A Comparison of Distributors – Who's on First?

Figured I owed you a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all review of the main distributors - from my experiences with them.

The aggregators all charge something to post your ebook to the various distributors. Lulu is the cheapest, at 10%, Smashwords at around 15%. Everywhere else is a lot more.  Some are outright rip-offs preying on the naive. I include Lulu and Smashwords below, the rest are distributors.

Lulu

While I recommend them highly (way above and ahead of Amazon's CreateSpace) it is really because of how I originally got in with them through Print On Demand (POD) books. They got me into ebooks when they started porting epubs to iTunes and Nook. So I started taking all my books and ported them through Lulu to see what would happen. When they started selling - more than Amazon - I was hooked.

What they've done recently is to clamp down on public domain ebooks. Which put a damper on my business plan. They simply won't distribute them anymore. They'll ship PLR, but not PD books.

That doesn't affect local Lulu ebooks, or hardcopies they print. And that is their main use again - printing books which independent book sellers will stock that don't have the Amazon imprint (Createspace). The other great point is to be able to create low-cost hardcopy books which are available as a special enticement for your paid membership clients.

Lulu has a small community. It has generated few sales for me - and probably most of these were from linking my own pages there.

Smashwords

Frankly, too hard to use. I just don't have the time to work up a working template and then port a special version to them. While they now accept epubs, you still have to edit that file just for them.


They won't take PD or PLR books (and will pointedly ban you if you try.) So they are out of my business plan, except for my own books.

If you do put your book up on Smashwords, it's a separate version and will be up there with any other version you have there. Amazon doesn't easily take up Smashwords books, so you won't see them much there. Like Lulu, they will now ship everywhere. Lulu actually gets accepted by Amazon, so they have a leg up over Smashwords (particularly as they are much more easily accessed.

Smashwords generate multiple versions of your original ebook, much as Leanpub does now.

They do have an active community, but I haven't used them much. Certainly I've had few sales here - as I only have 2 books there.

Amazon

A lot has been written about the, as the 900-pound godzilla in the room. Only the presence of other distributors has forced them to improve their royalties for indie publishers. They still stick it to you with added "upload" fees.

I've no love lost with them. Get some of the books on how to game their system - most of them work, or did. Amazon adjusts their algorithms regularly, just as Google does. Once you do hit the "big time" then you'll get a lot of sales, since Amazon has something around 50% of the total ebooks sold internationally. That share has been declining and there is no really accurate measurement of market share for any distributor (since none disclose their actual sales.)

Amazon is easy to upload to, and they take epubs.

Kobo

Not bad. They go more places internationally than Amazon or anyone else. They do only ebooks. Originally Canadian, they were bought by Rakuten and have been expanding. They have special arrangements with the ABA and indie publishers to sell their ebooks and ereaders locally in the U.S. A win-win for all concerned.

My recent problem with PD books came up when a supervisor there said I had to either declare them as PD and take a "standard" (their words) 20% royalty. PLR isn't subject to those.

Still, it's not my best income source.

iTunes

I've only recently begun accessing this directly. Most of my books were earlier submitted via Lulu, so I don't have a great deal of data at this point. iTunes has produced the greatest income outside of having a bestseller on Amazon.

Submitting is simple if you have a MAC. A simple approach is to get a MAC mini.

Practically, a MAC will give you all you need for posting to any platform. If you're doing a lot of public domain books, then you don't really have an option to not post directly to iTunes.

Publishing directly is much faster than waiting 4-6 weeks for Lulu to process your files. You are also able to enter a much greater amount of meta-data, so your book can be found easier through the "related" algorithms.

Nook

Most problematical. Most of my experience was via Lulu, so I'm just getting up to speed here. However, my first test with an epubcheck-passed file required additional editing before it was accepted. (It had passed through Lulu, which normally means it's fine.) 

The other problem was some sort of javascript framework deal where I couldn't get in for a week. This might have been a low bandwidth problem or a ping-delay due to my satellite provider. Their forums noted access problems a year ago.

Nook gives me some of the lowest income. On Lulu, the sales reports are slowed by a month. Direct posting should give me immediate data, as it's part of their interface. Hopefully, this will give me clues as to how to improve it.

Direct access also gives you better meta-data posting options. We'll see.

Google Play

Decent income for me. Even though their royalties are only around 52% on average (some changes when your price is at the low end, which all of the distributors do.

They also screw around with your price, arbitrarily dropping it around 20% - so watch this as Amazon will "meet" their price automatically.

Google imports reviews from other sites (like Amazon and Goodreads) just as part of providing data - they aren't review-centric like Amazon (which gets gamed regularly through that function.) 

They are simple to publish books, which facility only happened earlier in this last year. This integrates  your books with Google Books, and so is kind of actually two distributors in one.

It is simple to connect your print books with ebooks on Google Play (and iTunes, Nook) - and so then enable Google Book Search for the print work. This then enables greater SEO for your books. Other than Leanpub, this would be the single link to use if you only had one.

Google Play makes money off direct sales, but will take a percentage from sites which sell your hardcopy books.

Leanpub

This is the jumping off point now. As distributors, they give you a 90% royalty,  minus 50 cents - which keeps them in the black. The essential model is comparing a book to a start-up, positing that posting early and often allows your book greatest success - since you get user feedback immediately.

Elsewhere, I've done a much longer review of this distributor. If you can only give out one link, use this one. They create epub, mobi, and PDF versions of your book. They allow the reader to pay the amount they want - which can be much more than your stated minimum and maximum. (Actually they found a common payment to be $10.62, which was actually turned out to give the author a flat $10.00)

They have a built-in Affiliate program and the ability to create binders of related books on Leanpub, and packages of any digital materials.

Build your book there (they are said to have direct epub upload shortly) and then edit that ebook so you can post it elsewhere without their branding (or go ahead and keep it.)

Overdrive

Tests still ongoing. I've not been accepted as a publisher yet. Here, you are able to set wholesale and retail suggested prices. You are also able to post audiobooks here.

These reach different outlets than the rest, as they deal with libraries and colleges, as well as retail outlets.

I'll keep you posted as I get more data...

- - - -

That wraps it up. Posting here so I can get it into the book I'm wrapping up on this subject.

End of this book may mean also the end of this project as I move onto the next.

If I do find something, I'll post it here - so do subscribe in the way you'd like (above, right.)

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