Learn About eBooks

eBook Retailers

In the United States there are just a few eBook retailers that make the majority of eBook sales, and most consumers tend to buy into specific platforms instead of purchasing eBooks from multiple retailers. This makes eBook distribution very easy to do, and has opened the door for distribution services that make the process even easier for authors and small publishers.

There are three standard ways to get your eBooks into the hands of consumers:

  1. Set up and manage accounts with the retailers yourself (covered here),
  2. Use a distributor to get the eBook files up for sale in the major retailers (see this page), and
  3. Sell the eBook files on your own website (see this page).

eBook sales are handled separately from print book sales, and each retailer has a different approach to how it handles the setup and sales process. This page will give you the foundational information you need about each retailer, including their market share and the royalty they take.

kdplogoAmazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle Store)

Website: kdp.amazon.com

Formats: Kindle Format 8

Submissions: Publishers and authors

U.S. Market Share: 60%-70%*

Royalties: 70% if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and is opted into text-to-speech and other options; delivery charge based on size of file uploaded applies. 35% for all other titles.

Other: If you have a small work, you might consider submitting it to the Kindle Singles program.

nookpressBarnes & Noble NOOK Store

Website: nookpress.com

Formats: EPUB 2

Submissions: Publishers and authors. Most small publishers and authors will use the NOOK Press service to sell their eBooks in the B&N store. NOOK Press gives users the ability to upload EPUB files, so high-quality eBook development will not be lost through an automated conversion process. However, the system also accepts Word documents, which will be auto-converted to the EPUB 2 format. Publishers with a larger number of titles, or anyone with children’s eBooks, will need to set up a publisher account instead of using NOOK Press.

U.S. Market Share: 15%-25%*

Royalties: 65% if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and meets certain criteria; 40% at all other price points

ibookslogoApple iBookstore

Website: itunes.com/sellyourbooks

Formats: EPUB 2, EPUB 3, iBooks Author

Submissions: Publishers and authors

U.S. Market Share: 10%-20%*

Royalties: 70%

Limitations: You must have a Mac computer to use the iTunes Producer program to upload your eBook files for sale. Also, the signup process can be a little bit intimidating for the non-technical.


Website: writinglife.kobobooks.com

Formats:  EPUB 2, EPUB 3

Submissions: Publishers and authors. Most small publishers and authors will use the Kobo Writing Life service to sell their eBooks in the Kobo store. Writing Life gives users the ability to upload EPUB files, so high-quality eBook development will not be lost through an automated conversion process. However, the system also accepts Word documents, which will be auto-converted to the EPUB 2 format.

U.S. Market Share: <5%*

Royalties: 65% if your book is priced between $1.99 and $12.99 and meets certain criteria; 45% at all other price points

googleplayGoogle Play Books

Website: http://play.google.com/books/publish/

Formats: EPUB 2, EPUB 3

Submissions: Publishers and authors

U.S. Market Share: <5%*

Royalties: 52%

Notes: Navigating the upload process for Google’s store can be difficult to do, but they have a checklist that makes the process easier. Some retailers do not distribute to Google Play.


Website: smashwords.com

Formats: Word, EPUB 2

Submissions: Publishers and Authors

U.S. Market Share: ?*

Royalties: 85% of net (which translates into about 59.5% or less of the list price)

Notes: Smashwords is primarily a retailer of eBooks from independent authors and publishers. Primary upload option is a Smashwords-specific Word document, styled according to the Smashwords Style Guide, which is then auto-converted via their “Meatgrinder” tool into 9 different formats. EPUB files with the appropriate Smashwords-specific language on the copyright page can also be uploaded. Offers distribution to other retailers, as well.

Other eBook Retailers

Here are some other eBook retailers you might want to check out:

Library Sales

The following companies provide eBook sales and other solutions to libraries:

A Note about Market Share

The market share numbers shown on this page are approximate and apply to the United States only. None of the retailers give out their actual sales numbers, and most publishers are also tight-lipped about that data. As a result, we have to figure these things out based on a variety of sources, including the propagandized percentages given by the retailers themselves. Here is a good explanation from Digital Book World.

