Self-Publishing Cage Match: Amazon vs Independent Sales Platforms

Self-Publishing Cage Match: Amazon vs Independent Sales Platforms

This is what I’ve learned, having now self-published three books (selling close to 10,000 copies total)—two using Gumroad and Sellfy (which are independent sales platforms, aka: digital goods e-commerce services, or DGES from here on in), and my latest on Amazon’s KDP Select platform.

My first two books were sold as PDFs and promoted exclusively on my own website. While they were added to Amazon (using BookBaby), I put zero effort into promoting them there. The thought was that I may as well get 95% of the sale (minus transaction fees) through DGES, since Amazon was only paying out around 70% to indie authors.

The main reason I used KDP for the third book is because I hadn’t used it before, and have a penchant for experimenting (which is actually a topic from the latest book). I talk/write a lot about self-publishing so I wanted to make sure I understood every major angle.


Obviously with a DGES, as soon as you upload the file, you can sell it. With KDP you’ve got to wait until it appears on Amazon (and it takes longer to appear in global Amazon stores too).

For my book, it took 12 hours, which isn’t bad. But as I’m also selling the paperback, that took another 24 hours to show up on Amazon and 72 hours to “sync” with the Kindle version (so you can see both the Kindle and paperback version on the same page). Currently, this doesn’t happen automatically either – you have to actually contact Amazon to connect the two versions (they are fixing this in the future).

Basically, there’s lots of waiting for Amazon, so in the future, I may submit the paperback and Kindle versions a few days before I announce the book is launching, which is a simple and easy remedy (even if you’re impatient like I am).


This brings up a fundamental difference between Amazon and a lot of DGES sales. If you’re selling your book on your own site, you can offer “packages” where you sell your book for a higher price, but include extras, like videos, interviews, audio, etc. This can work to your advantage because it can allow you to sell your book at a much higher price, if it comes with supplementary items.

Nathan Barry, Sacha Grief and Danielle Laporte do this and make more than typical indie authors, because they’ve turned their books into more of a packaged product than just a book. They package audio, video, additional files and more into their book sales to sell different packages/tiers.

You can really price your book based on whatever you’d like, give it away for free or charge hundreds for it. There is no average or “industry standard” for pricing books that are sold as part of larger products. It comes down to whatever your audience feels is valuable for what’s packed into the content.

With Amazon, you’re bound by their pricing limits for lowest price and highest price (using KDP it’s $2.99 to $9.99). More importantly though, your book is placed in a marketplace with other books, so if your book costs much more than similar books, it may not sell as well. Similar to pricing books using a DGES, the price really comes down to the perceived value your audience feels they’ll get from it. I have books for $1, $17 and $6 and my experience is: the lower the price, the more people will buy the book. So if numbers are what you’re after, lower is better.


On the incoming-money-to-you side, Amazon’s one-click is killer awesome. People can buy your book by clicking a single button—no need to enter payment or personal details (since they already did that at some point since most people have bought from Amazon).

The trust factor with Amazon is fairly high, so people are less averse to giving credit card info them. Their mailing address and credit card are already saved in Amazon’s system for the most part, so payment is fast and easy.

For a DGES, most now have a small modal window that appears on top of your website to collect personal and credit card information. It’s simple and flows nicely, but it’s definitely not a single button click. And the trust factor may be lower if they aren’t sure of the payment system or aren’t 100% trusting of your website.

On the author’s side of receiving payment, Amazon offers cheques, wire transfers or electronic transfers to your bank account… if you’re in the US. Since I’m not, I have to wait for cheques in the mail to collect royalties.

The IRS also requires Amazon to collect 30% of your royalties if you’re not American. (Ouch. This is insane, but can be avoided in some countries with tax treaties with the US—read this.) They pay out when sales in each marketplace hit $100, so if you sell $100 on but only $32 in the UK, you only get the money from US Amazon marketplace (until you also hit $100 in the UK). For smaller books like mine, I’m not sure I’ll ever hit $100 in France, Brazil or smaller marketplaces.

