We’re big fans of the opportunities presented by Amazon’s Kindle eBook publishing platform. It really is a great opportunity to get started publishing your own eBooks in partnership with what’s now probably the biggest bookselling brand in the world.

And that’s not just because of Amazon. eBook publishing has really come of age as an opportunity over the last couple of years. Now that eBook readers, tablets and smartphones are becoming affordable and widespread the demand for electronic books to read on them is growing fast. All the signs are that it’s just going to get bigger and bigger too.

But I have to confess that in the rush to cover Kindle opportunities we might have overlooked one important thing: Kindle is not the only platform for reading and publishing eBooks on. There are others, and more are starting all the time.

So in this report I’m going to look at a variety of the other platforms you can use to publish and sell eBooks that are out there now. And ask… Could any of these make you even more money than Kindle?

Do you really need any other platforms?

Because Amazon Kindle is so massive you might be asking yourself whether you need to consider any other platforms. So first of all, let’s consider this, because it really is important.

Why might you consider these alternatives?

  • To increase the market for your eBooks, and make more sales. Fairly obvious.
  • To reach customers who own eBook readers other than Kindle. And big though Kindle is, there are lots of those.
  • To reach different markets. Some of these platforms reach different, niche markets that Kindle isn’t so strong in.
  • To gain a competitive advantage over your publishing competitors who only use Kindle.
  • To increase your profit margins. Some of these alternative platforms sell books for higher prices than is usual on Kindle, and/or charge less sales commission.
  • To diversify and avoid becoming too dependent on Amazon. This is important. Amazon is a big, powerful company and does have a bit of a reputation for imposing take-it-or-leave-it changes to its terms and conditions. If, in future, they hike their Kindle selling commissions, make changes that make it difficult to sell your books at a profit or, worse still, tell you to take a hike altogether – then you’ll still have a business. If, that is, you’ve diversified into some of these other platforms.

What can you publish on alternative platforms?

As this report is about eBook publishing platforms rather than eBook publishing as such, I won’t dwell too long on what you could actually publish here – but I will just mention a couple of important things…

Generally, people buy eBooks on the same subjects they buy paper books on. So there’s no particular type of subject, whether fiction or non-fiction, that is likely to do better as an eBook. So, once you have a few ideas for your eBook do a bit of research to find out if there is likely to be a demand for it. The bestseller lists in the newspapers are good for this. And many platforms have their own bestseller lists and rankings you can use as well.

Also, before using any of these alternative platforms take some time to research it. Some of them are quite niche and appeal to particular types of buyers. Have a look at the books that are already selling well there (if they provide that data) and ask if your book is likely to appeal to the same buyers who already buy there.

One more tip. Instead of starting with a book and looking for a platform to publish it with, look at the individual platforms and try to come up with a book that would sell well there.

Alternative platforms to look at

In the rest of this report I’m going to look at some of these alternative eBook publishing platforms.

Some of these are very similar to Amazon’s Kindle platform, others are very different. You can use one of them, all of them, or a selection of them – including Amazon – in any combination. (Before you do this, though, check if there might be any conflicts, e.g. where you can’t publish the same material on one if it is already on another.)

Also, a couple of these platforms are what are known as aggregators. This means that by publishing through them you can automatically publish your eBook onto many of the others at the same time.


Smashwords has been around since 2008 and over 40,000 authors and publishers have used it to publish and distribute almost 100,000 eBooks – so it’s probably fair to say it’s one of the more established alternative platforms even if it’s not as well known as Amazon.

Smashwords can be used for publishing novels, short fiction, poetry, personal memoirs, monographs, non fiction, research reports and essays – in fact, anything really. Like many alternative platforms Smashwords has a couple of important differences compared to Kindle: You’re free to publish more or less whatever you like as there’s no editorial policy as such. (But unlike Kindle it can’t be used for republishing public domain material.) You can also sell your eBooks at whatever price you like. In fact, most Smashwords books tend to be more expensive than Kindle editions where eBooks tend to be fairly low-priced. There are even some specialist books selling for hundreds of pounds here.

It’s also free to publish and distribute your book on Smashwords. You only pay a commission when a copy of your book sells – typically you keep 85% of receipts on Smashwords sales.

Another couple of interesting things: Smashwords also operates as what is known as an aggregator. As well as selling your eBooks from its own site, Smashwords distributes books to many major eBook sellers, including: The Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store. It’s also a universal publishing platform. Books can be downloaded and read on any eBook reading device – including the iPhone, iPod Touch, Sony Reader or Barnes & Noble Nook, as well as PCs and laptops – and, yes, even Amazon Kindle.

