Ask The Experts – eBook Conversion & Marketing

Return to IBPA’s Ask the Experts

Topics Discussed Below Include:
Publishing Options with Kindle
eBook Distributor Contracts and Varying List Price
Handling The Cost of Goods for eBooks
Turning Workbooks Into eBooks
Selling in Bulk to Institutions
eBook Conversion Help
Protecting eBooks from Being Copied/Programs that Automatically Download
Assistance Choosing a Firm


I am publishing my first e-book and my understanding was that Kindle offers two publishing options: one, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which gives them a 90-day exclusive and you can give away freebooks, and two, another option in which you do not give away books and you can offer the e-book to Nooks, iPads, and other devices. In his new book APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) Guy Kawalski does not even mention the second option. Did Kindle do away with that option? Is it still available? Where can I learn more about it?

Answer (01/2013) :

Kindle Direct Publishing is the name of the Kindle program that allows authors and publishers to put their book up on Amazon as a Kindle. The link to do so is this:

The EXCLUSIVE program that demands 90 days of the ebook not being available on any other site is called KDP SELECT. The “select” program is offered several times during the set up process, but not mandatory. She can set up her kindle on KDP without signing up for KDP Select.

~ Amy Collins started her career in the book industry as the book buyer for Village Green Books. She then “hopped the desk” and enjoyed 5 years as a National Account Rep. In 2001, Amy was named Director of Sales at Adams Media and eventually Special Sales Director for parent company, F+W Media. Amy founded The Cadence Group and New Shelves Distribution in 2006 to offer services to new and small presses.


We publish mostly children’s picture books. Only recently, as the full-color and fixed-format platforms became available did we decide to convert our titles to eBooks.

When selling print books, we have well-established discount schedules that differ for classes of buyers, such as for retailers, trade wholesalers, and so on, in compliance with the Robinson-Patman Act. In setting up agreements with e-book vendors, generally they seem to be setting the terms, not us. Some e-book vendors are distributors like Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and Follett. Others sell to end users such as Amazon, Barnes &, Apple, and Google Books.

The standard contracts they offer seem to be all over the place!

Among those selling retail (to end users), Apple gives the publisher 70%, Amazon KDP gives 70% minus a download fee, Google Books gives 52%, B&N gives 50%, gives 45%.

Among the distributors, Follett gives 50%, Ingram passes on a 40% discount and takes 15% which comes out to about 50% plus they take a one-time $150 plus an annual $30/title.

Baker & Taylor negotiates terms (we have not done so yet) and I don’t yet know what Overdrive does.

In talking with a representative from Google Books yesterday he said that although their standard contract is 52%, they will consider our terms as long as they are consistent (under Robinson-Patman standards) with other similar vendors – but he indicated that Google Books would not accept Amazon’s standard.

Sorting this all out is quite confusing. Any advice?

Related to this is our pricing of e-books. Ordinarily we would have a standard Digital List Price for each title. But what about if the book is sold to libraries? Is it ever appropriate to vary the List Price?

Answer (07/2012):

I hesitate to say, forget Robinson-Patman exists. I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve never played one on TV. Still, the way I see it, today’s conditions are not addressed by the Act. At its core, Robinson-Patman is about protecting retailers from discriminatory practices by suppliers that would tend to reduce competition or create a monopoly. The classic example is chain stores getting a better price than what’s available to independent retailers.

Robinson-Patman has always allowed for separately-negotiated deals with specific customers, provided there is a material difference between the terms offered on the published discount schedule and the terms of the negotiated sale. The classic example would be a vendor requesting a rate for non-returnable (presuming your standard is returnable).

Robinson-Patman applies to “commodities of like grade and quality.” There’s no obligation to sell a custom-printed edition at the same price as the standard press run. Arguably, a digital file is not equivalent to a printed volume. One is a physical object with a consistent set of features and limitations. A printed volume purchased by B&N is functionally identical to the same edition purchased by City Lights. But an e-book? The vendors of e-books (and e-book reading devices) each build different capabilities into their e-readers, offer different terms of use for the digital files, different payment terms, different promotional features, different access to sales data, file conversion included/excluded, fees/penalties… One vendor may license the book for use on a single device, non-transferrable. Another vendor might permit concurrent use of the book on up to five devices, by anyone with access to the user account, with the right to “gift” that book outright to another user account.

This is a classic case of, “All things being equal, which they never are.” Whether these vendors sell direct-to-consumer, or provide distribution services, I think we can look upon every one of these deals as a distribution contract, or a reproduction rights license. Each deal will be different, of necessity; each judged and priced on its own merits.

