An Objective Comparison of Ebook Distributors

What I’ve noted so far.

I published, through Flying M Productions, my first ebook in October 2011 and have since published two others. (Learn about all of these titles here.) I went mainstream on all of the ebook distributions, choosing Amazon Kindle (custom mobi), Apple iBookstore (epub), and Barnes & Noble NOOK (epub). With about five months of sales and reseller experience, I thought it was about time to share my observations of these three platforms.

For each criteria, I provided a grade and notes to back it up. Remember, this is based on my experience with just these three books. For the iBookstore, I do not include my experience with iBooks Author-generated books in the table; that’s discussed briefly at the end of this post.

Criteria Kindle Store iBookstore NOOK Store
Ease of Publishing A
It’s very easy to get into the Kindle Direct Publishing program and publish books.
C
Apple’s iTunes Connect program requires a lot of paperwork and acceptance of agreements that are often updated. Its interface for publishing is surprisingly unintuitive (for Apple). It requires a unique ISBN for every book sold.
B
Getting into the B&N Pubit program is relatively easy, although there is an approval process that takes some time. Its online book submission process is easy.
Publisher Support D
Publisher support is nearly non-existent. It’s difficult to send questions. Most questions are answered with a “canned” response. Often, I’m told my question needs more research, but an answer never comes.
D
Publisher support is handled primarily through a menu-driven help system that’s poorly designed. It can take more than a week to get an question answered and it’s usually with a “canned” response.
n/a
I have no experience with B&N’s support system.
Ease of Creating Acceptable Documents B
I convert from epub to Kindle using the Kindle Previewer app. This usually goes smoothly the first time around, but it does require that conversion.
C
Apple is extremely particular about formatting and unusual characters in ebook files. For example, it doesn’t like uppercase filename extensions or spaces in file names. This often requires a lot of digging around in epub format files to fix problems. To be fair, I could probably improve my templates to prevent some of the problems I encounter.
B
BN.com accepts just about any epub I send, as long as it isn’t any larger than 20 MB (which I think is too restrictive.)
Appearance of Ebook C
The Kindle format inconsistently formats bulleted lists and font sizes and completely ignores some formatting. As a result, my books are not usually formatted as I’d like to see them.
A
My iBookstore books usually look very good. Apple is true to all epub formatting.
B
My NOOK books usually look very good, although I sometimes notice instances where formatting is ignored.
Speed of Review Process A
Amazon consistently makes my books available for sale within 24 hours of posting.
D
There is no consistency in the speed of Apple’s review process. I had one book appear within an hour of posting while I waited a week or more for others.
B
B&N consistently makes my books available for sale within 48 hours of posting.
Sales A
In most instances, Amazon sells the most books.
B
Apple sells reasonably well — unless a book has an unusual amount of appeal to Mac users, in which case, it sells best.
D
B&N’s sales are sluggish and rather disappointing.
Royalties D
Amazon offers the worst publishing deal. To get 70% royalties, you must price the book between $2.99 and $9.99. The 70% commission rate is only available for books sold to certain countries. All sales to other countries earn just 35%.You must also pay “delivery fee” based on the size of your book file for all books sold at the 70% commission rate. Amazon enforces price matching, so if your book is available for a lower price elsewhere, Amazon will arbitrarily lower the price of your book in the Kindle Store. And don’t even think of getting into the KDP Select Program; that’s something else I need to blog about soon.
A
Apple offers the best publishing deal: 70% flat rate on all books. No hidden costs, no exceptions to the 70% rate.
A
B&N also offers a good publishing deal: 70% flat rate on all books.
Sales & Royalty Reporting C
Amazon’s reporting system is inconsistent and confusing, although it does have up-to-the-minute sales figures. Amazon’s staff does not reply promptly (or at all) to sales/royalty report questions. Reports seem to indicate book sales at unauthorized prices, making me wonder whether Amazon is ripping me off.
A
Apple’s reporting system is updated daily. Reports can be viewed its iTunes Connect website as well as in an extremely well designed iOS app.
B
B&N’s reporting system is minimal but accurate.
Final Grade B
The only reason Amazon gets such a good grade is because it sells a lot of books. Its royalty structure sucks, but I can still earn more there for most titles than anywhere else.
B
Apple’s fair royalty rate and reporting help it score well, but its disappointing sales figures and inconsistent review process keep it from getting a better grade.
C
B&N is a nice platform, but low sales keep it from getting a better grade. In all honesty, if it weren’t for the fact that publishing there was so easy, I probably would’t bother.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well my iBooks 2 interactive (enhanced) books do on the iBookstore, since Apple is taking so damn long to approve them.

Do you have any experience with any of these publishing platforms? If so, what have you observed? Share your thoughts in the Comments for this post.

15 thoughts on “An Objective Comparison of Ebook Distributors

  1. Wow!!! This is awesome information. Since I give presentations on eBook publishing, I actually do a lot of research on this type of information. I have never seen this information consolidated in such a easy to follow mannor. Thank you for posting.

    There is one point I would offer a slight comment on… Regarding your Sales line. I have found various authors reporting amazingly different results. I have seen some reporting that a disproportionate amount of their sales comes from the B&N store, and others report Zero sales from B&N, with most of their sales coming from Amazon. I have found it difficult to pin the phenomenon down to specific book characteristics. So I recommend to my presentation attendees that they target all 3 as it makes sense, and more if they wish, but minimally these 3. The topic got somewhat more complex when Apple introduced the iBooks format and iBooks Author. It is one thing to create an ePub, and then convert it to Mobi, or visa-versa, but it is another thing to also need to also generate and enhanced format with iBA. So I have added some discussion on how the work flow can look for doing that while minimizing the amount of additional work needed. I get the impression you did a good job of that with the process you used for your iBA book.

