Distribution Dilemma

“Thank you, Woven Red, for the lovely files for my ebook and print book. Um… what do I do with them?”

You upload them to vendor sites.

“Um… where?”

That depends on how easily you want readers to find your books and how much time and money you’re willing to invest to get them there.

Who’s Who?

Before we begin, there are three important roles you need to understand.

Retailers Sell to Readers

Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, et al are marketplaces; they are not publishers. You upload your book to their website. They sell your books directly to readers in return for a percentage of the selling price.

Aggregators Distribute to Retailers

Aggregators are middlemen. You upload your book to their website, and they distribute your book to retailers and distributors. They may charge a flat fee for the distribution or take a percentage of sales. This put up to three layers between you and your reader; each getting a slice of your pie.

KDP is the book distribution and printing subsidiary of Amazon. Ebooks uploaded to KDP are distributed exclusively to the Amazon marketplace. Under the Expanded Distribution option, KDP distributes print books to a limited set of distributors in the U.S. and the U.K.

IngramSpark is the printing and distribution arm of Ingram Book Group LLC catering to self-publishers ; they are not a publisher. Ingram Book Group serves all publishing houses around the world, large, small, and indie. Their main attraction is they sell direct to bookstores and libraries.

Draft2Digital, Smashwords et al are aggregators; they are not publishers. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark are printers and distributors; they are not publishers.

OverDrive is an ebook aggregator distributing specifically to libraries; they are not a publisher. At this time, you cannot load direct, you must use an aggregator.

Kobo is a blend of ebook retailer and global distributor. Their focus is books and magazines; no refrigerators in sight. They also have awesome promotional opportunities that are easy to use and understand. They have a global distribution network that includes Wal-Mart and OverDrive.

Each layer of distribution between you and your reader will cost you a either a percentage or a flat amount.

YOU Publish to Retailers and Aggregators

YOU are the self in self-published, the independent in indie-publishing. Just like the publisher Harper Collins, you control your content, covers, formats, release dates, prices, promotion—the works. You pay the freelancers. You pay the retailers, aggregators and printers. You pay the taxes. You bank the profits.

For the sake of ease, I’m combining retailers, aggregators, and distributors under the collective term “vendor” because it’s all about selling your book.

Get Your Upload On

So how do you, the publisher, get your book into the hands of readers?

You Have Two Choices

Go Direct

Most vendors allow you to upload your files directly to the websites yourself which maximizes your earnings and your fuss. Each vendor will have their own earnings and tax reports. Some are easier than others; refer to site’s help pages or guides for instructions. The common ones are:

    1. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The bare minimum with extensive help pages—READ THEM.
    2. Kobo. My personal favourite.
    3. Apple Books
    4. Barnes & Noble Press
    5. There may be more available in your own country.

Use a Middleman

Or you could upload your files to an aggregator which will distribute on your behalf. They will take a bite of your earnings but you save a lot of fuss. Upside is that your earnings are consolidated therefore easier to track and report. Some are easier than others; refer to site’s help pages or guides for instructions. The common ones are:

    1. Draft2Digital (D2D) and its companion site Books2Read, a very cool universal book link maker. Another favourite.
    2. Smashwords
    3. IngramSpark
    4. There may be more available in your own country.

BEWARE predatory(vanity) publishers, scammers, impersonators, and other bad people who want to take your money for little to no value in return. Writer Beware is a must-read blog to safeguard yourself and your intellectual property.

How to Decide

  1. Explore each website for the upload costs (most are free), formats offered (paperback, hardback, dust-jacketed hardback covers with white, cream, or groundwood paper), pricing models, distribution networks (if stated), guides, user support, and timelines.
  2. How does each vendor approach earnings reporting? Do they withhold income tax and pay it on your behalf? If you don’t want tax withholding, can it be done?
  3. How much time and aggravation are you willing to put up with? The more sites, the more time and aggravation, the more earnings.
  4. Is a graduated approach, one vendor at a time, more your speed?

Go Wide or Go Exclusive

One more decision to make: to publish exclusively on Amazon via the KDP Select or Kindle Unlimited programs or to go wide; that is to publish with as many distributors as possible.

There are pros and cons to both.

It’s thought that going exclusive to KDP gets you some promotional advantage in the presentation of a book on the Amazon marketplace. But only Amazon shoppers can find and buy your book.

It’s known that the wider you distribute your book, the more likely it is that a reader will find your book and buy it.

Again, do your research, make a decision. Fortunately, it’s not irrevocable. You can opt out of KDP exclusivity after 90 days and then go wide.

Now to choose your formats…