Compare Retailers

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Is it a good idea to put my Table of contents at the end of my eBook?

Some people do this to increase the size of the free samples automatically generated by the eBook retailers. However, the Kindle and other devices will re-set the “last read location” to the end of the book if you have your Table of Contents there, so we normally recommend against that practice.

What is the difference between HTML5 and XHTML5?

HTML5 is the latest version of the HTML standard used on the Web and in eBooks. XHTML5 is a stricter and cleaner version of HTML5, with rules from XML imposed on the code. For example, when a tag is opened it has to be closed, and all of the tags have to be properly nested. XHTML5 allows the code to be more easily interpreted by the display engine, and it keeps the code more consistent and easier to edit.

I have heard you can’t use color in eBooks. Is that correct?

No, that is absolutely incorrect. eBooks look great with color, and we highly recommend using color images and even colored text (within reason) in your eBook files. Some devices have grayscale eInk screens, so the color will not show up on those devices. However, the color will be in the file, and it will work on all of the color devices. We do recommend you test colored text on a device with an eInk screen and ensure that the text will not be too light to read.

Do you need to have a separate ISBN for each version of the eBook for different companies?

Technically, yes. See an extended answer on our ISBNs page.

What is KindleGen?

KindleGen is Amazon’s eBook creation/compiling program. It is used on the KDP website to auto-convert files uploaded into the Kindle store, and it is also integrated into the Kindle Previewer program to handle the conversion of non-Kindle files loaded in that program. You can download KindleGen and get access to other Kindle creation information at amazon.com/kindlepublishing.

What is a fixed layout eBook?

Fixed Layout eBooks are HTML-based eBook files that are usually designed to match the layout of a print book. The key difference between fixed layout files and reflowable files is that reflowable eBooks allow the reader to have more control over the reading experience, such as changing the font size, background color, etc. For more information, please see our Fixed Layout Children’s and Non-Fiction pages.

Does Amazon sell HTML files or only Kindle?

Amazon only sells eBooks in the Kindle format, but that format, just like ePub, is built using HTML and CSS files.

How is fixed layout different from a pdf of the book?

Fixed layout eBooks are built using HTML, so they have more functionality than PDF files. For example, the narration overlay functionality used in many children’s eBooks is not possible in PDF files. In addition, none of the eBook retailers sell PDFs, so fixed layout eBook files offer the best sales opportunities.

A university librarian told me they are not acquiring any Kindle books but only HTML5/ePub. Have you found that to be common with other libraries? I know our local public library does buy Kindle books.

Libraries acquire their eBooks from services like 3M and Overdrive. These services sometimes offer an option for Kindle checkouts, but typically they are limited to ePub files because of the more common use of the Adobe DRM.

Has the Kindle format gotten any more sophisticated in how it handles tables or floating images?

Yes, Amazon’s Kindle Format 8 has support for many great design features, including floating images, tables, color text, embedded fonts, and more.

How are page numbers handled in an eBook?

Print book page numbers are included in the HTML code of both the Kindle and ePub formats as anchors. They are also listed in the PageList section of the NCX or Navigation file. The PageList is used by some reading systems (like the Kindle and iBooks) to show the reader the print page numbers of the book as they read.

How are page headers created in eBook files?

The different reading systems control what shows up in the header of your eBook. Most will display the title of the book, and some will also display the author name. That text cannot currently be set to display the chapter name or other information about where the reader is currently reading in the text.

How do eBooks handle hyphenation of long words?

Some eBook reading systems will apply hyphenation to longer words to make the text better fit on the screen. This is typically controlled by the reading system, and will change depending on the font size and other settings the reader has set on their device.

What about protecting the file?

eBook file protection is called Digital Rights Management (DRM). Please see our DRM page for information on how it works and suggestions on how to use it.

Can I sell my eBooks on my own website?

Yes! You are certainly able to sell your eBooks on your own website. For more information, please see this page.