    • Glad you found this info helpful.

      Regarding that sales line, I have three books out and each book is doing best in a different store. My Making Movies book is selling best on Amazon. My Excel Sorting book is selling best on BN.com. And my iBooks Author book is (predictably) selling best in the iBookstore. Overall, however, the sales are as reported here.

      I think it’s excellent advice to sell in all three places whenever possible. Why not, right?

  2. So far I’ve published one book on Kindle store. It was all really easy (I exported for Kindle from Scrivener) and it was quickly approved.

    I have the 70% royalty scheme but was also taken by surprise that some books don’t receive the full royalty because they’re sold in certain markets.

    As far as I can see, too, I have to buy my own copy of the book so I can double-check it’s all how I thought it would be.

    The other thing is, next time I’ll keep the front matter really brief so the sample has more useful content.

    • The lower royalty rate for certain countries really pisses me off. It’s just another way for Amazon to squeeze money out of authors/publishers. And the “delivery fee” is total bull. If anything, they should be levying that fee on free books, not books they can earn money on.

      I buy a copy of each of my books in each store so I know firsthand about the readers’ experience.

      Don’t let the sample have too much useful content or you’ll be distributing more samples than actual books. Be sure it includes a detailed TOC so samplers can get a good idea of what’s in the whole book.

  3. Maria,
    Thanks for the interesting post. I’m curious about your experience with KDP Select program — did you ever blog about it yet?
    Thanks,
    Adrienn

  4. Just pub’ed a nice book of stories and pictures of an epik hike in the High Sierra (Sierra Crossing: the epic trek you an do in a week). It is on Amazon and iBookstore (finally, after 6 weeks). Cannot put it on B&N as it is about 60 MB, due to the pictures. B&N makes a nice color reader, and then blocks books that have much in the way of high-quality images. Weird. Why?
    My next titles also have maps and satellite images, and will go over 20 MB, so B&N wont get them. Seems clueless and self-defeating to me.
    And then there is the Amazon “delivery charge” which also is a strong disincentive to larger, graphic-rich books. More lameness.
    Are there any adults or savvy executives at these places?

    • You might try using JPGs (instead of PNG, if that’s what you used) or downgrading the JPGs for the NOOK version to make it fit. I did that with my iBooks Author book. Duplicate the folder of images and then use a Photoshop action to resave them in as lower quality images. Swap out the new images for the old, reseal the Epub file, and submit. If you can automate much of the process, it might be worth it. NOOK sales are pretty low, though, so I’m not sure its worth the bother.

      The way I see it, there are so many “authors” out there willing to submit anything to get published that they really don’t care who submits what. Quality is not their concern. Quantity is. The more cheap titles they can offer customers, the happier they are. But they don’t want to bear the cost of carrying large file size books. We’re chumps for using them, but there’s no other good option for us. The books DO sell.

    • Have been trying downsampling strategies but so far the results are too fuzzy to be acceptable. I am relearning Fireworks, as it is good at downsampling, showing a 4-up where you can gang-pan the 4 different sizes and see what holds up and what goes unacceptable. But a 20 MB limit seems so 90s. My cable service can deliver 20 MB in ~10 seconds.

  5. Do you have a link to something that explains in plain English what I’m agreeing to by signing up with Apple? When I read through the legalese, I come away with the following rules:

    – Their breadth requirements seem to prevent me from using KDP Select to temporarily provide Amazon an exclusive.

    – Their lowest price requirements seem to mean I can’t give my eBooks away for free.

    Any help would be appreciated, I’ve found your blog posts on digital publishing very helpful!

    • What you’re reading is likely correct.

      But it’s the KDP select program that prohibits selling anywhere else. Amazon demands an exclusive. in that case, anything Apple says about KDP select is moot.

      And if you’re giving you’re book away, you’re not exactly “selling” it, are you? Apple wants books at specific price points that start at 99 cents.

      If the agreement worries you, don’t agree and don’t sell through Apple. Pretty simple solution. Unless your book is Apple/Mac/iOS related, it’ll likely sell better on Amazon anyway. That’s what I’ve seen.

  6. Thanks for your blog. The info is really helpful. I am new to the eBook publishing world. Just finished a book “See it! Hear it! Say it! American Slang For Chinese Speakers” with iBooks Author. The content is written in Chinese, with audio clips read by native English speakers. Apple has no problems reviewing the book and put it in store in less than 48 hours. To increase sales, I have created an ePub version (without the interactive feature) and submit to KDP. But the process was a frustrating one. The Chinese characters didn’t show up right. There’s no support from Amazon. Now, I come up with a perfect mobi version using Calibre and it looks ok on my iMac’s Kindle reader. However, when I use the same ePud version that I used in Calibre’s conversion to go thru KDP again, the Chinese characters are still wrong, very wrong. My attempt to sell on Amazon is a failure. Apple seems better in accepting foreign language works. Any other publishing platforms you can recommend for foreign language work like mine?

    • Sounds like you did GREAT with Apple. And your book sounds fascinating!

      Unfortunately, I have no experience with publishing in foreign languages. So I don’t have any suggestions for you. Sorry.

  7. I love Amazon; I hate Amazon. Bottom line is that the DOJ sued the wrong company, if for no other reason than my novel on Kindle looks like crap, whereas it looks great on my iPad!!! I had already decided to price my novel, One Small Step, at $9.99, so the forcing of price between $2.99 and $9.99 did not hurt me, but it is still horrible and should be taken before a judge–if one can be found that has a clue!

What do you think?