Here we go. I know what I say here probably won’t persuade most of you, but perhaps a few will be like “wow” and decide to go elsewhere based on this information. This blog post mostly shows those of you who are interested, or perhaps haven’t gotten into reading yet, and want to know who treats your indie authors the best. Some of this may shock a lot of you — (I know I was shocked when I found out some of these details.)

Now, most of you reading will have a platform that you prefer, and that’s A-ok. Whether that platform is because you’re more of a phone reader and like using the company your phone’s hardware is based on (hello Google and Apple), or perhaps you enjoy the more niche indie companies Smashwords, Authors Direct, Lulu, etc. Or maybe, you prefer what I would consider the remaining big companies for books outside of those other platforms (at least here in North America) Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. Yes, I said North America to include my Canadian friends to the north with probably the most prominent platform they use being Kobo.

For this discussion, I’m going to focus on sales in the US. Why? Different regions on some platforms = different percent of royalties. Google and Amazon are the two I know off the top of my head. Now, as much as we love to bash on Amazon and Google for different reasons, they aren’t much different than most on the list below. Let’s take a look below for the full details.

Ebook Royalties Authors Earn In Price Range.99$ – 2.98$2.99$-9.99$10$+
Apple (iBooks)70%70%70%
Amazon (Kindle)35%70%35%
Barnes & Noble (Nook)40%65%65%
Google52%70%52%
Kobo45%70%70%
Lulu-.99c distribution fee then 90% of what is left-.99c distribution fee then 90% of what is left-.99c distribution fee then 90% of what is left
Smashwords~80%~80%~80%

Granted, there may be a store here or there that I missed, but this is most stores for ebooks. Even a lot of (if not most or all of) Walmart’s ebook section is distributed to them by Kobo. I don’t have all the inner workings, but I know most indie books go from draft2digital, Smashwords, etc., and then to Kobo, who sends it to Walmart. The more you know. Now for the results.

Pays the best: Smashwords.

By far, for your average indie eBook, this will pay your author the best. Sorry, Lulu; I love your paperback books (I’ll get into that in the next blog,) but to break even vs. Smashwords, you need to have the book priced at 9$. Not only that, but even at a 5$ book, you only make 10 cents more than most of the non-indie focused companies with more features. Let’s not forget the 99c books. Even Amazon, who gives the worst profit on 99c books out of the non-indie companies (again unless you’re running a deal as a kdp select member), gives you 35%. Lulu offers nothing because of that distribution fee.

“So James, Smashwords gives indie authors the most royalty for our purchase. Should we buy from there?”

Not necessarily. Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t mind spending a little extra time on getting your ebook put in your library and are looking to support the author the most financially, then yes, by all means, do so. The problem with Smashwords is that, well, like Lulu, they have no mobile platform. Now, this may not bother you, but I do a lot of my reading on the go, so I need some way to do this. Luckily Google lets you upload epubs PDFs, etc., that you receive from other stores and then can read on your phone. You can do this from https://play.google.com/books, but you have to be on the desktop website.

As I’m not an Apple/iPhone user, I’m not sure if they have something so handy. If they do, and you don’t mind the download and then upload process to your favorite reader, then sure, Smashwords would be the best place for you to support your favorite author financially this way.

Best pay + convenience and has a dedicated phone app: iBooks and Google play.

iPhone user? Buy your books on iBooks. Android user? Go with Google play. They have the best rates on their respective platforms. Now, are you some strange person from another galaxy who uses both Android and iPhone on the go regularly? Or perhaps you rock Android one week and iPhone the next? At that point, Kobo becomes the best “cross-platform” solution.

Now again, I’m not telling you as someone with a kindle or who loves Barnes and Nobel or whatever else that you have to drop it and go for those I’ve listed as the “best.” These are the best for the indie author, and I just want to make you aware of this as a buyer, a future writer, or just someone who enjoys a fair data comparison. Now for a bonus category.

Best for author exposure: Amazon

You didn’t see that coming, did you? While they may not pay the best and have apparent systems in place to try and get a more significant market share than they already have (see kdp select for more info), they do have that market reach. I’m not too fond of the idea of going exclusive with Amazon, but they do have a good platform, and at least with their ebooks, they pay fairly. Luckily you don’t have to go exclusive for most things, and the reviews here have the most impact as far as author exposure goes. That’s because of their reach and for just marketing in general (see my marketing posts for more information).

Honorable mention: Barnes & Nobel.

I didn’t want to leave B&N out. I’m not sure about their ebook reach, but they have been in the book game for quite some time. It’s fair to say while their standard royalties are the worst, for selling at least, you won’t lose much, and they have a pretty big reading base in general. So buying here as long as you’re planning to leave a review definitely wouldn’t hurt things. Though as far as anything else on this list is concerned, I would put them just above lulu (who is last) in terms of who you should buy ebooks from in terms of supporting an author.

These are the most updated numbers as of the date of this post. It took a bit longer than I had hoped, but I think it was well worth it. This was the first in my small blog series. Tomorrow I’m going over paperbacks and then audiobooks, which is the real shocker! Keep posted.

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