For Sellfy, the money (minus their fees), is deposited instantly. For Gumroad, it’s weekly. Both transfer right into your PayPal account or direct deposit. It’s quick and painless. Their fees are 5%. Compared to Amazon, you get a much higher percentage using a DGES.

Customer Details

The biggest drawback of selling through Amazon is that I don’t know exactly who bought my book. I can’t see their email address. I can’t even see their name. They’re just a number and a royalty percentage in a spreadsheet.

Whereas with Gumroad and Sellfy I can see who bought what, and both services save those email addresses into a mailing list or export as a .csv file that I can import into any other mailing list program. They make it very easy to stay in touch with purchasers.

The one idea I’ve had so far is to link to my mailing list on the last page of my Kindle (or paperback book). It’s not 100% conversion, but at least it’s something.


Amazon is great for showing the first few pages of a book right in a browser, and the final page of that preview is the buy button—no downloads, no plugins, just a popup window where you can read content.

For DGES, you have to link to a separate preview file and include a link to buy it at the end, which is a few more steps but still fairly easy. You could also create a plain-text preview for selling on your own site.

The added bonus of a DGES preview is that you get to specify length and content, whereas with Amazon, they pick where the preview cuts off.

Content updates

With a DGES, you just re-upload the book file(s) if there are changes and it’s instant. With Amazon KDP, it can take up to 12 hours to appear.

The big kicker is, for the paperback, if you’re using CreateSpace, your book goes offline for a few days while Amazon reviews the updated files. There’s currently one missing word in a sentence in my book, and I can’t update the paperback because I don’t want my book to disappear from Amazon for 3-4 days.


With either, you need to rely almost entirely on your own draw or audience to get people to buy your book. Neither option promotes for you, so bring your own people to the party.

Just because you uploaded your book to Amazon doesn’t mean anything special will happen. And if you don’t promote it on Amazon, it’ll get buried beneath 12 million books already on there. That said, if you sell a lot of copies, your book will start to chart on Amazon’s Bestseller list which puts it front of more eyeballs.

It pays to get a big push of sales at the same time, to bump your book higher up in Amazon’s rank. Because I announced it to my mailing list at the same as some friends also mentioned it to their audience, the initial spike pushed my book to #3 in creativity on and #1 in entrepreneurship on within a few hours of launch. I’m sure this helped expose the book to people who aren’t part of my own audience since it was on the first page of a few categories on Amazon.

Did they buy it, not knowing who I am? Who knows. Hopefully, a few did.

Amazon also lets authors create an Author Central profile, where you can add a biography, link up your RSS feed, and even your tweets. This appears right on the buy page of your book, which helps lead people to your website or social media. People can even sign up to be alerted when you have new releases.

Double dipping

If you’re selling on Amazon, you can sign up for and use an Amazon Associates account to become an affiliate of your own book, and make a bit of extra cash. It’s a tiered chart for how much you get (from 4%-8.5%) but it adds up quickly and I’ve already made a few hundred dollars extra through this, outside of my royalties. The added bonus is that you collect money from any product someone adds to their cart after they clicked the link, so you earn on more than just your own book.

This is money Amazon would keep otherwise, so you may as well take what’s yours when promoting/selling your own book. It’s allowable and legit under Amazon Associate’s terms of service too.

With a DGES, if you have an affiliate program, the money an affiliate makes (even if it’s you) comes off of your cut instead. The upside here is that you can either not have an affiliate program, or make the percentage a number that works best for you and the people selling your book. I’ve gone as high as a 50/50 split sometimes, because it’s made sense for that specific situation.


If you’re selling your book on your own website, you can add whatever content you want. Reviews, testimonials, etc. And it’s up to your audience to believe that they’re real. I only bring this up because I’ve caught a few people using my name and photo for their books/services with a testimonial that I didn’t write, because I’d never seen or read whatever they’re promoting.

With Amazon, reviews actually say that it’s verified that the person bought your book. So Amazon reviews are therefore great to bump potential purchaser confidence. If you’ve got lots of 5-star reviews, then you’re golden. The flip-side is that if trolls or people that really didn’t like your book start leaving horrible comments, you’re screwed because you can’t take them down or edit them, all you can do is leave a comment on their comment (which, granted, can start a flame war).

Definitely encourage reviews from your existing audience. Chances are that if they are already into your stuff, they will like what you’ve written and leave favourable, glowing reviews.


My favourite thing about publishing with KDP is the highlights and notes feature. On your book’s Amazon page, you can see what sections of the book are the most highlighted and what public notes people are leaving. As a writer, this is so interesting, because it shows me what parts of my writing people have found the most important or interesting. I can read and reply to notes left by readers too, which is a lot of fun.

The best you can hope for with a DGES is that people email you or connect on social media with what they loved about your book. This does happen, but not nearly as much as a quick Kindle highlight. However there are platforms, like ReadMill, that can facilitate this without Amazon.


Gumroad, Sellfy and Amazon KDP have great support. I’ve contacted each, and all have replied with helpful information within a few hours. They’re all on equal footing here.


Amazon’s KDP Select program requires 90+ days digital exclusivity, but in return allows you to create deals, freebies, and add your book to their lending library (for greater exposure). So if you’d like those things, you can’t use both Amazon and DGES until the 90+ days is up. If not, you are free to sell your book in both places.

A huge benefit for sales of my last two books were having them included in discount bundles on websites like Dealotto, Mighty Deals, AppSumo, etc. Once my 90 days exclusive is up with KDP Select, I’ll definitely attempt to get my book there to increase sales. I’ll also sell the book directly on my website, to receive a higher cut of the book sales.

With my latest book, which has only been out a few weeks, I’m waiting a year to conclude whether it was a great idea or a horrible mistake to sell on Amazon. The metrics are simple, to me: look at the number of people who bought it and how much I made from it. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to my other two books (both of which were on different subjects), but it’ll give me some general idea, I’m sure.

So I’m going to disappoint you, here: There’s no cut and dry, “Use this (and ONLY this!) to sell your self-published book.” I hope the information provided in this article is enough to help you make the decision for what’s best for you and your book.

Either way, there are serious benefits and drawbacks. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding, though:

  • Are you able to provide support to purchasers if they have trouble with the file format, downloading or receiving the file? If you don’t have time, Amazon wins here since they take care of all of that.
  • Are you going to be making multiple edits/updates/revisions once the book is launched? DGES wins here since those changes can be instant.
  • Do you think you can charge more than the average price of a book, or offer extras? Go with DGES.
  • Would you rather get 95% royalties than 30-70%? If so, DGES is the way to go.
  • Are you looking to get a lot of reviews, highlights, notes for your book? Amazon does this best.
  • Do you really want the information and email address of each purchaser? Amazon does not provide this.
  • Support from Amazon or a DGES is a draw. Both have great customer service for authors.

And personal preference counts for a lot, too. Case in point:

I’m more in the “book as a book” camp than the “book as a product” tribe, because I like to spend my time writing instead of creating packages/extras, even though I’m fully aware that probably leads to generating less revenue.

If you aren’t an established or well-known author it makes sense to have your book on Amazon since the trust factor is slightly higher there, but you receive a lot less money per book (which is an okay trade-off to build your reputation).

My gut feeling is that Amazon is just easier. They take care of issues/support and all I need to worry about is effectively drawing the right people to the sales page. There’s no download issues, file formatting, or compatibility problems. It’s just promotion and sales.

Now go forth to write and publish your book!

Image Credit: smartbrother
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  • Nathan Williams

    Thanks for this article. Even though you did disappoint me at the end a bit by not making a judgement! haha. This is a question that I have gone back and forth on since I released my book 2 years ago. Ultimately I went the DGES route and am glad that I did for many of the reasons that you stated such as a bigger share of the profits, easier payments to me, customer information and the ability to communicate with them further. I like how you pointed out that new authors without a name or a following somewhere should go with Amazon though. I agree and would have done the same had I been in that position. Good stuff, thanks again!

    • Paul Jarvis

      You’re welcome Nathan! Most of my books/writing are about “choosing your own adventure” so I can’t very well end an article with “I want you to do THIS instead of THAT”, haha.

