July 11

Distribution: How your book gets to your readers

With all the distribution services available to you, it can be difficult to choose a path. This post aims to clarify those terms and the tools and services I most recommend to independent authors. 

What you'll learn in this post

In this post, you'll learn:

  • What is ebook distribution?
  • What is print book distribution?
  • Definitions of distribution terms
  • What is a bookstore, really?
  • My go-to list of distributors 
  • The combination I recommend the most 
  • Feel like experimenting with direct uploads to stores?
  • What to do when you need a full-service solution
  • Why you should always purchase your own ISBN
  • What to keep in mind when formatting your book

Ebook distributor

An ebook distribution service distributes your ebook to a wide range of online retailers. They collect a percentage of sales (about 10%) to provide you with wide distribution plus centralized accounting and payment services. Later in this post I'll share my recommended vendors for ebook distribution.

Print book distributor

A book distributor sends your print book (POD/print-on-demand, in most cases) to the online booksellers and brick-and-mortar bookstores. IngramSpark is currently the only reliable distribution channel that indie authors can use to reach brick-and-mortar stores. Why? Because they offer the 53% discount and returns program that bookstores require. It's not good practice to use Amazon's distribution service because bookstores generally do not like to order books from Amazon. Besides, they only offer a 40% discount and have no returns program. My favorite way to distribute print books is by using a combination Amazon and IngramSpark and offering a 30% discount and no returns. I'll share the details on that a little further down the page.

 Your customer finds your ebook in the store they like to shop in. That store is called an online retailer. Once the customer buys your book, they’ll get it in the mail (if they order the print version), or download the ebook to their ebook reading device in Kindle format (if they bought it from Amazon) or EPUB format (if they bought it in any other store).

Some more definitions

Before we continue on to the recommendations I'd like to  define some more terms you'll come across when you're researching distribution.

An online retailer is an online store that sells ebooks in print, EPUB, or Kindle format to your customers. The major online ebook retailers are Amazon (which enjoys the majority of the market and sells both print and ebooks), Kobo (an ebook retailer a wide international reach), Barnes & Noble (print and digital), Apple (ebook only), and Google Play (ebook only). Competing (or to compete) with Amazon is Walmart who sells both print and ebooks (via Kobo), too. There are many, many others. You could rather tediously sign up for each of their publishing programs, type in your automatic payment information, and upload your ebook to each of these stores separately. But many authors find that using an ebook distributor to reach all the retailers is much more efficient. 

Here's an important FYI: Amazon sells about a third of printed books in the US and is now opening brick-and-mortar retail bookstores, too. Books-A-Million, or BAM!, is the second-largest brick-and-mortar book retailer in the US after B&N. They also sell books online.

An ebook reading device is any device or app that can read the ebooks purchased from an online retailer. iPad owners have been trained to download the EPUB version and Kindle owners know they need a Kindle (KF8, mobi, or azw) file. You can read Amazon Kindle books on your iPhone using a Kindle app that you download from the app store. However, you can’t read an ebook in EPUB format on your Kindle ebook reader, because it’s a dedicated, one-purpose device that only reads Kindle files. Today, most people read ebooks on a multi-purpose tablet computer using an app.

What is a bookstore?

The definition of a bookstore has changed. A bookstore is both a bricks-and-mortar business and an online book retailer. Does your local independent bookstore have a website? Probably! And you can probably purchase books online from them.

Pure-play retailers  focus only on selling one thing. An example of a pure-play bookstore is B&N. Amazon is not a pure-play retailer because it sells all kinds of products.

Selling direct from your own website or at events or even from the trunk of your car is another way to distribute. There are a lot of tools that will help you sell books on your own website by embedding a widget. Check out Gumroad, Leanpub, and Patreon to get familiar with the kinds of things you can do.

My go-to list of print book and ebook distributors

Here’s a summary of the companies I most often recommend to authors who have professionally produced a book and need distribution to the ebook and print book retailers. There are lots more in the Consumer's Guide.


Draft2Digital acquired Smashwords early in 2022. So go straight to Draft2Digital instead of using Smashwords now. Draft2Digital has a beta program for print. I talked with them the Nonfiction Authors Association podcast in July 2022. Listen here.

