With Borders getting into the act, there will soon be four platforms on which authors can self-publish e-books directly to readers. I summarized them for comparison and thought I would share my findings.

Amazon: Digital Text Platform
This venture has been around the longest, has a reported 76% of e-book sales, and publishes content directly to the Kindle bookstore. Authors can upload a Word, html, or PDF file, which Amazon reformats as mobi file. Or authors can create their own mobi files to upload. The latest requirement is that files have active TOCs.

For books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays a 70% royalty. For everything else, it pays 35% of the list price. Authors can price their books however they want, but Amazon reserves the right to discount the book. To be in compliance with the 70% agreement, authors can’t sell their e-book cheaper anywhere else. Amazon pays monthly and deposits royalties directly into the author’s bank account.

Most DTP e-books are purchased by people who own and read on Kindles, but Amazon has released applications that let computer owners as well as iPad and mobile phone users buy Kindle books to read on other devices (except those of its competitors: B&N’s Nook and Borders’ Kobo). Authors can track real-time sales through their DTP bookshelf, and no start-up fee is required.

This publishing platform was founded by an individual, and it distributes content to many e-readers (Sony, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and other devices (iPad, iPhone)—but not to Amazon’s Kindle. Files must be uploaded as Word documents that must be properly formatted. Authors have complained about the difficulty of getting the Word formatting right and about the “ugliness” of the e-books produced by Smashwords’ software.

Authors can price their book (or short story) however they want, including offering it for free. For content sold directly from its site, Smashwords pays an 85% royalty—minus discounts and processing fees. It pays 70.5% for sales through its affiliates. Smashwords pays on a quarterly basis, 40 days after the close of each quarter. Authors can track their real-time sales on the Smashwords’ dashboard. Most authors report their Smashword sales to be only about 10% of their Kindle sales, but it is a way to reach many devices through one publisher.

Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!
The retail bookseller opened this platform recently and publishes an author’s work directly to its PubIt! bookstore, which supplies the Nook e-reader. Files should be uploaded as epub documents. The site has a converter for Word and html documents, but users complain that it doesn’t work. PubIt! pays a 65% royalty on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and 40% on everything else. Authors can set the list price, but B&N reserves the right to change it.

Imitating Amazon’s structure, B&N also pays monthly to the author’s bank account, but 60 days after the end of the month. For some reason, PubIt! also requires authors to supply a credit card number. Most of these venues require authors to provide social security numbers so they can report earnings to the IRS. There is no set-up fee.

Borders: Get Published
Trying to get in on the action, Borders has announced an e-book self-publishing platform, scheduled to launch Oct. 25. The venture is a collaboration with BookBrewer, which lets authors copy and paste almost any word content, including blogs (RSS feeds), into its software to create epub files. This venue looks like it will be the easiest for authors who have few technical skills.

Borders plans to publish its content to various devices, such as its own Kobo as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Android powered tablets (but not to its competitors: Kindle and Nook). Unlike the others mentioned so far, Borders charges a set-up fee of $89.99 to distribute the books. Or it will sell you the e-book file it creates for $199 and you can do whatever you like with it. This makes the venture both a vanity press and an e-book creation service. But keep in mind there are several other e-book creators that offer this service for a lot less money. (Booknook is my personal favorite.) Borders has yet to announce royalty or payment terms.

This is a distribution company, rather than a publishing company. Authors have to supply both mobi and epub files to INgrooves, which then distributes the books to various e-readers and e-books stores, including Amazon, B&N, Sony, and Borders. For authors who want a one-stop experience, this could be the best choice.

Authors set their own prices and choose where they want their book sold or not sold. For example, an author can upload directly to Amazon DTP (for maximum sales/profits), then use INgrooves to distribute everywhere else (which is what I’ve done). As a distributor with hundreds of books, INgrooves can negotiate higher royalties than an individual author may be offered, and it adds new retail venues regularly. INgrooves charges a $50 set-up fee per book and keeps 5% of sales. It pays authors once a month, unless they have less than $200 in sales, then it waits until the author has accumulated $200.

It will be interesting to watch these ventures and see which ones thrive in a market dominated by Amazon.

Authors: What platforms have you used and what has been your experience?

  1. My concern as an author is how we keep all these platforms from leading to chaos. Like Beta Max and software programs that are long gone and forgotten, I worry about the day when one or more of these platforms is discontinued: will we hear that the readers and authors who relied on it can no longer access their books.

    The other problem comes from the formatting variations between the platforms. In the paperback world, a book is a book. The publisher and author don’t have to jump through hoops to make sure everyone can read it. Not so, in the world of e-books. One problem is the lack of a true page, that is, being able to include photographs and other art work (with cutlines) that stays next to the text it’s meant to illustrate.

    It’s a brave new world, e-book-wise, albeit a chaotic one. As an author, I don’t want to hear that Kindle users can read my books, but iPad users cannot, or that the formatting is too advanced in one format, so those people have to miss out on the book or put up with a mess on the screen.


  2. Thanks for the summary, L.J. As an author, I have not gone this route yet, but I think it may be in my future. This information will come in very hand to those trying to wade through the digital world. I RT’d your post on Twitter for others to read.

  3. This is great information. I’ve sent a link to this site to our local Sisters In Crime.

  4. Terrific info! I’m speaking on this subject at two upcoming conferences and folks are right, there’s a great deal of confusion over choices. Part of that comes from pricing of the work. Authors who self-pub can set the price point but Kindle (or whoever) can adjust that if they feel the work is being sold for less elsewhere. Also, some of these require ISBN and others don’t.

    I currently have five of my backlist out on Amazon Kindle, and these are nonfiction titles, some heavily illustrated. It can be done but takes a lot of finagling. *s* Certainly in future I expect these challenges to be addressed.

  5. Great info – thanks. But at last report, there were an estimated 65,000 e-books available on Amazon. So the question is: IF an author decides to put make a book available directly as an e-book, how in the world do you market that book? How do you delineate yourself from the other 65,000 and encourage readers to buy it? Haven’t gone this route yet as I’m published – but it’s good to know it’s an option in the future if need be – except that “advertising” it looks like a real challenge. Anyone have good suggestions here?

  6. Karna, you promote e-books the same way you promote print books—go to where the readers are online. There were more than 200,000 print books published last year, but that didn’t stop either big or small publishers from adding theirs to the market. E-books are actually easier to sell because they’re less expensive for readers, who are willing to try to new authors at lower prices.

  7. I use Kindle and Smashwords. As LJ indicated, most of my sales are on Kindle, but the sales made through Smashwords are increasing, especially to Sony, Apple and Kobo. I am happy to stay with them, at least for the moment. Marketing is aided by a strong presence on the Internet.

  8. Thanks for this great summary, LJ. One more to add: BookBaby (bookbaby.com), a distributor of ePub files. It’s a sibling of the highly successful CDBaby, the largest indie distributor of music and audio on the net. I haven’t used it, but I have my eye on it for releasing one of my OP books as an ebook in 2011.

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