  • Jamie Alexander

    Hey Paul,

    Great article and very non-bias.

    I’m sure there are definitely people who would get better results from one more than the other. Because I was just starting out I actually found I got more income with a $2.99 book on Kindle than I did with a $17 ebook using SendOwl (similar to Gumroad).

    I know you mentioned a solution to the UK tax thing, but for anyone reading this comment I’d just like to say I phones IRS and got an EIN within 15 minutes without providing any extra information. So it’s not too hard to bump the tax down to 0.

    I’ve also heard great things about having multiple books on Amazon because cross-promotion can mean 2+2 = 6, so it would be interesting to see your results with this if you decide to upload more books to Amazon.

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Jamie. I’m CDN and I also got an EIN within a few minutes of answering a couple non-invasive questions. Very easy, and well worth it to save 30%.

      In the current KDP backend I don’t see a way to offer multiple books. But I’ll dig a little since I’ve got 3.

      • Jamie Alexander

        Sorry I wasn’t too clear.

        I just meant by adding a link to your other books inside each one. So you’d get your sales from people finding their first book, plus you’d get the people who go on to buy 2 or 3 of them because of the 1-click buy.

        • Paul Jarvis

          Oh, that I definitely do :)

  • Carl Phillips

    Great post Paul!

    Having walked a similar route and published on Lulu, Gumroad and now Amazon I agree that they all have a lot of upsides.

    I can personally see myself using Amazon to try to reach a broader audience with my books (and indirectly my blog) and then building up the product sets (books plus extras) via independent channels like Gumroad once the Amazon exclusivity period is up.

    This allows me to scale my offerings from entry level (a few £s) upward and also offer anyone interested a deeper focused product offering at times.

    Either way it’s an exciting time to be publishing! Writers can get their message out there so much quicker and more efficiently.

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Carl! It is exciting right now, I’m tired of people saying that publishing is dying. It’s evolving and unless us writers do as well, we’ll be stuck in the tar :)

  • Andrew Elsass

    Great post and very timely as I am about to release my second book (on Amazon) this coming Monday. I enjoy using Amazon for most of the reasons you listed and don’t really mind giving up 30% of royalties at the moment because I am mostly after the eyeballs and building a following currently versus collecting every dollar I can. As you mentioned, I think the trust and recognition that people have with Amazon is extremely important with doing this.

    One other thing I might add is that if you are still currently working in the professional/corporate world as I am, nothing ‘wows’ people more (especially in job interviews) than being able to tell people that you are a published author with a book on Amazon. As they say, having a book is the best business card.

    • Paul Jarvis

      True, I guess if “wow”s matter that makes sense to have it in a place people are familiar with (instead of just a site where it could thought of more as a be a vanity project).

  • Stephanie

    Excellent post! I’m just beginning to explore ideas for publishing some family memoirs, so your information is super helpful!

    • Paul Jarvis

      You’re welcome Stephanie.

  • Thomas Frank

    Thanks so much for this article, Paul. I’m in the process of writing my first book, and I’ve been scratching my head about which platform to choose. Even though you didn’t make a judgement, you made me think harder about it – and I think I’m going to go with Amazon for this first one!

    When I think about it, the potential income is probably less important than the audience boost and credibility that Amazon would bring. And since I have no plans on making a book package for this project, that’s not a concern either (though I want to go down that road for my next one).

    • Paul Jarvis

      You’re welcome Thomas! Glad I helped a little with your decision.

    • Missy Wilde

      Why put all your options in just one basket? There is likely a big advantage in putting your book(s) in all the places where readers might be searching for them. This includes, but is not at all limited to, Amazon, Kobo, Apple’s iBooks store, Barnes & Noble.

      Just don’t enrol in KDP select when uploading your book to Amazon, because the exclusivity rules out your potential readers at all the other places.

      • Thomas Frank

        That’s also a consideration. While I’d like to make money from my book, I’m more interested in just having it available everywhere.
        Paul told me on Twitter that iBooks sales don’t make up hardly any of his total sales, but I’ll probably look into it simply because I like iBooks personally.