Draft2Digital provides ebook distribution to all the major retailers online, plus hundreds of storefronts worldwide. 

They offer an automatic book formatting tool on their site and great customer service. Like most vendors, they keep 10% of the sales price.

You can format your book using D2D's free tool and distribute it elsewhere if you like, but you might like D2D's customer service and stay.


IngramSpark will distribute both your print book and ebook to all the stores, both online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores. It is owned by Ingram (the largest book distribution company in the world), so they have very wide reach. Most of the other distributors “hook in” to Ingram’s distribution service, so you don’t have to use IngramSpark to get Ingram distribution. However, IngramSpark is the only service that offers both ebook and print book distribution in a single dashboard. IngramSpark offers both paperback and hardcover book production and distribution.


Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is Amazon’s tool for self-publishers to sell your print book and Kindle ebook in the Amazon bookstore. They do require you to exclusively use Amazon only for 90 days if you use their Amazon KDP Select marketing program for ebooks. Only use this program if you've checked out their marketing tools and you're sure you want to use them.

Other Interesting Options

Publish Drive and StreetLib are proud of their global reach and Scribl has some interesting marketing features. Find reviews of these services in the free consumer's guide when you sign up for my Free Publishing Toolkit.

Educating yourself on the possibilities can cause a headache, I know. So here's where I provide the distribution scenarios I recommend most for self-publishers. 

Self-publishing distribution recommendations

The combination I recommend the most

This is the combination I recommend to most authors:

  1. Amazon KDP for your paperback and ebook, to enjoy a direct relationship with Amazon.
  2. Draft2Digital to distribute to all the other ebook retailers.
  3. IngramSpark to distribute your paperback and hardcover book.

Learn more from the podcast

I host the Nonfiction Authors Association podcast where I interview authors, book publishing and marketing experts, and founders of companies who create the tools to help you publish. Find it here.

Feel like experimenting?

Use Draft2Digital to dip your toe in the market with distribution to the major stores (including Amazon) and then expand distribution with (or switch to) IngramSpark to go wider. 

Plenty of authors upload their books directly, hitting the  major retailers.

  1. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle Store) for ebooks and paperback
  2. Amazon KDP Select if you want to try exclusive ebook sales for first 90 days
  3. Barnes & Noble Press for ebooks and print books
  4. Apple Books for Authors
  5. Kobo (Kobo Writing Life) which has an awesome author program for authors who upload direct
  6. Google Books Partner Center

Amazon KDP Select and Kobo Writing Life have really strong author programs. With Rakuten Kobo supplying the Walmart eBookstore they're a great option for you. B&N Press also offers a publishing program to their store.

Need a full-service solution?

If you are finding this whole self-publishing thing incredibly frustrating and want to offload it to a service who will do it all, I can recommend BookBaby and Gatekeeper Press. These are full-service ebook and print book formatting and distribution companies with editing and design services, too. Do purchase your own ISBNs.

Always purchase your own ISBNs

You can obtain ISBNs and barcodes from all of these services but I always very strongly recommend that you buy your own from Bowker MyIdentifiers in order to retain full control of your book. (This link is for authors in the US, so if you’re not in the US search for the ISBN agency in your country.)

To be even clearer on this, owning your own ISBNs and having direct access to MyIdentifiers makes a huge difference in your business as an independent author. Authors who are publishers, aka author-entrepreneurs, should always retain full control and this is the only way to do it.

You’ll need one ISBN each for:

  • Hardback
  • Paperback
  • EPUB
  • Kindle
  • Audiobook
  • and so on (such as the multimedia edition)

List the ISBNs for each edition on the copyright page for all versions of your book.

Buy a pack of 10 or even 100. Don’t bother to buy a barcode for print versions. You can get one free using IngramSpark’s book cover template generator. See my post about ISBNs here. 

A note about book formatting

I recommend Book Design Templates for those of you who work with Word and InDesign. But Scrivener is my favorite organization and writing tool. Scrivener exports your manuscript to ebook formats automagically, however, the PDF for print isn’t very good. I like PressBooks, which does a great job of PDF for print and ebook formats.  If you’re on a Mac, Vellum is an awesome, easy-to-use book design program. If you need a book creation service and don’t want to manage your own team, BookBaby and Gatekeeper Press are two popular services that both create and distribute your book.