I understand the impulse to negotiate a deal with the likes of Google (does anyone like to be on the receiving end of, “My way or the highway?”), or to create a Robinson-Patman-compatible trade discount schedule. Practically speaking? Unless Google’s computer systems happen to be programmed to conform to the terms you offer, they won’t make the deal anyway.

Should libraries be offered the same SRP as a bookseller? Yes. SRP is a necessary benchmark. Just consider that you’re not selling physical books, you’re licensing usage rights. Will the library want the right to have five concurrent users, or 500, or unlimited use? Will they be purchasing a one-year license, or a life-of-copyright deal? SRP will be a key determining factor in calculating the value of the deal.

We’re no closer to having a standard deal for libraries than we are for booksellers. The negotiating process has barely begun. One thing I will predict is that, other than, perhaps, the top ten publishers, none of us will be selling e-books directly to libraries. The libraries are not going to pay for computer systems that account for usage deals with individual publishers. They won’t even take physical possession of a file (physical being a relative term, of course). Their “collection” will be up in the cloud, managed by one or more services that handle all the dirty work and send them a bill at the end of the month. This is no different than the booksellers who will only buy from a handful of wholesalers, distributors, and major publishers.

I hope this is helpful,

~ Dave Marx is the Publisher at PassPorter Travel Press, and co-author of several of the company’s guidebooks. PassPorter guidebooks have received over a dozen awards, including IBPA’s Bill Fisher Award. He’s spent 35 years in the media—print, broadcast, music, and online. Dave also served on the IBPA Board of Directors.


We are struggling with how to set up an eBook in our system. All printed books receive a cost of goods in order to report on sales, costs, purchase history, inventory data, etc. The bulk of eBooks we sell are on Amazon. They do not have any cost associated with the eBook because we simply provided Amazon with the final pdf of the book. Recently we have started using Aptara to create ePub files for us so now we have some eBooks with cost associated. But we are perplexed at how to calculate cost of goods with no “print run quantity” which is part of the calculation. How do other publishers handle the cost of goods issue for eBooks?

Answer (05/2012):

There are a couple of different ways to look at it, and I’m sure the practice varies widely among different companies.

1. It’s an intangible asset akin to software development expense. If you treat it this way, it should be capitalized and amortized over 3 years.

2. It’s a regular ongoing cost. If you’re paying someone regularly to do something, you’d pay them whether they did it or not, and they do a lot of “somethings” for you, I’d just put it in a regular periodic expense account such as salaries or freelance help.

There isn’t a lot of guidance out there, and you should confirm this with your tax advisor.
While I think number two makes the most sense, I’m not confident that this is how the government will look at it. I think I’ll do some more digging.

Christopher Robbins, Pater Familius (founder and president) of Familius, has been in the magazine and book publishing industry for more than twenty years, most recently as the CEO of Gibbs Smith. Charles Coonradt, author of Game of Work and The Better People Leader, called him “…one of those rare people who can conceptualize outside the box and make the seemingly impossible reality.” Christopher holds a BA and MBA from Brigham Young University. He is a lover of the simple life, loves to backpack the mountains of the western United States, fly fish, cook, garden, spend time with his family and play his cello. If there is anything new to learn, he is there on the front row.


Can a workbook be turned into an eBook?

Answer (03/2012) :

I can’t say that my opinion would be the last word on this subject as we haven’t done conversions of workbooks. Perhaps someone is doing them well and cost efficiently. The problem is that current eBook technology doesn’t allow for the reader to fill in blanks. I’m sure it can be done, but I believe it is significantly more expensive and may not be supported by all devices. It is more of an app than an eBook. Ultimately it depends on the content. For example, if the workbook has many grids, tables, surveys and/or assessments that need to be filled in these would be hard for the reader to recreate and even difficult to read on any of the hand-held devices.. If; however, the workbook is designed to guide the reader through making lists or other simple tasks that can be done with an accompanying notepad then I would say that a workbook should convert rather easily to an eBook. My answer is brief, so if there are any follow up questions I’d be happy to see what I might contribute to the discussion.

~ Tom Doherty has worked in publishing for more than 30 years with 20 of those involved in distribution at both large and small companies. Since 2000 he has served as president of Cardinal Publishers Group, a full service national book distributor, and since 2004 also as publisher of Blue River Press.


