When it comes to publishing eBooks how does an author choose the best vendor? Draft2Digital, IngramSpark, PublishDrive, and Smashwords are the four eBook distribution services I get the most questions about, but I also like to talk about StreetLib because of their unique offerings. I've tested all of them (and more) with my own books and with clients and I'll compare and contrast them in this post.
Distributors improve their services frequently so I'll try to keep this post updated. Got changes? Please notify me in the comments section below this post. For more information about these and other companies check the Consumer's Guide for Self-Publishers.
Free eBook Conversion
All the distributors except IngramSpark provide a way to upload your interior book document for free conversion to EPUB and MOBI.
IngramSpark requires you to upload a pre-formatted EPUB at this time. (Look for an eBook converter on their site sometime soon. Fingers crossed!) In the meantime, you can use Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, or StreetLib's free converter to create an EPUB and upload it to IngramSpark.
If you already have a beautifully-formatted EPUB you can upload that instead of a doc file. For Smashwords, use their doc converter to get your book in all the different formats. Then, after it's been approved, upload the EPUB and it'll replace the EPUB version Smashwords created for you.
Royalties and Fees
All of these distributors take a 10% commission on sales. So if a retailer (Amazon, Kobo, etc.) charges 45% to sell your book and the distributor takes 10%, your royalty will be 45%.
Smashwords and StreetLib offer a storefront so when you sell direct via their store (or their widget on your website) you'll earn 90%. There are no signup fees or hidden fees.
PublishDrive offers an alternative $100 monthly flat-fee option for authors/publishers who want to keep 100% of their royalties. (Consider this if you earn over $1000 per month.) You'll also get a $50 Amazon Advertising credit.
All except IngramSpark have no up-front costs and IngramSpark often runs free promotions. Their eBook setup fee is $25 (print and eBook is $49).
Ease of Use
IngramSpark requires that you upload a pre-formatted EPUB and cover image. They'll run an EPUB check on it and if there are errors you'll need to get them corrected. If you have an EPUB already, you can upload it to the other distributors without using their converter.
Smashwords creates the most formats from your document so they are the most strict about styles. When they shop at the Smashwords store, your customers will have the choice to read your book in EPUB, MOBI, TXT, LRF, RTF, PDB, or PDF.
The other distributors deliver your book in EPUB and MOBI formats only so their converters are more forgiving of formatting mistakes you may have made.
If you use styles in Word (Pages, OpenOffice, etc.) you won't have any trouble uploading your book to any of the distributors. Draft2Digital was founded by authors who thought formatting with Smashwords was too difficult I have never had issues because I use Word styles correctly.
Smashwords offers an extensive and rather intimidating style guide that I've only found necessary to refer to a couple of times, mostly when images weren't converting correctly. See Mark's List to find somebody to format your book for you for $50, or Fiverr for even lower prices.
Smashwords, PublishDrive, and StreetLib offer email support only. IngramSpark has a live online chat, email support, and phone support. My authors have waited several minutes to several days (over weekends) at times with each of these distributors. Draft2Digital offers reliable phone support as well as email support. You can reach all the companies on Facebook and Twitter.
Before diving into each company's distribution model let me point out that most publishing pros recommend using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to get your eBook and print book into the Amazon store. The benefits of going direct to Amazon are many and should be the topic of another post.
IngramSpark is the largest distribution company in the world and provides distribution services to some of the other companies.
Smashwords offers wide distribution and distribution to Amazon is only an option when you reach $2000 in sales. (But again, going direct to Kindle with Amazon KDP is a smart choice with each vendor.)
PublishDrive also offers wide distribution and a deal with DangDang in China to reach the millions of people there eager to read books in English.
StreetLib offers wide distribution including to countries Amazon doesn't reach.
Draft2Digital has narrower distribution than the others but reaches all the major stores.
Here's a review of the marketing features each company offers. All of the distributors offer book marketing tips on their blogs.
Draft2Digital marketing features: D2D created the Books2Read Universal Book Link (B2R UBL) to simplify store links to your book. It's a free tool available to anyone and you can use affiliate links. Just paste in your book links and it'll create a single UBL that directs your customers to a page with a list of links to everywhere it is sold.
Here's the UBL configuration page for my self-publishing guide.
