ADVERTISEMENT

Comparing the 5 Most Popular eBook Distribution Companies

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… [Read More]

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies by Carla King for BookWorks.com

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.

Okay, here's the comparison of Draft2Digital, IngramSparkPublishDrive, Smashwords, and StreetLib.

Free eBook Conversion

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

Customer Support

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

eBook Distribution

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

Marketing Features

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

Here's a review of the marketing features each company offers. All of the distributors offer book marketing tips on their blogs.

Draft2Digital

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.


Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies


And here's what it looks like on my site. The BUY NOW button will link to the UBL page.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies


When the customer clicks the BUY NOW button, they'll get to this page.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

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.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

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.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

StreetLib marketing features: Offers an online store with over 250,000 titles. Create your own curated bookstore and receive a commission on sales.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

Preorders

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

(You can go direct to Findaway Voices or Tektime if you don't use a distribution service that connects you to them. Find other options in my consumer's guide in the audiobooks chapter.)

Print

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

The Recommendation

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

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.

Your Decision?

Comparing 5 popular eBook distribution companies

Tell me—which eBook distribution companies attract you? I'd love to hear it, and any questions, in the comments below.


Like what you just read? Get more author tips and access into exclusive indie resources when you become a BookWorks member. Join our Community now. Click HERE to sign up!


16 thoughts on “Comparing the 5 Most Popular eBook Distribution Companies”

  1. Thanks for a great round-up of the different features the aggregators offer, Carla.

    Your post is of course aimed at the US/UK/CA/AU/NZ audience but just to say that, for any authors have author friends in other lands, StreetLib is in the process of rolling out dedicated author and publisher portals for every country in the world.

    Earlier this month we completed our roll-out for every country in Africa, and In April will have portals live for literally half the world.

    We’ve also partnered with SureRemit to offer blockchain enabled payments for authors in emerging markets where the traditional banking system and PayPal isn’t an option.

    For western authors looking for additional reach we’ve a raft of new ebook outlets being lined up for this year to extend our unrivalled global marketplace. And we’ve also got some exciting announcements about global audio and print.

    Stay tuned!

  2. Profile photo of Carla King Carla King says:

    Thanks for those additions, Mark, I’ll try to keep this post updated. I love what StreetLib is doing to access underserved markets and look forward to the upcoming announcements. Thanks!

    PS: Also love your TNPS (The New Publishing Standard) newsletter 🙂
    https://thenewpublishingstandard.com

  3. Great article! I’ve been using KDP and Smashwords, but am slowly moving print from Lulu to KDP after comparing costs.

    I was not familiar with PublishDrive or StreetLib, which both sound potential for international sales. I’ll be looking into them. Thanks!

    1. Carla King says:

      You’re very welcome, Jaq!
      For print: Consider going direct to Amazon.com with KDP for Print in combination with IngramSpark. Here’s a blog post that will help. http://bit.ly/print-is-amazon-kdp
      Good luck!
      Carla

  4. Robert Nagle says:

    Here’s an amazon vs smashwords comparison I did a month ago: http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/2019/02/smashwords-vs-amazon-an-ebook-comparison/ altough sw can deliver multiple formats, when you upload epub directly, it will not convert into other formats. This is a shame because I and perhaps others use the Kindle apps even for titles bought on sw. The answer to me is for sw to allow mobile uploads to sw.

    1. Robert Nagle says:

      Correcetion– for smashwords to allow uploads of mobipocket format to sw.

      1. Carla King says:

        Thanks Robert,

        Honestly, it’s difficult for me to get my head around comparing Amazon KDP with Smashwords as they are complementary and not competing. I think authors should upload their books to both Amazon KDP and Smashwords (or one of the other distribution companies listed above). 

        In other words, Amazon KDP is not a distributor. It only gets ebooks into the Amazon store. (Never mind the Amazon Expanded Distribution Program, it’s useless.) Amazon KDP is a direct-to-retailer tool (let’s call it an apple) and Smashwords is a distributor (let’s call it an orange), which is why Amazon KDP is not included in my comparison.

        Amazon KDP should be compared with other apples, the “Big 5” indie stores: B&N Press, Kobo Writing Life, Apple iBooks Author, and Google Play. Smashwords needs to be compared with the other oranges: PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, and StreetLib.

        Re your criticism of Smashwords’ lack of ability to convert EPUB into the other formats – I’m not sure why you’re taking issue with that. Authors can and should upload a Word-or-equivalent doc file to Smashwords – and probably most authors will have a doc file to upload rather than an EPUB, or a doc plus an EPUB. That doc file gets converted by Smashwords into many formats including MOBI for Kindle devices, even legacy formats, and EPUB, too. So readers who own Kindles can purchase the MOBI from Smashwords, no problem, and people who own old/legacy e-reading devices can purchase it, as well. People can only purchase MOBI-for-Kindle formatted ebooks from Amazon, which is the way it’s meant to be.

        The recent feature by Smashwords to allow us to upload EPUBs to overwrite their simple EPUB (created from the doc) is a bonus for authors who have created a beautifully-formatted EPUB and were unable to use Smashwords to deliver that prettier file to the stores in the past. Perhaps they’ve used Vellum, Leanpub, or Pressbooks or hired a professional formatter to create an EPUB from their doc. So now, these authors can upload that EPUB to Smashwords IN ADDITION to their doc file. That way, their beautiful EPUB will be distributed to the stores that deliver EPUBs – Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc., – so those readers will get the more sophisticated formatting – but readers who choose the MOBI will also be able to read the book, though in its more simple format. There’s no negative there. It’s all positive. I hope that makes sense.