We have a series of short inexpensive books on caregiving that we sell in bulk to institutions who then give them to their clientele. We are trying to find an eBook business model that would allow us to sell eBooks in bulk to institutions while providing them with an easy way to make them available to their clients.Does anyone know of any good examples of how publishers have done this? Thanks.

Answer (12/2011):

There is no easy answer to this unfortunately. You would have to either:
1) Create a web store that would allow you to manage the download of the files to the individual users.
2) Use Adobe Content Server 4 to manage that process.
3) Work out a deal with the main eBook retailers to allow you to give download codes to the institutions.

Option 1 is hard to do and requires your own creation and maintenance of a download system. It also does not have DRM.

Option 2 is good because ACS4 manages the DRM that is used on the Nook, Sony, Kobo, and some iPad apps (not iBooks), but bad because then the file the customer receives can’t be loaded onto a Kindle.

Option 3 is very unlikely to happen. Retailers are not likely to do that kind of exchange without a fee.

Joshua Tallent is a well-known eBook expert and teacher, and is a vocal advocate for beautiful, functional, accessible eBook files. eBook Architects, his eBook design and consulting business, provides services to both publishers and authors, specializing in complex projects and enhanced eBooks. Website:


Hi–I’m a good book designer (interior/typography) but incompetent on eBook conversion. I have a PDF of a book (created in Quark) that I wish to convert into various formats. Kindle says it accept several (including WORD), but doesn’t list Quark as an option. (The book was originally created in WORD, modified many MANY times, then put into Quark, where it underwent final editorial and design revisions, which is why there is not a good WORD file.)

Is there an easy-to-understand guide to conversions? Can Q. be used (assuming I strip out headers, folios, etc.)?

What is your opinion about using CreateSpace for the Kindle version?


Your question about conversion is a good one, and there isn’t one cure-all, especially when dealing with one-off titles. I would suggest, rather than trying to go from Quark to ePub, which can be somewhat difficult (as opposed to going from InDesign, which is relatively easier), that you try going from PDF to ePub. Usually Amazon and Nook will provide the technical know-how to take your PDF and turn it into an eBook, and while there will definitely be formatting issues, it’s actually a pretty clean process depending on the content.

Also, while I don’t have specific information on the platform right now, VOOK is launching a tool that will allow you to create and format your own ePub, which will be launching (hopefully) in early 2012, so keep an eye out for that.

If you’re looking for more information, I would suggest checking out digital publishing/self-publishing groups. LinkedIn actually has quite a few (I moderate one on eBooks, and a quick search of the term on LinkedIn should yield communities where you can get some additional support to questions you have).

I hope that’s helpful – thanks!

Adam Salomone is the Associate Publisher of the Harvard Common Press, overseeing all aspects of the digital and social media strategy at the company. He’s also involved with acquisitions, marketing, eBook conversion/distribution, and more. Feel free to contact him at or visit Harvard Common Press online at


1. What is the best way I can protect an ebook from being copied and sent to other people once someone has purchased it?

2. How can I set up a payment system for an ebook that provides for automatic download once someone has purchased it?

Answer #1 (10/2011) :

This question addresses one of the thorniest issues in the e-book world–whether to “digitally protect” e-book files or not. In order to prevent a purchaser from disseminating an e-book to other individuals, a digital “lock” has to be placed on the file. This is called Digital Rights Management (DRM), and it’s something that has to be built into the file prior to purchase. What this does is limit the readability of the file to the device it’s delivered to (such as a Kindle reader) or to the purchaser’s computer. When your client uploads their file to a particular retailer (Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Apple) or to a portal (Smashwords, Libre digital etc.) they will be asked if they want to include DRM. Usually the end seller (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo etc.) will then add the DRM when they make the file available. If your client is using a PDF file they can actually code the file directly for no printing or no copying within the PDF file maker (tell them to search for “Security” in the help menu of their PDF maker).

The reason the use of DRM is debatable is because it is not reader friendly–it makes it more difficult to download the files and it often makes it impossible for a reader to load an e-book on all of their reading devices. Many publishers, us included, do not use digital rights management unless the retailer requires it. Kindle/Amazon for example, does require it and there’s nothing we can do about it. But if we have the choice, we opt not to use DRM, accepting the fact that some purchasers will share the files (just as many readers will give print books to their friends or resell print copies after they’ve read them). We feel it is more important to make our e-books easily accessible and utilizable by readers than to protect ourselves from the few-shared files that will occur. We do keep a careful look out for sites that are “ pirating” our books by using Google alerts (you can set up an alert to tell you every time your title appears as a download) and then send a takedown notice.

