Early in July, in the wake of yet another debate surrounding Amazon’s overwhelming presence in the book industry (and its importance to self-publishers), I discovered Gumroad (you can all thank Bogi Takács for that). What followed was several days of investigating how it worked and what it could do (and how to handle taxes with it), and I’ve compiled a lot of this information in a post. Because, honestly, I need to share the love and possibilities.
I will say, however, that I don’t think Gumroad will ever replace Amazon. It can play a great role in securing income that doesn’t come from Amazon, but it lacks the discoverability tools that make Amazon such an efficient bookseller. I do not advise dropping Amazon entirely. If you’re distributing wide and not giving it exclusivity, however, Gumroad is one more great tool for you.
So let’s get into it.
What even is Gumroad? In short, Gumroad is a platform through which creators of all stripes can sell their products directly to customers. It is very much like an online shop interface and has been created to maximize conversion. Setting up your Gumroad account and products is essentially creating a shelf with all of your stuff, and what you sell under “stuff” can be … pretty much anything.
While this post will focus on digital sales, you should know that Gumroad allows you to sell physical copies. If you do so, however, you are in charge of distribution (shipping) in a timely fashion. But this is entirely possible, and if you’re an artist in addition to a writer and wanted to sell prints and postcards, you could!
In addition to providing an interface, Gumroad also collects information on your buyers and how they found your shop and gives that to you. It means you have a lot more data to work with when trying to figure out the best marketing strategies for your products, or what your audience is like.
And now, onto the specifics!
Setting up your Gumroad shop is, overall, easy. First, there is no tax questionnaire to use (because Gumroad does not collect taxes, more on that later) so creating an account is fairly straightforward. And it has helpful “learning” pop ups to let you know what you should be doing next. Overall, I have found the interface easy to understand, and Gumroad has a lot of information in its help center to help you along if you can’t figure it out at first.
Creating a product is a matter of:
- Writing the description
- Uploading your cover
- Uploading the products’ files
- Setting a price
And you’re done! The process is smooth and simple. I do recommend going into the “share” setting of your products, because it has a discoverability section which allows you to add tags.
The truth is, Gumroad has features besides the straightforward shop, but you could limit yourself to uploading your stuff and still get good mileage out of it.
It’s also fairly simple for the customer. They do need to have an account, but after that, buying is the matter of a few clicks. And we know that the less they have to click, the more likely they are to actually buy the thing. It’s not Amazon’s one-click-buy, but still good!
One major concern with platforms like this is getting the files easily to your customers’s e-readers, but fear not! The internet tells me Gumroad has a nice app allowing people to send the files straight to the e-readers (I have yet to test this, however, so if you can confirm/infirm, hit me up!) so that would be another thing handled.
Before I move to Cool and Creative Stuff, I want to cover some of the nitty-gritty number things surrounding Gumroad.
Transaction Fees and Royalties
Gumroad will give you more money than even Amazon. It’s free to register for an account, and its transaction fees are 5% + $0.30 per transaction. So if you’re selling a book at $5? Gumroad gives you $4.45 (90%) on it! Selling for a buck? You still get 65% instead of 35%! Your royalties are consistently better than what you receive from Amazon. This alone makes it an important alternative: the more you get out of every sales, the better. And as a reader? If you see authors selling on both platforms and want to support them more efficiently? Gumroad it is!
Pricing Your Books and Getting Tipped
You have complete control over the price you set. No minimum, no maximum. You charge what you want, and Gumroad will never apply small discounts to it the way Amazon does. You’re in complete control, and that rules!
But you know what’s even cooler? You can set your price as a recommended minimum by adding a small “+” after it. City of Strife, for examples, is currently $4.99+. What does this mean? People who believe you are undercutting yourself and want to pay more for your work can input any number higher–effectively tipping you. According to Gumroad, customers give on average 20% more than the set price. I’m strongly considering dropping most of my prices by at least a dollar, making them ever-so-slightly more affordable (and thus, accessible), and trusting wealthier fans to compensate. Not sure how to balance it out yet, but the very possibility is thrilling to me.
