Going Wide: Direct Or Aggregator?

When people decide to put their books on more than one retailer, they invariably face the question: should I go direct to other retailers or use one aggregator who does the distribution for all the books?

There are some very good aggregators like Smashwords and Draft2Digital. They make life very easy for the author and some, especially Draft2Digital, offer a lot of additional services that are very useful.

What are the pros and cons of using these platforms?

In the first place, when you start going wide, the number of tasks that need to be performed can seem overwhelming. And the amount of work that needs to be done multiplies across however many books you have. At the moment, I have 44 different products. They are not all individual books, because some are box sets of multiple volumes, but each is an individual project that needs to be uploaded separately. I go direct on platforms where I can, so uploading all those books to all those platforms represents a significant amount of time. In the past few days I have spent hours preparing my books to upload them directly for sale on my website. I fully appreciate how hard it is and how daunting if you’re faced with this task and have to do it all at once. So the main pro is: aggregators are easy.

However, what do you lose by using a distributor, uploading it to their website just once and then clicking a button for each place where you want your book to appear?

In the first place there is the money. Aggregators usually take 10% of your earnings. Now this may seem like chickenfeed to you when you’re not selling much, but when you’re selling a lot, it quickly becomes an annoying cost.

But in my opinion, the biggest cost to you is not a monetary one. It is that you lose control over your appearance and pricing and individual categories on those websites.

Each retailer has a different way of categorising their books. Each retailer has different ways of displaying your book’s information.

For example, Apple gives you an incredibly long and detailed list of all the different categories you can use. Different countries use different library categorisation systems for their display in stores. If you are using aggregator, they determine the category, and you lose the ability to fine-tune your listing.

Some sites give more importance to the description, and some force their pricing into an even amount, and some give you special promotional opportunities that you cannot take part in when you use an aggregator.

For example there is absolutely no good reason not to go direct on Kobo. Kobo gives the author a promotions tab which allows you to enrol your book in as many promotions as you like. Most of these have no up-front cost. You pay 10% of the books you sell through that promotion.

When you use an aggregator you cannot set your pricing different from one retailer to the next. Sometimes, you want to do this, like when you have a promotion on that retailer.

Another issue is the display of series. Some retailers have series pages, some do not. Some allow you to add non-numbered books to a series, some do not. Some allow you to add books with odd numbering to your series page and some do not.

If you want to change something, like your cover, blurb or price, these changes usually take (much) longer with an aggregator.

It is this level of control that you give up when you go through an aggregator. It also makes it very hard to have personal contact with the retailer. You must decide for yourself if the convenience is worth giving up this control.

None of this means very much when you’re just starting out, but when you’re just starting out, you also have few books. It is when you have to upload a big catalogue that the project becomes daunting.

However, it is important that you make the right decision as early as possible. Once you have your books listed through a distributor, if you upload your own version later, it is likely that you will lose all your views. People on some platforms are much more likely to review than they are on Amazon. Losing all those reviews would be quite painful. The retailers may be able to accommodate you and move them over, or they may not. It is up to you to email and try.

It’s up to you. Make your choice and stick to it.


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