I'm reviewing two eBook topics in this post because I received an e-mail yesterday from an aspiring publisher who had trouble finding the information on my site. I'll start with a quick overview of what a publisher does and doesn't need in order to sell eBooks and then I'll start linking to previous posts that give more details on the specifics. For starters, you don't need ISBN numbers (or SAN numbers or any other Bowker baloney) to publish your own eBooks as long as you aren't trying to sell them through the large distributors. When selling eBooks direct from your own websites, affiliate websites, or Internet retailers like Amazon, using up ISBN numbers is crazy. I wasted several ISBN numbers that way myself four or five years ago and regret it today.
You will need to a reseller tax ID to sell anything in states with sales tax in the United States. I collect Massachusetts 6.25% sales tax on eBooks sold in-state and pass the money on to the Department of Revenue each year. Assuming you are selling your own eBooks, you'll want to file a copyright for each one you publish, unless they are simply electronic versions of your printed books. Sticking a copyright notification in the text does not give you the same protection as paying to register a copyright. There are two distinct approaches to selling eBooks. The first is publishing quality eBooks the same way you would paper books, which is my eBook business model. The other approach involves buying resale rights from a so-called master reseller. That's basically a get-rich-quick scheme based on heavy use of advertising, and I seriously doubt anybody has ever gotten rich doing it, unless it's master resellers who grind out eBooks and resell them to "downstreamers."
Once you've written your eBook and put it through the editorial and proofreading stages, you have to decide what form to sell it in. I can't get excited about ePub or other special eBook formats. Until there are a billion dedicated ebook readers out there, why limit your sales by focusing on proprietary readers? I currently sell printable PDF eBooks generated directly from Microsoft Word, without any active DRM (Digital Rights Management). Although the eBooks I've published this way have appeared on file sharing networks, I haven't noticed any drop in sales, which pretty much move in lock-step with the number of serious visitors to my web pages. I should also note that the eBooks I published with DRM years ago have long been available on the same file sharing networks. After consulting with my publishing attorney, I decided to use a click-license to specify the terms of the eBook purchase. I'll paste in the license agreement for my POD ebook here:
I started selling eBooks again in 2008, using PayPal to process the money and e-Junkie.com to handle the downloads. Initially, I had some problems with customers paying for an eBook and not receiving the download link because it bounced off their e-mail filter. Eventually I figured out it was my fault for trying to customize the e-Junkie "Thank You" message, and once I fixed that, the success rate for eBook sales transactions jumped up to around 99%. Of the 1% who have problems, half may be real download issues with fire walls or connections and the other half are probably scammers, but it's not a big deal in any case.
As an English language eBook publisher, just under 70% of my eBook sales come from the United States, where eBooks don't appear to cannibalize from paper book sales in any significant way. My international eBook business has already reached 65 countries, with the UK, Australia and Canada being the biggest customers. Other countries where I've sold five or more eBooks include: Spain, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Malaysia, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, India, Germany, France, Denmark, Brazil and Belgium. Altogether, my international sales come to 487 copies as of this morning, for a net profit around $6,000. Most of those customers would never have paid for and waited for a printed book if the eBook option wasn't available. I have speculated, however, that the availability of print books may help sell eBooks by demonstrating that they are true books and not some cut-and-paste public domain snippets from the web.
The ten links embedded above in this post explain how to sell eBooks, but they don't specifically address how to market eBooks because there's no difference between marketing ebooks and marketing printed books online. I leave choice of whether to buy an eBook or a paper book to the customer. The only marketing I do for my eBooks are the text links on this website; no pop-ups, no paid advertising, no sending e-mails to previous customers or people who have contacted me with questions. I haven't set up any affiliate programs or placed my eBooks in any online bookstores, yet I average around $1500/month in eBook sales with just three eBooks. More aggressive marketing would probably raise sales, but it's not part of my basic business model. Authors and publishers who want their website to be popular enough to sell eBooks could do worse than reading through my redacted guide to online book marketing. And let me know if you have any complaints since I'm getting around to the first edit, two years after posting it:-)