January 20, 2014
eBook Distribution—Which One to Use?
Last year I wrote a post comparing the pros and cons of using Smashwords or Bookbaby for ebook distribution. At the time they were the primary contenders for independent authors who wanted to get their books distributed to multiple platforms. A lot has changed in the industry since then. We have new players, new channels, and many new features/services from the early players. I thought it was time to do an updated comparison. I did my best to verify all data, but if you see something wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct it. Also, this post is very long. My apologies.
|Channels||Bookbaby Free||Bookbaby $||ebookParntership $||Smashwords|
|Baker & Taylor||50%||60%||X||60%|
|B & N||42.5%||50%||50%||60%|
Amazon pays 70% on books priced 2.99 – 9.99. All others are 35%. If you are not in the KDP Select program, the territories of Brazil, India, Japan, and Mexico are a maximum of 35%.
*Kobo – 70% of list price in US, CA, AUS, UK & 45% in other territories
Copia is a social media e-reading platform with an excellent following.
e-Sentral is Malaysia’s #1 online bookstore.
Flipkart is India’s largest bookseller.
Oyster and Scribd are subscription services with different requirements for what constitutes a “sale.” See this article by Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, for details of their new agreement with Scribd. Note: Bookbaby’s deal with Scribd is for purchase only. It does not allow for subscribers to Scribd to read your book.
Overdrive is not known by many authors, but it is one of the big players worldwide, and will be a major force in the next few years. They also have an app for almost every mobile and desktop platform, including PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones etc.
|costs||Bookbaby Free||BB Premium||ebookPartnership||SW|
|Conversion||epub or $||free||epub or $||free|
BookBaby Premium is $224 with 5 books. EbookPartnership is $40 per title with 5 books. (Plus $40 per year per title after that.) With both BookBaby and ebookPartnership you can buy credits, so even if you don’t have five books now, you can purchase the credits and obtain the discount.
Bookbaby allows one change per year to price. For content changes, the prices are: Up to 10 changes in your eBook – $50 (price goes up from there)
EbookPartnership’s policy on changes is on their website, but you do have to pay to make content changes or for updating retailer listings, and uploading new files/covers, etc.
Smashwords allows unlimited changes at no charge. (This is huge.)
ISBNs: I strongly recommend that authors get their own ISBNs. Bowker sells them, but they are ridiculously expensive for just one. If you buy 10 at a time, the cost is $250, or $25 each. If you plan on being prolific, you can purchase 100 for $575, or $5.75 each. If you go with both print and digital editions, you’ll need two ISBNs per book, so buying them in a block of 10 gives you enough for 5 books. The downside of using one from a distributor like SW, BB, or CreateSpace is that they are then listed as the publisher of record.
For the sake of sanity, and because there are too many possible scenarios to consider, I restricted my calculations to two scenarios.
- Using the distributors for Apple, B&N, and Kobo. (Going direct with Amazon)
- Going direct with Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo, and using the distributors for all other channels.
Because of the different royalty rates, the only way I saw to do this fairly was to make a table for each of the three channels. The number of books sold is displayed on the top row, and the dollars earned on the rows next to each distributor.
I averaged earnings based on market share. I used 20% total market share for B&N, 15% for Apple, and 5% for Kobo. I realize this might not reflect the worldwide market, but based on different channels represented this was the best way to do it. Remember, Amazon is not included, so under the first column it represents 1,000 books sold on the three channels mentioned. Using market share statistics, out of those 1,000 books, 500 would be on B&N, 375 on Apple, and 125 on Kobo. Here’s what the chart looks like.
As you can see, if the numbers I used for market share are correct, you would earn the same amount of money across all three distributors. The difference is that BB Premium and ebookPartnership cost money. So, am I saying don’t go with the premium options? No. I’m simply presenting the data, as I understand it. Each author has to decide what to do based on where they sell and how much.
There would be a big difference if you used a distributor for Amazon, as BB and ebookPartnership both pay 70% and SW pays 60%. I didn’t include Amazon because it seems as if almost everyone goes direct with them.
This didn’t turn out at all like I expected, because I had no idea when I started this that authors would earn the same using SW as they did using the premium options for the primary channels. As it stands, scenario 2 is simply a matter of deciding whether the other channels offered by the premium distributors are worth paying for. Let’s take a look.
Bookbaby: To justify using BB’s premium service it’s simply a matter of identifying the channels either not available for free elsewhere, or where BB has a royalty advantage, and then comparing those channels to BB’s free offering. Those channels include: Copia, e-Sentral, Gardners, Page Pusher, Scribd. There is a 15% difference in royalties, so in order to justify $249 for the premium service, you’d have to earn $1,660 on the premium plan for these channels only. The table below shows approximately how many books you need to sell at several price points to break even. And remember, this is per book. If you have 3 books, you need to sell 3x that many.
|BB Cost||Books – 99c||Books – 2.99||Books – 4.99|
I understand that BB’s premium service comes with other benefits. Each person will have to determine whether those services add enough value to make the difference. You can look at what is included here.
ebookPartnership: Justifying whether to pay for ebookPartnership’s service is more straightforward since they don’t offer a free service. The channels unique to them are: Google Play, Ingram, Waterstones, and of the three you can go direct with Google Play, although their process is frustrating. I didn’t include Gardners because BB offers it free. I didn’t include Overdrive because it will soon be carried by SW free. Page Foundry and Sony are also offered by SW and/or BB. That leaves us with justifying the $99 cost ($40 with purchase of five credits) based on these three channels. The calculations couldn’t be simpler. Can you sell enough books on Ingram, Waterstones, and Google (if you don’t go direct) to pay for the service? The table below shows how many you need to sell, using 60% as the average royalty rate.
|EBP Cost||Books – 99c||Books – 2.99||Books – 4.99|
This chart might make you think—damn, I can easily sell 33 books at 4.99. If you have a good following in the UK, Waterstones alone could easily pay for the cost of premium distribution. The decision boils down to knowing where you sell. If you don’t know where you sell, and how much you sell, and at what price point, I suggest you go with free options until you get a handle on your numbers. I certainly recommend keeping a spreadsheet of sales by date, retail channel, price, and geography. These are all important factors to consider when determining who to use for distribution and what price to set for your books.
For those of you who are interested, here’s what I do. I go direct with Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. I use Smashwords and I opt in for every channel except the five I go direct with. I also use Bookbaby’s free option but I only check the boxes for distribution with the channels that Smashwords doesn’t cover. (Copia, e-Sentral, Gardners, and Page Pusher)
I am reconsidering my strategy and might opt to go to B&N through SW because of the terms at the lower rates.
The Promotions Consideration
If there is one factor that makes a huge difference to an indie author, it’s the ability to run promotions and sales whenever you want, and often on a moment’s notice. If you can’t respond quickly it costs you dearly. When I run ads on the big promotion sites: Bookbub, ereadernewstoday, Kindle Books and Tips, and Pixel of Ink, I need to be able to adjust price up or down quickly. You can only do this if you go direct with the retailer. This might change in the future, but for now I don’t know of any distributor who offers price changes within hours or even a day. This can make a huge difference, because if you have a successful promotion, you want to take advantage of the recommendation algorithms that kick in at the peak of your run. When your book has reached it’s highest ranking (as best as you can determine) you want to raise the price to take advantage of the push from the retailer. (Some authors opt for a different strategy of continuing the sale at a low price.)
Smashwords pays quarterly. Bookbaby and ebookPartnership pay monthly (assuming minimums are met).
They’ve come a long way in the past year. I have always liked Bookbaby’s clean, easy-to-use site, and the channels they offered, but I felt the cost was high. Now that they offer a free service in addition to paid, it should please a lot more authors.
Pros: Good channels, including all of the major ones, plus Copia, e-Sentral, Gardners, Page Pusher, Scribd. BookPromo package offered to authors for both free and paid services.
Cons: Changes cost you dearly.
Other: For authors looking for a complete publishing package, Bookbaby has a range of services you might like. They offer cover design, print books, website hosting, editing services, book scanning services, and press releases. I have no idea how they rate in any of these areas as I haven’t used them.
This is a fairly new player, at least to me, but they have a lot to offer. Not the least of which is an excellent distribution network on the international front.
