By David Kudler
Recently, PublishDrive announced a new distribution plan that I found intriguing.i For the past year, PublishDrive (PD) has been one of the ebook aggregators I most often recommend to clients, along with Draft2Digital and Smashwords, and so it seemed like a good idea to look into it.
Essentially, the new plan expands PD’s business model from a traditional ebook distribution setup to include a subscription option.
No frills: The Standard Model
In the standard distribution model, the aggregator gets 10% of gross revenue (that is, of the amount that the retailer took in) in exchange for distributing your ebook to some or all of their retail partners. That’s how most aggregators work, including Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and many more.ii Basically, 10% gives you two things:
- Ease of use: You don’t have to create and maintain individual accounts at multiple retailers sites (e.g., Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc.)
- Reach: Access to some retailers that are hard or impossible to access as a small, indie publisher, including major outlets such as ScribD and Overdrive and, recently, big retailers like Apple and Googleiii
Whether those perks are worth 10% is always a difficult question to answer.
When it comes to ease of use, only you know what your time is worth.
Regarding reach, however, I can say that the retailers that only aggregators give you access to regularly bring me far more than 10% of my monthly income. Last year it was somewhere around 25%.iv For me, aggregation is definitely worth 10% of gross for sales through those retailers! I gained 25% at a cost of about 2.5%. I’d have lost over 20% of my total net income if I didn’t sell on those sites that are only available to me through aggregators.
The other costs of this approach have been relatively few — most notably, that if you used an aggregator to distribute to Amazon (and a few other retailers), certain marketing options weren’t available to you.
For example, if you use Smashwords or one of the others to distribute to Amazon, you lose out on a couple of nice promotional tools:
- Amazon Advertising (formerly known as AMS), which allows you to set up ads that appear in searches and on product pages within Amazon
- KDP Select, Amazon’s program for folks who are willing to commit to publishing one or more titles exclusively on the largest ebook market in the English-speaking worldv
Both of those are really useful features, so I have always distributed directly to Amazon myself — and recommended that my clients do so as well. Then I use aggregators to distribute to some or all of the rest.
High-end: The Subscription Model
PD’s new subscription plan, on the other hand, takes nothing off the top. 0%. Nada. Bupkes. In exchange, PD now gives you the option of paying a $100 flat subscription rate.vi
Aside from not taking a cut, PD’s subscription plan offers one rather large feature: you can use Amazon Advertising for titles not included in KDP. While (again) difficult to calculate, I’d estimate that my sales through Amazon ads brought me a gain of around 10% in sales for those titles I advertised last year, while costing a bit over half of that. Since I retain 70% of my royalties on the ‘Zon,vii that means that I gained a net total of just under 2% of my income directly through advertising sales.
And that’s not including sales of sequels, other titles by the same author, etc., nor does it include the almost-impossible-to-quantify benefits of increased exposure due to higher Amazon ranking. Not a huge amount, but better than a sharp stick in the eye!
The only other major aggregator that offers any kind of plan without royalty sharing that I’m aware of is BookBaby — and rather than charge a monthly rate, BookBaby charges you for providing its publishing services: editing, conversion into ebook and (if you want it) print formats, and cover design.
Once your book is complete, BookBaby will then distribute it at no charge for as long as you want to leave the book on the market — though they will charge again for any revisions to your book.
PD’s plan, on the other hand, will charge you a fee of $100 every month.viii
The Choice: Which Plan Is Right for You?
So which plan should you choose? On the surface, this seems like a rather straightforward choice. After all, at what point is paying $100/month a better deal than paying 10% of every sale?
Right: when you regularly have over $1000 in sales every month. If you’re selling less, you’re risking making less per month than you would through the standard plan.
That’s why PD recommends that as the minimum cutoff.ix Such a setup is a win-win: you pay less for distribution (or at least, pay no more), while PD gets a guaranteed revenue stream.
That said, the addition of access to Amazon Advertisingx might change that calculus a bit, since if you’re using it correctly, it can increase your gross sales by enough to drive you above the $1000 threshold.xi
Also, ease of use might convince folks who currently distribute directly through KDP to move their titles over to PD. After all, how annoying is it to have to check multiple websites constantly and track payments from each of them — sometimes more than one?xii
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