      • Paul Jarvis

        KDP select has it’s advantages though, like being able to discount your book for sales. For my book, < 1% has requested a copy that isn't Amazon. And for all my other books, I sell near zero on those other stores, they're just too small.

        • Missy Wilde

          If KDP select works for you: go for it.

          But even if Amazon’s market share is about 60% (that’s at least the numbers I hear every now and then), that leaves another 40% on the table. And quite some iBooks readers don’t shop with Amazon (or read with the Kindle app).

          • Paul Jarvis

            I think the *type* of book matters. My 3 books are 100% text, and amazon/kindle seems to dominate there. I wouldn’t believe it’s only 60%. 54.8% of stats are made up or wrong ;)

  • Ali

    Great info here! My husband and I are both working on our first novels, and the options can be overwhelming. I love this comparison, even if you can’t be entirely conclusive. Thanks for putting this together!

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Ali! It can be overwhelming. But really, there isn’t a bad option, both have their good and bad points.

  • Robb Gorringe

    This article was so good that I actually read the whole thing in my email, but wanted to come back here to say, “Thanks”.

    My favorite part of your post was when you said, “The trust factor with Amazon is fairly high, so people are less averse to giving credit card info them.”

    I think this could be one of the main reasons why Amazon is very legit way to go. And, because you also mentioned: “Author Central profile”, which links back to our site. So, in my opinion it can be a win-win with Amazon.


    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Robb, much appreciated. They definitely make e-commerce easy on the consumer’s end. Too easy if you ask me or my growing kindle book collection.

      • Robb Gorringe

        Right on, Paul!

  • Paul Jarvis

    Thanks Sebastian! The consumer info is definitely the biggest selling feature of a indie sales platform. And the CEO of GumRoad is an all around nice guy.

  • Paul Jarvis

    Ya, for peeps like you that want to offer a fully designed, pixel perfect book, PDF+gumroad is 100% the way to go. I’m talking text-only books, like mine. Then there’s a tougher choice. Amazon’s handling of design is by ignoring it completely.

  • Paul Jarvis

    Much appreciated Retha!

  • Angela Pointon

    Hey, Paul! This article is really helpful, thanks! I’ve published a book on Smashwords and another that was self-promoted only. I think it’s time to test Amazon.

    Smashwords doesn’t pass along email addresses to my knowledge (I better go check that…) so it was great to hear you comment on that benefit in particular.

    Thanks for always writing awesome stuff :)

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Angela! Smashwords is similar to BookBaby I think, where you are right, you don’t get customer data.

  • Jason Love

    I have been trying to figure out the best way to publish my comic book digitally. I have physical copies printed from money raised through Kickstarter, but I’ve been stuck with how to move forward with digital.

    I think I am going to go with Amazon for the 90+ days, then add it to other digital comic book sites and my own site.

    The great thing about comics is that if I can get lots of people to the first one, there are more coming out to sell later.

    Your comparison really helped with the decision. Thanks for the great article!

    • Paul Jarvis

      A comic is very graphic, so Amazon may not be suitable. PLUS you get charged for the size the book is, so if it’s all images, Amazon takes a “Delivery Fee” out of your cut. For me, being 100% text, it’s almost nothing, but for a comic, you’d be screwed.

      • Jason Love

        Good to know. I also wanted to do a how-to book which would need lots of images… I will have to do more research on file sizes and Amazon.

  • jeffhirz

    Thanks for your insight, Paul. I’m finally starting to research publishing platforms, as I’ll be ready to publish in a few months, and this was a helluva way to get started. Do you have any other articles/eBooks you’d recommend to check out as I continue research? I know next to nothing about it so anything you recommend would be helpful. Thanks!

    • Paul Jarvis

      Sorry, I couldn’t find any so I wrote this :)

  • Alan | Life’s Too Good

    Great Article Paul!

    very comprehensive and informative in a changing and interesting area. I’m fascinated by how this landscape is changing.

    Personally I quite like Amazon, like you say, probably because of the convenience of it – but it’s an interesting observation about the packaging of books and the difference between looking at them as books or as products.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts on this,

    take care & very best wishes,

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Alan!