And here's what it looks like on my site. The BUY NOW button will link to the UBL page.
When the customer clicks the BUY NOW button, they'll get to this page.
This saves a lot of time because you don't have to embed all those logos on my books page.
You can create a customized link to make it easier to remember. Mine is books2read.com/spbc4 (4 for 4th edition). If you've figured out Facebook Pixels, you can add one to your UBL to track how your Facebook Ads are doing.
D2D also offers author pages with Custom Carousels to categorize books. The Refer a Friend program earns you 10% of D2D’s share of that author’s royalties for two years. Manage and schedule Promo Pricing for one or more books.
IngramSpark marketing features: When you upload your book for distribution you can choose to advertise in the Ingram Advance catalogs. It costs $85.00 for US publishers, £60.00 plus VAT for UK publishers, and €70 plus VAT for EU publishers.
The Advance Catalog is mailed to 7,000 top retailers, librarians & international customers and the digital PDF version is emailed to over 27,000 international & domestic customers.
PublishDrive marketing features: Offers a free Amazon eBook advertising tool you can use even if you're not distributing with them. (Just upload a book but don't publish it.) Their AI tool Savant suggests book categories when you upload your manuscript.
Bestseller Match shows you the most similar titles of your book in each store. Get notified of store-specific promotions Amazon (Kindle Daily & Monthly Deals), iBooks, and Kobo, via email so you can apply to participate. Run a temporary price promotion on iBooks and Kobi. An author referral program gets you $25 in Amazon Advertising credit when the author reaches $25 in gross sales. Review copy distribution sends free, private ARCs to recipients via their choice of Apple Books, Google Play Books, and Kobo, and it expires in 28 days. Get an About the Author section at Google Play Books. Apply to get a mention in PDs social platforms by sending a short description of your book and why it should be featured. Find a list all of PDs marketing features in this Google Doc.
Smashwords marketing features: Offers an online store with over 500,000 titles. Provides an author profile page where you can fill out your own Smashwords interview, insert website and social media links, and a link to where your book is available in print. Whether you publish with Smashwords or not, download Mark's free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide for lots of great tips. They also provide coupon codes for readers, reviewers, or contest participants. A Special Deals feature highlights any publicly discounted book on the home page, so you can run flash sales Alerts provide news of new releases to readers who favorite you. Affiliate links encourage others to curate your book. Use widgets to promote your own and others' books on web pages. Read more in Chapter 1 of the free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.
StreetLib marketing features: Offers an online store with over 250,000 titles. Create your own curated bookstore and receive a commission on sales.
StreetLib Market can help connect you with book marketing professionals. Like PublishDrive, StreetLib offers email notifications about promotion possibilities with Kobo, Overdrive, Scribd, and others.
Each of the five companies offers eBook preorders for sale in Apple iBooks, Amazon, Google Play, B&N, and Kobo for as many as 366 days in advance. See Ron Callari's post Preorders, Underutilized Marketing Tool?
Audiobooks and Translation
Draft2Digital, PublishDrive, and Smashwords have made a deal with audiobook company Findaway Voices that allows you to send your metadata to their platform in one click to explore the availability of voice actors with no signup fee.
StreetLib offers free book translation and narration service via their partner Tektime with revenue share.
IngramSpark can print your paperback and hardcover book too. Draft2Digital is moving into POD distribution and their beta program is live now. StreetLib offers print distribution but the per-book cost is much higher than Amazon KDP print or IngramSpark. Using both Amazon KDP Print and IngramSpark is my current recommended solution for print.
You see now why it's difficult to recommend a particular service without knowing the author's goals for the book. Do you want the widest possible eBook distribution? (Smashwords, IngramSpark, PublishDrive, or StreetLib) Are you good with getting your book into the major retailers and want a service that's dead easy with phone support? (Draft2Digital) Want to reach English-speaking Chinese readers? (PublishDrive) Readers in small worldwide markets Amazon doesn't reach? (StreetLib) Notifications about retailer publicity features? (PublishDrive or StreetLib) A service with an online store? (Smashwords or StreetLib) The considerations go on and on, and the scales tip as each company comes up with new ways to make our publishing journeys easier. Lucky us.
Tell me—which eBook distribution companies attract you? I'd love to hear it, and any questions, in the comments below.
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