Questions? Comments?

There you have it: A short-and-sweet introduction to book distribution. There are many other distributors, but these are the ones I most highly recommend.

What do you think? Would you change any of my definitions? Do you have direct experience with any of these companies? I’d love to hear about it. Would you recommend another company besides the ones I mentioned? Please let me know in the comments below. I’d really appreciate it!

Free ebook and self-publishing mini-course

I know you're on a learning curve. Make it easy on yourself and get my free ebook. I'll bet most of your questions are answered in there. And get some handy cheat sheets and an online introduction to self-publishing mini-course, too!

Consumers Guide Carla King

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Amazon, Blurb, BookBaby, Bowker, IngramSpark, ISBN, KDP, KDP Print, Smashwords

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  • Hi. Can you please suggest me as to what self-publishing company is best for ebooks? And paperbacks as well. I’m confused about bookbaby and smashwords. They’re almost same but bookbaby distributes to kindle as well, whereas smashwords does not. And I heard that kindle is important for your ebook sales. Other thing that I liked more about BB was its marketing ways. Bookpromo and bookshop. And I’m not so sure about SW all that much. Despite all that I’m confused as to whether which one of them is better. Tough if I have to be honest, BB is really attractive.
    If I get formatting done from some professional then upload it to the respective website, do you think that’sbetter or should I let the respective site do it themselves?
    Your suggestions and advice will be appreciated.
    Thank you,

    • BookBaby does have an attractive package. BookPromo is the part of their site that will help you promote your book and they don’t charge their authors for it, and BookShop provides your book page though I think you should have your own author websites as well. (Check out PubSitePro.com.) BookBaby can distribute to everybody for you for both ebooks and print, so no need to DIY unless you want to. You can start out with them and then change your strategy later. Remember to purchase your own ISBNs! (You need 10.) I hope you’ll review the updated info I added in March 2018 for more answers.)

  • Hi Carla and hope you are well!
    I realize this thread/post is a few years old but I still wanted to try and ask you a few questions.
    First, thank you for all the information and defining distribution and aggregation. That helped me to clarify terminology for what I am looking for in all these companies.
    After many phone calls and conversations with so many ‘aggregators’…I decided to move forward on my own and not have a middle person to centralize accounts. I am working with someone to format my manuscript and then will upload for ebooks as well as POD.
    I feel clear that I want to go with Ingram Spark for POD.
    And I was planning on just choosing a handful of the ‘usual suspects’ (Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo) to upload and manage individually. Yes, more work as far as accounting …but I feel okay about that because I was so bothered by how these other companies were handling ‘customer service’.

    ~ In your article, you specify that ‘distribution’ is for print books. But when you describe Pronoun…you say it is an ebook distributor. Can you explain or say more? I am going to research them…but wanted to understand your advice.

    ~ When you gave 2 options under ‘ebook only’…you first suggested Pronoun because they format and distribute to the five major ebook retailers. But then your 2nd option says to use KDP to sell the Kindle version in the Amazon store plus Pronoun for the others.
    Why would anyone choose option #2 if Pronoun will do all of them including Amazon?

    ~ I have researched so much about ISBNs and I agree with you that it makes sense for me to purchase them myself. I saw that Ingram Spark offers a discount ($85)for what appears to be your own ISBN…I don’t think there is any catch to it. Do you think this would be equal to buying it myself on Bowker? Or will I lose some kind of access to my data if I buy it thru Ingram’s discount? I am just trying to understand if there is a downside to this $85 option that I am not seeing. I have no need to buy 10 and so the small savings is helpful.

    ~ Under the section ‘Complete Distribution’ …option #2 says: “Enjoy a direct relationship with Amazon by uploading your books to Amazon CreateSpace for print and KDP for Kindle. Use IngramSpark to handle the rest of the ebook and print book distribution, or…”

    I was confused. Doesn’t Ingram Spark get my print book title onto Amazon? (I know if I use Create Space then my print book title ends up in Ingram’s catalogue…) Does Ingram not communicate with Amazon if I choose and pay them?
    I would prefer to not double up with both…so I want to be clear that Ingram Spark gets me connected to Amazon for print.
    And I guess the same question is true for ebook….if I was to use Ingram as an aggregator…do they send the ebook to Amazon?

