For a lot of authors, the self-publishing world begins and ends with Amazon. Some adventurous types get as far as alternatives such as Barnes & Noble or aggregators like Smashwords, but the options still boil down to the online version of the big-box retailer. The benefits are ease of use and a huge potential audience, but the downsides are steady competition, pressure to keep prices low, and no easy way to build a relationship with your audience.

But there’s an option beyond traditional retail that you might want to consider.

Platforms such as eJunkie, Gumroad, PayHip, or even the old standby, PayPal, can be used to sell your book. I call these “independent retail platforms” (IRPs) to distinguish them from the big box guys like Amazon. (I totally made that term up so don’t expect anyone else to know what you’re talking about if you use it in conversation.)

Although independent retail isn’t for everyone, it’s well worth looking into to see if they’d be a good fit for you.

What makes them different?

Independent retail platforms allow customers to buy your book either directly from your site using a “buy” button or from a page that you direct them to. Unlike a standard Amazon listing, independent listings don’t come with a dozen distractions such as competing products and search bars; they’re dedicated exclusively to your book.

They’re often a little more work and sometimes they come with an upfront cost such as a monthly charge or set-up fee.

Some enable you to offer coupons or discounts to select customer or to upsell them as they check out. You may also be able to use affiliate programs to reward people who sell your books for you or take advantage of analytics to learn more about your customer base and traffic sources—all things you can’t do with Amazon.

Some Independent Retail Options

Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list of some IRPs that might be worth checking out.

PayHip. 5% + 25¢ transaction fee, no monthly fee. Offer customers coupons, “pay what you want” deals, and affiliate income.

Gumroad. Either $10/month + 3.5% + 30¢ transaction fees or8.5% + 30¢ transaction fee. Can be used to sell a variety of formats including audio and video.

DPD. Monthly plans from $10 –$30. Encryption, analytics, upsells, coupons and many other options.

E-junkie.  Monthly fees from $5–$100, depending on number of products sold, no transaction fees. Digital storage and automatic delivery.

Selz. Monthly fees from $0 to $26.99 plus transaction fees. Allows image, video and audio previews and offers download limits and easy customer updates.

Who benefits?

While Amazon can be an excellent platform for many books, it’s not the best space for everyone. Very broadly speaking, the authors who are most likely to benefit from independent retail are those who:

  • Have products that can command a relatively high price point
  • Are selling a “tripwire” product as part of a sales funnel
  • Want to offer a subscription service (charging monthly fees and offering regular delivery of content)

Advantages of Independent Platforms

More profit. While Amazon’s royalty system makes it awkward to price your Kindle book above $9.99, independent platforms take a flat cut or monthly subscription fee and allow you to set your price as high as you like.

Multimedia files. Rather than linking to supplementary material such as videos and audio files in your book, you can simply include them in the package.

List builders. Sell your book on Amazon and you’ll never actually know who bought it, unless they take the extra step of signing up for your list. Sell on an independent platform, though, and you can collect the email address of every customer as they buy, giving you a way to keep in touch with them in the future.

Less competition. While you won’t have the wide audience that Amazon can offer, you also won’t have competing products popping up on the same page.

Subscriptions. If you’re looking for an easy way to both deliver regular content and charge customers on an on-going basis, checkout the subscription services offered platforms such as Gumroad and DPD.

Analytics. Some platforms offer analytics services so you can find out, for example, where your sales traffic is coming from or where your customers are located.

Disadvantages of IRPs

Smaller reach. Unlike on Amazon, which is as much a search engine as it is a store, customers are unlikely to simply stumble on your book by accident or algorithm. You’ll need a way to drive traffic to your website and/or sales page.

Set up and maintenance. In many cases, you’ll have to pay some kind of upfront or ongoing fee, and of course, you’ll have to figure out how to integrate your payment options with your website (usually this isn’t all that difficult, but it might be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to fussing with the back end of your site).

Hardcopies. While it’s perfectly possible to set up a shopping cart and allow customers to buy a hardcopy of your book, you will be responsible for packaging and shipping it. If you use Amazon’s CreateSpace, on the other hand, you can leave the logistics to them.

What do you think?

For the average sci fi or romance writer, IRPs probably aren’t the best way to go, but if you’ve got an information product, regular content like a zine or comic book, or a marketing funnel that needs to be fed, an IRP might be just the ticket.

Do you think an IRP might be the right route for your book?