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6 Things An Author Should Look For in An Indie eBookstore

If417181717_0c48ce779a_m[1] you’ve been reading the ebook news lately then I’m sure you know all about the reaction by Kobo, Amazon, and B&N when "news" broke that they were selling adult content. They removed hundreds of questionable titles as well as ebooks that did not violate any rules or laws, with Kobo even going so far as to temporarily gut their self-pub section.

No matter whether you think their response was justified or not, the events of the past few days remind us that authors can’t rely on the major ebookstores to be there forever. It’s past time that they set up a fallback position with an independent ebookstore.

They have quite a few to choose from, including Indiro, reKiosk, Gumroad, and so many others that I can’t name them all.

Rather than list all the possible options I thought it better to list a few of the things I think authors should look for. I am not an author but I have bought stuff online and I have sold stuff online. I know what I look for, and I know what features I wish the major ebookstores would offer.


I feel that a ebookstore’s reputation is more important than payment processing, website integration, or almost any other feature. If an author uses a service with a bad reputation then they could lose customers.

For example, if there were an ebookstore with the reputation of Ebay then I would avoid it. I despise Ebay, and I only use it because it doesn’t really have any competition. Authors aren’t so lucky and they can’t afford to drive away readers.

Author Website Integration

An indie author isn’t going to be able to rely on their author page on to drive sales, and that means that they will need to make it easy to for a visitor to their website to buy the ebooks. Ideally this would mean that the ebookstore would offer a widget of some kind that could be integrated into an author’s website, but that is just one option.

Payment Options

Obviously an author needs to make it easy for customers to buy, and that means making sure that the payment options match up with whatever the customer is used to using.

Authors also need to make sure that they will be paid in a timely fashion and in a way that doesn’t raise their costs too much. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Amazon paid international KDP authors via a paper check which was snail-mailed from the US. That incredibly inconvenient delay is a marked contrast to Smashwords, which pays via Paypal.


Most ebookstores will tell you up front the percentage of each sale which they pay, and it varies between the various services. Smashwords is one of the higher paying ebookstores/distributors, and Gumroad pays even more. Of course this last service does nothing more than payment processing and delivering the file, so it’s not for everyone.

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This is a hot-button topic with strong feelings on both sides. I have long been in the DRM-free camp, but I’m not going to use this post to convince you to agree with me. Instead I will point out a couple useful details.

  • If an author chooses to require DRM then they’ll have to make sure that readers can use the DRMed ebook. This will generally restrict the author to ebookstores that offer Adobe DE DRM (there are exceptions).
  • Also, choosing to use DRM will cost the author money in terms of fees paid to Adobe. The author will probably earn less on average from each sale.

Website Design

Before an author sells ebooks on a site they should first try to buy an ebook. Does the search work correctly? Do the pages load quickly and is it easy to figure out your way around? Does the cover and description lok good? And finally, can the author easily change the price for a sale?

If the ebookstore’s website doesn’t function well then it could discourage customers. And since there are a lot of competing services there is little reason to choose one which is subpar.

On the other hand this particular point is also something of a trick question. For example, Gumroad doesn’t offer any sales site at all. It just offers payment processing, content delivery, and a higher royalty rate than some of their competition.


There are probably a dozen or more different issues which affect this topic. I don’t think i will be able to think of them all, so I am going to throw open the comments and let authors fill in what I missed.

What do you look for in an indie ebookstore?

image by brewbooks

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Irish Imbas October 15, 2013 um 2:26 pm

Good summary, Nate. I would possibly add discoverability/specificity – by this I mean ebookstores that supply different specialist markets. It’s not a criterion that really exists in terms of huge choice at the moment although there are some ebookstores I’ve heard of that specialise in Sci-fi or Christian books etc.

