Following the Breadcrumbs

One of the things about digital distribution that surprised me – and sometimes still does – is how content gets from here to there. It’s not uncommon to hear that someone bought a book at Portal X when I didn’t even realize I had distribution to Portal X. Similarly, there can be a line item on a royalty statement acknowledging sales at Portal Y. So, I thought I’d talk about some trails of breadcrumbs I’ve followed and tell you where they lead. There will probably be a lot more of them in future. I’ll list the portals where I distribute directly, then talk about where content can go from there.

Amazon – Amazon KDP provides automatic distribution to all Amazon portals, but their primary portal is So, anyone in the world can log on to and buy a digital book for their Kindle, so long as the title is listed as being available in their territory of residence. (Part of the publication process on KDP involves defining territories where the book can be sold. Most indie works are available internationally, but traditional publishers tend to divide up the planet into territories, often on the basis of language. Some authors have book rights revert in only some territories, so can only sell in those territories. Some might just choose to make their books available in certain markets only. This is a quirk that comes from traditional publishing and will likely linger. Language is a more important “border” than geographic territory of residence with digital books, but there are also sales tax and VAT due in certain countries.) These sales made through the portal are divided into two royalty tiers, on the basis of the consumer’s location. Sales made from certain countries can provide a 70% royalty to authors; other sales in other territories, even if the book is listed for 70% royalty, will pay only 35% royalty. It’s all spelled out in the Terms of Service (which no one evidently reads.) Amazon also charges a delivery fee on those books enrolled in the 70% royalty tier. For books like mine, it’s a couple of cents deducted from my royalty for each sale, but for books with illustrations and images, it can really add up.

Publishing on Amazon KDP also makes a book available at Amazon’s associated portals. Right now there are 8 of them: Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Japan. From the dashboard, the author can control the pricing in each market, either letting the system do it automatically (based on currency conversion) or over-riding that price to set a specific price. I usually let the system do the conversion, then over-ride to make the price prettier. Books cannot be made free on Amazon. Free occurs when Amazon chooses to match a free price elsewhere. ISBN#’s are optional at Amazon.

KOBO – KOBO’s portal is open to the world. Again, you can set territories for availability and set prices for a number of markets (either automatically or over-riding with a specific number), there is no sorting on the basis of the customer’s location. The royalty rate is the royalty rate – that’s 70% on every sale. I like that. I also like that there’s no additional delivery fee charged to me. Books can be priced free. ISBN#’s are optional at KOBO.

I’ve recently discovered that KOBO also distributes their content to other portals. One of these is the new Mondadori digital book portal in Italy.

B&N – Barnes and Noble is geared to the US market. Their physical bookstores are in the US, so on the one hand, this perspective makes sense. On the other, digital could have provided them with tremendous opportunities for growth outside of the US. I suspect, again, that their strong ties with traditional publishing gave them assumptions about territories and languages that they didn’t reconsider. What also falls out of this is that the PubIt portal is only open to authors who reside in the US. (You must have a US mailing address, a credit card that bills to a US address, a US tax number and a US bank. Really.) Maybe they just don’t want to deal with the tax issues. What makes this even more odd is that now they are expanding  into the UK. They launched the Nook in the UK last fall, making it available at John Lewis, Asda, Blackwell’s, Sainsburys and Dixons, and launching a B&N UK site to sell content. You’ll only find US authors there, or authors who are traditionally published. You still can’t buy a Nook or Nook content from Canada. Books cannot be priced free on B&N. Strangely enough, B&N will accept a free price on a book distributed to them from Smashwords. (Isn’t this quirky stuff fun?) Each book needs an ISBN# to be published directly to B&N.

Apple – The iTunes store keeps expanding – currently there are iTunes stores specific to 50 world markets. Like the other portals discussed already, authors directly publishing to Apple can define the territories in which each book can be sold. Apple’s dashboard is distinct in that the price can be set directly for every single country in which the book is available. Books can be made free. Books can be listed at a retail price, then offered at a discount so both prices display to the consumer. Control freak authors of the world, this is your portal! Each book needs its own ISBN# at Apple.

Smashwords – Ah, the heart and soul of quirk. Smashwords is both intriguing – because so many publishing assumptions are disregarded in their set-up – and infuriating – for exactly the same reason. On Smashwords, for example, it is impossible to set territories for distribution. Books must be available everywhere or not at all. On Smashwords, it is impossible to set prices for specific geographic territories or currency: all prices are automatically converted and you get what you get. Smashwords is also always adding portals. While this is both admirable and proactive, the fact that they announce these portals to author/publishers simultaneous with the news that content has been “opted in” and distributed already is pretty annoying. Right now, Smashwords will distribute content to Apple, KOBO, B&N, Sony, Diesel, Baker & Taylor Blio, Baker & Taylor Axis 360 and Library Direct. These last two are portals geared to libraries. Evidently some content is also distributed to Amazon by Smashwords.

There’s a bit of a Catch-22 with Smashwords and these library portals – evidently what is displayed to libraries, for example, are the bestselling titles on Smashwords. As authors like me take our content direct to the other portals, our SW numbers drop and our books will not be presented to these clients. I’m not sure whether they can search for specific titles, or whether the search utility only works within the bank of presented titles. Win some and lose some. Having the control is worth any sacrifice here, at least to me.

You can make books free at SW and you don’t need to have an ISBN# of your own – you can get a free one from them or buy one from them. You only need the ISBN# if you’re going to have them distribute your content to other portals.

All Romance eBooks – This portal distributes content to their sister site, OmniLit. They also can distribute content to Apple, if ISBN#’s are provided. To publish just to ARe and OmniLit, you don’t need ISBN#’s. You can make books free at this portal.

Overdrive – Overdrive’s portal is called Content Reserve and it’s primarily geared to library sales. Overdrive is the most challenging portal for indie authors, probably because they’ve traditionally done business with big publishers only and their systems are geared to that. Authors must apply and have an application reviewed, then must provide sample EPUB files to verified. Once approved and verified, all content must be delivered by FTP transfer (welcome back to 1998) then takes two weeks to go live. Their dashboard only works with Internet Explorer (Yikes. It’s 1998 again). I sell almost nothing on Overdrive, which annoys the heck out of me given how much trouble it was to get my content there. My local librarian tells me that she has a hard time finding books on their portal that she knows she wants to acquire for the library. Overdrive also, however, distributes content to other consumer portals, which surprised me a bit. I had duplicate listings at All Romance eBooks after my Overdrive content went live, until ARe shut off the Overdrive feed for my titles. My digital content is now also available at Waterstones, BooksOnBoard and Books-A-Million, courtesy of Overdrive. Those consumer portals might make the adventure worth the effort in the end. One big drawback of this portal is the lack of an interactive dashboard. Data and files can’t be updated easily, which means it’s pretty much impossible to have a sale on their portal. I have to believe that improvements are coming (but I’ve been optimistic before!).

Phew! That’s where I know the breadcrumbs go, but I’m always looking for more.