eBooks on Smashwords that they do on Amazon. Notwithstanding, it would still seem logical to enable these sales, even if they only made up ten per cent of your total.

This brings us to the second reason why many authors only sell through KDP: Amazon, in a bid to strengthen its position at the forefront of the eBook market, offers membership of KDP Select in return for exclusivity. This gives authors access to a number of key benefits, including:

  • Amazon Countdown Deals: set a discounted price for a limited time. Your listing will display a nifty little countdown timer showing customers how much longer the offer is available for.
  • Free Book Promotion: run a giveaway for up to five days every three months. Giveaways are the life blood of self-publishing and one of the best marketing tools out there.
  • Inclusion in KOLL and Kindle Unlimited: KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library) allows Prime customers to borrow one eBook a month. Kindle Unlimited is an eBook subscription service. For a monthly fee, subscribers can borrow an unlimited number of titles. These help you reach new readers who might not be inclined to pay to download your book and you’ll still receive royalties. The economics of this are a little complicated. Every month Amazon sets aside a Global Fund of around twelve million dollars to pay royalties for KOLL and Kindle Unlimited. This is split between all the authors who had books borrowed that month, depending on how many pages the customer read. I won’t even try to do the exact maths on this but you should receive about $1 per every 175 pages read.

Smashwords, in turn, offers its own excellent marketing features. Its coupon system allows you to generate a discount code, which can then be offered to customers, either privately (in an email) or publicly (on your website). Smashwords coupon codes offer much more freedom than Amazon’s limited free promotions and countdown deals. You have total control over the level of discount and how long it lasts. You can even create a coupon which allows its recipient to download your book for free. Amongst other things, these can be used to offer free copies to reviewers or prizes in a competition.

Lastly, unlike Amazon, who sets a minimum sales price of 99p/$0.99, Smashwords allows you to list your eBook for free on a permanent basis. You may even be able to use the fact that your eBook is available for free at Smashwords’ distribution partners (Apple, Google books, Kobo etc.) to manipulate Amazon into listing your book for free as well (more on this later).

Most authors are horrified at the idea of giving their books away but it can be an excellent marketing strategy if, for instance, you have a book series. Once books two and three become available, you may choose to offer the first book in the series for free in order to grip customers who will then, hopefully, go on to buy the rest of the series.

Sadly, though, even with the freedom it offers, Smashwords simply doesn’t achieve the level of sales its rival, KDP, enjoys. Obviously, every writer should list their eBooks on Amazon. However, for me, it’s a 50:50 decision whether to also sell through Smashwords (for full market reach) or to remain exclusive to Amazon (in order to enjoy the benefits of KDP Select).

The good news is that, although KDP select requires exclusivity, it’s only for a ninety-day period. This means there’s some flexibility to switch between options, depending on what you want out of a service at a particular moment. For instance, you can temporarily remove your book for sale with Smashwords and sign up to KDP Select to run a big promotion. After ninety days, should you choose, you can opt out of KDP Select and make your book available on Smashwords once more.

My advice is to experiment with what works best for your particular book and remain open to changing your sales strategy, if it’s not working.


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