        So, again, I always recommend uploading your doc or MOBI or EPUB (or HTML) to Amazon KDP to sell it in the Amazon Kindle Store, and uploading the doc to Smashwords, followed by an (optional) upload of your EPUB if you have a pretty one to Smashwords. 

        Regarding lending – Smashwords and the other distribution companies deliver your ebook to libraries, which anyone with a library card can access for free. Amazon has their own customer-based lending (Kindle Unlimited, Amazon Prime) which is not free or a public service. This paid subscription service competes with Kobo’s and Scribd’s all-you-can-read subscription services and not with the library system enabled by Overdrive. 

        There’s a lot more in your comparison I could address, such as communities, pricing, and quantity of ebooks for sale but I’m sorry, I don’t believe the comparisons are relevant. You’ve got a lot of good data there but my advice is to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges and avoid comparing apples with oranges. I hope that makes sense and that you and your readers take advantage of the ability to go direct-to-retailer with KDP and tools the other stores use and reach a wide array of other stores with the distribution companies. 

        1. Robert Nagle says:

          Smashwords (SW) is a hybrid service because it sells directly to consumers and also distributes to channels. It offers several advantages: 1) DRM-free downloads, 2)better royalty splits below 2.99 and 3)its prices tend to be lower than Amazon (because public coupons aren’t scraped by Amazon’s price-matching bot). BN, Google Play and Kobo are simply following Amazon’s business model (and losing!), and the other distribution services offer interesting marketing tools, but ultimately they are tied to Amazon. The biggest weakness of Smashwords is that you are dependent on SW’s method of uploading/creating ebooks. I can upload epub files directly, but I already have a well-tested mobi file; why can’t I upload it to SW?

          (Recently I purchased poetry titles on SW from various indie publishers. Formatting looked terrible on several SW titles — even though ironically these publishers had uploaded a perfectly formatted mobi file to KDP).

          I think there is a room for a third party to create an ebook reading system not tied to a single vendor. Maybe SW or Tor or Packt or Oreilly should chip in to support this system — Adobe has a fine epub reading system, but hasn’t really tried to make a cloud-based system which you can upload easily to. (They expect device manufacturers to do these things).

          About lending, while Kindle’s lending feature was cool when it was implemented, but it now lags significantly behind Overdrive’s Libby. Amazon needs to allow Libby and other epub reading apps to be downloaded onto Kindle Fires.

          1. Robert Nagle says:

            Another thought. Because I directly upload epub files to SW, SW distributes only the epub file to Overdrive and other library systems. A library patron who uses their Kindle to check out titles from their library will be out of luck because their library can’t use Overdrive to check out a .mobi file. I’m guessing that the other distributors you mention do not have this issue.

          2. Carla King says:

            Hi again, Robert.

            I don’t see Smashwords uploading docs for conversion as a weakness. Quite the opposite. That’s the way their system works and I don’t predict they will change it as it works well for 99.9% of users.

            You certainly can format for poetry in Smashwords – see https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/52/46/smashwords-style-guide

            Then, if you have one, upload your beautifully-formatted EPUB to Smashwords for delivery to online retailers.

            Then upload your beautifully-formatted MOBI to Amazon KDP for delivery to the Amazon Kindle store.

            That should cover all the vendors you want to reach.

            You can use Calibre to convert MOBI to EPUB and vice-versa.

            I hope that helps answer your formatting question.

            Re the other comments re hybrid services, third parties, overdrive – I don’t agree, and will leave it at that, in favor of keeping things simple and limiting this post and comments to the topic of ebook distribution services.

  5. Celeste says:

    Carla, thank you for sharing this timely information. In December 2017, I published a print book via CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Publishing) and in Kindle format. Things have changed so much since then that I’m having difficulty deciding what to do with my current works in progress.

    Your knowledge and communication style are impressive. Everything is right to the point, no fluff. I’m going to sign up for your newsletter, and will take a look at your Boot Camp and books. I have the feeling that your advice will save me tons of frustration and many hours of time.

    1. Carla King says:

      Hey, thanks much Celeste. That’s my goal! I’ll see you in Self-Pub Boot Camp. 🙂

  6. Smashwords fills a need by offering an easy way to upload content into an ebook, but getting poetry to look right is a nontrivial task — especially when you are talking about different device sizes.

    Maybe my main complaint is with distributors offering vendor-specific content creation tools rather than merely accepting epub files. Then again, doing quality control for ebooks has always been a challenge, regardless of what the format is…

  7. Profile photo of Carla King Carla King says:

    Look for my next post on content creation. 🙂

  8. Ron Seybold says:

    Carla, you’re delivering great advice here. Creating a great MOBI file is the first step, it seems, to getting Amazon’s sales-distribution. How does OverDrive include a choice of reading a MOBI file for a library borrow? How do I enter my book into the OverDrive system and ensure it’s got a Kindle version as well as EPUB? I’m looking for the OverDrive to Kindle connection.

  9. Carla King says:

    Thanks much, Ron,
    No worries. Your book will be delivered to Overdrive in EPUB and MOBI formats by the ebook distributors listed here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you are not a SPAM robot by answering the simple question below: *

 

Get Connnected From The BW Author Community


Our Partners

Partner