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
I certainly wouldn’t switch if you’re selling much less than $1000/month.xiii But PD does allow you to change your plan at any time. So if you find yourself on the borderline, consider trying the new subscription plan out for a while — and let us know what you think of it in the comments below!
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if PD’s competitors consider following suit.
i By the way, the last time that I discussed PublishDrive, I mentioned that they were still operating out of Hungary. Their primary operations moved to the US this year, though most of the employees are still the lovely, friendly Hungarian-born crew I’d gotten to know. Their distribution list has expanded somewhat, but some of the Eastern European retailers are no longer available. (I don’t know that I ever sold a book on any of them anyway.)
ii IngramSpark! takes a 20% cut — which it justifies by having by far the widest distribution list of the aggregators I’m aware of.
iii Apple and Google have lately stopped taking new signups for direct access to their online publishing apparatus.
iv Directly and through distributors, Kobo and B&N together represented about 13% of my ebook income last year, so Amazon represented 62%. That’s why I recommend to my clients that they distribute directly to Amazon and use aggregators for most other retailers. That said, I distribute directly to Kobo, B&N, Apple, and Google for many of my titles — I got in back around 2011, when indies were still welcome on all of those retailers.
v Draft2Digital does allow you to distribute to Amazon through KDP Select — obviously only if Amazon is the sole store you “distribute” to. Why you’d do this instead of using KDP yourself, I’m not sure. But the choice is yours!
vi Only if your list is 100 titles or less. Though they suggest that, if you have a larger list, you can contact them. I’m sure they will be willing to negotiate.
vii Minus KDP’s ridiculous $0.15/Megabyte “transport fee”.
viii They do also offer ebook conversion services for a fee, whatever plan you choose.
ix Since PD shows you what they call “proceeds” — with the retailer’s cut and theirs deducted — rather than gross sales in their Sales and Finances reports, this actually works out to around $600/month. Just in case you thought this was too easy.
x Not to mention a $50 Amazon Advertising credit!
xi Do your due diligence and research advertising on Amazon before you start; pay-per-click ads are a powerful tool, but require a fair amount of savvy and work. They’re definitely not a guaranteed set-it-and-leave-it kind of marketing tool — not that there is such a thing in book publishing.
It IS possible to lose money advertising — if your ads are bad or misleading, if your bids are too high, or if your keywords are terrible. All of these would lead to clicks with no sales — or sales that didn’t offset the cost of the ads! For example, a $0.50/click bid on a $0.99 short story is probably a terrible idea — not all clicks will convert into sales, in any case, but you’ll only make 35% on Amazon for an ebook under $2.99!
Unless, of course, the $0.99 ebook is a loss-leader for a very popular series of ebooks that stand to make you much more than enough to offset the loss on Book #1. Ask yourself: what percentage of the readers of Book #1 buy Book #2, etc? How much is each sale of Book #1 likely to make me in further sales, on average? Analysis like this takes honest-to-goodness calculus. But you ought to be able to ballpark a number based on your actual sales: if sales of Book #1 rise x% due to ads, then what will an increase of x% in sales of books #2–#z net me? Factor that into your calculations.
But still: due diligence.
xii I’m looking at you, Amazon and Apple, who send me a separate deposit from each unit of your corporation that sells one of my ebooks! Kobo and Google — even Amazon’s ACX for audiobooks — send me one unified statement with a single payment for all sales, no matter where they take place. :shakes fist:
xiii I’ve got my titles spread across three aggregators — Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and PublishDrive. So nope: at the moment I don’t hit the threshold. I like Smashwords and Draft2Digital. And I’m a bit daunted by the prospect of moving so many titles — including more than a few that are already owned by libraries, which would then have to resubscribe to keep their licenses. I lost a bunch of library sales this way when Pronoun disappeared. Overdrive wouldn’t pick up the new distribution. :sniff: