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 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 (Kindle, 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 (so you wait a long time for that first payment). 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 files. 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, Borders, and iBook. 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?