Lately, a lot of my blogging friends have been asking me which payment platform is best when it comes to selling ebooks, pdfs or printables. The truth is for new bloggers, there are 3 great options - Sendowl, Gumroad and Payhip, and they each have pros and cons, as you'll see.
SendOwl is my personal preference because you can just do more with it, and once you are selling more products, it is the least expensive option. But, let me explain further because you'll see that the answer depends on your own circumstances (how much you're selling, your email service provider, geography), so please read on.
Please note that thiis article contains affiliate links, and that means that at no extra cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you decide to buy. You can read my full disclosure here.
This is something that confused and intimidated me for a while. And, once I decided what to use, I got confused on how to implement…because you guessed it, I’m not tech savvy and the instructions were hard to find and confusing.
As a result, I had to delay my launch.
So, I’m sharing my knowledge on which places make the most sense…at the beginning.
Before I get started, you’re going to see that there are many options. And, probably no option is perfect, so you need to just make to a choice at some point.
And, I want to remind you, that you can always switch later. If you are starting out and don’t even have affiliates yet, it is super simple to switch. And, many have free plans where you can start.
So then, once you see how your sales are looking, you can always adjust.
I will also tell you that I wasted too much time running scenarios to see which one I should use.
All 3 of these are inexpensive, relatively easy to use, can grow with you, and will allow you to add affiliates (either now or later) as well as upsells and bundles.
Importantly, people can buy the products without leaving your site, but they are hosted elsewhere, so they don’t slow your site down. People can buy the products directly on your page.
And, you’ll often have the ability to redirect them afterwards to another page on your site (e.g. a thank you page, a tripwire or upsell offer), and these will become very important later.
I also want to say that while I’m sharing my affiliate links for these, please note that the commissions are teensy…I may earn a dollar or two a month on them, so I’m not promoting them to make lots of money, but rather because I think they are best for your needs.
And, as you’ll see, there are some more expensive options that you can do later. Right, now I’m trying to focus on what’s the best way to get started.
Oh, and I want to point out that no matter what you use, you will need to pay paypal fees (or stripe). There is no way around that!
I personally use SendOwl and have been for 1.5 years. And, it is still working well for me. I use it both for my Blogging ebooks and for my home décor ebooks/printables. I generally sell $6,000-$10,000 per month on this platform.
Advantages for SendOwl for selling ebooks, pdfs and printables
- It’s generally the least expensive platform out there…for what it does. You can start at just $9 per month…and then there are no transaction fees (as there are in almost every other platform). This is a huge savings once you sell a few items.
- You can try it free for 30 days
- You can add affiliates later (there’s a small, but insignificant cost for this – just $6 a month). There is no limit to the number of affiliates.
- You can create coupon codes and you can customize by product (and even by affiliate)
- You can create upsells and bundles (for a small incremental fee). The upsells have been huge in growing my sales.
- The money gets deposited instantly in my paypal account (most programs will delay a bit over a month to pay you). This is HUGE!
- I can have up to 100 products in there (if you need to go beyond that, it's only a small incremental monthly fee (I think $15). I'm no where close to that.
- I can easily integrate it with my email list and tag people based on the product(s) they buy. This allows me to segment my list and trigger background automations (which can lead to more sales). It integrates with most email programs including ConvertKit, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign, Drip, Aweber, MadMimi, Constant Contact, Get Response and Zapier. This is HUGE (and I didn’t appreciate it until much later when I’ve worked with another programs that didn’t integrate).
- They will collect sales tax (but they won’t remit it). No platform will remit for you (state laws).
- You can install/integrate your Facebook Pixel. Then later, you can create retargeting ads.
- There are different ways you can customize the sales/check out pages
- You can integrate Google Analytics, too, but I haven’t done yet.
Disadvantages for SendOwl
- The biggest downside is that they do NOT collect and remit VAT for the EU. However, this may not be an issue for most of you. I'm not going to give tax advice here. But, If you want, you can block the EU (or just a couple of countries in there…based on revised EU tax updates.
- You need to take care of paying your affiliates. I don’t see this as much of a downside as it doesn’t take much time to do this, and I’m avoiding paying sendowl fees for this. I can also filter out commissions for anyone that uses their link to get a discount on my products (as I don’t allow that). And, there’s a way to submit a spreadsheet to PayPal to save time on this.
You can check out SendOwl .
Gumroad is another great option. Now, I have only used Gumroad as an affiliate, so I’m not 100% confident on all the features, but I did talk to some friends about this.
Advantages to Gumroad for selling ebooks and printables
- Overall, it’s less expensive than other options out there. It usually costs a bit more than Sendowl, especially if you make more sales (e.g. $100 or more), but not a lot more. It cost $10/month + 3.5% fee + .30 transaction fee.
- They have a free option you can get started with. Then they will only charge you transaction fees for the items you sell and this is less risky at the beginning. Those transaction fees will be higher- an extra 5%. So, you’ll pay 5% + 3.5% + .30 per transaction. But when you are selling more, you can trade up to the $10 per month plan and pay lower transaction fees.
- You can use it on your site so they can buy it on your site without leaving (but it’s hosted on Gumroad so it doesn’t slow down your site).
- You can add affiliates, and there is no extra charge for that.
- You can create coupons and discount codes.
- They collect and remit VAT for the EU so you can easily sell there and not worry about anything. (The 3.5% transaction fee covers that).
- You can add Google Analytics
- It integrates with ConvertKit and Zapier. It may integrate with MailChimp (I’m not sure), but doesn’t integrate with MailerLite or ActiveCampaign (or other email programs). But, you can purchase a Zapier plan and integrate that with both. I use ActiveCampaign, so this is a show stopper for me.
- They will collect sales tax (but they won’t remit it). No program will remit state sales tax.
- You can add your Facebook Pixel so you can retarget later.
- They pay your affiliates for you (that’s covered in the 3.5% transaction fee).
- There’s no limit on the number of products
Disadvantages for Gumroad
- It costs more (than SendOwl)
- You can’t do upsells (but you can create bundles).
- It doesn’t integrate with ActiveCampaign, MailerLite or most other email programs
- There’s a delay on when you get paid. It’s 1 month (or so) after the close of a month.
- You cannot set up a redirect link after checking out (to a thank you page or upsell offer).
Payhip – Payhip is the 3rd great option that a blogger just brought to my attention. I don’t know as much about it, but it seems to be a similar to SendOwl and Gumroad. And, importantly it takes care of VAT for you. The pricing seems to be a blend (or in the middle of SendOwl and Gumroad).
Please note that while this a great option, I haven’t researched it as much, so you will want to see if it integrates with your email platform.
Advantage to Payhip for payment processing
- It’s on the less expensive side. The main plan for most would be $29/month + 2% transaction fees (this covers the VAT so it’s well worth it to me.
- You can start with their FREE plan. This is $0 per month but you pay 5% in transaction fees so it minimizes risk
- They collect and remit VAT. This is huge to me. And, they only charge 2% for that (rather than 3.5% on Gumroad).
- There is also a more “expensive” plan for $99 month. This plan eliminates the 2% transactions fees, so when you become a bigger seller, this will actually save you a lot of money. You can upgrade to this plan if/when you are ready.
- This includes affiliates and there is no additional charge
- You can do bundles and upsells for no additional cost
- They work with most email service providers, including ConvertKit, MailerLite, AWeber, Drip, MadMimi, MailChimp, GetResponse. (But they don’t work w/ mine – ActiveCampaign).
Disadvantages to Payhip
- I believe there is a 1 month or so payment delay
- It costs a bit more than SendOwl (but covers VAT so you can sell in the EU, and I think that’s worth it.
As I’m sure you can see, there are pros and cons to both option. Nothing is perfect, but for most these will be your two best options at the beginning (and even after).
While I'm here, I will share some other payment platforms. Some may help you later, some are not the best options, and I'll cover those as well.
Coming soon: ConvertKit will be adding a feature for products soon. I believe this is a summer launch. If you already use ConvertKit (or are considering using it), this can be a great option.
By the way, if you find that your email service provider doesn’t work with any of the above platforms, it’s probably time to upgrade your email service provider. There are some newer ones offering lower prices, but many are limited in scope and don’t integrate with many programs, and that is a real downside and it will become more and more important over time.
When you’re a beginner blogger, I understand that reducing cost for your email service provider (and I was there, too). Using a less expensive email service provider at the beginning is fine…and you may not need all of the tools (e.g. automations, sequences, integrations).
But, believe me when I tell you that these features are where the monetizing your list comes in!
I did not understand or appreciate this 1.5 years ago, but now I see how important it is.
If you don’t do this, you will either need to not integrate or do this manually…which I can tell you from experience is a major pain! And, takes a LOT of time. (time that you can spend elsewhere).
I’ve experienced this myself from my course on Teachable. I had to manually add/tag everyone to my email service provider. But, on SendOwl, everything is automatic! And, all of my tags and automations start without me doing a thing. I'm now moving my Teachable payment processor to SendOwl.
The good news is that I now found a way to process my payments via SendOwl to Teachable and my email service provider automatically. I will be implementing this in July.
But anyway, if your email service provider doesn’t synch with any of these, here are 3 platforms that I think are great, reasonably priced and do integrate well.
Here are some options I’d avoid
- WooCommerce – Slows down your site, complicated to set up and you won’t get any of above advantages of having a 3rd party platform (e.g. affiliates, email integration/tagging, upsells, thank you pages, etc.) and will make sales tax and VAT collection very difficult.
- Easy Digital Downloads – Also slows down your site and less functionality compared to WooCommerce.
