In his fourth article in a series on self-publishing, author and digital publishing specialist Nik Peachey talks about what you have to do get your e-book online and up for sale.
What should you consider when choosing a platform to sell your e-book?
There are lots of different e-commerce platforms you can use to sell your e-book. You could use any or all of them, but there are a few things you should consider first.
The most obvious one is cost. All platforms charge in some way or other, so be sure to check out how much commission they take. This can vary tremendously, from around five per cent to as much as 70 per cent.
You should also look for other hidden costs. Some platforms charge a flat-rate transaction fee per sale, and even a file-hosting fee. Depending on the size of your e-book file, this could be quite expensive. You may also be charged a transfer fee when you move the money from the platform into your bank account. All of this can mount up quite considerably.
Don't forget about tax and value-added tax (VAT) either. You will of course need to pay tax on the money you make from your e-book sales, but you may also need to pay VAT, especially if your sales are European Union-based. In some cases, the platform will manage the VAT payments for you and deduct the money before paying your royalty.
Check how long you have to wait before you can withdraw your money from the platform, and how often you can withdraw it. In some cases the money comes instantly on the sale of each book, but with other platforms you may have to wait until you reach a specific time or target amount before you can transfer the money out.
The other financial aspect you should check is how the platform takes payment from your customers. Make sure the payment system is flexible, trustworthy, and as international as possible. Systems that rely solely on PayPal, for example, may limit your accessible market as many people don't have a PayPal account.
What other features should you consider?
Many platforms cater for specific types of customers who are looking for a particular product. For example, lots of platforms cater for teachers who want to buy and sell teaching materials. If their content is similar to what you are selling, then these platforms may be a good place for you.
Check out the marketing features on offer. Some platforms maintain ‘ownership’ of the customer, and in some cases charge you to access each customer. This means that you have no means of contact with the people who buy or may want to buy your books, unless of course you pay the platform to get in touch with them. This usually involves a premium subscription or a one-off fee for inclusion in a newsletter or front-page promotion on the site.
Platforms that enable you to build up a customer list and build your own relationship with your customers are likely to a better bet. Other features to look for are things like the ability to create sales or discounts. These will be essential when you start trying to market your e-book.
You may also want to consider how much copyright protection the site gives you, and how easy it will be for someone who buys your e-book to share it with others. In many cases there is very little you can do about this. If you publish in PDF, it’s very simple for someone to download your e-book and then put it onto another website where they can redistribute it. There are many sites that build a revenue from advertising by giving away other people’s e-books.
Can you give some examples of platforms and talk through the pros and cons of each?
My first choice of platform was Apple’s iBook Store. This is a useful platform because it works within Apple’s ecosystem, so many people who use Apple products will already have their payment system set up. This minimises the amount of friction between the point where someone spots your book and the point where they commit to buying it. Essentially, they can just click on a button and the book is paid for.
iBooks Store also gives you some copyright protection as it’s a closed system. It’s very difficult to pirate an e-book that has come from the iBooks Store, as you can’t export it to a different format.
I produced my e-books with the iPad in mind, and knew that all of the iBooks Author interactive features would work nicely on the device. iBooks Store is also accessible in more than 50 countries and sorts out any local taxes that need to be deducted, so it minimises the amount of financial work you need to do. There is also no up-front cost to adding your e-book to the platform, so it’s low risk. No sale, no charges.
This all sounds great, so what are the downsides?
iBooks can only be accessed by people who own Apple devices, so that limits the potential market considerably. Also, the iBooks Store is a very crowded market place, so it’s very hard to get your e-book noticed. What's more, Apple owns the customer relationship, so you have no contact with or knowledge of who your customers are beyond the location.
I also looked at Amazon as a potential platform for my first e-book. It felt like an obvious place to market the book as it’s a very popular platform with book buyers and has a solid reliable and trusted payment system. But the costing structure is quite complex and for me the biggest problem was that the file size of my e-book was quite big and so the hosting charges were very high. In the end, I decided that it just wasn’t worthwhile to try to sell there, and looked for other alternatives.
