How to Raise Your Royalties to 95% - And Control Your Destiny (Better)

A Review of Shopping Carts and On-board Sales Scripts for Ebooks and Digital Goods

(Photo: Caden Crawford)
Until now, there were two ways to sell your books: Use a distributor like Amazon or iTunes - or carry stacks around to the various indie bookstores.

The distributors take their share - anywhere from 25% up to 80% - just for the privilege of using their site and network.

Selling by hand is something most people aren't trained for. Or even like to do.

Authors aren't usually trained in running a business, they've trained themselves to write and write and write.

The problem is that if they stop writing to do selling, then they aren't really earning new income - just cannibalizing their earlier work. And for pennies compared to what they can make through the networks and audiences built up by the major ebook and book distributors.

Still - most authors starve in garrets anyway, or keep their day jobs and wait for retirement so they can finally start to write full time. Something like 70-90% make around $500 per year at what they most like to do - but can't. (Of course, the surveys are quite incomplete in this area.)

The third way to earn book income - be your own distributor as well.

Many, many times, I've told you to build a list - that this was the key to your success and "instant" bestsellers on Amazon.

What if there was a way to leverage that "captive" audience in a more profitable way than just having them buy from the major distributors?

How about 90+% royalties - and being able to bundle all your works into even better packages for your loyal fans, that they would pay extra to get. How about turning those same loyal fans into evangelists who generate income from friends of friends you have never met or heard from, but who join your list and start buying your books with abandon - at these much higher royalties for the same price as you offer them at any of the main distributors....

It's not a dream, it can be a reality.

The horror stories uncovered behind the Big distributors

It all started with a review. I was simply looking for more distributors. What I found was a set of new services which would allow you to offer books from your own site.

True, especially with a hosted service like Rainmaker, you can offer digital products like ebooks or audio books - and they have built-in affiliate programs to offer your readers. They are even starting to offer a course delivery system - perfect, just an extra $95 a month. Cheap, for what you get - but struggling authors don't necessarily have that for a budget.

That research didn't find any new distributors - well, one. But nothing like you or I were expecting. I did find two ebook distributors, but they don't accept any new publishers. Kinda like Feedbooks, where they'll only take your book if it's free - but that's not really distribution, is it.

What I did find was ways you can sell your books directly to your list - and the common denominator was that they host your files for you and arrange payments via common pay systems like PayPal and Stripe. Their low overhead allows them to give you that high royalty - which others can't. Amazon has huge costs - and usually claims their book sales run at a loss (what we can trust of their reporting.) If it hadn't been for Apple raising their royalties to 75%, Amazon would have kept self-publishing commissions to 35% indefinitely. Meanwhile, Google Play/Books pays only 52% with an auto-discount of 20% on any price you give them. Kobo and Nook are at least playing with iTunes.

Other distributors like OverDrive (Content Reserve) will only accept your books if you are a larger publisher and will put up with their Windows-only systems.

As I mentioned, I did find two other semi-major ebook distributors, but they weren't accepting new authors. What was left were small distributors who had just a small clientèle - and asked you (almost pitifully) to bring traffic to them.

The result of this is just as the 2012 Taleist survey and more recent DBW survey point out - somewhere between 1 and 5% of all self-publishing authors are making a decent living at it. Maybe 20% are covering their bills, and the average for everyone else is about $500 a year - oddly the same amount both surveys came up with. Not very scientific, but it adds up.

Now Amazon has come up with a way to pay authors even less, while they profit even more - and still play the game of keeping your book from being distributed anywhere else you could be earning income. All these Big distributors readily accept your books, knowing that most books don't sell well, if at all. Amazon has become known as the new writer's book graveyard because of their "also bought" algorithm and emphasis on reviews which can be faked and bought.

All is not lost, however. There are alternatives.

The review which brought a sunshine-ray of hope

Again, let's go back to that review - I found some more distributors, plus I found four services which are taking advantage of some recent technologies and were able to simply host and sell your books - or any particular digital-based program or file.

Very clever, actually. The recent improvements in storage, bandwidth, and HTML5 have allowed very small scripts to enable an add-on presence to any website, blog - even Facebook.

So you can sell directly to your list, get higher royalties, and even enable them to get a discount for sharing - or a direct cut of the "action" by sending your offer out to their list.

Here's the candidates:


Additional distributors:

  1. PaySpree
  2. DigitalPoint.com
  3. Myebook.com
  4. eBookMall.com
  5. Feedbooks.com
  6. Leanpub.com
  7. Sellfy.com

To save time - none of these work for the general author, used to the big distributors.
  • PaySpree is mostly an affiliate sales site. 
  • DigitalPoint has an audience which is mostly Internet Marketing types.
  • Myebook costs for every book or magazine. eBookMall won't accept new authors.
  • Feedbooks only takes free books, it gets its income from selling books by larger for-profit distributors.
  • Leanpub is limited to original works and mostly deals with programming and coding books.
  • Sellfy is the most promising as a distributor, but has no reviews or  "related", "author", or "series" algorithms running - they seem relatively new to this scene. They do give you recommendations based on your selected areas in your custom "feed". What they enable you to do is to sell your audio, video and any other digital product (fonts, programs, etc.) as well as ebooks - and build  your following on this platform.