If there is one drawback I can see to Smashwords it is that they don’t promote and advertise your book for you like Kindle does. But then most of the alternatives don’t either. And at least Smashwords has the advantage of becoming quite well known – there are signs that buyers do visit to look for interesting new books. Then again, this might not really matter with Smashwords because you can access so many bookstores in one go anyway.



The best way to describe Lulu is that it is a self publishing service rather than just a bookselling platform as such. Lulu have been helping authors to self publish paper books for some years now and now you can publish eBooks with them too.

There are a few things that make Lulu quite interesting: Firstly, it is a fairly “idiot proof” eBook publishing system. If you’ve not the first clue about publishing an eBook I reckon you could still operate this very easily. Also, if you need any help along the way — with cover design, editing, formatting, marketing or the publishing process in general — you can get individual help with this. (Most platforms don’t offer this kind of support.) These services are charged at extra cost but you only pay for what you use. Also, if you want to publish a traditional paper version of your book you can do this at the same time.

With Lulu it’s free to publish a book. You only pay anything (typically 20%) when a book sells. So I think it would be great for testing ideas. You also keep all the rights/control over your book.

Lulu is one of the better-known alternative platforms. So buyers are starting to visit it now, particularly those looking for interesting and unusual books. However, even if they don’t it doesn’t really matter. Because Lulu is also an aggregator: When you publish to Lulu you can also have your book instantly published to other platforms including the Apple iBookstore and Barnes & Noble Nook (more about these coming up shortly).


Barnes & Noble Nook

Chances are you might not have heard of Barnes & Noble – but if we were in the USA you definitely would have, because it’s a household name there. It’s a massive bookseller (the world’s largest so they say) and publisher.

Also (mainly in the USA) Barnes & Noble has pitched its sights on being a direct competitor to Amazon Kindle. As such, they have their own Kindle-like eBook reader called Nook. The Nook had around a 15% share of the global market for eBook readers in 2011.

Now, in recent years Barnes & Noble’s Nook has struggled to compete with Amazon. But some recent major investment from Microsoft means it is one to watch. (And it doesn’t really matter that it is an American brand because, remember, eBook publishing is a global business.)

Very much like Amazon, Barnes & Noble have an eBook self-publishing system, which is called PubIt!

PubIt! is an online, self-service system where independent publishers and authors can upload their eBooks and make them available for sale through the Barnes & Noble eBookstore. You can publish eBooks, essays, articles, poems, short stories and so on. Then sell them through the Barnes & Noble eBookstore for reading on Nook and also (using their free eReading software) on the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Macs, Android devices, PCs, etc.

There is no charge for setting up on PubIt! You receive a royalty on sales of 65% for books priced at between $2.99 and £9.99 and 40% for books sold at other prices. One major plus to this site is the fast publishing time once titles are accepted, which is usually 24 to 72 hours.

There is one slight snag with PubIt! in that it is currently for US publishers. You need a US bank account and credit card to get started – although there are apparently ways round this. Alternatively, you can also get your books on Nook through some aggregators. However, some sources say it will be accepting direct submissions from other countries including the UK very soon.


Sony Reader Store

The Sony Reader Store is a platform designed for publishing books for selling to users of the Sony eBook Reader and the Sony Tablet. (Although the books are also available to users of all Android devices.)

So, a bit like Nook, Reader is a direct competitor to Kindle. How well books published here do will depend on how well Reader and Tablet do. Sony had about one-sixteenth of the world eBook reader market in 2011.

Sony sells eBooks for the Reader from the Sony Reader Store in the US, UK, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada and it will be coming to France, Italy, Spain and other countries fairly soon. Anyone from small self-publishers to large publishing houses can get their books sold there.

If you have a number of books to publish then you can publish books direct with the Sony Reader Store using their Publisher Portal. If you have just one or two then currently they prefer you to do it through Smashwords or a service called Author Solutions. I think this is going to be the best route for most small businesses. Author Solutions offers a variety of services if you need extra help with eBook publishing.


Apple iBookstore

The Apple iBookstore is the place to publish your eBook if you want to make it available to Apple mobile devices which can be used for reading digital content – namely the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.

You don’t need me to tell you that these devices are absolutely MASSIVE now. Publishing to the iBookstore is the way to access this large and fast expanding market directly. The iBookstore is now available in 32 countries worldwide.

Before you get involved with, for want of a better name, Apple “i” publishing, you need to bear in mind that an eBook that is going to be read on an Apple device is probably going to be slightly different to a conventional eBook. The iPod and iPhone format is more limited. Although with this type of eBook you can also include an interactive element which isn’t possible with other formats. So you’d be well advised to do your market research and study what’s selling well in the iBookstore before using this platform.

You can create eBooks for the iBookstore using either a Mac computer (not a PC, funnily enough) or an “i” device with a suitable app. By using the iBooks 2 app, for example, you can create eBooks for the iPad incorporating interactive diagrams, audio and video. You can create books in formats which are only suitable for reading on “i” devices, or as conventional PDF or text files which can be sold through the iBookstore and also read on other devices.

When you publish eBooks to the iBookstore you can either sell them or give them away free (subject to some conditions). There can be good reasons for giving books away free, by the way.

To get started publishing books to the iBookstore you can do this either with iTunes Producer on a Mac or the iBooks Author app. It’s free to get started, but Apple charges a commission on sales – it’s about 30% (but a bit complicated, so check before you get started).

Now to one slight snag. To sell books in the iBook- store (but not to give them away) you need a US tax ID. However, if you don’t have one you can publish through what is known as an aggregator. In Europe Apple’s official aggregators are Bookwire and Immaterial.

Bearing in mind the massive popularity of smartphones and the increasing popularity of tablets – of which Apple are one of, if not the biggest, brands I think it’s well worth looking at the opportunities for publishing on this platform.



The Kobo eReader is an eBook reader produced by the Canadian company Kobo (Kobo is an anagram for book, get it?) The original idea was for Kobo to be a simple eBook reader undercutting all the others and dominating the market that way. Again, though, how well you do with this will depend on how Kobo does in future.

As well as its own International eBook Store, which is available in 200 countries, Kobo distributes their books through a number of partnerships with booksellers in various countries. In the UK, Kobo’s partners are WHSmith and there are partnerships with major booksellers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand (important English-speaking markets) and France with, hopefully, more to follow.

Kobo accepts books from both authors and self-publishers. However, it doesn’t have an online self-service portal as yet where you can upload and process eBooks yourself. It’s imminent apparently – but in the meantime, you just have to contact them individually with your book idea.



BookBaby is another interesting platform. It is an aggregator, but it is also what is known as a universal platform.

In simple terms, you can publish your eBook here and make it available in a variety of platforms all around the world, not only that but in a variety of different formats. With BookBaby your book is distributed to the biggest eBook retailers in the world, including Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Gardners and others such as Copia, Baker & Taylor, and eBookPie.

BookBaby is (or at least claims to be) simple to use. You submit your file and they convert it for every eBook different reading system – which seems a big ask but apparently it really does work. They do printed books too.

One of the most appealing things about this platform is that they pay 100% of net sales of a book back to authors. They charge for their service by way of a flat fee of either $99 for their basic service or $199 for their premium service.

BookBaby looks very good value… and maybe almost a bit too good to be true. However, if you use this platform I think most of your sales would come through these other platforms rather than direct from BookBaby itself.

Their site also has good useful information about publishing and distributing eBooks – useful for research.



ePubDirect is another aggregation platform. They can convert your book into the main eBook formats, submit it to retailers, collect payments and handle all the admin for you. One thing that is quite interesting and not possible with many platforms as yet – they can incorporate audio and video into your eBooks.

When publishing on this platform your book can be sold through Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Waterstones & WHSmith – in fact 140 retail outlets and 15,000 libraries around the world.

Pricing for this service operates on a monthly subscription basis – starting at £55 a month for up to 50 eBooks. So while this would probably be a bit expensive for just a couple of books you can see that it could be very cost effective once you have a number of books.



ClickBank has been around a while now, but I think it’s worth a quick mention. It’s an affiliate marketplace, as you probably know. And normally we think of it as a place to source products to sell on an affiliate basis.

But it’s well worth regarding ClickBank as a place to publish eBooks – which affiliate marketers can then sell for you. In fact, as far as eBook publishing is concerned it is probably best thought of as a wholesale platform for your books – while most of the other platforms we have looked at here are retail.

To sell books using the ClickBank platform you’ll need a sales website for your book. Other than that, the whole process is automated. Affiliate marketers sign up to sell your book through ClickBank. Customers buy through ClickBank. ClickBank delivers the product, collects the payment, pays you your wholesale price and pays the affiliate marketer too.

The main point to consider with ClickBank is that as well as ClickBank fees you’ll need to offer marketers a decent commission – typically up to 50%. So effectively you will be selling your books at a wholesale trade discount. However, when you compare this to the 60% or 70% discount that traditional paper book publishers often give to traditional distributors, it’s not too bad at all.



Payloadz is basically a platform that hosts digital products, and allows buyers to pay for and then download them. As well as eBooks you can sell software, music, video, files and anything else that can be delivered digitally. Their system operates using PayPal and also works with Google Checkout, both of which could be an advantage.

Books published on this platform go up for sale in the Payloadz Store. This is a kind of bookshop where your books are showcased to visitors. Payloadz say their store gets tens of thousands of visitors a day and that their sellers see an average 1,000% increase in sales using their service.

However, it’s important to note that Payloadz isn’t a digital bookshop in the same way that Amazon is, nor anything like as big. So I think this platform would probably work best as a way of hosting your eBooks which you could then sell by using other methods – perhaps social media such as FaceBook, Twitter or a blog.



A bit like Payloadz, Tradebit is essentially a platform for hosting and selling downloads. You can sell all kind of downloads here, not just eBooks but also music files, sound effects, web templates and so on.

One of its advantages is that it’s easy to use. Buyers can purchase and download without the need to sign up. Downloads are available immediately after payment.

As with some of these other alternative Kindle platforms they don’t do much merchandising of your product for you. So they will probably work best when you link them up with other ways of advertising and marketing your eBook. However, Tradebit are developing the “shop” side of their operation more. They already have over 400,000 English language books in their shop and (for some reason, which might not be all that useful to you) 100,000 German eBooks.

You get up to 70% (and sometimes 85%) of sales with Tradebit.



This is quite an interesting one. It is really intended for the more established publisher. But assuming you aren’t (yet) it could be well worth bearing in mind for the future.

Gardners is one of the biggest traditional book wholesalers. It’s very well known in the book trade and they handle over 500,000 physical titles from 18,000 publishers and sell books to most of the book-selling outlets in the UK. However, they are also now offering a service in eBook conversion (from paper book to eBook), project, management, eBook promotion and web analytics principally for the Apple iBookstore.

So this isn’t a platform in the same way that many of the other services I’ve reviewed here are. But as a direct link into the bookselling trade it could be well worth considering in future. (In future it’s likely there will be a lot more platforms who can help you with managing, selling and distributing eBooks like this.)


Other platforms

It’s worth mentioning a couple of other platforms you can use. Remember you can actually sell eBooks on eBay. The slight complication is that you can’t sell the book as a download on eBay.co.uk (eBay.com does allow it). When someone buys your book you have to send it as a CD or other media in the post. (How quaint and old fashioned.) eBook prices on eBay tend to be low, so its best use is probably for building a mailing list for selling more expensive eBooks.

You can also sell eBooks from your own website. In fact, there are a number of free tools where you can set up a simple website to sell a book or other product. For example, try Checkthis and TinyPayMe.

Other useful tips for using alternative eBook publishing platforms

» You don’t strictly need an ISBN number when publishing an eBook. But some of these platforms expect your book to have one. More details about getting one from the ISBN agency.

  • Every eBook needs a good title and a good cover if it is to attract attention and sell well.
  • Consider customising your eBook to suit the different alternative platforms you use. If you wish, you can publish different editions to suit the readership of different platforms.
  • Check that your book is formatted correctly for each individual platform, and that it reads correctly on the different eBook readers that platform serves. Books that read fine on one reader might not read properly on another.
  • When you upload a book to a platform you’ll (usually) need to make sure it has good meta-data. The most important part of this is a good set of keywords describing its content. This is vital if your eBook is to be found in searches.
  • As different platforms serve different readers, consider if you need to amend your marketing for each.
  • It’s usually OK to charge different prices on different platforms. There’s much less competition on most of the alternatives than there is on Amazon, so it’s often possible to charge more.
  • In eBook publishing, giving away free books in order to build a mailing list to sell other books to can be a useful marketing technique.

Final thoughts

So then, what do I think about these Kindle-alternative publishing platforms as a way to make money?

Well on the face of it, Amazon is the undoubted market leader in online selling of both paper and electronic books. It’s hard to see how any other company could match let alone overtake them. So will this turn into a kind of battle-of-the-eBook-platforms – in which Amazon eventually vanquishes all its competitors?

Then again, some of these competitors are very innovative. And some of them are backed by pretty big names. In dot.com it’s not unknown for a small, unknown but clever service to make it big in a short period of time. Just think Facebook or Twitter for example.

So I have to admit it, I really don’t know. But one thing I do know: Whatever happens, these platforms offer an opportunity to go in there and make money from extra sales in extra markets now. And since most of them only charge when you sell something it would be crazy not to give them a try.

One last thing. I’m not saying you should use any or all of these alternative platforms instead of Amazon’s Kindle. If you’re interested in eBook publishing, that really is the one to be into. But you should consider using these alternatives as part of a kit of tools to build and diversify your eBook publishing business.