What about the sites designed for selling teaching materials?
As I said earlier, there are a number of sites specifically for teachers who want to buy and sell teaching-type materials. I thought these would be really useful, as they would limit the target market to the people I wanted to sell to.
I tried Teachers Pay Teachers, as that is one of the longest established sites of this kind. They allow you to set up your own store if you have enough materials to populate it, and you get a limited tool set for marketing. You can build up a community of followers and follow other people, which opens up a degree of contact with your customers. If you set up a free account, the charges for selling your book can be quite high, but you can also have a premium account which gives you more marketing features, and reduces the item-by-item charges you pay.
The main downside of the platform is that although there’s a huge potential marketplace of teachers, it’s still a very crowded market with lots of teachers trying to sell, so it’s hard to stand out.
I’ve actually had very little success with any of these dedicated teacher platforms. This may well be because my materials aren’t so well-suited to the market, or it could be that the marketplace is overcrowded with teachers wanting to sell their materials.
What's your favourite place to sell your e-books?
The most useful and successful platform I have discovered so far is Payhip, where you can sell any kind of digitally downloadable materials. This is my favourite option and I use it alongside iBooks Store as my main distribution platform.
Its main strengths are:
- there are no upfront registration charges and their commission charge is very low (around five per cent)
- they handle EU VAT payments for vendors based in the EU
- the platform integrates with stripe.com which allows you to take credit card payments as well as payments through Paypal
- they have a really good range of marketing and analytics tools to help you create sales and see who your customers are
- payouts are almost instant, so as soon as a book sells the money is transferred to your account, though the process takes slightly longer if it’s a credit card transaction.
The only downside with Payhip is the very limited copyright protection. The email address of the customer is added to the footer of the PDF ebook document. This does give you some comeback if you find someone has uploaded your e-book to another site and started selling or giving it away, but that’s about as far as it goes.
In the long run, digital piracy of various kinds is something you have to live with. I try to think of it as free advertising, much as many musicians do with YouTube, and hope that people enjoy the book enough to come and buy one of my other products.
Why not use all of these platforms?
It’s true that the more places you upload your materials, the more likely you are to make a sale. The problem comes when you need to update one of your books. You have to go around each platform and ensure that you have the most up-to-date version available. This may not take long with one book, but as you build up your catalogue, this can become very time-consuming.
How easy is it to fix mistakes once your e-book is uploaded to a selling platform?
You should really have your finished book proof-read before you think of it as finished, but it’s still easy to miss something or decide that you want to change something after the e-book is for sale.
If you do spot an error or something you want to change it’s pretty easy to do. You just make your changes and upload the new version to the platform. In some ways, this is one of the great strengths of digital publishing, as you can keep your book up-to-date.
What else will you need to upload your book, apart from the actual file?
Before you start uploading the file you’ll need:
- A marketing blurb to describe the book. This is worth taking your time over and thinking about carefully. It needs to be reasonably short and snappy, but will also need to give a good full impression of what you are selling
- Images of the book. This should include at the very least the front cover, and if possible some of the more visually attractive elements of the book.
- A free sample. This should be a part of the book that potential customers can download and read before they decide to buy. It needs to be rich enough in content to convey the quality of the book, without giving away so much that people take the sample and then don’t bother to buy the book.
- A video. In some case you can upload a video to show your e-book. I made a number of these for each e-book simply by recording the e-book on my computer screen, then adding titles and a sound track. Video ads like these should ideally be between 30 seconds and a minute long.
What happens next?
The next and perhaps the most challenging step is to actually convince people to buy your e-book. That’s a complex process, and one that I’ll be dealing with in the next and final article in this series.
Nik Peachey is a freelance teacher trainer, materials writer, blogger and consultant specialising in digital publishing and the development of digital resources for teachers, available on his website. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager.
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