On-site selling:

  1. Sellfy
  2. Ganxy.com
  3. Gumroad.com
  4. Payhip.com
Sellfy shows up here as well, since you can - with all of these - add widgets to your site so that your list can buy directly from you. In general, most run very thin margins and only charge about 5% on average (some more) and after PayPal or your merchant takes their share,  you get maybe 92% of the price you asked for.

All of these four do just that - low-overhead sales right from your own site. Your reader buys and keeps reading. You don't have to send them to Amazon or iTunes to check out - and not come back.

If you built a big list up, then having people come and buy from you directly for every new release (or re-releasing your back-bench of titles) gets you additional  extra income coming in (nice). Or big income if you can master list-building.

Criteria for the review

Here's the ideal we should shoot from:
  • shopping cart - can you sell multiple books without leaving your site?
  • marketplace - is there a central area where people can discover your books?
  • individual widgets per book - can you sell the book directly from your landing page?
  • ability to bundle - can you put multiple books together in the same package?
  • multiple formats - how about selling epub, PDF, and mobi/azw files together?
  • discounts for book - the ability to run specials for any particular book
  • social discounts for sharing - direct incentive for people to evangelize your books...
  • ability to sign up affiliates - for the entrepreneurs in your list, who can make any percentage of your booksales you choose, so you can get new buyers and expand your list.
The short summary (we're running long enough here that I don't want to have to draw up a spreadsheet on all these):

Ganxy is a great one. No marketplace, no affiliate sales. Discounts are just by changing the price. Main problem is that they can't take files bigger than 2MB. Best advantage is being able to bundle with other authors through their platform and split payments. Ganxy can set individual book promo into a Facebook tab. Your "campaign" can collect email subscriptions, which can be emailed from Ganxy site, and you can export and import to your autoresponder. (Note: tabs don't show up on mobile, so you have to link to them directly.)

Gumroad is good as well. No marketplace. No affiliate sales. Very similar to Ganxy. Biggest problem is that they can only give you a script file - which isn't accepted by all blog platforms. Only allows your own bundles.

Payhip can take huge files, They have discounts, social discounts, and affiliates. They also have good analytics and allow you to email your customers. No marketplace. Only bundle your own books. You can put a trailer or audio file into that book description, which can improve conversions.

Sellfy has most that Payhip does (only book image, no video/audio) plus a rudimentary marketplace. They have the same problem with only giving you a script for embedding on your site. What they do best is to integrate a full bookstore on your Facebook page.

This then leaves two standing.

  • Payhip goes onto your book landing page.
  • Treat Sellfy as another distributor and set up a complete bookstore on Facebook where you can direct your list and new buyers as well.

This is a very short summary of each. I recommend you visit and try out all of them to make your own decision. Won't cost you anything except your time.

Choose wisely.

What these small providers accomplish that even Amazon can't

Did you note that you can include audio and video in your book bundle? Other than Ganxy's 2MB limit per file, most of these will take right up to 200MB individual files. And no particular limit on the amount of files you can include.

You can't bundle anywhere on the Big distributors. You can't include anything but ebooks - and only one version. Smashwords and Leanpub will generate other versions for you and offer all the main ones. But that's only ebooks.

How about selling all the ebook versions, plus opening chapters of the audiobook and the video trailer - all in one package for the same or just-higher price of the ebook alone?

Wouldn't that keep people coming back to you?

And that's the deal: keep your list happy with value they can't get with the Big distributors, while you continue to get sales from those other guys - you are leveraging those who join your list with incredible value, and are getting that extra pay you've earned.

More control over your own income by delivering better value to your closest fans - who are able to bring you more fans by selling your books for you.

Yea, I know - pinch me.But this is very real.

Again - check it out for yourself. Can't hardly turn down a stack of pancakes like this...

[Update: Added links above. Noted that we haven't talked about payment. Most of the on-site plans deal with immediate payments, not the lag which are standard in the industry (to account for refunds.) Your analytics also occur immediately (and more granularity than Amazon or others provide.) Instant income is always nice to have - even if you have to drive the traffic to them yourself. The upside is that these are sales you may not have had otherwise, since they are visitors to your site. Biggest advantage is providing value for your list.]

[Update2: Found that you can do a neat trick on Sellfy - by giving a 100% discount for someone sharing your book on Facebook or Twitter. Cute. You can also do this with Payhip - which is more applicable to your own list and direct selling. Sellfy also allows direct email link in your description, so you can have them come to that book's landing page for more data - something most other distributors won't let you do...]

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