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We have found that there are numerous advantages to going direct rather than through a distributor. Perhaps the most important is that you make more money with each sale since your distributor is not taking a cut of 10%-20%. In addition, other benefits include faster payments, current sales figures, more direct control of which categories your book is listed in, and more timely changes to metadata and pricing.
Many of these benefits are critical if you plan on performing a variety of marketing activities on your ebooks. For example, if you intend to have a sale and drop the price to increase the volume of your sales, it's important to know exactly when the price will be reduced by the retailer. It would be a disaster to heavily market an attractive sale only to have the price of the book unchanged. Of course in this example you will also want to know as soon as possible how your sales were impacted by the price decrease so rapid availability of sales figures is also important.
The most significant disadvantage of going direct is having to learn how to interface to the different retailers since most have their own requirements. For example, the file format for Amazon is MOBI but for most other vendors it's an EPUB file. The most difficult retailer to interface with is Apple. Often we need to make minor changes in the EPUB file to meet their very unique requirements. But arguably the biggest hurdle for interfacing with Apple is that you need to use a Mac in order to do it. This may be a showstopper for some people that don't have a Mac or access to one.
For individuals that are relatively tech savvy, learning these various interfaces is challenging but not terribly difficult. And once you do climb the learning curve of the various retailers you will be set for future books and for making changes as necessary. If however, you find that task daunting then we would suggest that you go with the distributor which is essentially designed for individuals that want someone else to worry about all that detailed technical stuff!
Keep in mind that you don't have to go totally direct or just use a distributor. You can handle each retailer on a case-by-case basis if that works for you. Regardless of which way you're thinking we would strongly recommend that at a minimum you go direct for Amazon KDP. The interface to Amazon KDP is quite simple so it's easy to get your ebook submitted to the system. Also, it is highly likely that the vast majority of your ebook sales will come from Amazon and thus you want to be able to maximize your profits by going direct. You also have the advantages of placing your ebook in the categories you feel are best, easily and quickly changing your price, access to very timely sales reporting and leveraging promotional features such as KDP Select.
For our past books we have gone direct to Amazon, Apple iBooks, and Nook. Then used Smashwords to pick up the smaller retailers. As you would suspect our sales through Amazon totally dwarfed all the other retailers. By way of comparison, in the first third of 2015 we have sold 30 ebooks through the 12 retailers we use Smashwords for and 1,400 copies on the Kindle alone. The only Smashwords retailer with double-digit sales was Kobo. We have not finalized our decision but it's more than likely on our next book we will drop Smashwords altogether and add Kobo to our list of direct retailers.