A Guide To Selling Digital Products Online For Income

A Guide To Selling Digital Products Online For Income

If you’re looking for a source of side income, or even for a career change, selling digital products can net you a lot of cash.

With digital products, you won’t have to deal with the high start-up costs of a brick and mortar shop. You can start creating and selling to the masses with fairly little capital, right from your living room. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the production and shipping of physical products.

Here’s a guide to some of the best-selling digital products on the web:


Although e-book sales have dipped in the last two years, they’re still a sizeable slice of the publishing pie. In the first half of 2017, e-books represented 17% of all book sales in the United States.

An e-book is possibly one of the most popular digital products being sold. It takes relatively little tech know-how to produce one, and platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing has made their publishing and distribution process quite painless.

What does an e-book creation and publishing process look like?

1. Find a topic to write about, then narrow down to a niche

There’s a near-limitless number of topics you can write about, from cookbooks, self-help guides, how-to manuals, to all the varieties of fiction you can think of (yes, including those in Fifty Shades of Grey territory). Consider browsing e-book stores to see which topics or genres are doing well. However, it’s worth finding a niche within your chosen topic. Writing a recipe book for desserts, for example, means that you’ll have to compete with more than 10,000 titles on the Kindle Store. Narrowing down to a niche, like say, Paleo Christmas Desserts for Diabetic Octogenarians could mean that you’ll have a greater chance of standing out.

2. Outline your book

Creating an outline before plunging in can greatly expedite the writing process, especially if you’re writing non-fiction. Use brainstorming tools like mind maps, sticky notes or simply a list to plan your chapters and content.

3. Write your book

Schedule distraction-free writing time. If you suffer from writing paralysis, you may find that typing out a rough draft and editing later (instead of producing perfect sentences at the first go) helps speed up the process. Alternatively, pull a James Patterson and hire other writers to write content based on your outline. You can find affordable writing services via sites like Upwork and fiverr – word of caution though, quality rarely comes at a discount. You might find typos, grammatical errors and overall less-than-stellar writing if you engage with writers at the cheapest rates.

4. Edit your book

Reread, edit and rewrite your book if necessary. Send copies of your book to close friends or family whom you trust. Alternatively, consider professional editing services.

 5. Format your book

Your e-book will need to be properly formatted so it can be distributed on e-book publishing sites, as well as for proper display on e-reader devices. Using a software like Calibre can help convert your Word document into popular e-book formats like .epub and .mobi.

 6. Design your front cover

Avoid the temptation to smash something together in Paint and calling it a day. If you don’t have some experience in graphic design, it will probably show. Consider getting external help for this. Again, affordable graphic design can be found on sites like Upwork and fiverr.

 7. Publish

You can self-publish your e-book on distribution platforms like Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Press. However, they take a chunk out of your earnings – Amazon pays out a 35% to 70% royalty, while Barnes & Noble pays out 65% for e-books priced over US$2.99. An alternative would be to distribute your e-book through your own website – services like Shopify and Sellfy make it easy to start one, even if you have limited technical knowledge. They still charge commission on each sale, but your cut of the earnings will be higher.

How much can you potentially earn if you sell 100 books a month?

Price of book US$4.99
 Royalty per bookAmazon Kindle Publishing (70%)

Barnes & Noble Press (65%)

Estimated monthly revenue based on 100 salesUS$349US$324
Estimated revenue per year US$4,188US$3,888
udemy screenshot

Image from: Udemy.com

Online courses

Online courses require a bit more technical knowledge than e-books, but they’re also a worthwhile option to explore. In 2014, the average Udemy (a popular online course platform) instructor brought in US$7,000, although outcomes range widely. If you have something to teach, consider packaging it into a course to sell online.

What does an online course creation and publishing process look like?

1. Find a topic

Ideally, this would be a topic that you have some interest in and know something about, otherwise the course-creation process will be a drag. There’s an online course for just about anything you can think of (including online poker, travel journaling, running a dog walking business, and even a number on how to make a successful online course), so don’t worry about needing expert qualification in order to teach.