Pros: Great channels of distribution, including all of the big ones, plus, Gardners, Google Play, Ingram, Overdrive, and Waterstones.
Cons: Costs $99 per title, and $40 per title per year after that.
Other: ebookPartnership also offers additional services for authors who need them, including a variety of ebook conversions, book scanning, cover design, and website hosting.
They are the original and largest indie ebook distributor, but that hasn’t stopped Mark Coker from innovating or from continuing to improve.
Pros: In the past year they have started accepting epub files for uploading (December 2012), they introduced pre-order distribution to Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (B&N doesn’t offer preorders to authors who upload through NookPress, but Smashwords authors get them). Smashwords authors also benefit from an online store, and coupons for custom author promotions.
SW also introduced a web site redesign that made the site more mobile-friendly, introduced enhanced metadata for series books with their Series Manager tool, introduced Smashwords Interviews, an author self-interviewing tool that helps readers learn the story behind the author. SW has strong distribution channels, including: all the big channels, plus Baker & Taylor Axis, Diesel, Flipkart, Library Direct, Oyster, and Scribd. Easy system for uploading, and conversion is free. SW already had one of the best distribution channels, but they continue to improve. Last year they signed a deal with Txtr, one of the big players in Europe, which should be up and running in the first or second quarter of this year.
I had heard rumors that they might be doing a deal with Overdrive. When I asked about the Overdrive agreement, Smashwords confirmed that a deal with Overdrive was forthcoming and that launch was expected in the next several months. This will make SW books available through the world’s largest library aggregator. One of the biggest pluses, for me, is the ability to opt in/out of channels and to make changes to a book’s content and/or price with no charge. To me, this is critical. If I had to choose only one distributor it would be SW based on this factor alone.
Financially, the decision on which route to go will vary depending on your price point and your projected sales, but decisions are seldom strictly financial ones. Other factors come into play. Here are a few to consider:
- Ease of use. Both SW and Bookbaby have easy to use sites. I haven’t uploaded to ebookPartnership, but I’ve heard from a few people that say it compares favorably.
- Customer service. I love that Bookbaby has phone support, but that’s only for the premium option. They have email support for all others. SW and ebookPartnership also have email support.
Each person’s circumstances will be different. Before you decide, think of how each factor might affect you. If you have to make changes after uploading, there will be steep charges you’ll incur at Bookbaby or ebookPartnership, while Smashwords is free. Look hard at the charts. It doesn’t take long to rack up expenses that would eliminate all potential profits.
Another factor is the conversion costs. I have mine in epub so I don’t face the issues, but if you’re trying to upload Word documents it will cost you at BB unless you go premium. Be honest about how many books you think you’ll sell, and at what price. Then look at the charts and determine what makes sense. Don’t make a decision based on how many you’d like to sell. Be realistic. Remember, this is how many you’ll sell outside of Amazon, and any other channel you go direct with. Most authors won’t hit the break-even point.
It’s an absolute no-brainer to go with Smashwords. They have great channels, great support for authors, and it’s free. You can’t argue with that. One of the things I like best about SW is their approach to the business. SW is not trying to sell authors anything. SW doesn’t make any money unless the author makes money, and yet they have costs associated with hosting the site, etc. The only way they make money is to help authors sell books, and they don’t charge for doing that.
I think it’s also a no-brainer to go with Bookbaby’s free option. I signed up for free, but I only opted-in to the channels SW didn’t have.
For the premium options you’ll have to run the numbers. I haven’t gone with them, but I’m considering ebookPartnership if only for Waterstones and Ingram. Don’t let Ingram fool you. Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world and they have a substantial ebook network also. You can see a list here. And Waterstones is a major player in the UK market.
I would really like to see Bookbaby and ebookPartnership step up and cut their fees for changes, and also switch to free conversions without epubs. I’d also like to see ebookPartnership get a free option.
I looked into two other distributors but didn’t include the details. I didn’t include D2D (Draft to Digital), because they only distribute to Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo, and their terms below the 2.99 price point weren’t as favorable.
I didn’t include Ingram Spark because you cannot opt out of their distributor list, with the exception of Apple and Amazon. They also only pay 40% across the board.
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Giacomo is the author of mystery and suspense books, and he also writes a series of career books which you can check out here.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”