Over the years, I've written extensively about buying and selling tangible merchandise on eBay, Amazon.com or other marketplaces. I've usually discussed things you can touch, feel, and smell and that you unwrap from the boxes in which they are packed: shoes, golf balls, antique doorknobs, even grass-fed beef.
What happens when the merchandise you want to sell cannot be touched, felt, or unwrapped? I'm talking about ebooks you can read, music you can hear, graphics you can see, videos you can watch.
I admit to some self-interest in asking this question, as I recently completed a novel that I am offering on my own website (GregHolden.com) and in the process of completing an ebook as well. I find myself wondering: How do you price digital items? How do you package them? What are the other challenges you face when putting digital content up for sale?
Chrisy Bossie has been selling an ebook called the earthegy Seller's Bible through her store on ArtFire, Earthegy, for about a month. She advises, "Selling an ebook online is actually pretty simple, but you need to make sure you aren't charging shipping costs or unnecessary sales tax that you would for a tangible item. You also need to make sure you have a valid email address for your customers."
Theresa M. Moore of Sherman Oaks, California sells more than 15 of her own fantasy, adventure, and nonfiction books on her website Antellus.com. Since Moore doesn't have a conventional publisher, she does all her marketing herself through EveryPlaceISell and anywhere else she can.
Writers of ebooks, she points out, have plenty of places to market their work. "I advertise everywhere I can for free. I issue press releases, take out free classified ads, promote my blog on relevent sites, go on device forums like kindleboard and nookboard and promote on threads designed for such things, and make videos to post on YouTube and my own site."
If you sell through a marketplace, you can use that site's checkout system and shopping cart to receive and process payments. If you sell on your own website, you have to come up with a payment system. Moore uses PayPal and Google Checkout.
But how do you price digital content you've created yourself? Kharisma Ryantori, who sells jewelry and digital tutorials about jewelry-making through a variety of storefronts under the name Popnicute, does some research.
"I compare my tutorials to other digital tutorials of the same field in the market," explains Ryantori. "Sometimes the exclusiveness of the design plays a part. Simple designs would be priced lower than more elaborate ones."
If you write books, you might also want to offer paper copies on demand to those who ask for them. Moore uses Create Space and Lulu to offer printed copies instead of digital files to those who want them.
When you create something digital, you need to protect it. While it's true that everything that's published online is automatically protected by copyright law, it's also important to register substantial works, like ebooks, with the U.S. Copyright Office. For an ebook, you can also obtain an ISBN number, which helps to identify your book so people can find it more easily.
The fact that digital content exists as a computer file makes it easy to copy and re-use, either with or without permission. Be sure to include a copyright statement or a set of Terms and Conditions with your music files, DVDs, ebooks, or other work. (I focus on copyright issues for digital content providers in Part 2.)
Besides pricing, marketing, and selling, Ryantori points out other challenges faced by digital content creators. "Sometimes customers skimmed the description and assumed that they'd get physical books," she says. "They expected the tutorial to be delivered to their mailbox instead of their email inbox. Another challenge came from spam filters. Since I send the tutorials from my personal email address, high spam filter settings would filter my email to the spam folder if my email hadn't been added to their contact list."
She also suggests providing customers with high-quality photos of the item you're selling. If you're offering a tutorial, provide clear instructions and state the level of skill the user has to have in order to use the DVD.
Whatever you create on your computer, it's not the same as simply putting your ideas on paper, adds Bossie. "It's not enough to just have ideas and be able to put them on paper or a digital format. Think of the little things that your potential customers would want if they're buying your ebook. I dislike dry technical reading, so I wrote my ebook in a very casual entertaining style without sacrificing the information. And lastly, edit, edit, edit, and get as many people to help you edit as possible. They'll see the things that you can't and throw additional ideas at you, which will only improve your ebook."
It's a lot of work to create, package, and sell your own digital content. But the benefits are worth it, according to Moore. "I can reap more immediate profit, as well as have more control over design and pricing. I can choose where to place my books and negotiate better terms of sale."
Writing ebooks is a rewarding full-time job. "I am not getting any younger and don't have time to wait around for agents and publishers to decide what they want to do with my books," Moor said. "This career does not reap as many rewards as I would like, but I am not out to get rich, and other employment has been hard to get in the last few years. I would rather be doing this then killing myself with a dull, dead-end job."
Some Resources for Selling Digital Content
United States Copyright Office
PayPal for Digital Goods
Digital Content Center
"How to Actually Make Money Selling eBooks" - article from MakeUseOf.com