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Month: June 2018

So where should I publish? Part 2: Using Aggregators

In our last post, we looked at the top five ebook retailers plus Malaysia’s own e-sentral. These retailers allow you to upload and publish your books directly with them—but this requires you to work out six different ways to format your ebook and enter the related information six times. To streamline this process, we use an aggregator—which distributes your ebooks to the selected retailers and online libraries.

Here are three aggregators we’ve personally used or know Malaysians who have used them:


Smashwords is one of the first indie publishing platforms which serves both as a retailer in its own right and as a distributor/aggregator. It distributes to a long list of retailers including Kobo, iBooks and Nook. Where it doesn’t distribute to is Google Play and Amazon. Amazon is technically on the list, but your books aren’t actually distributed via Smashwords unless you’ve sold more than $2k worth of books on Smashwords.


85% of net sales* on books sold in the Smashwords store, 60% of list price for books sold by other retailers.

*Net sales is the amount after transaction fees (if any) and affiliate cut (if any).

The good stuff:

  • Smashwords sells internationally, and since it’s been around for more than a decade, it’s pretty established in the market.
  • Books are sold in several formats, including epub, mobi (Kindle) and PDF, so it caters to readers on all major platforms/readers.
  • Payment is made via Paypal on a monthly basis so you’ll get paid every month! Even if you only earn like a dollar.
  • Uploading is via .doc file. Or you can upload via epub file if you’ve managed to make one somewhere else.
  • Smashwords has a coupon system so you can put individual books on sale or you can create a special coupon code for your readers instead of generally lowering your prices.
  • You can set your price to 0 (free) so it’s an easy way to give your books away for free.
  • Provides free ISBN
  • You can control pricing in other currencies

The bad stuff:

  • Uploading to Smashwords via .doc—which initially sounds easy enough—is often quite finicky due to their proprietary conversion software known as the Meatgrinder. It requires very stringent formatting and even experienced formatters sometimes face stupid, annoying problems with the upload so you have to be very patient. (Or hire us!)
  • Formatting is limited—the Meatgrinder doesn’t like too many pictures or lists or tabs or tables, so it’s really only good for fiction that doesn’t need any of that stuff.
  • The pre-order option isn’t exactly a pre-order: it creates the book page with all the relevant details but doesn’t allow orders until the on-sale date itself.
  • It’s still a US site, so you still need to fill up the US tax form (W8-BEN) and pay the 30% withholding tax.
  • Readers can only review books they bought from the site.

What does this mean for you?

Publishing on Smashwords is a steep investment in terms of time and the payoff may not be that great. We use it mainly because it’s a legacy platform at this point—we’re so used to having it there that it feels weird not to. 🙂


Draft2Digital (D2D) 

D2D is one of the most well-known aggregators out there. It doesn’t have its own sales platform but distributes to a long list of retailers including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook. It doesn’t yet distribute to Google Play but they’re currently “in talks”.


D2D takes 10% of the retail price, or approx 15% of net royalties. Royalties depend on the individual retailers.

The good stuff:

  • It’s very easy to use and doesn’t require any special formatting skills, as long as your chapter markers are consistent.
  • Uploading is via any Word file (or Word readable file).
  • Also helps generate end matter.
  • Provides free ISBN.
  • Converts your book into epub, mobi (Kindle) and PDF, so it caters to readers on all major platforms/readers.
  • You can set your price to 0 (free) except on Amazon so it’s an easy way to give your books away for free.
  • You can control pricing in other currencies.

The bad stuff:

  • It’s still a US site, so you still need to fill up the US tax form (W8-BEN) and pay the 30% withholding tax.

What does this mean for you?

For a tech noob, D2D looks like the best replacement for Smashwords. There’s a lot of overlap between the sites they distribute to, so unless you really want to sell on Smashwords itself, D2D is a pretty good replacement.



Streetlib posits itself as “a one-stop solution for independent publishing”. It certainly offers a lot of options and has segregated its options into six overall categories: write, publish, print, sell, read and market. They have an impressive list of retailers that they distribute to, including all of the top five ebook retailers AND e-sentral.


StreetLib takes 10% of the list price. Royalties depend on the individual retailer. Using the wholesale model, you get 60% of your list price

The good stuff:

  • You can either upload as an epub or create an epub using their free “write” service.
  • The Write service lets you either upload an existing word document (slightly buggy) or cut and paste from your file into their system. It’s quite intuitive to use and offers several standard styles to choose from.
  • There is an option to create your own ebook store, which takes away the hassle of creating your own website.
  • Provides free ISBN.
  • Payment via Paypal is available. Set up for payment allows you to list Malaysia so there is a possibility that a W8-BEN is not required (we haven’t tested this yet).

The bad stuff:

  • The Write function is separate from the Publish function—and there is no automatic flow—so you need to download the epub file and then re-upload it to sell, which was frankly a little confusing.
  • The Help & FAQ section wasn’t exactly very helpful in figuring this out, so experimentation was needed.

What does this mean for you?

Our experience of using Streetlib was basically that the best part is the Write option. Everything else is slightly confusing and frankly a little annoying. However, the list of retailers they distribute to is impressive, so it might be worth the effort.


Additional reading:

There are a lot of things to think about when deciding how to publish your e-book. If you want to discuss the best options for your book, contact us for a one-on-one consult.

Let us know if you have any specific questions and we’ll try to answer them!

Where should I publish? Part 1: The top 5 ebook retailers

Now that you’ve decided to self-publish, the next question is: where should I publish? Here’s a quick look at the top 5 ebook retailers and how accessible they are to Malaysians.