Gumroad allows you to create your own coupon codes. Coupon. Codes. These are so handy when you want to have specific sales or ebooks giveaways! You can decide how much they take off the price, limit the number of coupons, make it apply to all products or just one… there are lots of options! Which means you, as an indie, have more flexibility to be creative with your sales.
You can learn more about how to set them up and what they can do here.
Taxes and VAT
Tax talk could be an entire post by itself, so I will keep this short. Gumroad does not collect taxes for you. This means you are responsible for declaring taxes to your tax agency and paying them, and if you set up a Gumroad shop, you need to stay aware of this.
If you are in the US, you can tell Gumroad what your Nexus is (this is your physical presence, so … likely your home) and while it won’t collect taxes, it will provide you with a file stating how much you owe your state by the end of the year. This means you need to keep money aside to declare and pay taxes, but you won’t have to calculate how much yourself.
If you’re elsewhere, like me … enjoy learning about tax laws where you live ~ (For Canadian residents, you only need to charge taxes to other residents of your province, fyi).
Gumroad does collect VAT (which is … an european tax-like thing, don’t ask me), so at least you don’t need to worry about that.
Complete Control of Your Shop
Now comes the fun stuff. I’ve already mentioned bundles and coupons, but it’s time to look at what you can really do with Gumroad. As a platform, it gives you a lot of control over the nature of the content you’re selling, and how you’re selling it.
You can upload any electronic file you want. Unlike Amazon, which only sells MOBI files, and other ebooks distributors, which typically use EPUB, Gumroad places no restrictions on what you upload. This means you can use mobi, epub, PDF … or any audio or video files!
Number of files
Furthermore, you can upload more than one file. This effectively allows you to bundle (we’ll talk more about this later), but it also lets you give buyers all files format at once. This means someone changing e-reader type wouldn’t need to buy again. At the moment, all my books on Gumroad provide mobi, epub, and pdf, at the same price as any other distributor. I’ve seen others upload serials in several parts, like episodes.
Delay Times to upload
Amazon and Draft2Digital both often take 24 to 72 hours to update your files and price. Gumroad is instantaneous. This gives you way better control if you want to do flash sales or update a file quickly. It lets you be sure that stuff happens when you want it to, which is always nice.
You get to customize a lot of your shop’s appearance. If you’re on the free Gumroad, you only have access to a handful of global themes (paid account lets you use CSS), but you can grab the products’ squares and change their shape to have various sizes in the shop (here is mine and RoAnna’s if you want to see what I mean).
Do note that none of the squares are the same size than your standard cover size, so your full cover won’t show until people click. Several writers put their covers in a white square of the right size to fix this issue, while others create alternate graphics for Gumroad. I haven’t done either yet, but those are good options if you don’t like the way the square-preview feels!
Bundles and Variants and Wow!
My favourite part of Gumroad might be its ability to let you bundle your shit together, or create variants. What does that mean?
Let’s say I have six short stories, all available separately. If I wanted to sell them through Amazon, I would need to create a single file with all of them. I can still do that with Gumroad! It might even be more handy. But, if I want, I can sell all six files at once. Meaning a customer can pay X amount to download six different documents.
Now. Let’s say I have both an audiobook and an ebook. You can’t sell those together for a reduced price on Amazon. Gumroad, however, lets you put any files you want together. So you could sell your ebook and audiobook at once, at a price that is less than both of them separately.
But it gets even better. Let’s say you want people to be able to buy your audiobook, your ebook, and the combo, but you don’t want to have three separate entries in the store. That’s way too much space, isn’t it? Well, that’s where variants come in. You can create variants of the same item at different prices, which upload different files. In this case, there would be three: ebook only, audio only, and ebook + audio. And each would have their own price. All available at the same place.
