ePub Marketing – Should You Sell Your eBooks Directly or Use a Third-Party Aggregator?

In theory, third-party aggregators should be the most efficient way to sell your eBooks. You just submit your eBook to a third-party aggregator with the a large network of online retail partners (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Apple iTunes Book Store, etc.)  and that’s it! The third-party aggregator places your eBook into its network of online retail partners and handles all details from start-to-finish. At the end of the day, you receive a royalty check from the third-party aggregator for cumulative sales from the entire network.

In theory, sounds great. The reality tells a different story. I tried a third-party aggregator for a while and I would not do it again. I heartily recommend going direct to each major online book store and not doing it indirectly through a third-party. Here is the experience that I had using a third-party aggregator:

I use a company called Lightning Source to create all hardcopy, print-on-demand versions of my books and all of my clients’ books. Lightning Source does an outstanding job at POD and also has the largest network of online retail partners through which your hardcopies will be sold. Lightning Source is a third-party aggregator for POD hardcopies and they are the best in the business. I wouldn’t use anyone else.

Lightning Source is also a third-party aggregator for eBooks. A while back, I was considering using a third-party aggregator for my eBooks. At the time I was already selling my eBooks directly through Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble. Lightning Source was also doing a great job as the third-party aggregator for hardcopy, POD versions of all of my books. Lightning Source seemed to be the logical choice to be the third-party aggregator for my eBooks as well, so I signed on the dotted line.

The experience didn’t go as well as I expected. I don’t want this blog article to be a knock on Lightning Source’s eBook distribution services because I really thought their service on this end of the business was quite professional and prompt. They probably do this as well as or better than anyone. Lightning Source is an outstanding company and I’m one of their biggest advocates. The main purpose of this blog article is to highlight the general issues that will occur anytime you use a third-party aggregator to distribute your eBooks.

Here are the issues that occurred during my experiences with a third-party aggregator which convinced me to go direct from here on out:

1. No Control Over Prices – You do not have control over the retail prices that your eBooks will be sold at throughout the third-party aggregator’s network of retail partners. Invariably some of the network partners will sell your eBook at a large discount. This will wreck your profits with Amazon. Amazon will set its retail price of your eBook based upon the lowest price that your book is sold anywhere else. You will then be paid your 35% or 70% Kindle royalty based upon that discounted price that your eBooks are now selling at on Kindle.

2. Retail Discounting Will Wipe Out Your Amazon Kindle Profits – You have no way to stop the above discounting of your eBooks except to completely remove your eBook out of the third-party aggregator’s distribution. Believe it or not, this is no easy thing to do. When my eBooks where being sold through Lightning Source’s network, they wound up being sold at a huge discount at the Borders online book store before Borders went out of business. Amazon Kindle Direct reduced the prices of all of my Kindle eBooks to match Borders prices. It quickly became apparent to me that Lightning Course could not control how Borders priced my eBooks. The only solution was to pull all of my eBooks from Lightning Source. That I did. It was definitely not an instantaneous shut-down. My eBooks remained in Borders’ online store for quite a while afterward. I had to make a number of requests to Lightning Source to get my eBooks out of Borders. It seemed to me that Lightning Source did not have firm control over their eBook retail partner network. I had a lot lower royalty payments from Kindle during that time than I would have if my eBooks had not been discounted. Amazon is the Big Dog. If you take care of the Big Dog, the Big Dog will take care of you.

3. No Sales Tracking – You have no idea where your eBook sales are coming from. As a marketer, I don’t like having no idea where my sales are coming from. Also, there was always in the back of my mind a sneaky little suspicion asking whether I was really being paid for all sales. How would I know if I wasn’t? I wouldn’t. I totally believe that Lightning Source completely on the up-and-up, but you will always be wondering whether you’re being paid for all of your sales if your eBook is being sold through a third-party aggregator.

4. Loss of Cover Images – Your front cover image won’t always make it out to all of the retailers in the third-party aggregator’s network. No one will buy an eBook online that does not have a cover image. That issue happened to me with Kobo. Kobo was one of Lightning Source’s third-party network partners. The cover images for all of my eBooks somehow did not make it from Lightning Source to Kobo. My eBooks were being sold on Kobo without cover images. I contacted both Lightning Source and Kobo repeatedly but it never got fixed.
5. No Control Period – Even though I have shut down all eBook sales  with Lightning Source’s third-party aggregator service months ago, my eBooks are apparently still be sold through them. I receive a little payment for eBook sales from Lightning Source every month. The amount is negligible, normally between $50 and $100, and it’s nice to get, BUT….. it worries me that they have that little control over their network that they cannot stop the sales of my eBooks at my request (actually, my repeated requests).

So, there you have it – my unvarnished experience with a third-party aggregator. Once again, this is not a knock at Lightning Source. They have all of my POD business and they’re great at it. With eBooks however, I highly recommend going direct with each major online book store. One of the most enjoyable parts of my day is to log on to the online retail books stores to see the latest eBook sales. Why deny yourself that pleasure? Go direct with the online book stores you can count your new money every day as well.


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