Indypub basics: Ebook Aggregators

I am totally digging into this as a n00b, and maybe I’m making a fine point that isn’t all that important, but I thought it was neat.

There’s a difference between a few of something and lots.

A few books (even hundreds of books) – you put them on your shelf.  The more books you have, the more practical it is to start cataloging them.   With even more books, the more practical it is to start separating the catalogs into different entities.  The more catalogs you have, the more practical it is to start cataloging the catalogs…

With small publishers (and independent authors) selling ebooks springing up all over the place, there are a LOT of ebooks floating around.  You may feel like this is a lot of competition, and it is.  However, it’s also the basis for complex systems of organization, and that’s what I’m looking at today.  I feel the more ebooks that are available, and the bigger the market there is for them, the more systems will spring up to move content to customers, and that’s going to have positives and negatives.

The thing about books is that they’re physical objects and are difficult to move around and copy.

The thing about ebooks is that they can be, themselves, just data in a spreadsheet or database.  It’s really easy to copy them and move them around.  Therefore, we should, and are, starting to see different higher-order structures spring up around ebooks.

When you publish an ebook at an ebook aggregator (like Smashwords) you are actually doing two different things:

1) Publishing at a company that sells books to consumers (retail).

2) Publishing at an ebook aggregator that sells your book to other ebook-selling companies (wholesale).

With Smashwords, this means going into the Premium Catalog, which states that you sell books to the following other companies:

  • Barnes and Noble
  • Sony
  • Kobo
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Diesel

So.  An example.

With Apple, you can either submit a book directly to Apple, or you can go through one of their ebook aggregators:

  • Ingram
  • INscribe Digital
  • LibreDigital
  • Smashwords
  • Eyrolles (Europe)

You have to have an ISBN to get into Apple’s iBookstore.  Your aggregator can provide one (they buy in bulk, so the price goes WAY down.  You could get 10 for $275 or 1000 for $1,750, or go through an aggregator – Smashwords does them for free, if you list them as the publisher.)

(Additionally, claims to be a certified ebook aggregator for Apple, yet isn’t listed.  I’m still looking up how that works.)

Apple takes 30% of the cover price.

Your aggregator takes another cut of the cover price.  Lulu says they take 20%.  Smashwords says they take 10%.  Other aggregators have other rates, but the idea is that the retailer (Apple) gets a cut, the aggregator (Lulu or Smashwords or whatever) gets a cut, and you get a cut.

On the one hand, when you go through an aggregator to get to Apple, you only have to learn the aggregator’s formatting quirks.  Less work, more markets.

On the other hand, the more times your ebook changes hands to get to your customer, the more money you lose to get the books into your customers’ hands.

I think a lot of ebook authors are going to look at aggregators as an unadulterated godsend, because, to them, time is money, and they love the fact that they’re getting into lots of markets.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re losing money as their books pass through multiple hands; any money they get on top of the initial investment in time is easy money.

This is not a bad way to look at it.

However, do I really want to give the aggregators a 10 or 20% cut of the book, forever?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

I plan to find out the biggest sources of my income from the aggregators and research whether it will be more cost effective to go directly to the retailers.

Right now, that means that I go to my main aggregator (Smashwords) and opt out of the retailer sites that I also publish with directly (Barnes and Noble and Amazon).  I get a bigger cut that way, and because ebooks don’t go out of print, I get a bigger cut for as long as I leave my book up or there isn’t an industry meltdown.  I get the numbers faster from B&N and Amazon, too.  (The fact that all ebook numbers aren’t available within a day of purchase, even when the numbers have to change hands multiple times via aggregators, irks me.  Really?  Really?  But that’s a bitch for a different day.)

However, with markets that I haven’t mastered yet (or ones that I can’t get into unless I’m using an aggregator or a chain of aggregators), I will definitely go through the aggregators:  easy money.

Another example:

I contacted to find out how, as a small press, I could list my titles on their site, and got this response:

As a commercial ebook retailer, we have rationalized our licensing activities to focus on a small number of high volume trade and academic publishers only.  A direct relationship is not possible at this time. I would like to suggest that you list with an aggregator, in order to achieve greater distribution of your titles.

Once your ebooks are listed with an aggregator, they will achieve greater distribution and be accessed from e-retailing companies such as ours.

I am emailing to find out which aggregators they use.  But it looks like I have to go through an aggregator, or I won’t get into the market at all.

Note: I’m having trouble finding a solid list of ebook aggregators and who uses them.  If you know of good info, let me know, too.

There’s another aspect of this that I hadn’t realized before I started researching:

Libraries are also starting to use ebook aggregators.

Now, libraries are usually not interested in independently published books, at least, not until they get to be famous enough to show up in reviews in library journals.  I will be doing more research on the aggregators that libraries use.  My local library, the Pikes Peak Library District, goes through OverDrive and doesn’t purchase small press/independent author books unless reviewed by a library journal, but I’m not sure how OD picks up titles in the first place.

Again, a topic for a different day, but still fascinating.



PPWC Pictures


Indypub basics: Aggregators con’t.


  1. The same thing happens when you try to contact Ingram directly. They politely turn you down and send you to a middleman (distributor) who gets to make a grotesque profit on you simply because you can’t deal with Ingram…

    Originally this was to “vet” weak authors so the major catalogs wouldn’t have to waste their time with crap. But it turned into an industry in and of itself.
    You are experiencing it’s legacy now.

    eventually some company will simply drop it’s rates to %20 or so, and Amazon and Apple will be sucking gas. It requires a major player like Google, but it will happen. Think of it as the “Wal Mart” effect.

    • De

      So – do you see Google as becoming an aggregator? Or is it already? [Taking notes]

  2. Arnold Handelman

    I’m using BookBaby as my initial aggregator for a simple reason: they only charge a flat fee of $99., $19 for an ISBN number, and no cut or royalties at all. They’ll also do an ebook cover for around $129. I draft my own ebook covers and have a techie finish it professionally for $15.I use a picture bought at iStock for around $15. So my cover is only $30. Interestingly, BookBaby said that some of their “partner” retailers won’t let you make the ebook cover look like a physical book, with pages and a spine. It has to look flat. Bookbaby converts your word manuscript into epub for you included in their cheap price. The only drawback I see with them is that they only do Kindle, Apple, Nook (B&N) and Sony. That leaves Kobo out and I think Kobo is important, especially since they were just bought up by a giant Japanese house with access to Far Eastern markets. Google is, I think, starting in the business. They have the capacity, money and willpower to dominate the industry. If a consumer does a Google search on a topic or author, whose ebook do you think will appear first? The Sony one, the Apple one, or the Google one. Of course, people with Kobo readers will ask google for Kobo format, or will just go to Kobo to look for their favorite author. But a lot of searches will probably be veered to Google ebooks.

    It’s an exciting field to be in because it’s growing and changing so rapidly. It’s the Gold Rush of the second decade of the 21st century, and in some respects, reminiscent of the Wild West of yore.

    • De

      I’m a DIYer when it comes to formatting (I enjoy it), so I’m doing it on my own still, and thinking about going into business with formatting.

      I’ve heard the same thing about the 3D covers – they’re great on a website, but the major sites won’t take them, so I don’t bother.

      Kobo’s supposed to be opening up to be more friendly to indie publishers sometime next year; that may mean that BookBaby starts handling them, too.

      Google…I tried to put a book up via Google and just got lost. So they’re on hold for a while.

      So far, I’m not experiencing a Gold Rush. But I keep my fingers crossed and keep adding to the copper trickle 🙂

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