Or if you go back to my six short stories … what if I wanted people to be able to buy just half of them? I would need to preselect which half, but I could set variants that give you access to different shorts. So if my collection is split between flash fiction and longer shorts, I could set variants for those, too!
The options, my friends, are many. And what did I say about flexibility and creativity being an indie’s best friend? That’s right. Between bundles and coupons, there are so many ways you could organize marketing events! It’s all up to you, really, so go wild!
You can totally do those, too. And it doesn’t require you to upload any file at first, so you can set them up whenever you want, even if your thing isn’t entirely finished! Bonus, all the other customization options (more than one file, workflows, etc.) work there too.
Workflows and Update E-mails
Your contact with your customers doesn’t stop after they’ve bought your product, or it doesn’t have to. You can set up workflows to send e-mails to your customers and followers a set amount of time after they buy. These can be thanks for buying and links to your newsletter, or they could be a reminder to review the book, for example. But you could also sell serials, and set the workflow to send one part every month. Or create slice of life storytelling which follows a character through a year, and post one chunk every month. Possibilities!!
The free Gumroad account only lets you have one workflow, however, so keep that in mind as you make plans. If you’re a small indie, chances are that upgrading to the next step ($10/month) won’t be worth it for a while.
The second interesting thing is that you get your customers’s e-mails. Technically, that means I could all add them to my newsletter. Will I do that? Heck no. That’s rude. Don’t do it. But if I needed to send an updated file for a product, I could easily do so. It’s nice to know that if I need it, I have it. Just be mindful of your customers’ privacy. No one enjoys unwanted e-mail.
And here is why despite all its cool options, Amazon remains one of your best friend for sales. Gumroad has a simple system of tags and product type, and that is the extent of its discoverability tools. It doesn’t do ‘also boughts’, doesn’t have Top 100 lists, doesn’t have any of the algorithm black magic that makes Amazon such an efficient book seller. Your Gumroad traffic will be almost entirely created by you. And that’s hard to do!
I have redone my links on my website so that they point to Book2Read universal linkage goodness (covers most standard distributors), Createspace for the paperback, and Gumroad, calling it “buy direct” so people who never heard of the site know what this means.
My take on this is that Gumroad’s flexibility when it comes to sales and marketing absolutely make it worth your while, but your flow of ‘regular’ sales will continue to come mostly from Amazon, especially if you don’t have a lot of bundles, serials, variants, etc. Someone with more audio and ebooks combos is more likely to get more out of the site.
Gumroad also has an affiliate program! If you’re a book reviewer or a book seller who deals with indies, this could be a good thing to look into. I kind of daydream about the ways indie bookstores could set up tiny online shops that link to Gumroad through the affiliate program, and thus split profit with the self-publisher they’re helping. But really. I suspect many self-publishers would be open to adding book bloggers as affiliates. After all, if your review helps me get sales, I feel super comfortable with the idea you get a slice of the money. You’re hand selling for me!
So everything is nice and easy but … what if it isn’t? What if something goes wrong? Well, I haven’t experienced their customer service yet, but I’ve seen several blogs state it was good? One can hope. Amazon is usually amazingly unhelpful haha. Furthermore, Gumroad has an incredible amount of helpful articles on its side. Seriously, google anything you have questions with + Gumroad, and you’re likely to find articles on it! Goes from How To 101 to more in-depth looks at option, so that’s cool.
I love Gumroad. Driving traffic to it is hard, and I haven’t sold much yet, but all of this still makes me very excited. Turning Gumroad into a solid sales channel will require a lot of work in normalizing it–the more often people see it and find cool stuff through it, the less offput they will be by it. Not to mention, it’s easier to buy something from Gumroad when you already have an account. So as indies, we have a lot of work to do promoting this option if we want it to take more and more space, thus reducing how much we depend on Amazon (I have talked about diversifying income on my Patreon before).
We can do it, though. We’re nothing if not willful and creative, and to quote one of the cutest video game out there, I am filled with determination.