- Paypal button – Slows down your site, complicated to set up and you won’t get any of above advantages of having a 3rd party platform (e.g. affiliates, email integration/tagging, upsells, thank you pages, etc. .) and will make sales tax and VAT collection very difficult.
Here are other options for later
- Shopify – A great upgrade option, but costs more. It makes more sense to use this when you have many options to sell and/or start making a lot of sales. Does not take care of VAT for EU (but you can block the EU). You will need to purchase some apps too, if you want affiliates. All of it is doable, but it does cost more – both on a monthly basis for transaction fees.
- Etsy – Etsy can be a great option, especially if you are in a category that sells well on there (e.g. crafts, organizing, home décor, etc.). But, it can also be much more competitive (i.e. you will probably need to lower your price to be on par (or lower) than your competition. You will need to pay a bit more in fees as well, and you’ll really need to work on getting reviews so that people will trust you. And, of course on any platform like this, expect them to actively show other similar products and price.
It’s not that you shouldn’t do Etsy, but rather that I would look into Etsy as an add on and not necessarily the only option. It certainly can extend your reach and sales, and I would consider it, but as step 2.
From what I’ve heard from Etsy sellers, it that it works best after you have several products for your shop. I have also noticed that many new sellers (who need reviews), will start by offering products at very low prices (e.g. $1-$2) so that they can acquire some reviews. It’s a smart strategy. But, it probably doesn’t lead to much profit during the first couple of months.
If you are already getting traffic to your site and/or email list, I’d start with that as you have a captive audience and can generally charge more as they trust you more and you don’t have competitive products next to yours. I plan to try Etsy for my printables…after I have a working model on my website.
And, remember, on Etsy, you are not getting email subscribers, so it’s just a one off sale. When you have them on your email list, they can become repeat customers.
- Teachable – If you have (or plan to have courses), you can easily use Teachable for your printables and ebooks. (I have sold some on here to my UK/EU customers. Teachable is a great platform for courses, but for ebooks/printables only, it’s a bit pricey.
Teachable has a monthly fee of $29 (if you pay annually) or $99 per month + transaction fees. For transaction fees, on the $29/month plan, they have a 5% transaction fee on the lower plan + 2% for back office fees (which covers VAT). If you have the $99 plan, then you just have the 2% back office fees which covers VAT + affiliate payments.
If you already have Teachable, this can work very well for you. But, if you are just starting out, it will cost you significantly more.
- ThriveCart – Thrivecart is an awesome option once you’re established selling products. It has a one-time upfront free, but then no ongoing monthly costs nor transaction fees.
People love Thrivecart because it tends to convert better and add more bump offers as well as downsells. The tracking is simply awesome as you can customize and track links (good for you and your affiliates).
Also Thrivecart is much better at tracking affiliate links. I've learned that almost every course platform out there doed not track all affiliate links, so the affiliate loses out (and they usually don't even realize). I have been on both sides of the equation (and it's not fun).
And, it gives you flexibility to use your links across all platforms (e.g. Teachable + Shopify) or even change platforms later. This is something to consider after you’re selling products on a regular basis. You will notice that many larger bloggers, especially those that make more sales from courses/products use this. I will probably upgrade to this over the summer.
As you can see, there are many options available, and the best choice for you will depend on where you are in the process and your future plans. But, if you are new to this, I’d recommend that you narrow your choices to SendOwl, Gumroad and Payhip.
If you choose to use a different platform, that’s fine, but you may still want to read/view this section and then figure out how to search and reapply the methods to Gumroad or somewhere else.
But, please note that SendOwl has a few more selling features than Gumroad does (as listed earlier) and both have more features than WooCommerce.
The mistake many make when comparing program costs
The mistake that many bloggers make, at the beginning, is focusing more on the monthly costs rather than the transaction fees (or the combo).
While it seems great to have a “free” option (i.e. with no monthly fee so less risk), usually, the added transaction fees add up and overshadow the savings on the monthly fee.
So just run a few scenarios so you can guestimate which plan is best for you.
Paypal and Stripe fees
Don’t forget that you will need to pay Paypal fees (or Stripe fees), no matter which option you choose. So just factor that into your estimates.
If you live in the US, and you are selling to US customers, the fees are $0.30 + 2.9%. When people from other countries buy, the fee is a bit higher (I think $0.30 + 4.9%, but the percent may vary by country).
>Also, on mine, I allow customers to use either Paypal or Stripe…whichever they prefer. I’ve read that offering both generally leads to a 2% increase in sales. It’s not a lot, but every bit helps. And, more importantly, it puts control in the buyer’s hands and makes it more convenient.
Incidentally, Stripe fees are generally equal to or slightly lower than Paypal fees, so that helps a tad, too.
If you can only choose 1, go for Paypal as many more people use this. But, as I said, the best option is to use both!
I know on SendOwl, they have the option for both, and many other platforms allow both.