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, CreateSpace, 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 CreateSpace 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 CreateSpace 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 CreateSpace 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 CreateSpace is the tool Amazon wants you to use to get your print books into the Amazon store. They produce paperbacks, but not hardback books. (For hardcover books I suggest IngramSpark.) Create your files (I recommend using Book Design Templates and not the CreateSpace templates) and upload a PDF of the interior and the cover. They offer paid design services with CreateSpace Services, but really this is so easy you should be able to do it yourself.
IngramSpark, BookBaby, Gateway Press, and others may distribute to Amazon, but I suggest using CreateSpace 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.
Royalty rates are 80 percent of list price in the CreateSpace store (but nobody shops there!), and 60 percent in the Amazon store (worldwide).
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 plus inclusion in a returns program, which CreateSpace does not offer. 3) And finally, bookstores don’t like Amazon and are hesitant to order books from them.
So upload your paperback direct to Amazon using CreateSpace, 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.
Amazon KDP Print
I recommend using CreateSpace instead as this product is still in beta and does not have all the advantages of CreateSpace. This is Amazon’s alternative to CreateSpace as a solution and additional entry point (from the KDP dashboard) to get ebook authors to publish in print. It pre-populates your description and categories and then you upload your manuscript. Use PDF to control how it’s formatted. If you upload a document your manuscript will be formatted by the Amazon formatting engine.
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!
NOTE: KDP Print is coming soon and I suspect that CreateSpace will be rolled into it but currently CreateSpace is your better bet. KDP Print doesn’t allow you to order advance copies and they don’t distribute to all the territories yet.
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 Kindle Kids’ Book Creator
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 into the Kobo store. You simply upload your document 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 you could, and I think you should, assign your own ISBN to each format of your book.)
Your book will be available to over 12 million readers in 190 countries.
Many readers use the Kobo e-reading device but your book will be available via their app on any EPUB reader.
Kobo is a Canadian-based company with retail partners around the globe and an arrangement with the American Booksellers Association to sell ebooks in bookstores. Their parent company is Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.
Rakuten’s deal with Walmart (January 2018) extends Kobo’s reach into the United States, with Walmart becoming the exclusive mass retailer of Kobo devices. Co-branded Walmart and Kobo apps will be released for ebook and audiobook content, and Walmart stores will 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.