Thursday, January 5, 2012

Selling ebooks outside of the US

If you're thinking about self-publishing, make sure you don't forget to look beyond the borders of the United States.

I started selling the electronic version (only) of my EPUB Straight to the Point book when it was published in late 2010. The print version was available through my publisher, Peachpit Press, and through traditional and online booksellers. The response was very encouraging. The first thing that I noticed was that people were buying the book from far away. A fair number of my first sales were from Australia, South Africa, and Europe, where it might have taken the print book several more weeks (months?) to arrive.

In February, 2011, I published my first miniguide, Fixed Layout EPUB. Originally, I envisioned it as an update to EPUB Straight to the Point, and so I decided to offer it for free to anyone who had already purchased that book. For those who were just interested in the Fixed Layout EPUB miniguide, they could buy it for $4, and then apply the $4 to the purchase of EPUB Straight to the Point. I sent out an email to all of the people who had bought the book directly from me. It got a huge response, and indeed, I continue to get a few requests for the Fixed Layout miniguide pretty much every day.

Between May and December, 2011, I published three additional miniguides, Audio and Video in EPUB, Read Aloud EPUB, and most recently From InDesign CS 5.5 to EPUB and Kindle. I love the idea of writing very short, focused, timely, inexpensive guides on the latest ebook production techniques. I don't have to spend months and months, and the information is fresh. Instead of giving these away, I have sold them for nominal amounts that make it easy for people to keep up to date with the latest EPUB information. With each new book, I send out a mailing to everyone who has bought any of the previous ones. They have proved very successful.

I never meant to self-publish. But the more books that I sold directly to readers, and the more names and emails that I collected, the more it seemed to make sense to continue to offer EPUB information to these folks. As a long time user of FileMaker, I've been able to massage my data to see just which books people are most interested in, and also where I sell the most books. I love looking at this information so I thought I'd share it with you. If you're a self-publisher, look closely at how many readers are NOT in the US. Click on the graphic to magnify.


Indeed, more than 50% of my readers are outside of the US. More than 30% are in Europe. Almost 10% in the UK alone. Notice that although everyone says that Spain is full of pirates, there is little difference between sales to Spain and to France, which is similar in size. I am convinced that the way to compete with pirates is not on price, but rather on service and ease of use. Oceania, between Australia and New Zealand makes up amother 7%, Canada 5%, Asia 6%, and a sprinkling in Africa, Central and South America, and the Middle East. (Yes, my regions are pretty arbitrary.)

Now you see why I talk a fair bit on Twitter and in my blog about marketing outside of the United States. Ebooks are clearly a worldwide phenomenon and particularly for my readers, timeliness is one of the key features of my books. But neither Amazon nor Apple sell all over the world.

I didn't want to limit myself to the US, and I also definitely didn't want to depend on a single retailer. So I decided to sell my books both through those channels, and also directly to readers, using a fulfillment service called Kagi, based in California. Kagi stores my book files, charges customers and collects sales tax and/or VAT, and then emails a unique download link to each customer. It's not perfect—I've heard complaints that the system is sometimes slow—but it's definitely a start. And I love being able to get my files up just when I want to, without having to get Amazon or Apple to approve them.


  1. Thanks for the post.

    Hmmm, Kagi is a new one I've yet to hear of. I'm using e-junkie for fulfillment. Looks like Kagi is a tiny bit pricier. Could you please elaborate on what you like about Kagi? (Or why you chose it vs others?)

    What do you use for email distribution?

  2. I am part of the 5% in Canada - purchased all of your eBook guides through Kagi...from an end user perspective, I've found it quite simple to use and you do a great job marketing your products so that I never miss out on anything!

  3. Being from outside US myself, I appreciate any writer who knows there is world outside of the US :)

    Europe says hi :)

  4. Hi Liz,

    Thanks for this - very enlightening.

    As Amazon doesn't sell books to most of Africa and the Middle East and half of Asia (and slaps a surcharge of $2 on most of the rest of the world) through what channels are you making these international sales? Is that all direct?


  5. @David. I use Kagi, but I know other folks are using eSellerate and E-junkie. Kagi takes care of the taxes for me, which is a headache I just don't feel like dealing with right now.

  6. @Matt. I use Kagi principally because they handle all the tax stuff (VAT and Sales tax), which E-junkie does not (to my knowledge). I wish they allowed free coupons (which E-junkie does).

    For email distribution, I use Filemaker. I import all the data that Kagi sends me (name, email, address, book(s) purchased, etc., and use that to send out mailings. I've been thinking about writing about that as well... but for handling those absurd multiple reports from Apple. Interested?

  7. Let me be the first to cast a vote for an ebook from you about the mechanics of selling ebooks online via Amazon, Apple, Smashwords and especially Kagi.

    I'd be particularly interested in tips on using the buyer data you get from Kagi. I did some calculating. At the low price range, Kagi's bite of the sales price is about the same as that from Smashwords, Amazon, and the iBookstore, but those customers are your customers. You know who they are and contact them with new titles. And for an ebook priced around $9.99, Kagi's slice drops to around 15%. That's much better.

    I just checked one of your titles, and the Kagi selling page does come up on the first page of Google search results. It's not as high on the page as the Amazon link, but it is there and thus reachable by potential customers.

    That matters to me because a few years back Amazon was hiding one of my titles (Across Asia on a Bicycle) because another publisher was selling a lower quality edition for $10 more. (Search results are loaded to hide less expensive editions.) Despite that, my edition was still capturing about 80% of the Amazon sales. Checking Google, I found out why. My Amazon page for the book was the #1 listing in Google. Google was getting me sales despite Amazon's scheming and deceptive search results.

    It'd be great if the book covered ways to draw more customers to one's own web commerce site. You seem to be getting quite good at that.

    --Michael W. Perry, Seattle

    1. Hi Mike:
      Thanks for the suggestion, I'd love to do that. Not sure where it is on the list (which is ever growing!). One question: is anyone interested in seeing my FileMaker programs for analyzing both Apple and Kagi income?

  8. Liz: I'd love to see your FileMaker programs! I've been struggling with Apple's Numbers as a way to keep track of book sales. So far I've been selling my book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. But you're right that they collectively sell to just a small portion of the world. I'd also like to build direct relationships with readers. So again, yes please: more about how you use FileMaker to track both sales and people. (and by the way: am I the only one who cannot find an easy way to find daily sales numbers through Amazon's KDP Reports?) Thanks! Jean-Christie Ashmore


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