I think one of the big problems with Amazon, Apple etc. is that they try to be everything to everybody. They have such a diverse supply of books that authors wishing to establish a niche get lost in the huge volume of choice available. Categorisation helps to an extent but I’m not aware of anyone who is truly satisfied with the major ebookstore’s categorisation process at the moment (happy to be corrected on that, though). My gut feel is that over the next 2/3 years we will see the number of smaller, specialist ebookstores growing and becoming distinct from the Amazon offerings.

Nate Hoffelder October 15, 2013 um 2:46 pm

I can’t believe I forgot discoverability. You’re right, that is at least 2 points all by itself. It’s definitely something to consider.

"I think one of the big problems with Amazon, Apple etc. is that they try to be everything to everybody."

It’s more Amazon than Apple, but yes. Apple only has a limited line of products but Amazon tries to sell everything from books to clothing using the same basic webpage layout. It’s a one size fits none situation and doesn’t really work all that well.

And even in terms of content it’s not the only way to things; look at how some b&M indie bookstores focus on a single niche. An ebookstore could do the same.

Nate Hoffelder October 15, 2013 um 3:11 pm

And if nothing else, the last few days offer a great argument against a one size fits all ebookstore. There would probably never be a need for a mass deletion in a niche ebookstore.

Irish Imbas October 15, 2013 um 3:18 pm

Amen to that! Actually, it’ll be interesting to see which becomes more popular over the next wee while. Niche bookstores or 'Brand' authors with their own website sales. Probably too early to tell as yet but there may be distinctive pros and cons for authors with each option.

David Gaughran October 16, 2013 um 8:46 am

I experimented with selling direct last year, but shuttered my store when I enrolled most things in KDP Select (briefly). I didn’t re-open it when I rolled everything back out again because:

(a) sales were v. small

(b) most customers seem to struggle with sideloading, even if you provide a step-by-step guide, videos etc.

(c) I didn’t want to dilute Amazon sales.

The last point is (by far, IMO) the most important. When I get a sales spike on Amazon because of a promotion or a new release, those sales will have a multiplying affect as the book starts to appear on various lists, and populate in other high visibility spots around the Amazon site (e.g. Also Boughts etc.).

So I’m not just cannibalizing my own sales by selling direct, I’m reducing my overall Amazon visibility. Same goes for other retailers, but on Amazon it’s much more crucial (because most of my sales are there, and because most of the high-value visibility spots are open to anyone, rather than sold as co-op to publishers).

I do, however, recommend Gumroad if you decide to sell direct yourself, but warn that, when I last used it at least, PayPal wasn’t a payment option for readers (but was for authors to get paid, weirdly).

If you are talking about an indie bookstore where everyone can sell books together (I think you are talking about both things here?), it all comes down to customers. I think indies will list anywhere that sells books for them (that will let them in). I would love to see an indie ebookstore grab a piece of the market, but I’m skeptical that an indie ebookstore can summon the resources to create a customer experience which can grab a worthwhile piece of the market.

Nate Hoffelder October 16, 2013 um 11:08 am

I was trying to cover all possibilities with this post. There’s a broad spectrum of indie services that can sell ebooks and they are all worth considering.

Irish Imbas October 16, 2013 um 2:08 pm

Yes, there’s definitely a sliding scale from 'direct-to-customer' website sales to speciality indie ebookstores. With respect to the former, there was a an interesting post from Steven Lewis ( and also by Jonathan Snook ( about the same cannibalization issues cited by David. I’m still pretty convinced that the long-term option is for DTC sales but only a certain number of authors will get there (so many different factors that will impact this) and it will involve initially bouncing off the Amazon engine.

Deb A October 17, 2013 um 4:38 pm

It seems to me that Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble own the majority of the ebookstore market, reinforcing my opinion that I even though I own an eReader, print is not dead, and if I truly want to own the book, I need to buy the physical item. I just hope that we reform the laws regarding purchasing electronic media like ebooks if indeed print dies. But I hope not; there’s nothing like the feel and smell of a new book!

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