    I am guessing that maybe you were suggesting Ingram as well as Amazon in option #2 only if you want a direct relationship with Amazon. But if one is going to use an aggregator for other companies…why would you single out Amazon to have a unique and individual relationship with?

    Again, thanks so much. I appreciate your insights. I hope my questions make sense!

    • I’ve updated this post – Pronoun, sadly, has been discontinued.

      If you want to manage your book individually with the online retailers you don’t need IngramSpark. But if you use IngramSpark they’ll do all the distribution for you.

      ISBNs: You do need 10. One costs $125 and 10 costs $295. You need one for print and two for digital: one for the EPUB and one for the Amazon Kindle version.

      Did you take my online mini-course? The first email you’ll get is all about ISBNs.

      Regarding why to have a direct relationship with Amazon, you never get out of stock messages and there are more reasons, also described in another post and in my email mini-course.

      I know it can be tough to sort out. Sorry!

  • Pronoun has announced it is closing, so I will be moving my first book I published (the ebook version) to another distributor. I currently have my paperback with IngramSpark, but wondered if KDP or Kindle Select would be a good option. Kindle Select seems to have a LOT of marketing tools that other distributors don’t have, but I know I have to get the other ebooks off of sites to go exclusive. Are there other distributors of ebooks that have any real marketing programs and if not, is the yoke of Kindle Select worth the exclusivity?

  • Should clarify in the third of three points under “My best recommendation for most authors” than in addition that Draft2Digital sells to Amazon Kindle.

  • Thank you for the mention Carla, I’m sorry I did not notice this discussion earlier. I work at PublishDrive and I’m here to answer any questions or comments you may have.

    After this unfortunate event, we would like to provide authors and publishers left stranded with the smoothest transition possible, so we have created a Pronoun import tool and have struck special deals with some distributors.

    You can read more here: https://the-digital-reader.com/2017/11/10/publishdrive-releases-pronoun-importer/ or contact me with further questions.

  • Thank you so much for sharing the info and experience!! I am a newby indie writer and feel a bit overwhelmed by all the information, but this has really clarified a lot of questions and cleared a lot of confusion with the definitions. All of a sudden it makes sense!

    I am from South Africa and we have a few different challenges, eg Amazon do not pay royalties into any SA bank.

    God bless and keep up the good work! I just love it!

  • Hi Carla,

    Thanks for this great article. It’s very helpful to us newbies. Big hug.

    Under the heading “Print book distributor” you said a couple of things that you indicated you’ll clarify and haven’t seen so I thought I’d ask about this. You said…

    (1) “IngramSpark is currently the only reliable distribution channel that indie authors can use to reach brick-and-mortar stores. Why? Because they offer the 53% discount and returns program that bookstores require… My favorite way to distribute print books is by using a combination Amazon and IngramSpark and offering a 30% discount and no returns. I’ll share the details on that a little further down the page.”

    Question: how do you go from offering 53% via Ingram to only offering 30% when you use the Ingram and Amazon combo? Please clarify. Thanks. The reason I like your strategy is that I’ve professionally produced my book to serve individuals, schools, libraries, bookstores, and organizations. Per your strategy, it looks like I’m an ideal candidate to have a direct relationship with Ingram and one with Amazon KDP separately.

    (2) I like the breakdown of your strategy and I’m serious about trying it. You said…
    “This is the combination I recommend to most authors:
    Amazon KDP for your paperback and ebook, to enjoy a direct relationship with Amazon.
    Draft2Digital to distribute to all the other ebook retailers.
    IngramSpark to distribute your paperback and hardcover book.”

    Question #1: What is the disadvantage if I omit D2D and just use Amazon KDP and Ingram per your strategy? Is Ingram not good with eBooks? Does D2D have as wide a global reach as Ingram? I’d sign up with D2D too but I just need to know first.
    Question #2: So for each of the distributors (with the exception of D2D which you recommend for eBook only) , I have to redo my trim sizes?

    Thanks so much in advance!

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