  • Paul Jarvis

    True—I just know nothing about online courses, so the article was about books :)

  • Homeschool Realist

    Great article, very informative. If we use the tiered model for book packages, couldn’t you simply price the lowest package (ie: book only) the same for Amazon and Independent, or would that violate the digital exclusivity rule? I like the idea of having another platform that has built in customers vs. just building the audience on my own fully.

    • Paul Jarvis

      Digital exclusivity if you use KDP select, so no that wouldn’t work. But you aren’t forced to use KDP select, you can just put it on Amazon, no exclusivity.

      • Homeschool Realist

        Ah, yes, I remember that part of the article, meant to mention that. Looks like I need to do some more research. Thanks!

  • Mish & Rob

    I think there’s a lot to be said for “both”: sell to your existing audience on Gumroad, and ask your buyers to help you out by reviewing it on Amazon. There seems to be a tipping point where you accumulate enough Amazon reviews that you start showing up high in relevant searches, meaning that the book sells itself to a new audience on autopilot.

    (The reviews aren’t “Amazon verified purchases” of course, but they still count for something in the ranking algorithm as well as being great social proof.)

    Then have an incentive in the book to get that new audience back to your site and onto your mailing list. Next time, they can buy from you directly, thus giving the process more momentum when you repeat it.

    That’s what I did on my most recent book, and I’m convinced it’s dramatically more effective than doing one or the other in isolation. The trade-off is not having KDP Select, but I’m not convinced that’s a big deal.

    Another thing to experiment with is doing a print edition through Createspace. It depends on the topic of course, but I was amazed how many people still prefer to buy the physical versions of my books.


    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Rob! I’m not 100% sold on KDP select yet either, but I’ll know for sure if it’s worth it once I run a sale campaign and then a free book day. But I 100% agree, CreateSpace is awesome. Took me maybe an extra how to format the book I had already made for it, and I’ve sold 100s of copies in paperback now, that I may not have received any money for (if folks don’t like digital books).

  • Michael Ofei

    Hey Paul, thanks for such an informative article! I often do my head in thinking about what would be the best method for self publishing. Cheers Mike

    • Paul Jarvis

      Thanks Michael! I don’t think there is a best method, there’s just the route you take :) The important bit is actually releasing your book.

  • Paul Jarvis

    You’re welcome Michael, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Carolyn Mycue

    Hi Paul. RE: “Customer Details”, also add a call to action in the book’s liner notes to the effect of “If you bought this book, send me your email address.” (though I’m sure you’ll phrase it much cooler).

    When I woke up four days ago, I had never heard of you. My weekly e-letter from Proof included a plug for your book, so I followed the link and listened to your audio chapter. It was provocative and fresh.

    I instantly bought your book off Amazon (yes, one-click), got it Thursday (Prime member, thank you very much), and devoured the entire thing…including the liner notes… If you’d of asked me for my email, I might* have given it to you. ;)

    • Paul Jarvis

      Read the very last line of my book again :) It says “To continue what we’ve got going here, signup for my mailing list (link) or hit me up on twitter at @pjrvs. So I did ask, that’s the mailing list link. Plus, you did find me on twitter, thanks for that!

      • Carolyn Mycue

        Haha! Whoops. Must have missed that in the haze of my inspiration high.

  • Daniel Vogler

    Great article Paul!
    I’d like to add that it probably mainly comes down to what your business model is.
    Selling a book can be done from many different
    Are you looking to sell an affordable front end product with the goal to lead customers into a funnel of up-sells (high ticket products, membership sites or coaching, consulting)? In that case your book functions almost like a lead magnet so you want to make sure you’re feeding customer information into your upsell funnel. As Paul mentioned this is only possible via the DGES method.
    If however your book is your main product and you don’t have decent of traffic already I’d opt for amazon and use the subscribers you already have to kick off the book with great reviews. This way your subscribers get what they want, but you also leverage them to reach more customers by letting the amazon algorithm know you’re there.
    It really comes down to your business model behind the book.

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