If you don’t think you have anything worth teaching, then learn about a topic that you’re passionate in – you could distil information gleaned from books into a digestible online course.

Before deciding on a topic, browse online course platforms like Udemy or Skillshare to see if it has enough market demand to be worth pursuing.

2. Outline your course

Think about the scope of your course – how much do you want to cover? How long will your course be? What are your learning outcomes, and what content will help you achieve them? Divide the course into modules (think of them as sub-topics) with lessons to support each module.

3. Decide how to deliver your course

With online courses, you’ll have to choose between different formats of delivery (such as video, text, audio, quizzes, worksheets, etc.) that best suit your course. If you’re teaching a Photoshop course, for instance, you might choose to deliver your content through screencasts. In contrast, a language course might be better delivered through talking-head style videos. In this case, you’ll need access to recording equipment and a space in which you can record in good lighting. You may find that you’ll need to utilise a combination of formats to suit the different learning outcomes of your course.

4. Recording and editing your course

Here comes the fun part – actually producing your course. Technical knowledge will be helpful here, as you’ll need to know how to record your video in the right resolution, export it in the right format, video edit, clean up audio recording, etc. You’ll also need access to the right software and speedy broadband so you can edit and upload your media files efficiently.

5. Publish your course

You can publish your course on popular sites like Udemy or Skillshare. They do, however, take a chunk out of your earnings (Udemy takes 50% of revenue). Alternatively, you can publish your course on your own website with help from platforms like Teachery and Teachable.

Image from: Etsy.com

Art and design

If you happen to be an artist, you can sell digital art (that was created digitally or converted from traditional art) on sites like Etsy or Society6. Platforms like Etsy will allow you to sell digital files directly. Other platforms, like Society6, Printful and Zazzle, will produce physical products from your digital files and handle shipping for you. Imagine having your art or design emblazoned on clothing, stationery, phone cases and other items – and being able to ship them to customers around the world, all without the hassle of dealing with the physical products yourself.

There is huge demand for other design-related products, which include:

  • Themes. You can sell WordPress themes on sites like Themeforest, which houses 40,235 themes ranging from US$2 all the way to US$1,200. Themeforest imposes a fee for each sale, starting at 37.50%. However, the higher the value of your all-time sales, the lower this fee becomes. For example, if you’ve gotten 100 sales of US$50 each in your first month, your net revenue after the fee will be around US$3,140.63.
  • Templates. If it involves design, it can be sold online. There are plenty of digital products you can sell templates for, including resumes, journals, planners, greeting cards, invitations and calendars. These products sell especially well on Etsy.
  • Patterns, Photoshop brushes, textures, vector illustrations, etc. These products are popular digital purchases on platforms like GraphicRiver and Creative Market.

Other digital products

  • Mobile apps. Creating apps require more technical knowledge, but can be extremely rewarding. In 2016, global mobile app revenue was at US$88 billion, and is expected to increase to US$189 billion in 2020. If you have limited coding knowledge but still want to dip your toe into the market, platforms like Appmakr, Appypie and Andromo provide tools to build apps without having to code.
  • Photography. If you happen to be a photographer, you can sell your photographs on sites like Shutterstock, iStock or through your own website.
  • Sound. Background music, jingles, sound effects and more; these digital products can be sold on sites like Audiojungle.
  • YouTube videos. You can monetise your YouTube videos through its Partner Program.

Get out there and start creating!

To some, the thought of selling digital products online for a living conjures up the image of working at home in pyjamas. That’s true – you can work in your pyjamas, but make no mistake – it will still be hard work. Creating digital products to sell will be time-intensive early on, but it can become a recurring stream of passive income that will be worth the effort.

Whether you’re looking to start an online business, or selling digital files on a small scale, a fast internet connection will help you create and get your products out there immediately. Find a plan that suits your needs now.
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