Amazon Kindle is undoubtedly the biggest player in the ebook world at the moment, especially in the United States of America. As much as some publishers hate Amazon and its near-monopoly, it’s still a publishing heavyweight that is ignored only at your (publishing) peril. Most self-publishing success stories are geared around aggressive marketing strategies on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

For Malaysians, the downside to publishing on Amazon is really that the average Malaysian is not going to be able to buy your ebook because there is no actual Malaysian Amazon market. Most Malaysian who buy and download from Amazon either do so with a US-linked account, via gift cards, or through a VPN. And frankly, only very dedicated, avid readers are going to bother with this.

The other downside is that your royalties are subject to a 30% withholding tax because Malaysia does not currently have a tax treaty with the USA. You’ll also need a US bank account (or a bank account in one of the countries Amazon has a presence in) to receive your royalties via direct debit. Without this, you’ll need to accumulate a total of $100 sales in each respective currency in order to receive a cheque.

What does this mean for you?

Publish on Amazon, by all means, but don’t expect to grow much of a local following from it. You’ll be mainly targetting the US/international market. Also, unless you use a banking service such as Payoneer, it might take an extremely long time to receive royalties.

Your best bet is to distribute to Amazon via an aggregator, which we’ll talk about in our next post.

Find out more about publishing on Amazon in this post and this other post.


Google Play

Google Play’s sales of ebooks are apparently pretty low in the US. However, reports seem to show that it has a bigger worldwide market share and is still considered one of the big 5 online publishing platforms. Back when I had an organised book page via Pronoun (as opposed to my haphazard website now), half my sales were from Google Play so don’t let the poor reports from the US discourage you.

Malaysia is on the list of markets where Google Play is accepting new publishers. To open a publishing account, you fill up a form and wait for them to approve you. Uploading to Google Play requires a little technical know-how—they only accept uploads in ePub format so you’ll either have to figure out how to create an ePub file or pay someone to do it for you. AND because you’re registering directly as a Malaysian account, royalty payments can be made directly to your local bank account and there is no withholding tax.

Google Play doesn’t play well with aggregators, so this is one you might want to upload on your own.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst Google Play isn’t quite as big on the ebook front as Amazon, it’s easily accessible by anyone in Malaysia with a smartphone. Also, no hassle with filling up US tax forms or figuring out how to actually get your royalties! You should register for a publishing account as not many aggregators distribute to Google Play.



Kobo (also known as Rakuten Kobo) is another popular ebook site. The plus side about Kobo is that they sell internationally, so it’s accessible to Malaysians. We can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t upload directly to Kobo—we usually distribute to Kobo via Smashwords, or previously, the now-defunct Pronoun.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst we can’t comment about selling on Kobo independently, quite a few aggregators include Kobo in their list of platforms. We’d list this as a must-have, seeing that it sells internationally, including to Malaysia.



iBooks is accessible to all Apple users worldwide. This means that anyone who has an iTunes account in the world can buy your ebook. Unfortunately, most people in Malaysia only associate iTunes with music, so their ebook market isn’t as huge as it could be.

iTunes is also horrendously glitchy when trying to find the actual LINK of the ebook to share, so we don’t use it much. Case in point: the link above points you to Anna’s author page because there is no actual link to an iBooks store. Links to iTunes also force you to open the iTunes player (and often tells us that we don’t have one even when we do) and all purchases need to be in-app, so we don’t really favour them as a buyer. Still, it works for those who do everything on their iPhones or iPads.

Again, we can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t directly upload to Apple/iBooks.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst we can’t comment about selling on iTunes independently, quite a few aggregators include Apple in their list of platforms. We’d list this as a must-have, mainly because it’s Apple.


Nook (Barnes & Noble)

Barnes and Noble has been rumoured to be closing down for something close to the last five years, so it seems like they’re a little troubled. All the same, it’s still considered one of the big 5 in ebook retailing. On the surface, Barnes and Noble appears to be accessible internationally, until you get to the payment page—where they require a US credit card to make purchases. So no, they’re not actually available to the average Malaysian.

Again, we can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t upload directly to Nook/Barnes and Noble.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst I can’t comment about selling on Nook independently, quite a few aggregators include Barnes and Noble in their list of platforms. We’d list this as “Not really required, but eh, why not?” at this point of time.




Malaysia has its very own ebook platform! Obviously, it’s not part of the top five ebook retailers in the world, but it’s been around since 2010 so it’s worth looking into. E-sentral caters to the Southeast Asian market, primarily Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia and is open to publishing in English, Malay, and Chinese.

We can’t comment much on the platform as a whole at this point since we’ve only just started trying to upload to the site, but our experience at this moment is as follows:

  • You’ll need to upload your file in epub format
  • Larger files seem to be buggy to upload
  • You can upload your ebooks individually or in batches, which is great if you have a back catalogue
  • Processing of the files/uploads takes a while. We uploaded a batch of 5 ebooks on 7 June and the files have yet to be processed. Or something
  • You need to apply for your own e-ISBN from PNM which is an additional step that’s normally not required by other platforms.
  • No foreign withholding tax or bank hassles.

Update: check out how to upload to e-sentral here.

What does this mean for you?

Malaysia boleh! But other than that, it’s a good way to try to build your local readership. We’ll let you know how this goes once we actually get our books on sale.


We’ve looked at the top five e-book retailers (plus e-sentral) but, as mentioned, we also sell through to these platforms via aggregators. Our next post will look at the various aggregators/distributors such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital, how they work, and whether they’re worth using. If you have tips to share, let us know in the comments.

Til next time!

P/S Here are some additional posts that you might find helpful: