The tools listed here are provided by the online retailers so that you can upload your book for sale in their stores. Plenty of authors “distribute” by uploading their book to each retailer separately. This will give you a larger royalty but it’s time-consuming to upload, track, and keep accounts.
It can be smart to go direct to one retailer before “going big” with an aggregation or distribution service for the simple reason that when you go directly to a retailer you can take advantage of their marketing programs. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) “Select” is Amazon’s program and Kobo Writing Life also has really great marketing programs.
Worth noting is that you can use Amazon Advantage, Amazon Kindle Print, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Kids Book Creator to enjoy a direct relationship with Amazon while distributing elsewhere using IngramSpark, Smashwords, StreetLib, or another service. See my blog post on print book distribution on how to use both Amazon Kindle Print and IngramSpark for your print distribution.
The considerations and nuances of all of these decision-making processes are explained in my blog post on how your book gets to readers and in a more detailed manner in the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, 4th edition.
The Big 5
To clarify, when people talk about “the Big 5 online retailers” or bookstores they mean: Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, and GooglePlay. When people talk about the Big 5 publishing houses they mean Hachette Book Group (HBG), HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Let’s take a look at the Big 5 online retailers.
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
If you’ve printed hundreds or thousands of books using an offset printing company to keep costs down, you can use the Amazon Advantage fulfillment service to get your book into the Amazon store. The $99/annual fee is deducted from your sales. If you don’t generate enough sales, they waive the unpaid difference.
In this scenario you have printed your book elsewhere (probably with an offset print company—see the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors for direction on how to do this correctly.) You ship your books to them (at your cost) at their request. They’ll ask for them when they need more. They will pay you 45% of your book’s list price. You do risk returns of unsold books.
Authors have used Amazon Advantage as a workaround to get print book pre-orders in the Amazon store (since Amazon Kindle Print does not have pre-order capability), but you can distribute pre-orders to Amazon using IngramSpark. (See below.)
Why would you do this instead of using Amazon to get your print books into the Amazon store? If you have a great platform and you know you can sell thousands of books on Amazon, you may want to use an offset printer to maximize profits and cut your printing costs in half (or more). Use IngramSpark’s POD service to distribute everywhere else.
I advise most authors to distribute their books POD first to get the bugs out (there’s always something!) before printing a large quantity. It’s heartbreaking to have paid for 1000 copies of a book with errors.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) distributes your ebook in Kindle (MOBI) format to the Amazon store only. You can upload your manuscript in the following formats: Word doc or docx, HTML (ZIP, HTM), MOBI, EPUB, RTF, TXT, PDF, or KPF. Most authors use Word but saving the doc to HTML first is preferred. There are clear instructions on how to do this when you’re ready for it. Amazon is very good at hand-holding!
TIP: If you have already formatted your book for the Smashwords edition (using their style guide or a book design template), give it a new ISBN and make adjustments as spelled out in the KDP formatting guidelines. (Or vice-versa, you can copy your KDP file and modify it for Smashwords.
Price your book between $2.99 – $9.99 USD and you earn 70% minus 15¢ per megabyte. (Other countries have similar pricing but authors in Brazil, India, Mexico, and Japan it defaults to 35% flat royalty.)
Amazon KDP provides email customer support with knowledgeable staff and good response times.
You can also get your book in the Amazon store by distributing with IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, StreetLib, PubLaunch, and the full-service self-publishing companies listed in this book.
Ebook royalty rates are 35% of list price in all territories or 70% of list price minus delivery costs in set territories (and 35% of list outside those territories). To get 70% you ebooks must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
Amazon KDP Select
When you publish an ebook using Amazon KDP you will be invited to use KDP Select. Don’t do this unless you educate yourself on the exclusive program and you’re using it for your book launch. You can always do this later.
Amazon makes you think that you haven’t finished uploading your ebook if you don’t click Enroll in KDP Select but you don’t have to so ignore them.
Amazon Kindle Kids’ Book Creator
Amazon Kindle Print (replacing CreateSpace)
Amazon Kindle Print is the tool Amazon wants you to use to get your print books into the Amazon store. They produce paperbacks “on-demand” for sale in the Amazon store, but not hardcover books. (For hardcover books I suggest IngramSpark.)
Create your files (I recommend using Book Design Templates and not the Amazon templates) and upload a PDF of the interior and the cover.
IngramSpark, BookBaby, Gatekeeper Press, and others distribute to Amazon but I suggest always using Amazon tools to enjoy a direct relationship with Amazon. That way, you’ll never get those pesky “Out of Stock” messages on your book page there. In addition, you can experiment with keywords and categories without incurring a change fee.
Don’t use their ISBNs, okay? Because when you distribute your paperback with IngramSpark or elsewhere you will need a second ISBN and things get weird. One ISBN = One book format. Paperback is a book format. Okay? This is my soapbox 🙂
Royalty rates are 60 percent in the Amazon store worldwide with some exceptions.
Do not use their Expanded Distribution, which will make your book available to other online retailers and bookstores because the discount is set at 40 percent discount, which is all wrong in several ways: 1) You only need to set a 30 percent discount to sell to online retailers. 2) For bookstores, you’ll need to set a 53 percent discount (minimum) plus opt-into a returns program, which Amazon does not offer. 3) And finally, bookstores don’t like Amazon and are hesitant (to say the least) to order books from them.
So upload your paperback direct to Amazon using Kindle Print, but use another service to sell everywhere else. Also note that you should use the same ISBN (purchased directly from your ISBN agency and not through a distributor or service) for your paperback format wherever you print and distribute your book.
Apple iBooks Author
Barnes & Noble Press
B&N combined their NOOK Press ebook platform with their print on demand platforms into a single experience. New royalty rates are 65% for ebooks priced $10 and above on all copies sold, and the ability for authors to set ebook pre-orders 12 months in advance. On the print side, they have added additional trim sizes, glossy cover options (in addition to matte), and less expensive color printing.
Your book will appear in ebook and print formats in their store, and Bestselling authors are eligible to pitch their book to B&N store buyers and host store events & book signings.
They have teamed up with 99 Designs to give you a special price on book cover design, interior book formatting, and ebook conversion.
With Google Play your ebook has the potential to reach one billion Android users in over 50 countries on multiple platforms. Your books can be discovered and previewed on the world’s most popular search engine through Google Books.
To upload books directly to Google Play, sign in using an existing Google Account, or create a new account. Use the Play Books Partner Center to upload content, set prices, and choose the countries where you want to sell your books.
You will receive 52% of the list price (before taxes). In the US, if your book is priced at $14.95 you’ll get $7.77. If the book is sold in another country, the earnings are calculated at 52% of the book’s price at the exchange rate at time of sale.
Kobo Writing Life
Kobo Writing Life is a do-it-yourself publishing portal that gets your book sold into the Kobo store and the Walmart eBookstore as well as the Overdrive library distribution system and ebooks in independent bookstores.
Kobo has the most personalized and diverse marketing programs of all the stores and they’re very affordable… $5 to under $100. If you apply to participate in a marketing program and don’t get accepted they tell you why: an inappropriate cover, incomplete metadata, or weirdly formatted book interior.
Use Vellum, PressBooks, or another program to create an EPUB or upload your doc file and they automatically convert it to EPUB format. (As long as it’s formatted correctly with Styles.) As with other direct-to-retailer ebook services, you don’t need an ISBN; they’ll assign a number for you though I always think you should purchase and assign your own ISBN to each format of your book as explained in the Self-Publishing Freedom Course.
Kobo is a Canadian-based company with retail partners around the globe and an arrangement with the American Booksellers Association which is their route to selling your ebooks in bookstores. Their parent company is Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten and in August 2018 they partnered with Walmart.
Your book will be available to over 12 million readers in 190 countries with Kobo and now, with Rakuten’s deal with Walmart becoming the exclusive mass retailer of Kobo devices the service extends Kobo’s reach into the United States. Co-branded Walmart and Kobo apps are now available for ebook and audiobook content, and Walmart stores also sell digital book cards.
Kobo offers authors 70% of the list price on books priced $2.99 and higher, 45% for books priced between 99¢ and $2.98, and you can also offer your ebooks for free.
Listen to my interview with Chrissy Munroe, Director of Kobo Writing Life, on the Author Friendly Podcast.
How to distribute your book
The Self-Publishing Boot Camp courses will help you with every aspect of self-publishing. Marketing starts at the very beginning in the Self-Publishing Freedom course, with building your platform and finding your readers. You’ll learn how to do business as an author, how to choose the distribution best for your book, how to market your book and sell your book direct. Here are links to the courses.