I hope this is helpful, and if you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Len Barot has had a lifelong passion for the importance of affirming, validating literature to the LGBTQ community and brings more than twenty years experience in both writing and publishing to Bold Strokes Books. As an author writing under the noms de plume Radclyffe and L.L. Raand, she has published over 40 novels and anthologies. With her unique perspective as both author and publisher, she provides a forum to support the growth of each author’s career while producing quality works to enrich the body of LGBTQ literature.

Answer #2 (10/2011):

1. What the question refers to here is DRM, digital rights management, a real issue for any intellectual property. Fortunately, digital retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, etc., offer DRM as an option when a publisher begins deploying digital content through them.

However, one should remember what Tim O’Reilly said regarding this issue: “Obscurity is a greater threat than piracy.”

2. If we’re exploring the marriage between download management and ecommerce for ebooks, then most large publisher information systems include this as part of their software. If one is using software that does not provide this marriage solution, then one can easily work with a platform that does power this.

Solutions include Magento –, Zen-cart –, PHPCart –, Digital River –, and even Paypal –

~ Christopher Robbins, Pater Familius (founder and president) of Familius, has been in the magazine and book publishing industry for more than twenty years, most recently as the CEO of Gibbs Smith. Charles Coonradt, author of Game of Work and The Better People Leader, called him “…one of those rare people who can conceptualize outside the box and make the seemingly impossible reality.”


Dear Colleagues,

I would very much appreciate getting expert advice on the relative advantage between using a firm that combines conversion with marketing/publishing such as Smashwords, and a firm that limits its services to converting the file to make it readable on Nook, Kindle, etc and uploading to those.

In other words, is the marketing provided by the Smashwords type firm, worth the cut they take? And, am I likely to get a better, more mistake- free converted file(s) from the convert-only type firm?

Answer (10/2011):

It’s a very good question and one that I think you have to evaluate along both merits (i.e. marketing and conversion). Given how far we’ve come with ebook conversion in the past 2-3 years (and assuming your content is relatively non-complex), I would imagine most reputable conversion houses can handle the job without much of a problem, regardless of whether they do marketing or not. That said, I also think it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t sacrifice quality for toolsets. By that I mean, don’t go for not so good conversions, just so you have a marketing partner. There are also plenty of marketing companies out there that can help with ebook promotion, so you could (if you were set on doing marketing as well) try to piece a program together that leveraged two separate companies, both of whom are experts in their particular fields of conversion and marketing specifically.

On the marketing front, I can’t say that I’ve had much experience with outside providers. It’s a bit of a gray area, especially when factoring in social media and unclear ROI on ebook campaigns. Depending on how much it costs you, it could be a losing proposition. But, there are a few things to consider:

1. Do you have the resources in-house to do effective marketing? That includes both people to do it and the know-how (or at least the desire to learn from online and print resources, as there are many).

2. Do you think you can find a viable marketing partner in a reasonable amount of time? Does that marketing partner know enough of book publishing, ebooks, and ideally your genre specifically?

3. What are your goals for a marketing relationship, and can you articulate them?

4. What is your long-term plan for ebook marketing programs? If you walk down an out-of-house path for now, can you bring it in-house at some point?

Obviously, it’s not easy to answer these questions, but I think it is important. If you feel you wouldn’t be able to service the ebook marketing side yourself, definitely try to find a partner who brings know how. In doing so, I would try to structure a deal such that their compensation is tied to increased revenues, so that you aren’t paying them for work that has no effect on the bottom line. That may be tough, and a bit unrealistic, but there are enough companies out there that want this business, I’m sure you can piece together something along those lines that minimizes your risk.

I hope that helps, and good luck! ~ Adam

~ Adam Salomone is the Associate Publisher of the Harvard Common Press, overseeing all aspects of the digital and social media strategy at the company. He’s also involved with acquisitions, marketing, ebook conversion/distribution, and more. Feel free to contact him at or visit Harvard Common Press online at

We hope you will find this program useful, but as with any advice, we recommend that you make sure it fits your specific business needs. IBPA does not specifically endorse or support any particular group or service.

How to Get Involved!
Marketing Opportunities

From mailings to exhibits, see how IBPA's marketing programs help you grow your sales.

Educational Opportunities

Attend a seminar, ask an expert, and get more free advice with our educational programs.

Become a member

Access exclusive members-only benefits starting at just $10.