Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Selling your books on iBooks is a relatively new, incredibly exciting option for authors. Instead of dealing with distributors or aggregators, you can get right to business, publishing your new work with just a few clicks and engaging directly with your potential customers. There is the added benefit of not having to pay up to 10% of the list price for someone to distribute your book for you.
With the boom in iPad sales, and the millions more that will be sold this Christmas, Apple’s iBookstore is one of the best places to sell your ebook. For those getting started, one of the most daunting parts of selling on iBooks is the first step: choosing what type of account to set up.
To help with that vital first step, here’s a rundown of iBooks’ account options and what they mean to you.
There are two types of account
1. Free iBooks Publisher Account
This is the simpler type of iBooks account, allowing you to offer books for free on the store.
2. Paid iBooks Publisher Account
This type of account allows you to charge for your books, and requires bank and tax information to do so.
Both accounts require the following:
A valid email account
Your regular email address will do: you don’t need an account solely for iBooks. That said, with any business, it’s often advisable to keep work messages and personal messages separate. The majority of email providers will allow you to open a second account free of charge.
Digital rights to your books
The right to distribute your work digitally. You already have these by merit of having written the book. Unless you’ve sold them, they’re yours.
An Apple ID
An ID that allows you to use iTunes and other Apple applications. These are easy to set up, requiring only a few details such as your name and address, but need to have a valid credit or debit card attached even with a free account.
A Mac computer
Apple’s signature machine is required to set up an account, running OS X 10.6 or later.
A paid iBooks account has extra stipulations:
A valid bank account
This one is simple enough; they need a way to pay you.
A valid US tax ID
You will need a tax ID either for yourself or your organization. Non-US residents should call the US Internal Revenue Service and request an EIN (Employer Identification Number). This might sound daunting but it’s no big deal, it may even be provided during the call or at worst they’ll mail it to you within a two-week period.
The individual number that identifies a book. One ISBN costs $125 and a block of ten costs $250. You can purchase ISBNs from Bowker. iBooks requires you to provide these yourself however. You can get away without buying ISBNs if you use an aggregator.
Aggregators such as Smashwords or Lulu are services which will format your manuscript into ebook form, provide an ISBN, and then list them on the iBookstore and other ebook stores. Aggregators are unlikely to demand a US tax ID before they begin, but they will hold on to 30% of your profits until you provide one. They’re also a handy option for those who don’t own Mac computers. Apple approved aggregators can be found here.
One thing to note however is that aggregators do charge you a percentage of your royalties for distribution. While this may seem like a cheap way to start out, once you start making more than a few $100 per month from sales, you are really going to notice that missing 10%. You can read more about aggregator pricing in the Royalties section below.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Both accounts have advantages and disadvantages and the choice really comes down to your goals in publishing.
A free iBooks account is much easier to run than a paid iBooks account. If you’re publishing for the joy of sharing your writing, then a free iBooks account will let you do this with no hassle. In contrast, running a paid iBooks account will involve sorting out tax, dealing with a third party aggregator, or if you’re really unlucky both.
You also need to take into account that the paid account can take a few days to be verified.
A paid iBooks account is going to end up costing you some money, in so far as you’ll have to have a registered ISBN and if you’re outside the US, you’ll have an international call to the IRS to make. Free iBooks accounts cost nothing but, as the name suggests, they’re not going to make you any money either.
Free iBooks accounts can’t be converted to paid iBooks accounts, which means if you decide to start charging for a book, you’re going to have to set up a paid iBooks account and start the whole process over again.
One of the most effective marketing tools available to you is to offer your book for free for limited periods. This increases its visibility and means the iBookstore “powers that be” will start making shoppers aware of it as something others are buying. With a paid iBooks account, you can adjust the price whenever you like, so not only can you switch from free to paid on a whim, you can adjust the price to suit your market.
Some more information on the paid iBooks account
Selling directly through Apple means you get 70% of the price, with Apple taking a 30% cut. If an aggregator listed the book for you, then you’ll get about 60% as they take their own cut on top of Apple’s. Customers can buy directly from aggregators, you’ll receive 85% of the list price, but far fewer people are likely to buy direct from an aggregator than from the iBookstore.
Pricing is in your control, but boundaries vary depending on the country of origin and other factors that will be detailed in your contract. It’s likely that you’ll only be able to adjust the price in specific increments, 99 cents in America, and there may be a maximum you can charge. Most reasonable pricing choices will be catered to (maximum charges are generally put in place to stop scammers fooling customers into paying hundreds for a digital leaflet) but make sure to read your account contract to confirm your pricing desires are possible.
Which to get
If you are not interested in making money and only care about people reading your book, then go with a free iBooks account. Just remember that if you change your mind and want to start charging for your books, you’re going to have to open a new account, re-list your book, and risk losing the attention and audience you’d already established.
If, on the other hand, you want to make money from your books (i.e. sell them at a price), then setting up a paid iBooks account is the way to go. The control you’re given over price will give you a lot of marketing power and will allow you to capitalize on popularity.
Are you selling (or have you attempted to sell) your books through the iBookstore? What have your experiences been so far? I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.