As a part of Getcovers marketing team, Michael helps indie creatives master their craft. In his free time, Michael likes playing his electric guitar, losing hours in video games, and reading unhealthy amounts of SF&F (and trying to move his body at least a little bit to not transform into a plant).
If you are an indie author, you are lucky to live in a time of the self-publishing boom. You have an unprecedented opportunity to release a book without a traditional agency and still make it, and make it big if the stars align just right.
Moreso, the number of options you have is truly overwhelming, which is great but also, well — truly overwhelming. Numerous online retailers to choose from; plenty of aggregators that promise to handle all the meticulous, slow work for a cut of your future profits.
You may wonder:
“What’s the best solution for me? How can I maximize the chances of success with this book I poured so much soul into.”
To make this task slightly easier for you, we will examine the self-publishing industry and core differences between distributing via online book retailers and aggregators.
The Scale of Self-Publishing Industry
In 2007, Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing, which allowed indie authors over the world to publish without the need to prove to agents that their books were worth the time and effort.
It was the beginning of a writing Renaissance. Since then, the indie book market exploded. In 2014, due to the previous simplification of the self-publishing process:
“Self-published authors have surged to 31% of ebook sales on Amazon.com, and are now earning more ebook royalties than writers published by the “Big five” traditional publishers.”
Some two years later, in 2016, “almost 300m self-published units generated 1.25 billion in sales in 2016, in the US, in a $6 billion industry.”
Some authors, who previously failed in traditional publishing due to the lack of proper marketing, achieved great results in the self-pub niche. A bright example is a thriller writer, Mark Dawson, who sold over 300,000 copies of his series.
However, it is worth mentioning that besides great writing skills, the success of Dawson is to a big part the result of his rigorous marketing and fan base-building practices.
The onclusion is, the world of self-publishing is full of opportunities for you to grab. But, where to start?
Book Retailers vs Book Aggregators?
Today, you can have your book on the market within 24 hours, which was a wild dream not so long ago.
There are two and a half options for distributing your self-published book for the world to see:
1.Directly to online retailers of your choice.
A straightforward approach: you pick retailers and then manually upload your book to each of them. It means that you manage all the accounts yourself and also receive all the profit that the retailers of your choice grant you.
2.Using an aggregator to distribute to several retailers at once.
An aggregator is an intermediary that distributes your book to as many online retailers as you decide (Of course if the number does not exceed the aggregator’s coverage. Different aggregators work with different retailers, and some have a wider reach than the others). In exchange, the aggregator charges you either a fee or a % of your book sales.
2.5 Hybrid approach of self-published book distribution
By the hybrid self-published book distribution method, we mean publishing directly to a book retailer of your choice and using aggregators for the rest.
When it comes to deciding: should I publish directly or use an aggregator, there are several points you should consider:
- Direct distribution. You get your cut of the book sales minus the service fee of the book retailer.
- Aggregator. You pay aggregators a fixed fee and/or percent of sales
Time to market
If you want to hit as many retailers as possible fast, go with aggregators. Not much to tell here.
- Direct distribution. You should manage all accounts manually, which can be a pain, especially for busy people.
- Aggregator. You have access to a single control panel that controls all your accounts. Though the extent of control is somewhat limited.
- Direct distribution. Separate analytics for each account.
- Aggregator. Some aggregators provide stats across all channels of distribution, which is great for authors who use data for their marketing strategies.
- Direct distribution. You get paid without delays.
- Aggregator. You may need to wait for your well-earned money as retailers pay the aggregator, which then redistributes money to the authors.
- Direct distribution. You can make edits quickly and easily.
- Aggregators. Yul will have to wait for your revision to hit the market. Also, sometimes you will pay for revisions to your book. Overall, it can be a nightmare for perfectionist authors.
So you can weigh the pros and cons, and roll with whichever seems like the best option for you.
However, here’s the thing, it’s quite possible that the “hybrid approach” is the most optimal for the majority of newbie indie authors. Why so?
Well, the self-published books market is dominated by several big players.
And depending on the circumstances, one of the aforementioned platforms will generate the most profit for an indie author. Your task is to determine, which platform is the most popular among your target audience and self-publish there directly. For the rest retailers, you can use an aggregator of your choice.
For your convenience here’s a short overview of top online book retailers and aggregators for self-published authors.
Top Self-Published Book Retailers and Aggregators
The creme de la creme of book retailers in terms of market share include:
- Amazon KDP. Great for targeting the US and UK market, or the widest market in general.
- Apple Books. Ideal for mac users who also want to target other Apple followers.
- Kobo Writing Life. Kobo dominates the Canadian market, so consider it as a primary option for targeting the country.
- Barnes and Noble Press. This retailer can potentially give you the possibility to sell your books in their shops. Though the road is long and windy.
You can consider any of the aforementioned as the primary target of your self-publishing strategy and then go for the rest with an aggregator. Speaking of which…
Some of the most popular self-published book aggregators include:
- Draft2Digital. A convenient aggregator with a wide reach in the English-speaking book market. Has no setup fee but will charge royalties.
- IngramSpark. Perhaps, the largest aggregator and print-on-demand service provider. Has a setup fee of $45 for print, $25 for ebook, and $49 for both versions. It also has a system of wholesale discounts in place that will affect the price of your book.
- BookBaby. Provides a full-package of self-publishing. They’re acknowledged for their good editing and design service. However, their prices are hefty, with some packages going over $2.000.
- SmashWords. Distributes your books to all major online retailers, except Amazon. Distribution to Amazon is accessible to authors who sold books on more than $2.000. The aggregator is free, meaning it has no fees though it charges a commission on your sales.
- PublishDrive. Is a comparably new platform that also distributes to Asian, East and Western European markets. Has no startup fee or the commission on the book sales but requires a monthly subscription fee that varies from $10 to $100.
Before You Go, a Short Note About ISBN
Some retailers and aggregators require ISBN, and some don’t. If you plan on selling printed books, you need an ISBN.
If you want your book to have an ISBN, you can either buy one or rely on your distributor or handle it. Some distributors provide ISBN for free. If you strive for complete independence and a sense of ownership, we strongly advise on the first option.
In this case, you will be listed as a publisher of the book. Also, if you decide to switch platforms, you can take your ISBN with you. However, remember that each format of your book needs a separate ISBN.
Also keep in mind that some countries, Canada for example, provide ISBNs for free.
The world of self-publishing is a competitive place not only for indie authors but for publishers and aggregators as well. It means that the industry constantly shifts and adapts to stay closer to the top. What it means for you, that in order to find the most viable proposition, you need to monitor the market and look for offers that work the best for you.